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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Dangerous Corner – October 2014

Experience: 7/10

By J B Priestley

Directed by Michael Attenborough

A Bill Kenwright Production

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Friday 17th October 2014

This is one of my favourite Priestley plays, so it doesn’t take much for me to have a good time, but this was still a decent production. The performances were fine, and the set was a lovely 1930s style drawing room; Art Deco dripped from every item. A large circular rug in the middle of the stage had a diamond inlay pattern – at first, in the pre-performance gloom, we suspected it was part of the wooden floor – with a sofa on the right and two comfy chairs on the left. The fireplace on the far left had a square wooden mantelpiece and a brightly painted folding screen stood beside it. The double doors at the centre back were flanked by tall bookcases; their glass doors had wooden diamond-shaped inserts which were echoed by the panes of the two tall windows far right. Various tables, chairs and other furnishings completed the picture of a well-to-do family drawing room of the period, and the mood was enhanced by the contemporary music played before the start.

There was no messing with the play either, not that it’s possible to do that when the structure is so perfect and so important. The audience was supportive as well, gasping a little at the revelation just before the interval, as well as laughing heartily at the humour of the restart. We were in the front row, and so close to the action we felt we were practically in the same room, fortunately without being interrogated ourselves. The reprise was nicely done, and when Gordon found the dance music on the radio, the discrepancy regarding the cigarette box was easily smoothed over. They then mimed for a bit before taking their bows – Charles Stanton asked the various ladies for a dance and was refused by Betty and Freda, while Olwen chose to drift past him and dance with Robert instead. They sashayed for a while to the music, moving towards the front of stage while the rest of the cast stayed out of their way, and then they all came forward for their bows. Since it’s charity week at the theatre (although this is the first time we were propositioned, surprisingly) Michael Praed stopped the applause – an unusual thing for an actor to do as he acknowledged – and gave us the necessary information as to why buckets would be rattling at us as we made our way out. One final burst of clapping and we were done. A good end to the playgoing week.

© 2014 Sheila Evans at


King Lear – October 2012


By William Shakespeare

Directed by Michael Attenborough

Venue: Almeida Theatre

Date: Saturday 6th October 2012

This was a very clear, good staging with some nicely detailed performances. I didn’t find it as engaging as the recent Donmar and Tobacco Factory versions, probably because the Almeida is still effectively a proscenium arch space; this was a very good production nonetheless. There were few significant staging choices, but the emphasis on the narrative and strong energy kept us engaged throughout.

The set was a semicircle of castle walls in rough stonework. There were two levels, with five openings spaced round the walls. On the upper level there were three balconies in the middle flanked by two windows, while below there was a large central doorway  with folding metal doors, an ordinary door on either side and doorways on each end of the curve. The flagstones on the stage were crossed with grilles, which could have been used for water if they’d had any; instead they were simply used for lighting effects. There was a bench on each side, and a throne on a dais was brought on as needed through the central doorway. For the second half, with most of the scenes being set around Dover, the benches were cleared away and strips of rough planting placed strategically around the stage, both above and below. There were several electric lights round the walls, and a ridge of stone between the two floors such as in ruined buildings, indicating that a floor used to be there. There was little other evidence of decay so I assume that was just a design feature. This mixture of modern and pseudo-mediaeval was also present in the costumes, some of which looked a bit chunky for comfort, but the overall effect was fine.

The text was a blend of the Folio and Quarto, so it was largely familiar but with the occasional difference which kept it fresh to my ears. They began in near darkness, with a figure coming through one of the doors and lurking near the front of the stage. This was Gloucester, and he was joined soon after the lights came up by Kent for the opening lines. As they spoke these, another man appeared in a different doorway and was spotted by Kent, who referenced him with the line “Is not this your son, my lord?” Gloucester was as embarrassing as usual, play-boxing with Edmund, giving far too much detail about his conception and announcing that “away he shall again”. Edmund bore these humiliations stoically, and was pleased to make Kent’s acquaintance, but his unhappiness with his lot was clear.

