Pack Of Lies – February 2009

6/10

By Hugh Whitemore

Directed by Christopher Morahan

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Monday 16th February 2009

We saw this back in 1983 (Theatre Royal, Brighton) when Judi Dench and Michael Williams played the married couple at the heart of this story. I don’t recall much of the performances (I’m sure they were excellent) but in any case I’m sure I’d still have enjoyed this production just as much.

Jenny Seagrove and Simon Shepherd play Barbara and Bob Jackson, neighbours to Peter and Helen Kroger, good friends and Russian spies, both at the same time. The play takes us from the good times, through the initial request for help from the British Secret Service and the gradual realisation of the true nature of their ‘good friends’, to the tragic ending with the death of Barbara. The strain of having to keep their secret, not just from their friends but also from their daughter, Julie, proved too much for a woman of nervous disposition.

The set was much as I remember. It’s the interior of the ground floor of a semi-detached house in a London suburb, Ruislip in this case, showing us the sitting room, entrance hall and stairs, and kitchen. All very 1950s. The costumes all matched the time period perfectly, with Barbara and Bob being conservative, even dowdy, and Helen being flamboyant and glamorous. The paintings on the sitting room wall which are meant to be by Barbara are of decent quality for an amateur (I’ve seen a lot worse in The Deep Blue Sea), and seeing the old Bakelite telephone reminded me of the days when a phone call was an event, and people formed communities with those they lived close to, rather than logging on to the global village. How things change.

It’s an interesting play which never drags, for all the relative lack of action and amount of information to get across. Due to Roy Marsden’s indisposition, the part of  the Secret Service chap, Stewart, was played by David Morley Hale, who made good use of his character’s notebook to remind himself of the lines. His delivery was a bit flat as result – he’ll be better once he’s off the book – but it’s a fairly dry part anyway, so I don’t think we lost too much from the cast change, and I suspect most of the audience were just grateful he was there.

I liked the way the casual snobbery of the time was thrown in now and again. Describing one neighbouring couple as British, and then qualifying it by commenting that the wife came from Wales, was typically spot-on. The solo speeches to the audience were also good, as they filled in a lot of the information that the structure just wouldn’t accommodate otherwise. In all, a very good evening out.

© 2009 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Legal Fictions – January 2008

5/10

By: John Mortimer

Directed by: Christopher Morahan

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Monday 14th January 2008

I confess I snoozed through some of the first part of this double bill, probably because I was still recovering from the cold/cough that has crippled me for several weeks, and partly because it’s a very static piece, set in a prison cell, with some lovely surreal dialogue, true, but not as dynamic as I needed at that time. The Dock Brief concerned a lawyer finally given his chance to shine by defending a clearly guilty man, and failing miserably. It’s very witty, unravels beautifully, and was well done by both Edward Fox and Nicholas Woodeson. At times the piece seemed Pinterish, though the lawyer’s wordiness is something Pinter would be unlikely to do. I particularly liked the twist at the end, when the lawyer’s defence was so bad that the defendant was considered not to have had a fair trial, and so gets let off. The set also had a touch of the surreal, with steeply sloping walls giving an exaggerated perspective.

The second piece, Edwin, found me wide awake throughout. A trio of older folk, a husband and wife and their neighbour, go through what seems to be a regular bickering routine. The husband is a retired High Court judge, and he spends most of his time addressing us, as if we were a jury, over one particular case – did his neighbour have sex with his wife? As the play unfolds, we get some entertaining bouts of wordplay, and the final hint by the wife that someone else altogether might be involved left the two men completely disconcerted. It was also interesting to see the different memories they all had of the son – artistic, mathematical etc. – especially as he had changed so much from all their memories.

I enjoyed this evening quite a lot, mainly because it was my first trip to the theatre that hadn’t been taken up with coughing. Thank God.

© 2008 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me