The Winslow Boy – April 2013

Experience: 9/10

By Terence Rattigan

Directed by Lindsay Posner

Venue: Old Vic

Date: Wednesday 24th April 2013

There was the usual screen in front of the stage at the start of this performance, showing an extract from a legal text detailing Petition of Rights procedures. Being familiar with the play, this was quite interesting to read, though as it was only one page I soon ran out of material. When the screen rose, the set was revealed: an Edwardian drawing room with the door to the hall on the left wall, double folding doors to the dining room centre back and French windows to the garden on the right. The sofa was central, in front of the dining room doors, and had round plush green cushions. A matching chair stood on the left and a brown leather wingback chair on the right with a table beside it. The telephone was on a small table by the main door, and the remaining furniture and furnishings were all suitably appropriate, as were the costumes.

This was a very good production. Henry Goodman played Mr Winslow with more of an emphasis on the comedy than I would have wished, but he still gave a very strong central performance; I wasn’t as moved as I have been with some other productions, but I wasn’t dry-eyed either. The rest of the cast were all top-notch too, and the mock trial scene at the end of the first half went very well. This time, I fancied there was a chance for Sir Robert and Grace to have a relationship in the future. I will just mention Wendy Nottingham as the maid, Violet. It can be difficult nowadays for an audience to appreciate just how eccentric a maid Violet is, but today it was clear from the outset that she ‘just wouldn’t do’ for most respectable families with her casual attitude and complete lack of discretion. A lovely performance in a very strong ensemble.

© 2013 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

The Turn Of The Screw – February 2013

Experience: 6/10

By Henry James, adapted by Rebecca Lenkiewicz

Directed by Lindsay Posner

Venue: Almeida Theatre

Date: Wednesday 13th February 2013

This story has two main directions, the psychological and the supernatural; this production took the supernatural path and did it reasonably well. The effects were good, ranging from a face appearing at the window in a sudden flash of light and papers flicked off a desk to chalk writing by itself on the blackboard and Quint joining the Governess in bed. There was a fair amount of tension, although it wasn’t maintained for the whole performance; I certainly won’t be losing any sleep.

It took a while to set up the story. The opening scene was set in Sackville’s office, where he was interviewing a young woman for the post of governess to his deceased sister’s two children. He was a strange man; he clearly liked his pleasures, and having travelled in the East he was also able to introduce ideas such as people having a predetermined destiny and the return of a soul. Sometimes he seemed to be making a pass at the woman and at others he wasn’t interested – most peculiar. The Governess came across as a bit nervy, but of the two I’d have said Sackville was the one to steer clear of.

At Bly, Mrs Grose (Gemma Jones) was the kindly, reliable sort, and there was just enough hesitation in her manner to indicate some unseen trouble. Flora was the first of the children we met; she was cute and bright with a fondness for creepy-crawlies but nothing out of the ordinary for that time and place, apart from her strange foreknowledge that her brother Miles would be arriving that day, a week before the end of term.

We never learned the full reason for Miles being expelled – it was couched in general terms – but the young man who arrived soon after Flora’s departure seemed perfectly normal, and with good manners to boot. He was a bit precocious, but that can happen with the privately-educated sons of the wealthy. The childrens’ behaviour did become stranger, and with the appearance of the ghosts it was evident that they were both under some kind of spell.

The interval came after the first appearances of Quint in the flashes of lightning from a sudden storm. The housekeeper recognised the Governess’s description of the man, and just as she was telling the Governess that he was dead, the children burst into the room, laughing. Creepy. (I admit to holding onto Steve’s arm a number of times during the performance – this was one of them.)

More appearances occurred in the second half, with the children clearly being affected by them and Mrs Grose, despite seeing nothing herself, evidently believing they were happening. The Governess’s religious fervour was starting to emerge, and her belief that the children had to be saved from evil at all costs was becoming as scary as the apparitions. With matters coming to a head, Flora was taken away by Mrs Grose, leaving the Governess to confront Miles in a last attempt to force him to turn from the dark side by confessing what had got him expelled from school. He wouldn’t do it, and with Quint leering at them through the window, the Governess had to take desperate measures to ‘save’ her charge.

