The Judas Kiss – October 2012


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


South Downs – October 2011


By: David Hare

Directed by: Jeremy Herrin

Venue: Minerva Theatre

Date: Friday 7th October 2011

Yet again, another great performance of this new play. While the performances had sharpened up a bit over the run, I didn’t feel this had come on as much as The Browning Version – Steve disagrees – but that was mainly because they had nailed the play so well from the start, so there was less scope for improvement. If anything, the audience was much better tonight – we laughed much more and much sooner, it seemed to me. No significant changes at all that I could see – I hope this play gets another outing soon.

© 2011 Sheila Evans at

South Downs – September 2011


By: David Hare

Directed by: Jeremy Herrin

Venue: Minerva Theatre

Date: Tuesday 6th September 2011

We attended a pre-show Q&A with David Hare, who is a delightfully intelligent and entertaining speaker. He was very good about not giving away any details of the play which most of us were seeing this evening – some had already seen it – so his comments tended to be general; even so, it was an interesting event, and I found I agreed with many of his observations.

The play, South Downs, was commissioned by the Rattigan estate to be played in conjunction with The Browning Version, as a more suitable complement to that play than Harlequinade, which was Rattigan’s original companion piece. Hare himself wasn’t complimentary about Harlequinade, and from the fact that they commissioned this alternative piece, he suggested that the estate weren’t too happy about it either.

Although this new play is set in a boarding school in the South Downs in the early 1960s, and he was a student at Lancing College himself at that time, the play isn’t autobiographical. There are some elements of the playwright spread amongst several of the boys – an inevitable aspect of the writer’s profession – but otherwise you will search for him in vain. He was trying to get across some of the flavour of life at that time in that kind of school, a time when big ideas were being discussed and it was believed that ideas could change the world, unlike our own more cynical and fearful times. He made a point at the start which was that the events of the play are closer in time to the First World War than they are to the present day, which is true, but did surprise us. He explained that for him and his generation – there were many nods in the audience – the major event which shaped their world, the Second World War, had already been and gone, but everyone who had lived through it was affected by the experience, and their lives were often a reaction to that time, such as just wanting a bit of peace and quiet.

When asked whether he thought the new play would make a good film, David pointed out that with the stage, a writer has more control and more rights over the finished product, while with film and TV, those rights are signed away. The casting process for this production was very amicable, from the sounds of it, even if they did have to see a lot of boys before they found the right one to play the central part of John Blakemore. They both spotted him immediately, though Jeremy Herrin, the director, didn’t say anything to avoid prejudicing David’s selection.

He was also very complimentary about Jeremy Herrin’s ability to bring out the best in young actors, particularly those with no experience. When asked what he’d like the audience to focus on in tonight’s performance, David emphasised the youth of the actors playing the boys, and for us to notice how well they played their parts. We were more than happy to do that, and they were certainly impressive. The masters were played well too, but they remained as authoritarian figures whose inner lives were largely closed to us, as they would have been to the boys.

The set had two large wooden arches towards the back of the stage, one in front of the other, very evocative of that kind of institution. The wooden flooring was scruffy, with gaps here and there as well as rough edges. Chairs were brought on and off as needed, and there was one scene during afternoon tea when a sofa and table were added to the mix. Otherwise the scene was basically set by the lighting, which was very effective.

The story concerns one young lad, John Blakemore, as he adjusts to life at a boarding school. He’s unusual; he thinks a lot, and hasn’t yet learned how to fit in with society’s unwritten and often unspoken rules. This gets him into trouble as well as making him unpopular with the other boys. Through a meeting with a prefect’s mother, who happens to be an actress, he seems to start the learning process, and by the time the prefect leaves the school, there are signs that John is beginning to find his own way to fit in.  It’s not a conclusive piece – not with David Hare writing it – but it is an interesting insight into that kind of school life at that time, and it’s certainly a good foil for The Browning Version.

Alex Lawther was excellent as John Blakemore. He conveyed the character’s intensity and innocence, and allowed him to be slightly unlikeable as well. I loved the scene where he explained the meaning of a verse by Alexander Pope by reference to all sorts of other things, completely flooring the teacher who had to fall back on pomposity to ‘win’ the day. The other boys were excellent too – one, Liam Morton, was also in The Browning Version – and the teachers were played to perfection by Nicholas Farrell and Andrew Woodall. Anna Chancellor played the actress, while Stella Gonet did the voiceover for a letter John received from his mother – clearly not a sympathetic soul in terms of her son’s needs.