The court only just arrived before the king did; Cordelia had to skip quickly across the stage to kneel before her father as he came through the doors at the back. They all had to move when Lear ordered the map to be spread out, as it was more like a carpet than a map. Regan and Goneril stood to the left with their husbands, while Cordelia stood to the right. Lear was much more affectionate to Cordelia in this scene, and it was no surprise that her sisters didn’t like her much.

The announcement of his semi-retirement didn’t come as a shock to the court – presumably this had been discussed beforehand – but when he asked the question “which of you shall we say doth love us most” he definitely caught them by surprise. Goneril looked quite pleased, as if she felt she had a better chance now that flattery was an option. Albany bent forward to have a word in her ear while Lear completed his speech; meanwhile Regan stepped forward, ready and willing to have a go (typical second child). Lear beamed at her eagerness, but decided to go in age order. Goneril was smoothly into her stride, and it was abundantly clear to anyone with common sense that her words were excessive and undoubtedly false. Lear didn’t see it that way though – he loved every minute of it, kissed her at the end and not only showed which area she would get, he stood her on it as well, on the right hand side of the map. He also put a coronet on her head. Cordelia delivered her asides during her sisters’ speeches from the right side of the stage.

Regan was just as quick with her praise, and I didn’t notice any reaction from Goneril when Regan made her comment about coming “too short”. Again, this was laid on with a trowel, and Lear came across as a bit mad already with his ready acceptance of such obvious flattery. Regan got a cuddle from Lear, and I was starting to think he was a bit too affectionate with his daughters – what had gone on in the past? Regan stood on the left hand side of the map, also with the coronet which Lear had given her. Then Lear took Cordelia and not only placed her on the middle of the map but put the coronet on her head before she’d said a word, he was so sure that she wouldn’t disappoint him.

Cordelia’s first “nothing” was treated as a joke, with Lear and the sisters smiling. Her continued refusal to play the game astounded Lear at first, and then he became angry. He also started feeling his chest, as if he was getting pains or tightness there, and through the next section he loosened his jacket or waistcoat, revealing his shirt underneath. When he told Albany and Cornwall to split Cordelia’s lands between them, he snatched the coronet off her head and threw it at the two lords. He was behaving really badly, but worse was to come.

Kent’s intervention was very strong; he stood up to Lear but to no avail, and he left just as Gloucester was coming back in to announce the entrance of France and Burgundy. Gloucester noticed that something was up, but obviously didn’t know the details at that time. Cordelia stood front and centre for this part, facing the throne to begin with then turning to face us or her father as the scene continued. Cordelia was quite scathing about Burgundy’s concern for money and status, and didn’t seem to react much to the King of France’s speeches, but then she’d had a tough day already, poor lamb. Lear flounced off with the rest of the court apart from Goneril and Regan, and Cordelia was almost out of the door after “with washed eyes Cordelia leaves you”, but couldn’t resist coming back to have another go at the two of them. The sisters’ conference after she left showed that they were willing to cooperate with each other in dealing with their father, with Goneril taking the lead.

Edmund’s opening speech was fine. He had the letter ready prepared on a scrappy piece of parchment and was sitting on one of the benches reading it when his father arrived and asked to read it. I was very aware, when Gloucester made his comments about “nothing” that he wasn’t present when Cordelia upset Lear with her “nothing”. So two “nothings” set us up for a serious tragedy with lots of deaths – a powerful word indeed. Edmund played his part well enough, seemingly concerned to support his brother while stitching him up even more. Gloucester was as easily fooled as Lear, and Edmund’s sneering analysis of Gloucester’s superstitions was well received by the audience. In fact there was more laughter during this Lear than any other production I’ve seen.

