Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me – October 2015

Experience: 9/10

By Frank McGuinness

Directed by Michael Attenborough

Venue: Minerva Theatre

Date: Monday 5th October 2015

This was a fabulous revival of a very intense play. The performances were all excellent and the staging quite superb. It’s no surprise that even such a difficult subject was generating full houses, given Chichester’s reputation for putting on good work in the Minerva, and the only pity is that this production won’t be seen by a wider audience.

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Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me – September 2015

Preview performance

Experience: 8/10

By Frank McGuinness

Directed by Michael Attenborough

Venue: Minerva Theatre

Date: Monday 14th September 2015

Although this was a preview, this production already had a strength and intensity beyond many other plays. It’s one of those pieces where it doesn’t feel right to say we ‘enjoyed’ it, but it was a deeply enriching experience to have attended this performance, even with such difficult subject matter.

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King Lear – August 2013

Experience: 7/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Lucy Bailey

Company: Theatre Royal Bath Productions

Venue: Theatre Royal Bath

Date: Thursday 8th August 2013

We weren’t sure what to expect from this Lucy Bailey production as we’d had such mixed experiences with her work in the past. Tonight the technical side of things was a bit hit-and-miss, and while the setting worked OK overall, there were areas where the text jarred with the actions, the accents and the characters. Having said that, there were some very good performances to enjoy and some nice touches in the staging, so all in all it was worth the trip. It was also our first time in Bath’s Theatre Royal and it was a weird experience, looking at all the pictures of past productions and realising we’d seen about half of them, despite never having been here before. The theatre itself was comfortable and, despite the minimal toilet facilities for women, a pleasant experience.

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The Madness of George III – November 2011

8/10

By Alan Bennett

Directed by Philip Franks

Company: Theatre Royal, Bath

Venue: Chichester Festival Theatre

Date: Tuesday 15th November 2011

This was a fabulous production with an excellent central performance and strong support throughout. I hadn’t seen the original production at the National so I have nothing to compare it with, but I suspect this production would have stood up against it very well.

The set was very sparse, although that was due to the nature of Chichester’s main stage. A black wall with gaps all along the back, and a square of beige flooring in the middle of the stage – that was it! We gathered from the post-show discussion that in the proscenium arch settings, there are lots of backdrops which are used to separate the rooms; with this open set, they had to work a bit harder to get the locations across, and our response was that they’d done that very well. There were lots of chairs and a desk or two which were brought on and taken off, and the costumes were lovely as well, but otherwise it was just acting, and lots of it.

The story is pretty well known now, and although the stage play is necessarily different from the film, they cover the same ground. We weren’t shown the contents of the King’s chamber pots (mercifully!), but we did have to sit through some of the tortures inflicted on him in the name of ‘healing’ – blistering, purging, and that horrible chair.  Thank God for modern medicine.

David Haig’s performance as King George was superb. He was likeable as the relatively sane monarch, with his little idiosyncrasies and his concern for his people, but as the ‘madman’ it was very difficult to watch him at times, especially with such little understanding on the part of those around the king. With the king’s suffering so clear, he brought a huge amount of compassion out in me, which is no bad thing. He told us in the post-show that he’d started learning his lines months before rehearsals began, as it was the only way he could get all that dialogue into his memory in time. His delivery was fantastic – even the gobbledygook was understandable, if you see what I mean.

The queen was magnificently regal, while the Prince of Wales (are we allowed to hiss and boo?) was wonderfully self-centred and petulant, with a face you just wanted to slap (no offence to the actor). Mr Pitt was sober and careful, the Lord Chancellor sly and politically adroit, and Fox, Sheridan and the Prince’s other cronies creepily reminiscent of recent political events. The doctors were marvellously unconcerned about the efficacy of their treatments with the exception of Willis, who although he showed the most concern for the King as a human being, was equally ineffective with his treatments and received a deserved cold shoulder by the end. At least he wasn’t torturing his Lincolnshire patients to make them better. The servants also did a good job, although their parts were less well defined, and the whole cast did a fine job of adapting to the wide open spaces of Chichester. There was plenty of agony along the way, but plenty of humour to lighten the load as well – a good mix.