There was a great deal of humour throughout, and we both felt the audience wasn’t quite as responsive as it could have been, although it wasn’t totally silent either. David Hare had expressed an interest in seeing this play separately from The Browning Version, so that its merits could be identified more readily; with this pairing, it’s hard to tell how much the audience was simply wanting the Rattigan and couldn’t care less about the first play, and how much they were open to both. I certainly felt that having the actors from both plays take their bows together at the end blurred the edges for me. I would have liked an opportunity to show how much I enjoyed this play on its own.

© 2011 Sheila Evans at

The Power Of Yes – October 2009


By David Hare

Directed by Angus Jackson

Venue: Lyttelton Theatre

Date: Thursday 15th October 2009

We decided not to have high hopes for this play after seeing such a fantastic performance of Enron earlier in the year. Surely we couldn’t get two great plays on such closely related subjects in the same year? And we know from experience not to get our expectations up as that usually leads to disappointment.

Well, I’m delighted to report that we both thoroughly enjoyed this new work. David Hare seems to have developed the knack of being entertaining as well as informative and here he manages to get across a great deal of technical detail while giving us many opportunities to laugh at both the people who contributed to this sorry mess, and even the situation itself at times (note to self: never let bailiffs get inside the door, not even to go to the loo!).

The set was uncompromisingly sparse. The screen at the back showed what looked like a charcoal rubbing of wooden floorboards to start with, then all sorts of other images to illustrate the story. I felt particularly nostalgic when the building society names were up there – those were the days. There was another screen nearer the front which was raised and lowered as necessary, and which usually showed at least a portion of the fuller picture on the rear screen, as well as the ‘scene’ headings. There was a blackboard, some chairs and a table that made infrequent appearances but other than that, the stage was bare.

When Anthony Calf as the author walked on from the back of the stage, I was surprised to see how deep the acting space was; with so little furniture it was hard to judge distance. Mind you, they needed the room, as a cast of twenty spread itself out over the stage to give us a chorus-like introduction to the credit crunch. One character even called it a Greek tragedy.

After a short while, most of the cast trooped off and the author was left with a journalist from the Financial Times who was going to tell him the story of how the global financial systems collapsed. As she did, various characters came forward, introduced by a young man or woman, and told us, via the author, their part in the story or how they saw it unfold, and why they’re not to blame. Some of the characters preferred to be anonymous. There were occasional clips of the lower part of Alan Greenspan’s face saying something profound (now known to be untrue) and the characters covered a broad spectrum of interested parties from all walks of life, from the (ex) Chairman of the FSA through politicians, investment bankers, lawyers, economists and journalists to a chap who worked for the Citizens Advice Bureau, helping ordinary folk to deal with their debts. A large number appeared to have been at Harvard, Goldman Sachs and/or the Financial Times.

The character who probably came out best in all of this was George Soros. The author interviewed him, and this was shown at the end of the play so that his views on rampant capitalism were the final impression we were left with. In response to some comments by Alan Greenspan when the two of them had lunch some time before, about the benefits of capitalism being worth the price that had to be paid, Soros pointed out that the people who reap the benefits are not the same people who pay the price. A sobering thought, but unlikely to be a popular one with bankers.

I won’t go through the whole sordid story again here – frankly I couldn’t, as it was one of those things I followed well enough at the time, but couldn’t remember past the curtain call. I did get several ideas very clearly from it. One is that the people involved in banking are so brimful of self confidence (or could that be arrogance?) that they genuinely didn’t believe they had done anything wrong. On the way to the train, I recognised a similarity with Coriolanus. We as a society set bankers and other money men the task of making the country rich, without regulating how they should do that, and with the strange belief that if some people are coining it in then everyone benefits (trickle down theory). In the same way, Coriolanus is unleashed to give Rome military success, but when it comes to the social responsibility aspect neither he nor the bankers give a toss. So we all end up paying for our collective mistakes and ignorance.

Other points included the lack of regulation, the weird delusion that we’d broken through the cycle of boom and bust to a ‘new economics’, and that underpinning all this was a lack of knowledge of, and even interest in, history. Maniacal greed was also exposed, as one of the journalists explained that her friends who now worked in the city weren’t satisfied with only half a million a year. I think she’s also the one who pointed out that many of these financial folk consider they have earned the money instead of the company, and equate good luck with their own genius. And all of this unprecedented growth was founded on cheap labour in China.