Edgar was just as easy to fool as his father, but first Edmund had to get his attention away from the delectable young woman Edgar was grappling with when he came on stage. Still mostly clothed, they looked like that wouldn’t last for long until Edmund pulled the young woman to one side, gave her a small coin for her trouble and sent her packing. Who knew Edgar was such a man-about-town? Quite how he got his lines out with all the snogging I don’t know, but he managed it.

Goneril’s complaints about her father’s behaviour seemed reasonable given his outburst in the opening scene, and she was clearly angry at having to deal with these problems. Kent had shaved his beard off, so his disguise was believable for once, with his rough clothes and changed accent. Lear was in good humour to begin with, and I noticed he was constantly calling for his fool. The exchange with Oswald was straightforward, and then the fool arrived. A tall chap, he wore grey clothes and a square cloth hat and spoke with a Geordie accent. He and Lear seemed to have a good relationship, despite Cordelia’s banishment, but although Lear commented on his singing, the fool seemed to sing less than usual this time.

With Goneril’s arrival Lear started to lose his temper, and his curse on her fertility really upset her. She was crying afterwards, though she tried to show a brave face while Lear was still there, and she recovered herself when her husband started to interfere – telling him off gave her something else to think about. Oswald was sent off with a letter, and then Lear re-entered, sending the disguised Kent off with a similar letter. Lear was very upset, and again I could see how this disturbance made him better at answering the fool’s question about the stars. He even mimicked the fool a bit, too. His line “Keep me in temper. I would not be mad” was addressed directly to the fool, an instruction to use his skills to keep Lear sane. The fool’s final lines were “cut shorter” in this production – not a bad choice.

Edgar’s flight had a slightly unusual staging. Edmund came on and called up to the right hand balcony for his brother, who came forward but then pulled back when Curran arrived. Edmund had a quick chat with Curran about the Duke of Cornwall’s arrival, then Curran left and Edgar arrived on stage. Their talk and fight were pretty standard and after Edgar left, Edmund wounded himself on the arm; they didn’t use fake blood for this injury. Regan and Cornwall’s arrival was straightforward, and nothing was made of Edmund’s injury (Regan sometimes binds it up herself).

Kent and Oswald had a right set-to, with Oswald’s long dagger no match for Kent’s machete-like sword. There were some laughs during Cornwall’s interrogation of the two messengers, but even so it all ended unhappily. The stocks which Kent was put in had a wooden back and floor with the leg stocks at the end, and it was placed in the centre of the stage. Kent’s arms were also tied to the sides of this structure, but he was able to take out the letter to read by moonlight.

With the stage temporarily darkened and sound effects indicating pursuit, Edgar came on at the side of the stage to explain his plan for escape. Near the end, two soldiers came on and Edgar fell to the ground and did his “Poor Tom” impression; he’d already removed his shirt, and when one of the soldiers checked him over it was a good enough disguise to fool him. Edgar’s comment “that’s something yet” referred to the success of his impersonation,

Lear and the fool arrived once Edgar left, and the unhappy encounter played out as usual. Lear worked hard to restrain his temper when he found that Cornwall and Regan were unavailable, but the efforts of his two daughters to exert their authority over him proved too much in the end, and he left with the fool, still desperately trying to keep his sanity.

Kent met with another man and sent his message to Cordelia, and then Lear and the fool entered to do the storm scene without a drop of water to be seen. Just acting. Almost revolutionary in modern terms. Kent returned, and the hovel was entered by a trapdoor. Edgar emerged wearing a fairly substantial loincloth, and hid himself beside Lear when Gloucester turned up. Lear was clearly fixated on his daughter’s ingratitude, and his madness was entirely believable and quite touching, though not as moving as I’ve known it before. At the end of the scene, the fool simply left, clearly deciding that Lear was no longer worth following. I forget exactly when Gloucester had his short scene with Edmund, but this took place up on the central balcony, as did the subsequent scene between Cornwall and Edmund.

