Queen Anne – January 2016

Experience: 8/10

By Helen Edmundson

Directed by Natalie Abrahami

Venue: Swan Theatre

Date: Wednesday 13th January 2016

We enjoyed seeing this again, and while the performance had certainly come on a bit since November, I felt that overall it was just as good as last time, although Steve would have rated it at 9/10. Natascha McElhone showed a great deal more confidence as Lady Sarah Churchill, and the dialogue may have been even crisper, though as this was the captioned performance, and our seats put us almost in a direct line with the screen, I can’t be sure. One very noticeable change was that the auditorium was packed tonight – almost every seat was filled. The two next to us on the aisle were vacant – more on that story later – but otherwise it was close to a sell-out.

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Dear Lupin – May 2015

Experience: 7/10

By Roger Mortimer and Charlie Mortimer

Directed by Philip Franks

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Monday 18th May 2015

This was a sweet, humorous and occasionally moving story about the relationship between a real-life father and son. The son, Charles, was so wayward from an early age that his father Roger named him Lupin after the errant son in Diary Of A Nobody, though from this version of events it’s doubtful whether the original Lupin would have been able to keep up with Charles as he drank, smoked and snorted his way through his schooldays and beyond.

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Stella – February 2015

Experience: 6/10

By Siobhán Nicholas

Directed by the company and Polly Irvin

Company: Take The Space

Venue: Minerva Theatre

Date: Thursday 19th February 2015

We’d seen this company’s Hanging Hooke several years ago, and were keen to view this new play. By the same writer, it also involved Chris Barnes from the earlier piece, Siobhán Nicholas herself and Sian Webber. They played characters in both the present and past, and although this meant a fair bit of jumping around, the story gradually began to emerge.

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The Trials Of Galileo – January 2015

Experience: 7/10

Written and directed by Nic Jones

Icarus Theatre Collective

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Tuesday 13th January 2015

This is the sort of play we would normally expect to see in the Mill Studio next door. While the main house wasn’t completely full, there was a good turnout, and it’s nice to see something like this being given a chance in front of a larger audience.

The stage was open and relatively bare. In the centre stood a table which was covered with a dark red cloth. A green runner went front to back, there was a seat behind and some books or papers on the table, although I couldn’t see much detail from our front row seats. Back left was a smaller table with various items which were also indistinguishable in the pre-show gloom – I guessed more books, a flask and some glasses, which turned out to be correct – and front right was a small telescope on a stand. I say small, perhaps four feet long? Various sheets of paper were scattered around, front left and right and in a few other places. When we looked at the ones near us we could see astronomical observations, such as the famous moons of Jupiter sketch with four crosses for the moons. As my eyes grew accustomed to the dim light, I spotted a stool back right. That seemed to be the lot.

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Peter And Alice – April 2013

Experience: 6/10

By John Logan

Directed by Michael Grandage

Venue: Noel Coward Theatre

Date: Saturday 27th April 2013

We both enjoyed this but felt that the second half began to drag, with too much repetition of the same ideas in between the new snippets of biography. This caused the energy to flag, and despite the standing ovation the cast received at the end, which was not entirely undeserved, we reckon the play itself needs more work to tighten it up. Unfortunately, with two such stars in the lead roles the audiences are likely to be less discriminating, so rewrites are probably not on the agenda at the moment. A second production might help with this, though if it were also to depend on star casting, the play’s own merits may never become clear.

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The Empress – April 2013

Experience: 8/10

By Tanika Gupta

Directed by Emma Rice

Company: RSC

Venue: Swan Theatre

Date: Monday 15th April 2013

Both Steve and I had the sniffles tonight, him because he had a cold and me because the final scenes of this new play were very moving. The play covers a lot of ground, and there will be more to come with this production which at times is a bit jumbled, but the music, singing, dancing and colours plus the splendid performances made for a refreshing take on a neglected aspect of Victorian history. We’ve found Emma Rice’s work with Kneehigh to be variable in the past, but this time she’s produced a real good ‘un.

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The Judas Kiss – October 2012

6/10

By David Hare

Directed by Neil Armfield

Venue: Hampstead Theatre

Date: Saturday 13th October 2012

I didn’t find this as enjoyable as the original production with Liam Neeson and Tom Hollander. The design and the play itself were partly responsible for this, but the main flaw from my perspective was the central performance by Rupert Everett, who lacked the gravitas which Liam Neeson brought to the role. This was partly a physical thing, since with his slight frame Rupert would never convince the impersonation aficionados, while with the padding they chose to use I found him unconvincingly artificial. Even so, I warmed to him as the play went on despite his overlight touch, and with the dialogue being a little darker in the second half I felt his performance worked better. I accept that his interpretation was within reasonable bounds, but having seen what can come out of this play I found it wanting. On the previous occasion I felt moved by Wilde’s situation; today I wasn’t.