There was a hint from George Soros near the end that the old capitalist certainties are changing (already there are moves to have the oil price quoted in a basket of currencies, including the Chinese Yuan) and with so many of the Western economies racking up huge debts he may well be right (he often is). So perhaps the lessons will be learned eventually, just not today.

The performances were all superb, as was to be expected from such a talented cast, and I only mention Anthony Calf in particular because he was not only on stage for almost the entire one and three quarter hours, he also provided the reactions that most of us would have had if we’d investigated the subject; bewilderment, anger, confusion, etc. I also liked his little demonstration of the need for speed in delivering a story, something the writer clearly understands. At one point, a journalist makes a comparison between the self confidence of the bankers and Hare’s own self belief. It’s a fair point in some ways, but then David Hare is unlikely to have been paid an obscene or disproportionate amount of money for writing his play, the enjoyment of his work is a subjective experience, and the measure of his success is bums on seats. The bankers, on the other hand, appear to be reaping rewards out of proportion to their effort or results, and the measure of their success can be clearly identified (if you can make sense of the bank’s accounts, that is). However, the comparison still has some validity, and I like the fact that this play has given me plenty to think about.

And how did it compare to Enron? Well, it didn’t have the singing and dancing nor the ladies’ knickers, but it did get the information across in an equally enjoyable way, so at least that’s two good things to come out of the credit crunch.

© 2009 Sheila Evans at

Gethsemane – February 2009


By David Hare

Directed by Howard Davies

Venue: Cottesloe Theatre

Date: Tuesday 24th February 2009

This was a much better piece than David Hare’s usual offerings, mainly because he seems to have decided to let the audience have some fun and kept the political pontificating to a couple of speeches in the penultimate scene. Hooray! He is a good writer, but this is probably the first time I’ve enjoyed of one of his plays so much.

The play is a look at the various aspects of political life in contemporary Britain, seen through the eyes of a number of different people. To start and end with, there’s the idealistic musician, still believing that people can make honest choices, and that politicians don’t have to sup with the devil as part of the job. Lori gave up a job as a music teacher to busk on the Tube, because she reached a Gethsemane moment, a period of being tested, and in this case she decided that teaching wasn’t for her.

One of her former students, Suzette (and what parent would name their child after a crepe?), has been caught taking drugs, and is possibly going to be expelled from her posh private school. However, her mother is the Home Secretary, Meredith Guest, and the party fixer, Otto Fallon, who just happens to be on the board of governors (because Meredith’s minder Monique could see that Suzette was a disaster not just waiting to happen but about to arrive any minute), arranges for a generous donation to the school for a new gym. The school doesn’t want any adverse publicity, so case solved. Except that a journalist, Geoff Benzine (where does he get these names?) gets to hear about this from Suzette herself, while he was shagging her. He’s just one of five men she has on the trot, in an attempt to cure her unhappiness (it doesn’t work). So, the PM, Alec Beasley, has to interrupt his drum practice to have a little chat with Meredith, to see if she’s prepared to fall on her sword for the good of the party. She says no, and so the party machine spins on, with Suzette out of the way in Italy, chaperoned by Lori, and Meredith turning up at a party thrown by Otto to celebrate his appointment to the board of the Royal Opera House.

This is the scene with the speechifying, as Mike, Lori’s husband, who did work for Meredith but took a job with Otto to do fundraising for the party, finally quits due to concerns about the morality of what’s going on. He’s the amiable duffer type – good at his job, but unambitious, and easily led by the canny operators (or sharks) that want his talents on their side. He expresses that vague sense of unease that something’s wrong, that we’ve got our priorities mixed up, that sort of thing, without being able to deliver a killer blow. Meredith has a much stronger response to that. She’s discovered that, in the final analysis, you might as well do exactly what you want to, as ‘they’ aren’t going to like you whatever you do. It’s true enough, though in this case, it leads to politicians who get the country into a total mess, and appear not to care. They don’t even resign; as long as they can spin that they’re doing the best they can, we have to keep on putting up with them.