They took the interval after this scene, and restarted with the dreaded blinding scene. Apart from noticing Regan’s enjoyment of the whole sordid business, and spotting that Cornwall had been given some eye-like stuff to hold after each bit of nastiness, I avoided as much of the unpleasantness as I could. Regan was concerned for her husband this time, after his stabbing by one of the servants, and the other two servants, a man and a woman, were left to comment on Cornwall’s actions and look after Gloucester.

Edgar’s happy philosophising was cut short by his father’s arrival with bloody bandaged eyes, and I found his reactions to events the most moving in this performance. I could see how difficult the situation was for him, pretending to be the bedlam beggar Poor Tom and helping his blinded father to Dover to commit suicide. Tough for anyone, but especially after everything he’d already gone through. Edgar’s later description of the high cliff was very good, and I was more aware this time that they were just standing in a field or similar at the time.

Meanwhile, back at Albany’s HQ, Goneril arrived with Edmund and was informed of her husband’s strange attitude. She gave Edmund a long kiss before he left, and although Oswald looked a little uncomfortable as he stood there, I didn’t get the impression that he’d been as close to his mistress as in some productions. The news of Gloucester’s blinding interrupted the marital row, and Goneril was naturally worried about the proximity of Edmund to her newly-widowed sister.

Cordelia made a brief appearance as Queen of France, sending out people to find her father, and then Regan had her unsatisfactory conversation with Oswald. The scene at the top of the ‘cliff’ was good, and then Lear turned up, stark mad. There was some humour in this part, and the dialogue was nice and clear. Oswald was soon killed and his letter taken and read by Edgar, who then took Gloucester off to safety.

Lear’s awakening was nicely done, and then there were the usual preparations for the battle, followed by the final post-battle scene with all its revelations. Edgar and Edmund had a proper fight, and when Lear returned with Cordelia, another man was carrying her body. Lear did a lot of chest clutching again before he died, and for once the bodies of Edmund, Goneril and Regan weren’t cluttering up the stage. Kent got up and left after saying his final lines, and Edgar said the play’s closing lines with sadness and a sense that he accepted his new position.

The staging was so straightforward that I’m surprised to find so little to note up. The dialogue was mostly clear and intelligible, which helped a lot, and the details of the story came out very well. The pace was brisk, and although I wasn’t as moved this time, I did enjoy the production very much.

Jonathan Pryce gave an excellent central performance as Lear, with lots of detail and a willingness to let the character be unlikeable at the start. This was one of the reasons I felt less emotionally involved, as Lear was so obviously unbalanced from the beginning that the other relationships didn’t quite gel for me. Why would Kent be so loyal? Cordelia may well have been the pampered one, but she’s not stupid and she sees what’s going on, so why would she be so unaware of her father’s instability? The pace of the performance kept me from dwelling on these points, but there was a general sense that this was a production which hadn’t plumbed the depths of meaning in all areas, even though it hung together pretty well.

Goneril was played by Zoe Waites who is always superb, and this was another great performance. Jenny Jules played Regan, and I found her dialogue not as clear as the others which was a surprise. Her performance was fine, though not as detailed as some, but that may have been down to the production choices. Phoebe Fox was a winsome Cordelia, and Ian Gelder a dependable Kent with flashes of temper in his insults to Oswald. Clive Wood’s Gloucester was another good portrayal, and I liked Richard Goulding’s Edgar. The rest of the cast were fine and the audience were very appreciative at the end, and rightly so.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at

Filumena – April 2012


By Eduardo de Filippo

Directed by MIchael Attenborough

Venue: Alemida Theatre

Date: Wednesday 18th April 2012

It was good to see this one again. It’s been almost thirty years since we saw it at the Connaught, in the days of three-weekly rep (pause for a nostalgic sigh), and I remembered enjoying it then, even if I didn’t remember the story. The set was lovely, the performances all very good, and there were many loud laughs during the afternoon.

