The Time Of My Life – January 2014

Experience: 7/10

Written and directed by Alan Ayckbourn

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Friday 24th January 2014

I’m not sure if we saw this play during the original run or on a later tour – the records are in our personal Bermuda Triangle – but I remembered the setup if not the details very soon after it started. The location was a restaurant, and the occasion a birthday party for wife and mother Laura. The rest of the party included her husband Gerry, her sons Glyn and Adam, Glyn’s pregnant wife Stephanie and Adam’s girlfriend/fiancée Maureen. The waiters, all played by Ben Porter, were part of the occasion too, as the family had been coming to that restaurant for many years.

The main table for the party was placed centrally towards the back of the stage on a raised level. There were steps down on either side of this platform and two more tables on the lower floor, one on each side of the stage. These were used for inserted scenes which showed us the relationships of the two sons and their respective partners, one pair going forward in time from the party and the other going back to their first meeting. It might sound confusing, but Ayckbourn is a master at taking the audience anywhere he wants them to go, and we’re always very willing to take these trips with him.

The opening scene was a jumble of dialogue, leading up to Maureen having to rush off to be sick. The party broke up shortly after this, with Glyn and Stephanie heading off home and Adam and Maureen leaving as well. Laura and Gerry stayed for a while longer, topping up the coffee and, as the arguments began and the revelations started to come out, topping up on brandy as well. Ernesto, the proprietor (also played by Ben Porter) joined them at one point for more alcohol and some drunken reminiscences, so when Laura and Gerry finally did leave they were both well over the limit.

The details of what happened after the party emerged through the intervening scenes with Glyn and Stephanie, and we saw them go through a number of changes in their relationship as well as hearing about the changes in the other characters’ lives. At the other table, Adam and Maureen’s relationship went back through their various meetings until their first encounter, when Adam mistook Maureen for a prostitute (it’s a long story). Both couples were haunted by a singing waiter (Ben Porter again) while Stephanie was constantly being encouraged to eat more by one of the other waiters. She kept refusing until an emotional event triggered a sudden desire to stuff her face with just about every dessert from the trolley!

The play ended with the beginning of the birthday party, and Ernesto showing Laura and Gerry to their table. It was an appropriate way to finish, similar in many ways to Time And The Conways, but this play isn’t as strong as Priestley’s. It was pleasant enough, and the actors all did good work, but the stories were a bit too predictable. Not Ayckbourn’s best piece, but as it turned out it was a very good companion to his new play Arrivals And Departures, and as always, it was fun to see the same group of actors playing very different roles.

© 2014 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

 

Bring Up The Bodies – January 2014

Experience: 8/10

Adapted by Mike Poulton from the novel by Hilary Mantel

Directed by Jeremy Herrin

Venue: Swan Theatre

Date: Thursday 23rd January 2014

My experiment with these novels and plays has borne fruit. While Steve, not having read the books at all, would have rated this play slightly higher than me, I found the lack of background knowledge a hindrance for the first half, and although I picked up the threads quite quickly, the brisk pace left me feeling unsatisfied – I was too aware that there was a lot of detail missing and as I haven’t yet read the novel, I wasn’t privy to Cromwell’s inner thoughts. The final stage of the experiment will be to read Bring Up The Bodies and see what that feels like now that I’ve seen the play.

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Wendy & Peter Pan – January 2014

Experience: 5/10

Adapted by Ella Hickson from the novel by J M Barrie

Directed by Jonathan Munby

Venue: RST

Date: Wednesday 22nd January 2014

Steve and I are firmly in the ‘kids of all ages’ category, and we’ve enjoyed many a show that’s been aimed at children or a family audience; Swallows And Amazons and The Heart Of Robin Hood spring easily to mind. So we were a bit disappointed to find that this version of the Peter Pan story was sadly lacking in the fun department, with the writer’s feminist agenda making for an uneven and often boring play. We didn’t clap for Tinkerbell (die, bitch, die) but there were enough who did for her to spring to life again. Our fondness for Guy Henry meant that we preferred Captain Hook to the Lost Boys, and although I sniffled a bit during the final scene when Wendy and her mother made an emotional connection over the dead brother/son, this was not enough to make up for the rest of the evening. Once more we will be returning tickets for a second viewing; unusually for us, an evening in front of the telly would be more enjoyable than seeing this production again.

