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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Dorothea’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: Monday 6th January 2014

This is the first part of The Middlemarch Trilogy adapted by Geoffrey Beevers from the novel by George Eliot. We’re booked for parts two and three on consecutive days, and already I’m keen to see how some of these characters develop when viewed from a fresh perspective. Today’s offering was very entertaining, with more humour than I’d expected; a TV adaptation years ago had left me with the impression that the story was dreadfully dull and the characters mostly unpleasant and uninteresting, and I’m delighted to report that that assessment was completely wrong. These characters were clearly drawn but not superficial or stereotypical; I could sympathise with many of them while still being aware of their flaws, and I certainly cared enough to want to know what happened to each of them through the twists and turns of a fairly complex plot.

This opening story concentrated on Dorothea and her unhappy marriage to Mr Casaubon, the rector of Lowick. We started off by seeing two potential suitors for Dorothea’s hand: the aforementioned Mr Casaubon and Sir James Chettam, a neighbour of Dorothea’s uncle and one of the local gentry. I don’t know if there are any other suitors in the novel, but these two worked very well to show us Dorothea’s major character flaw – a fanatical yearning for self-sacrifice in a noble cause (poor girl). Naturally with that obsession on her part, plus a reasonable amount of intelligence, she saw the decaying but intellectual Casaubon as a veritable babe magnet compared to the relatively straightforward (and much younger) country squire Sir James.

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Audience – November 2008

6/10

By Vaclav Havel, translated by Carol Rocamora and Tomas Rychetsky

Directed by Geoffrey Beevers

Venue: Orange Tree Theatre

Date: Thursday 20th November 2008

The set was an office in a brewery. There was a table in the middle of the stage, surrounded by crates and metal barrels, and there were two chairs. The place looked rough – there was an old style radio (old even in the 70s) next to a barrel on our side of the table, and a small ball of twine sat on the barrel itself. To the far left, the door had the usual nude pictures, and a sign above the door said something like if you’re full of beer, you’re full of cheer.

The first of two plays, Audience concerned a meeting between Vanek and the foreman of the brewery he’s working in. When the lights go up, the foreman is snoozing, face down on his desk. When Vanek knocks, he wakes up and invites Vanek to come in and sit down, which he does, eventually. The foreman also offers him a glass of beer. Vanek is a reluctant drinker – we learn he prefers wine – but he does manage to drink a little. He also manages to get rid of a fair bit into the foreman’s glass when he’s away relieving himself. The foreman puts away more than enough for the both of them, though, as he keeps reaching into the crate beside him for another bottle. This became quite funny, and before long he had to disappear through the little door. Sounds of water in various forms, and then he’s back again, adjusting his flies and pulling down his apron. This became the major structural motif for this play.

Verbally, there was a cycle of repetition of what Vanek liked to drink, stories about the brewery, and warnings about Vanek’s relationship with another writer. Gradually, as the foreman became increasingly drunk, the pressure he was under to report on Vanek and his activities was revealed.

After too many beers, the foreman falls asleep, and Vanek puts him back in his chair, the way he was at the start, and leaves. We then get a reprise of the opening, with Vanek knocking on the door, the foreman waking up, etc. This time, Vanek seems more confident, and readily drinks the first glass of beer he’s offered – perhaps he’s learning? – and that’s where the play ends.

This was lovely little piece which showed us the effects of living under a repressive regime. The wariness about saying too much too openly, the recourse to alcohol to deaden the senses, the need for others to conform so as not to cause problems for those around them, all these came across very clearly as we went through another little repetitive dance. Along with the humour, and seeing just how human these people are to remind us that this can happen anywhere, this made for a very enjoyable opening play.

There was the usual post-show chat, but I find I’ve forgotten most of what was said. There was some confirmation of the way Havel and many other writers chose to use surrealism to mask anti-government writing – if they couldn’t understand it, they couldn’t ban it. I suspect that’s what makes some European drama inaccessible to me – you had to have been there. The amount of beer being drunk in the first play (Audience) was commented on; apparently the timing of each bottle and glass was tricky, but turned out to be crucial to the scene. I do remember there were some long anecdotes by people who had been to Czechoslovakia which seemed to have very little to add to the experience of the discussion, at least not as much as the actual Czech folk who contributed to the earlier talks, so perhaps that’s why I don’t have a lot more to say here.

© 2008 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me