The set for the first half was dark and dreary. A bare black wall slanted across the stage on the right with a gap for a window towards the back. A large bed was against the back wall, sheets askew, and when the lights came up a little I could see a sofa against the wall, a large chair in the centre of the room, other chairs and tables in between these and lots of clothes strewn about the place. We were too far round to the left to see that side of the stage properly. Over the whole floor, and covering some of the tables as well, was a vast brown sheet, possibly velour or a fabric of similar appearance. It hadn’t been spread out fully, so there were wrinkles and folds everywhere, and to my eye it made the whole room look cheap. This is meant to be an exclusive London hotel, after all; I’d expect better carpeting at least.

The play starts with a naked romp in the bed by two of the hotel staff, one of the maids and one of the men. The arrival of their boss put an end to their shenanigans, and the tidying up process allowed for some initial exposition. Soon Ross and then Bosie arrived, giving us more information and setting up their characters: Ross the quiet, prudent, faithful type and Bosie a spoilt, petulant brat of the aristocracy with no discernible positive qualities whatsoever.

During this section the servants were making up the bed – the old sheets had been stripped off and removed. Both Steve and I found this distracting, and lost out on some of the dialogue as a result. Perhaps our sightlines made it worse as the bed was in our view all the time; people on the other side of the auditorium may have fared better.

The servants continued to be somewhat of a distraction after Wilde arrived, too. Their presence was necessary though, as they allowed us to see the different attitudes of the three men towards them. Bosie was used to having servants; his idea of the only alternative to a servant pouring his drink was that the drink should pour itself. Ross was courteous to the servants and handed out the money to them, but Oscar was both kind and generous, which explained the high regard these representatives of the ordinary man and woman had for him. Mind you, the maid would happily have taken every penny that was going, and we enjoyed her reactions when Sandy Moffat, the major-domo, refused £5 for each of the three servants; she looked away, then spoke up brightly to agree with Sandy when prompted.

I don’t remember the servants being such a distraction before, but as I don’t have notes from that far back I can’t be sure. The performance started to get into its stride once they had gone and we could focus on the central relationship between Oscar and Bosie. It was clear that Bosie assumed his cousin could either prevent Wilde’s arrest or an actual trial, and that his sole motivation, despite his protestations of affection for Oscar, was his hatred for his father, the Marquis of Queensbury. Wilde was flippant at times, but his reason for staying seemed to be solely his passion for Bosie, the same sort of destructive passion expounded by Rattigan in The Deep Blue Sea.

For the second half, the set was changed to the villa in Italy. Still with the black wall, there was a huge white drape suspended over the set and drawn back to create an overhang and a wall, with the rest of the curtain pulled back round the side. The bed was placed under this curtain, there was another chair in the middle with a small table and a small cabinet for the coffee etc. against the far wall. The window became a doorway and there were some pots around the floor to suggest décor, with a couple of other chairs against the walls to complete the setting. It was still very drab; only the lighting suggested the Mediterranean.

Wilde spent most of the act sitting in the chair, and I heard more of his dialogue during this half. Bosie and the naked Italian fisherman lay on the bed at the start, and there was plenty on display for the early part of this scene. I didn’t follow the Italian dialogue but the intentions were pretty clear, and Bosie’s petulant rant about his own suffering, while Wilde sat there uncomplaining, served to show us the young man’s least attractive qualities. The discussion with Ross was good but lacked some of the temper which can be there, while the final scene with Bosie explaining his decision to leave was very good. The young aristocrat was unpleasantly manipulative, and his total lack of understanding was emphasised by his prophecy that Wilde’s plays would be forgotten (as if!). Basically he wanted to get back to a life of luxury which meant complying with his family’s wish that he leave Wilde altogether, so he dredged up every silly little excuse he could to make his choice seem reasonable. Wilde understood this perfectly, accepted and forgave it. It was a fitting end to their relationship, and an inevitable one.

The other performances were all fine today, though the theatricality of Bosie’s mannerism took a little getting used to. Between scenes there was a beam of light sweeping around the room which looked very odd. It was specified in the text however; for the second act it represented a lighthouse beam, though it didn’t behave like any lighthouse beam I’ve ever seen. In the first act it was just “the light” moving around in a strange way. Apart from that and the very low-key set design, the production was OK, and they did get a strong response from the audience. It’s still a good play, and I would hope to see another good production in the future.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me