The play has a number of scenes, interspersed with monologues from most of the characters. Lori starts it off by talking about people who believe in a book, and wondering where those who don’t believe without question fit in nowadays.  Monique tells us about warning politicians where the elephant traps are, only to watch them fall right in. Meredith tells us that we’re all at risk, but for security reasons she can’t tell us what the threat is, so we just have to trust her, and Mike tells us about meeting Lori for the first time. We also get a couple of monologues from Frank, Otto’s right-hand man. He’s a character who’s relatively uninvolved; his deadpan and laconic delivery are a joy to watch, and he gets some wonderfully funny lines, too. He starts off by discussing food choices (chicken and salmon), and then gives us an insight into the homosexual nature of Parliament. The best lines, though, were Monique’s, when she made an observation about the people becoming more sceptical and yet electing people who are more devout. It got a huge laugh, and she had to wait a few seconds before continuing.

The play ends with Suzette and Lori in Italy, and as they talk, Lori brings up the idea of Gethsemane again. Suzette finds it funny that Lori’s got the wrong end of the stick; the point of the story is that, despite all the doubts and reluctance, Jesus still went ahead. It’s a story of keeping on regardless, not about changing tack because you’re not certain anymore. When Suzette leaves, Lori starts to play the piano on the table top, and as the music fades in, the lights fade out.

There was a lot to admire in this play. The performances were very good, the writing was excellent – very clear and not too pompous – and there were a lot of laughs. I liked the first encounter between Otto and Mike; the language was almost Pinterish, and the characterisations were nicely detailed. However, I found the play a bit out of date already as we’re past the Blair years, and the financial situation has changed dramatically since the time this play was set. There wasn’t a lot that was new to me either, so while it was very enjoyable, it wasn’t particularly meaty. Still, good fun though, and I hope he continues in this vein.

© 2009 Sheila Evans at

Amy’s View – October 2006

Experience: 6/10

By David Hare

Directed by Peter Hall

Venue: Theatre Royal, Brighton

Date: Monday 16th October 2006

This was a little disappointing, though that may have been partly my attitude – I was pretty tired and couldn’t raise a lot of enthusiasm for going out.

The play concerns a mother and daughter who fall out over the daughter’s choice of partner. The disagreement isn’t helped by the daughter being pregnant. The events take place between 1979 and 1995, so we see quite a lot of development over the years. The daughter (Amy) and her partner have children, and eventually marry, while the mother (Esme), a widow, takes financial advice from a friendly neighbour, who, it turns out, is a commissioning agent for Lloyds of London. She ends up not only broke but owing bucketloads of money, and has to continue working to try to pay off some of her debts. Interestingly enough, she’s one of those who don’t agree with suing the agents who got people into those syndicates – her point of view is that she was happy enough when the money kept rolling in, so now she just has to swallow her medicine.

She’s an actress, mainly on the stage, and that’s one area of contention with Amy’s partner – he’s a bit of a prig, and thinks the stage is dead. Film and TV are the only media that matter. At the start, when he still seemed quite a nice bloke, he admits to wanting to make movies, then he ends up savagely sneering at them on TV, finally graduating to movie production. Amy seems to spend her time looking after the children, and although we don’t learn the details, we find out in the final act that she’s died. Her ex-partner, now married to another woman after running off with her, attempts a rapprochement with Esme, but is rebuffed. There’s also Esme’s elderly mother-in-law, who goes increasingly gaga, and, supposedly, the ghost of her long-dead husband, a well-known painter in his day. Personally, apart from a few references and lots of painting on the walls, I didn’t get much sense of his presence.

The strength of this production for me was the relationship between the two women. Both had made their choices, and were sticking to them. The mother wasn’t happy that her daughter had chosen a intellectual who wasn’t prepared to have a proper relationship with her daughter, while the daughter, naturally enough, wanted to be left alone to make her own decisions. Funnily enough, the mother then goes and makes a disastrous choice in her next male companion, so both women seem pretty well matched to me. Apart from this, there was some fun here and there, especially with the pompousness of Amy’s partner and his attitudes to art. And the opening of the third act, where Esme has had a hard time carrying out an operation while filming in the studio, was good fun too. But time and again I find myself asking what these plays are for. It’s interesting to be reminded of the precarious nature of the financial boom in the eighties, and the acting was fine all the way through, but I’m not sure I got a lot out of it that will stay with me, or provoke new ideas and fresh attitudes. As I say, it may just have been how I felt that night, but I suspect from past experience it’s a deeper problem than just one play.