The set was wonderfully detailed, with an overall wash of sepia and lots of flowers everywhere creating a strong Mediterranean feel. The location was a small terrace inside a large house, with steps up to the first floor hidden away at the back, and doors to the kitchen and Domenico’s study on either side. Above the study doors was the balcony to Filumena’s room, and the terrace held a round table and several chairs, as well as a tree growing towards the back. The costumes were all in keeping too.

The story was relatively simple: Filumena, who has been Domenico’s mistress as well as running his business for many years, has faked a fatal illness to coerce Domenico to marry her. She’s done this to help her three sons, born when she was a prostitute, one of whom is apparently Domenico’s offspring. The boys are all grown men, but she wants them to know who their mother is and also give them a good name, Domenico’s name, in fact, while she still has a chance. In the process she sees off a much younger rival and overcomes Domenico’s natural anger and resentment at being tricked, to create a happy family situation for all of her children.  It’s all the more impressive because, in her situation, the normal solution to pregnancy would be an abortion; she chose to have her children and arranged for their upbringing against the prevailing ethos, and if she had to rob Domenico in the process, so be it!

The morality of her actions was never really an issue given the poverty of that part of Naples where she grew up. The prostitutes were regarded with respect because they were actually earning money and could feed and clothe themselves. And if she did take Domenico’s money to raise her sons secretly, at least she ran his business so effectively that he could indulge himself on the rest of the profits without noticing the shortfall. Her insistence on not revealing which of her three boys was Domenico’s son was important, and even he came to realise by the end that it meant he would never treat any one of them better than the others (nor try to control their lives either).

Mind you, it didn’t stop him trying to find out, which led to one of the funniest sections of the whole play (and there were several to choose from). Before their second wedding, the real one, Domenico spent some time alone with the boys, and tried to find some clues in the way they behaved or in their talents, to show which one was his son. At first he thought the womanising tailor could be the man; they shared a love of the fair sex. But then the others confessed to the same feelings, even if the married son was too scared of his wife to act on his inclinations. Singing was the next test, but no luck there either – who knew there could be three tone-deaf Neapolitans! This was hilarious stuff.

Samantha Spiro was excellent as Filumena, and Sheila Reid gave a nicely detailed performance as her maid, Rosalia. Clive Wood and Geoffrey Freshwater made a good double act as Domenico and his sidekick Alfredo, and the rest of the cast supported them really well with lovely performances. As we left the theatre, one man was even booking to see it again, and I can understand why.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at

When The Rain Stops Falling – June 2009


By Andrew Bovell

Directed by Michael Attenborough

Venue: Almeida Theatre

Date: Saturday 6th June 2009

This was slightly disappointing. A new play from an Australian writer, and with two Aussie cast members (one of whom was actually in a cast!); this could have been much more powerful and moving. I’m glad the Almeida is prepared to try something like this from the other side of the world, I’d just prefer that it be of better quality.

The story spans past and future, from 1959 to 2039, and concerns four generations of a family where the fathers keep running out on their sons, although to be fair Gabriel 1 wasn’t planning to kill himself in a car crash shortly after getting his recently acquired girlfriend pregnant. And his dad, Henry, didn’t run off so much as he was told to go by his wife, once she found out about his sexual preference for young boys and with their son being only seven and already featuring in his dad’s hidden photo album.

Said father scarpers off to Australia where a young boy goes missing, with only his shoe being found on the beach. His mother kills herself when his body is found, while his father holds on for a number of years until the dead boy’s sister is old enough to look after herself. She is the recently acquired girlfriend, also called Gabrielle, discovered while Gabriel 1 is searching for some clues to his father’s character and disappearance, and it’s her putting two and two together that causes the fatal crash.

Her son, Gabriel 2, also leaves his wife when his son is little, and in 2039 he gets a call from his son who wants to meet up. This meeting is the final scene of the play, where Gabriel 2 gives his son a collection of items left by his mother about which he knows very little, but which we have seen feature strongly throughout the story.