I want to make it clear that my criticism is entirely about the writing; the actors did a splendid job with the material they were given, the set had some magical aspects and I’m glad to say that there was some response from the audience at times, especially during the Tinkerbell poisoning incident. Even so, this is not a production that’s likely to be revived anytime soon. The second circle was empty and there were gaps in the stalls, so word has clearly got round.

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Wolf Hall – January 2014

Experience: 8/10

Adapted by Mike Poulton from the novel by Hilary Mantel

Directed by Jeremy Herrin

Venue: Swan Theatre

Date: Monday 20th January 2014

Knowing these adaptations of Hilary Mantel’s work were coming up, I chose to read Wolf Hall before seeing the plays, and intend to read Bring Up The Bodies afterwards. I wanted to get a sense of how the dramatization had changed the novel’s interpretation, and to understand what it’s like to see a play when I’ve already read the book. Of course, that assumed I would finish Wolf Hall, and at one point I thought I might abandon the book altogether – the middle third was tedious compared to the opening section – but fortunately some friends advised me to persevere. The final section picked up tempo and left us with a tantalising ending, so how would reading the book beforehand affect my experience of the play?

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Richard II – January 2014

Experience: 8/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Greg Doran

Venue: Barbican Theatre

Date: Wednesday 15th January 2014

Although we hadn’t been able to choose our seats for this performance, we were pleased with our allocation which put us on the far end of the front row on the right. I had thought the production might seem rather 2D after the thrust stage in Stratford, but from our angle there wasn’t a lot of difference. The small stub of stage that pushes forward in the Barbican was almost level with our seats, so it was similar to sitting by the right walkway in the RST, down to the occasional blocked view as an actor stood in the ‘corner’ of the stage. Fortunately this wasn’t much of a problem today, and the benefits of being so close and seeing the action in even more detail far outweighed the minor inconvenience.

The set and staging hadn’t changed much, so I’ll get that out of the way to begin with. The cathedral space at the start looked even more imposing than before; it seemed higher than I remember. The bereaved Duchess of Gloucester came on alone this time, but approached a monk who had entered before her, whether to ask for assistance or for permission to sit by the coffin I don’t know. He helped her on her way, and she bowed to him before she sat down on the stool. While the side lights were still on at this point, the overhead lights had been turned off, so for once the audience grasped that the performance had started and were quiet through the beautiful singing – bliss.

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Fred And Mary – January 2014

Experience: 8/10

Adapted by Geoffrey Beevers from the novel by George Eliot

Directed by Geoffrey Beevers

Venue: Orange Tree Theatre

Date: Wednesday 8th January 2014

Seasoned veterans now, we took our seats for this third part of The Middlemarch Trilogy with keen anticipation. Many in the audience were familiar to us now, as were most of the characters, though there were some new folk to get to know as well, both on stage and off. The set looked very familiar too; the yew boles were back in the left corner and there were apples in the leafy branches above. A climbing rose adorned the far corner instead of the bookcase and the furniture was set up for the Vincy’s drawing room. The props under the stools had changed, of course, and I thought I spotted a wig under one near us. We were by the far corner today, so we had another change of perspective but were still close to the action.

The play began with much the same narrated introduction as the other two – hopefully the text will be published some time – telling us about the changes that were happening around that time, the railways and so forth. Then we were in to the breakfast scene where Fred Vincy and his sister Rosamund bickered for a while before going to visit their uncle Mr Featherstone, an invalid who was expected to die soon and leave his estate to Fred. There were other relatives who were lurking in the wings, keen to see the old man’s money and lands come their way, but things didn’t work out as anyone had intended or hoped.

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The Doctor’s Story – January 2014

Experience: 8/10

Adapted by Geoffrey Beevers from the novel by George Eliot

Directed by Geoffrey Beevers

Venue: Orange Tree Theatre

Date: Tuesday 7th January 2014

This eagerly awaited second part of The Middlemarch Trilogy was just as good as the first. It wasn’t quite as funny, and the storyline might well have been harder to follow for anyone who hadn’t already seen Dorothea’s Story, but the afternoon was still very entertaining and the insights into a different set of characters were just as perceptive and witty as before. We were very relieved to learn the truth about the death of Mr Raffles – we had some concerns about the doctor’s involvement after yesterday – and the play ended just as happily, with the details of the Lydgate’s subsequent good fortune and successful marriage.

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