© 2006 Sheila Evans at

The Life Of Galileo – October 2006

Experience: 10/10

By Bertolt Brecht, in a version by David Hare

Directed by Howard Davies

Venue: Olivier Theatre

Date: Wednesday 4th October 2006

This was excellent. It was lovely to see Simon Russell Beale again. I’ve missed many of his performances, for various reasons, and it was good to see he’s still as talented as before. He commands the stage, taking full advantage of the scope this part gives him. Even when he shows us Galileo’s unkindness towards his daughter, we can at least understand some of his reasons. He’s not a monster so much as a man obsessed.

The play covers a range of issues, but the central conflict is between science and dogma. The portrayal of the Catholic Church is refreshingly neutral, with church officials ranging from extreme dogmatists to enlightened thinkers, and it was good to see the niceties of the Church’s concerns put across. It was OK to talk about the Earth going round the Sun as a hypothetical mathematical concept, so long as it was said in Latin so the ordinary folk couldn’t get wind of it. In other words, don’t rock the boat, or we’ll throw you overboard! The overweening concern of those in power to stay in power was clear, although they tried to justify it by pretending their concern was only for those poor people who would lose the will to face such difficult lives without their absolute faith in God, as propounded by the Church. There were some lovely nuances through the play – I particularly liked the subtle innuendo of the Cardinal inquisitor (Oliver Ford Davies – another excellent performance) as he worked on Galileo’s daughter to recruit her as a spy, via her confessor. Although he could just have been warning her that anything they did would get back to him, so watch your step.

There were plenty of characters representing concerned friends, who wanted to support Galileo’s work, but who feared for his safety and that of his daughter, and others who supported him and wanted him to challenge the establishment and damn the consequences. Some of these were very disappointed, even angry, when they realised he had recanted his views, and I realised how much we human beings invest in our images of other people, how much we expect them to be perfect or heroic for us, rather than taking responsibility for our own lives and accepting others’ human frailties. I also saw how much we do this to God as well. So many people in this play saw no alternative to the Earth-centred, God created view of the world that would still allow God to exist as God. If not the still Earth at the centre, then chaos. Weird, given our greater knowledge now. Still, reason did not completely win out. The effects of Galileo’s choices left his daughter without a husband, so the human cost also had to be considered.

At one point I almost shouted out to contradict the Senior Cardinal, one of the pompous opponents of Galileo’s work. His view was that God would not have sent His only son to some little backwater of a planet on the edge of the universe. I felt like pointing out that He allowed His son to be born in a manger, so there! Obviously, this play got to me more than I realised, but I like that.

All the performances were excellent. The carnival scene reminded both of us of Cabaret, and I loved the astronomical images projected onto the back screen. The set was on a revolve, with the grid of an observatory dome at the back, not moving, three sets of French windows in bay formation at the front, or rotated to the back, and various doorways and walls with windows which could be moved around to form all sorts of acting spaces. Costumes were modern dress, and this worked well for me.

Some of the fun moments: Galileo is visited by a Dutch student looking for tuition, who tells him of the telescope people inHollandare using. Galileo grasps the idea immediately, sends out for some lenses, and pinches the idea in order to get a higher salary from the Venetians. The Dutch student’s main complaint is that he’s coloured the tube red. Then the fun begins. When the young Duke of Florence, Cosimo de Medici, comes to check out the telescope with his entourage, we get to see some of the ridiculous objections people had to Galileo’s discoveries. The mathematician objects to looking through the telescope, because logic dictates that if the agreed view of the solar system held that there were no objects orbiting bodies other than the Earth, then the telescope must be doing something wrong if it shows such things. The philosopher objected because he believed Aristotle to be correct, therefore the telescope must be wrong. (I’m getting the impression that far from being an important early scientist, Aristotle was a bit of a road block on the path to discovery.) When challenged to believe the evidence of his own eyes, he retorted that he did believe their evidence, when reading Aristotle! This nonsense was very entertaining, and although it has some echoes today, I found it more interesting as an indication of how far we’ve come since then.

We also get to see the robing of a Pope, Urban VIII. This is a long-winded business. The poor chap has to wear so many layers, presumably all representing something significant to Catholics at that time, that he wouldn’t be able to use a toilet easily. This is also the scene where the Cardinal Inquisitor requests permission to torture Galileo to get him to recant. Given Galileo’s squeamish nature, he reckons he only needs to show him the instruments of torture to do the trick, and the Pope agrees to that. The recantation scene itself was masterfully done. We see Galileo’s supporters waiting outside – his daughter, his housekeeper’s son, Andreas, whom Galileo introduced to science, the monk who ‘converted’ to Galileo’s views, and his lens-grinder. His daughter was praying for him, presumably so that he would recant. The others were bolstering their confidence by assuring each other that he wouldn’t. As the news broke, and the declaration is being read out, they crumble, none more so than Andreas, who rushes to attack Galileo when he appears. We actually see Galileo approaching first, through the windows, and he hesitates, obviously aware how his choice will have upset his friends. My thoughts about imposing expectations of heroism on others are above.