The play starts with Gabriel 2 standing in the rain with lots of other people rushing past him. Then something drops down from the sky, and the lights go out. When they come back up, Gabriel 2 gives us the story of his son calling him, how he couldn’t talk to him, then had to call him back. He invited his son for lunch then realises he hasn’t got anything to eat, so goes out in the rain and ends up with the fish. Fish have apparently died out by 2039, so it’s more than unusual for one to land at someone’s feet miles from the sea.

Then we see the overlapping generations. Each person arrives in the rain, hangs up their umbrella and coat, goes to look out of the window, heads round the table and off the stage, then comes to the table to take some soup from a large tureen and sit down to eat it. Once everyone is present, they develop a rhythm – synchronised eating – and then they leave so we can see the first scene between Gabriel 1 and his mother.

From here the story is told in different time frames, with the year and place usually being projected onto the screens at the back. There are scenes between a young Elizabeth and her paedophile husband in 1959 and onwards, scenes from 1988 between Gabriel 1 and his mother Elizabeth, now much older and given to drink, scenes between Gabriel 1 and the young Gabrielle, also from 1988, and scenes between Joe and the older Gabrielle from 2013, as well as the start and end scenes from 2039.

This jumping about wasn’t too confusing for either of us (despite comments to that effect overheard by Steve) but it did make it harder to get into the play and to care about the characters. The paedophilia was well signposted, as was the connection between Henry’s disappearance and the murder of the young boy. So there were few surprises and not a lot of insight into the human condition. Nor was there much humour, and when you’re asking an audience to sit for a bum-numbing two hours without an interval, you could at least give us some fun to take our minds off the agony. The set was necessarily sparse although I’m not convinced it had to be so bleak. There was the table, a bench seat and two chairs to the left of the stage, and some hooks lowered down on the right for the coats and umbrellas. A bench also appeared on the right side occasionally but apart from that I don’t remember any furniture. The screens at the back were mainly blank and dark, but they did show time and place information and on Uluru they showed stars and snow.

The main problem for me was the unbelievability of it all. I don’t mind surreal or symbolic touches, but the repetition of the fish motif and one or two other tropes didn’t do anything for me. Perhaps these things mean more in Australian culture. Several characters repeated a long-winded story about cleaning a room from top to bottom, but finding it just as grubby as when they started. What was that about? I have great respect for the hard work the actors put in, and gratitude for Leah Purcell, who played the part of the older Gabrielle with her leg in a cast, but apart from that, why bother? Not the Almeida’s best find by a long way.

© 2009 Sheila Evans at

The Homecoming – February 2008


By: Harold Pinter

Directed by: Michael Attenborough

Venue: Almeida Theatre

Date: Saturday 9th February 2008

After the first scene of this play, I wondered why it wasn’t better known, even done in schools. After the first half, I had a pretty good idea why it wasn’t done in schools, but I’m still not clear why it isn’t better known, and done more often. Perhaps the violence and misogyny put people off. If so, it’s a shame, because it’s a brilliantly written play, full of Pinter’s ambiguities and menacing intonations, and with the rhythms and cadences making it seem like a classical composition rather than a play.

The story, if it can be called that in a Pinter play, concerned the return of one of three sons to the house he grew up in. It’s an all-male household – the father, his brother, and the other two sons. The returning son has brought his wife, and in this production they’ve cast Jenny Jules as the wife, Ruth. This was suggested by Pinter himself, apparently, as well as being the director’s choice, so the juxtaposition of unknown wife and abandoned family is theoretically given an added dimension by having her played by a black actress. However, there’s nothing much in the dialogue to suggest that anyone takes any notice of her skin colour, so in some ways this was a wasted opportunity, and we’re effectively dealing with colour blind casting again. Anyway, she’s an excellent actress, and played the part with great assurance, bringing out what little of her character Pinter puts on the page. Let’s face it, he never could do women well, so this is really a play about the male relationships, and the men’s inability to relate to women as anything other than whore or saint, and often confusing the two.