From the post show we learned that this was the final week of their tour, before the production goes into London in January. The audience who stayed behind were very appreciative of their hard work, and David Haig in particular was very complimentary about the Festival Theatre as a performance space, with the audience wrapped around the stage. Apparently Alan Bennett doesn’t go to revivals of his plays as he always sees things he wants to rewrite, so he prefers to concentrate on whatever play he’s currently developing. He sends his brother Gordon to see the revivals instead!

© 2011 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Yes, Prime Minister – May 2010

8/10

By Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn

Directed by Jonathan Lynn

Venue: Chichester Festival Theatre

Date: Thursday 13th May 2010

Opening night! First performance! And they did it very well. Our overall impression was that the piece is pretty good but a little uneven, and tonight’s experience should help them make the necessary adjustments.

The set made good use of the vast plains of the main stage. Representing the PM’s study at Chequers, there were doors to the left and right of centre, one being integrated into the bookcases along the right hand wall. A sofa and chair were left and centre, the PM’s desk was in front of the bookcases, and there was a shaped window seat to our right, fitting nicely in with the design of the edge of the stage, which showed the outside of the building – path, flowers, etc. Between the doors at the back was a large window, with autumnally-coloured trees seen through it. The storm effects included real wet stuff, fortunately confined to the exterior locations.

The plot concerned a possible oil deal with a fictitious -stan, which thanks to the topsy-turvy world of international finance, would mean Europe getting the dosh now, so they could afford to buy the oil later. Or something like that. Basically, it was a multi-trillion bribe to lock European states into paying a higher price for this state’s oil in the future. With the PM absolutely gagging for it (the deal, that is), the only snag seems to be a request from the -stani foreign minister for a pre-defiled schoolgirl, under our age of consent, for a spot of post-dinner ravishing. The moral, political and practical dilemmas this request poses are thoroughly explored through the second half, and include a prayer session, the aforementioned storm, an illegal immigrant working as a cook at Chequers, a live interview on the BBC, and the Royal helicopter. Nuff said.

Of course, that’s only the bare bones of the evening’s entertainment, with topical references skittering across the stage so fast I probably missed a few. And the perennial problems of being the man in charge got the usual airing as well. One of my favourite bits was when the PM has a despairing rant about all the woes that afflict him (Job had it easy), culminating in the final straw, global warming, whereupon his head sank onto the back of a chair. Mind you, there were plenty of other lines that got a great response from the audience. After the uncertainties of recent weeks, I suspect we were all ready to let off steam, and this was the perfect opportunity. This is the area that’s most likely to be updated, as events at Westminster and Downing Street unfold, while Sir Humphrey’s elaborate monologues, explaining in ‘simple’ terms the complexities of some subtle point of the art of government, will no doubt be untouched. Henry Goodman as Sir Humphrey did an excellent job delivering these speeches, and if the people behind us had been quieter I would have enjoyed them even more. Jonathan Slinger played Bernard with the right degree of innocence, classical education, and moral indignation, while Emily Joyce did her best with the part of Special Policy Advisor, but I felt her lines didn’t get as many laughs as the others. Sam Dastor did a very nice job as the -stani ambassador – from him we learned that Sir Humphrey’s nickname at Oxford was ‘Bubbles’ – and William Chubb and Tim Wallers were fine as the BBC Director General and a mock Jeremy Paxman.

Teamwork notwithstanding, the honours for tonight, by the narrowest of majorities, must go to David Haig as the PM, Jim Hacker. He covered the whole range of emotions, posturing like a strong leader one minute, and then collapsing into wimp mode the next. I especially liked his response to Sir Humphrey telling him he’s been courageous – ‘have I?’ he says, sinking onto the window seat full of worry and concern.

The issue of under-age prostitution was stronger stuff than we’re used to from this team, and I felt a bit uncomfortable for a while, but the writing focused on the responses of the various characters, and the humour of that soon got me involved again. A few people did leave during the interval, but on the whole, we’re looking forward to seeing this again in a few weeks.

© 2010 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me