The masked ball was good, too. Again, the modern dress worked fine, and they were just skimpy masks rather than huge ones, but it got the effect across very well.

© 2006 Sheila Evans at

Pravda – September 2006

Experience: 6/10

By Howard Brenton and David Hare

Directed by Jonathan Church

Venue: Chichester Festival Theatre

Date: Thursday 21st September 2006

We saw this play back in the eighties, at the National, with Anthony Hopkins. I found I couldn’t remember much of it, except for Hopkins’ performance, so I came to this production as a virgin, almost. I found the play dated in parts and with a lack of depth to the characters, but still with some very interesting points to make about power and the abuse of it. There are still a lot of ideas coming to the surface.

The set was very stark. White panels at the back, a wide, raised platform for most of the action in the centre, with some snippets at the front and sides. The floor was covered in reverse print, suggestive of the old printing press, which partly lapped up onto the back panels. The two lower panels slid apart to create doors, slightly wider or narrower as required – simple but effective. A great deal of furniture came on and off during the play, but this was cleverly covered by business at the front of the stage, e.g. newspaper vendors selling their wares and giving us useful headlines to carry the action forward. There were also media interviews of various characters. These two writers know how to put something on the stage; I’ll say that for them.

I enjoyed all of the performances, and only had one difficulty – there’s a scene with four characters speaking with contrasting accents, South African, Australian, Yorkshire, and RP. Maybe it was the weird combination, but I found this hard to follow. Some of the accents seemed to be wandering around the globe a bit, and weren’t immediately recognisable, although this scene was the only one that gave me any real problem.

The play is about the takeover of the British media in the eighties by, mainly, Rupert Murdoch. Represented here by Lambert Le Roux, a South African, he bullies his way to the top, discarding the husks of people he’s used along the way. Those who try to fight back are ruthlessly trampled underfoot, until all come under his sway. Only those who walk away can survive with souls intact, although that’s not as clearly stated as one might wish. It was a tremendous performance by Roger Allam in the lead role. Like Anthony Hopkins, he had the strong physical posture – wide stance, very upright, moving from the shoulders like a bull looking for a china shop. I was convinced by his power and ruthlessness, though not so sure that he could be physically violent when need be. Still, it was a great performance, and fortunately, given that this is a play about a strong, dominating character, the other performances were on a par. The whole production has a balanced feel to it, and there were some lovely cameos for minor characters, such as the political correspondent, whose job was to explain the parliamentary lobby system to us innocents.

It’s interesting to compare our attitudes then and now. I remembered on the journey home how much the British media had been in thrall to Murdoch when he first started mauling his competition. The BBC, in particular, struck me as very wimpish in not standing up to his criticism and fighting their corner. He was a shark swimming into waters that had never seen anything bigger than a herring and he killed at will, but now everyone’s toughened up and shark is the norm.

This play has stood the test of time, and is a good record of the attitudes then, and a warning of how things can change. As Lambert says, “You never used your editorial freedom when you had the chance.” The price of freedom is indeed eternal vigilance, and plays like this help.

© 2006 Sheila Evans at

Enemies – June 2006

Experience: 6/10

By Maxim Gorky, adapted by David Hare

Directed by Michael Attenborough

Venue: Almeida Theatre

Date: Saturday 3rd June 2006

          This was a fascinating play. Chekhov with politics. Where Chekhov is saying a fond farewell to the old ways, Gorky is bellowing a robust “Hello” to the new. This was the Russian revolution in microcosm, including the naïve idealistic bourgeoisie who will be sadly disappointed, not to mention shot, when the revolution has run its course.

There were too many good performances to single anyone out – a real ensemble piece, and with a surprisingly large cast for such a small theatre. The adaptation was excellent, with plenty of humour, and it’s the first time I’ve seen a samovar used properly on stage (or perhaps the first time I’ve noticed it?).

© 2006 Sheila Evans at