Our Country’s Good – February 2013

Experience: 8/10

By Timberlake Wertenbaker

Directed by Max Stafford-Clark

Company: Out Of Joint

Venue: St James Theatre

Date: Thursday 14th February 2013

We were keen to see this revival by the same director as the original production at the Royal Court, and having seen a touring production last year as well, the play was fresh in our minds. This set was more stable and more compact than the previous touring one, but essentially the same. The stage had been extended to meet the third row of the seating, with only a few seats of the first two rows left round each side. In the centre stood a shallow square platform which could be moved forward and back, and on top of this was a large box with two half-lids which was used in all sorts of ways. Over this platform was a stout wooden framework which held the curtains and backdrops for both the ‘live’ action and the play-within-a-play. The use of pulleys and ropes along with the rough wood evoked the sense of a makeshift building, appropriate for a new colony. To either side at the back was a wooden door, and additional boxes and some furniture were added as needed. Costumes were the usual mix – tatty civilian clothes for the prisoners and splendid uniforms for the officers.

The story was told much as before, though there was a lighter touch today which only served to emphasise the darker aspects. The flogging scene at the start was staged with the floggee off stage to the left, and while the rest of the convicts huddled in the open box on the platform, the flogger ran across the back of the stage to get some welly behind the stroke. One of the officers stood by the front of the platform keeping count, and it was darkly funny. Not so funny when the poor chap was brought on stage, bleeding and unable to stand. This sort of mix went all through the performance, and I felt it worked well. I also spotted the brief, often one word introductions to some scenes; either I missed this last time or didn’t note it up. The aborigine didn’t look as sick towards the end of the play as in the previous production at the Rose, so that point didn’t come across as strongly, but otherwise the sense of brutality and the liberating effect of performance were as good as before.

The whole ensemble were very good, playing their multiple parts well, including Dominic Thorburn who was only playing Second Lieutenant Ralph Clark. I particularly liked Matthew Needham as Robert Sideway, the pickpocket who’s exceedingly keen to act in the play and who does his best to imitate the acting style of the day – very funny.

There were fewer songs this time around, and I realised that the problem I’d had with understanding some of the dialogue last time was because the characters used slang a lot of the time, especially when Liz Morden was describing her experiences. We’re not seeing The Recruiting Officer again this time around, as nobody’s thought to stage it for us – shame – but fortunately this play works very well on its own.

© 2013 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Top Girls – July 2011

8/10

By: Caryl Churchill

Directed by: Max Stafford-Clark

Venue: Minerva Theatre

Date: Thursday 14th July 2011

We’d seen this play back in the early 90s, and I hadn’t cared for it much. However, we do like to see every production in Chichester’s Festival seasons, so we included this production, but kept our expectations low. As so often happens when we do that, the experience turns out to be much better than we’d hoped, and I saw a lot more in the play than I remember from the earlier production.

The opening scene, the dinner party with several dead and fictional guests, was done virtually in the round, with a table towards the front of the space and the entrance to the restaurant at the back, down some steps. The conversation was just as muddled as before, and although it seemed contrived at times, on the whole I found it pretty realistic. Even though several of the guests had their backs to us, I actually heard and understood much more of this party scene than before, and some of the business was much more fun. Dull Gret, for example, with her back to us, could easily be seen tipping as much food as possible into the basket by her side, which gave her plenty of ammunition for the bread-throwing section.

The shift in tone to the rest of the play didn’t jar, as far as I was concerned, even if it was unusual. The kids’ conversation did go on a bit, but it did convey important information. The change to the employment agency was also good, with desks being brought on very quickly, and bales of hay removed just as fast. The final scene, with the confrontation between the two sisters’ perspectives and the confirmation of Angie’s parentage, was well done, and on the whole I can see why this play is regarded as a classic. I wouldn’t go out of my way to see this it again, but it was nice to revisit it and gain a fresh perspective.

© 2011 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

King Of Hearts – February 2007

8/10

By: Alistair Beaton

Directed by: Ramin Gray asnd Max Stafford Clark

Company: Out Of Joint

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Thursday 8th February 2007

This was the world premiere of this play, as it turned out, and we were also treated to a post-show discussion, as directors and writer were present to see how it went. Personally, I thought it was very good, needing a bit of work here and there, but very entertaining, and speaking out on some issues that are being skirted round at the moment, but which affect everyone of us.

General context – the King is dying, his heirs are his two sons. The elder (Richard) is in love with a Muslim girl (Nasreen), and plans to marry her while still becoming King. The younger (Arthur) is a layabout, keen on a dissolute lifestyle of drink, drugs, etc., and not at all keen on becoming King if his brother abdicates. The Prime Minister (Richard) is plotting the early demise of the King (he’s on life support, so it’s just switching off the machine), until he discovers Richard’s plans. Then he switches to trying to keep the King alive as long as possible to stop Richard marrying a Muslim. Constitutional crisis. The Leader of the Opposition (Stephen) is present also – this is “above party politics” – and all sorts of shenanigans unfold. Nasreen seems to be keen on power – I hoped she’d reject Richard if he didn’t become King, but no, love overcame all. There’s also a rambling Archbishop of Canterbury (Marcus), plodding head of security (Holbrook), King’s private secretary (Sir Terence Pitch), ballsy female spin doctor (Annie), and gay assistant (Toby), giving us a good mix of views on a tricky subject, and lots of options for humour. I especially liked Toby blackmailing the Leader of the Opposition with a video clip showing him enjoying a sexual act, and Annie slapping Arthur for using the word “cunt”. Overall, the language wasn’t as strong as The Thick Of It, but it was fairly meaty at times, all well within context.

Post-show – didn’t hear all of it. The intro, where we get to see that Richard is involved with a Muslim lady, will be dropped tomorrow, to see how it goes – is it better for the audience to know what’s coming, or to be surprised? We were a very warm audience apparently, and they learned a lot from our responses. Jade Goody joke was allowed tonight, would only stay in if it was well received – expect it to stay. Comments on the amount of swearing – audience seemed split on whether it was too much or about right.

Definitely one to see again, partly to find out how it’s bedded down, and partly to re-enjoy.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me