The ending was less gripping than I would have expected, and from some of the comments I heard, others weren’t clear what had happened. I felt this adaptation hadn’t quite found the right balance; the supernatural stuff just isn’t as powerful on stage nowadays without creating a tense atmosphere, and that aspect was underwritten for me. There was too much normality, and the Governess in particular was a blank slate, making it hard to relate to her experiences. There were hints of her background, but not enough to make a difference, and the effects, while good, were not enough on their own to keep the tension going.

The set worked reasonably well. They used a circular stage with a revolve which had a wall across it, making it easier to change to different locations – the office, drawing-room, schoolroom, etc. In a curve round the back and above the stage were some windows and broken masonry, suggesting the old country house setting. The lake was created by a little jetty with a boat tied to it, backed by some tall grasses. The costumes looked appropriate for period and class, as far as I could tell.

Although the revolve usually helps with quick changes to the set, I found the changes this time were a little slower than I expected, and that made the production seem bitty, which contributed to the reduced tension. The performances were fine, but I probably wouldn’t see this adaptation again without good reason.

© 2013 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Noises Off – February 2012

10/10

By Michael Frayn

Directed by Lindsay Posner

Venue: Old Vic Theatre

Date: Wednesday 1st February 2012

I’m having a bit of difficulty rating this performance. We saw the first production of this play back in 1982 at the Savoy theatre, and it was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen on stage. I was laughing all the way home and into next week – I hurt from laughing. It would be unfair to expect this production to reach those heights especially as it didn’t have the advantage of surprise, but if I give it 9/10 it would be unfair. So I guess I’ll just have to rate the first production as 11/10, and leave it at that.

This cast were just wonderful in recreating these roles, and the script was just as funny as before. I particularly liked Robert Glenister as the director, Lloyd Dallas, who gets some of the funniest lines, but everyone was very good and there were no weak links. The set has to be the same, of course, this being farce. There’s no point going into the details of the story; I will just mention that reading the play text added to my enjoyment, as there are some very funny descriptions of the characters.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Fiddler On The Roof – October 2007

10/10

Book by Joseph Stein, music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick

Directed by: Lindsay Posner

Venue: Savoy Theatre

Date: Saturday 27th October 2007

This was only ever going to be 10/10, from long before it started. I was sobbing before the opening music, as Steve reminded me of the signature image of the fiddler on the roof (trust him not to have seen the film, not know who was in it apart from Topol, but to remember the name of the fiddler!) and that set me off. Sorry about this, it’s been an emotional afternoon, and I’m still recovering.

This was absolutely wonderful. I’m so glad we took the opportunity to get up to London and check out the ticket availability (half-price ticket booth, of course). Henry Goodman as Tevye was superb. It’s a part he was born to play, and from what we know of him, he’ll have thrown himself into it body and soul. It shows. He was a huge presence on stage, not drowning out the others, but always holding it together, keeping us involved, and giving us most of the laughs. Even the smallest change of expression came across back in row P. And his singing voice was a revelation. His range was wider than I expected, sort of a bass-baritone, and it was wonderfully rich and expressive. Of course, we bought the cast recording, so I’ll have plenty of opportunities to appreciate it again.

All of the cast were good, of course, and the energy they put into this performance was amazing. I only wish they could have a space like the Olivier to show off their talents even more, as occasionally the Savoy stage looked a little cramped. I know it’s meant to be a small village, but this is make-believe, after all. The set was all tattered wooden slats and beams. The revolve came in handy to change the setting quickly, but there was still a lot of table and chair shifting to do. Fortunately, there was  always some music to keep us engrossed, so the momentum was never lost.

What else can I say? There were lots of laughs, some great dancing, the fiddler was very good (dancing-wise), the orchestra were fine, the dream sequence vivid and highly amusing, and I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed, with occasional intervals. I wasn’t the only one enjoying it, either, as we gave Tevye a standing ovation at the end, and would have carried on applauding if there hadn’t been one of those charity appeals to do. Henry Goodman managed it very well, including an impromptu comment about accidents after a loud thump came from off-stage, and we all went away happy, and singing to ourselves. Happy day.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me