This was the last concert in the tour, and while we enjoyed getting our regular Steeleye fix, I have to admit that the effects of the tour were showing tonight. Maddy’s voice was definitely husky, and there were some wobbles during the songs. Even so she produced some lovely stuff during Betsy Bell and Mary Grey, and the final part of Tam Lin was pretty good too. Julian was more involved this time round, and there was a treat at the end of the first half; they’re working on a new project based on the Wintersmith novels of Terry Pratchett, and they played four of the songs that will be released on the new CD later this year (November time).
Fortunately I’m already a fan of the Cadfael books, as this rather choppy adaptation of Ellis Peter’s The Virgin In The Ice wouldn’t have encouraged me to become one. Middle Ground did their best, but it’s hard to transpose detective fiction successfully to the stage – Agatha Christie adapted several of her own books to make sure they worked – and despite the clever use of video for backgrounds, maps, etc., there was still a lot of stage furniture to be wheeled on and off between quite short scenes. Even with the help of an abundance of monks, this took some time and inevitably lost momentum.
I won’t go over the story again; they were pretty faithful to the book, and the scene at the robbers’ stronghold was very well done. With so much of the action being on the top of a tall structure we couldn’t see it very well, but the dialogue was clear enough. Gareth Thomas was fine as Cadfael himself, and there was good support from Paul Hassall as Hugh Beringar and Daniel Murray as the young man, Yves Hugonin. But with so much story to tell, the other characters were sketchy at best, although I wouldn’t criticise any of the actors as I did feel they weren’t helped by the adaptation.
We enjoyed ourselves well enough – as I said, we’re fans of the books – and I did have a few sniffles at the end when Cadfael came face to face with his son. A good effort, but not Middle Ground’s best work.
By Arthur Wing Pinero, with ornamentation by Patrick Marber
Directed by Joe Wright
Venue: Donmar Warehouse
Date: Thursday 28th March 2013
This was a real eye-opener. A previous touring production we’d seen had been rather bland and we remembered very little of it. Today’s performance was anything but bland, and the memories will keep us chuckling a good while yet. It’s not clear from the play text how much Patrick Marber has added, nor which bits are his, and since I don’t know the play that well I can’t be sure how much his work affected our experience. It would be interesting to see another version sometime to compare them, but that may not happen anytime soon. This version is definitely affectionate towards the original, and well worth seeing.
After a late night yesterday, I confess to nodding off a little in the early stages of this performance, but I got the gist of the staging and by the second half I was all attention. The energy drooped a little in the final scenes, a problem inherent in the play rather than the performances, but otherwise it was a brisk and straightforward telling of the story which managed to come in at just over three hours. We didn’t find it quite as sparkling as previous SATTF productions, but that just means it was very good instead of superb.
For such a well-known play, it was refreshing to see a distinctly different take on many aspects of the story, coupled with a version of the text which dropped many familiar lines. Of all David Farr’s productions at the RSC that we’ve seen, this one is definitely the strongest, and as this was only the eleventh performance (press night tomorrow) there is plenty of scope for the actors to develop their roles within the overall structure. Mind you, they’re starting from a high baseline, with much to enjoy already in this lively, if a tad over-long, production.
It would be hard not to notice the theme to this year’s Orange Tree program. First there was The Stepmother, a play by Githa Sowerby about women’s need for financial independence, and now, in this play, G B Stern also exposes the social changes that led to a generation of young women developing careers first and families second. As the next play is called The Breadwinner, the theme is clearly continuing for a while yet. And fortunately, with Sam Walters’ gift for unearthing and scheduling both neglected plays and new work, this is proving to be a season well worth catching, yet again.
This was an excellent performance marred only by some seriously inconsiderate coughing from a large number of audience members, particularly during the first act – get some cough sweets! Having said that, the audience were nicely responsive to the play, gasping a bit when two characters had an unexpected kiss and when Rutherford senior came out with some of his more outrageous comments. We applauded warmly at the end as well, and Steve and I left feeling very uplifted and happy – a marvellous experience.