The scenes give us glimpses of the characters in action. The father, Max (Kenneth Cranham) would give Alf Garnett six lengths start and still pass him well before the furlong pole. He’s a bitter, twisted old man, who spends his time alternating between smooth charm (rarely) and vicious ranting (mostly). He’s obviously done his fatherly duty by hitting his sons copiously with his stick, and I wondered what treatment his wife received when she was still alive. When he first sees Ruth, he attacks Teddy (Neil Dudgeon) for bringing a whore into the house. Even when he’s been told she’s Teddy’s wife, he still has a rant, and then he’s all charm and smarm with her.

Teddy is a strange character. At first he seems nervous and over-anxious, as he and his wife arrive. His meeting with his dad has some very uncomfortable undertones, as they square up for either a battle or a cuddle. It’s clear he’s done his best to get away from the toxic atmosphere of the house, which is why he’s been in America for the last nine years. He’s a doctor of philosophy, literally, as philosophy is his subject. He then decides to leave; presumably the family hasn’t improved over the years he’s been away. However the family want Ruth to stay and look after them, at least when she isn’t turning tricks on the side to help make ends meet. Teddy seems completely unconcerned by this, and is totally happy to leave his wife with this group of Neanderthals. Strange doesn’t quite cover it.

Lenny (Nigel Lindsay), the second son, is a smooth operator. We don’t find out what business he’s in till the second half – he runs a number of prostitutes. He seems to have got past his upbringing by no longer being frightened of his dad, but when confronted with Ruth’s calm assurance, he becomes quite nervous. Joey (Danny Dyer) is the third son, a boxer still under the influence of his dad. He’s the quiet one. There’s also Sam (Anthony O’Donnell), Max’s brother, who works as a chauffeur by day and does the dishes by night. He’s clearly the sensitive one in the family, and the only one who seems to value women for more than sex and housework.

Ruth is the typical female blank at the centre of Pinter’s work. She’s described, by herself and Teddy, as the perfect wife and mother – they have three boys back in America – yet she shows a strange tendency to use sexual allure to enthral the men in the house. She has an encounter with Lenny early on, where he tries to impress her by telling her how he beats up women (not a chat-up line I’d recommend, by the way), and she unnerves him by staying calm and asking straightforward questions. She wins the battle of wills over a glass of water, and yet she seems to be propositioning Lenny. Later, when Joey comes downstairs after spending two hours upstairs with her, it turns out he hasn’t done anything – no sex, nothing. According to his tales of other encounters with women, this is not usual. All these men are attracted to her – moths and flame spring to mind – yet they’re able to talk of putting her on the game so she can earn some money for her keep. At the end, she chooses to stay with the family, on her terms, and as her husband leaves, she’s sitting in the main chair, Max’s chair, just beginning to smile. Her reign has begun, but what sort of a reign will it be in that household? It reminded me of Lord of the Flies, but with a woman involved.

This description really doesn’t get across the beauty of the language. Even with all the swearing and crudity, it was powerful and focused. The performances got the most out of it, and although I would like to see it again, I’m not sure it could be done better. I just hope it is done again – it deserves to be.

© 2008 Sheila Evans at

Awake And Sing! – October 2007


By: Clifford Odets

Directed by: Michael Attenborough

Venue: Almeida Theatre

Date: Saturday 13th October 2007

This is the second play we’ve seen at the Almeida this year which is set around the time of the Depression in America. Big White Fog (16 June 2007) showed us the impact on a poor black family, while this play centres on a Jewish family with a strong mother, a father who’s achieved failure-hood at fifty, a daughter who’s well on the way to becoming a single mother till a marriage is arranged, a son who wants a better life, and a grandfather who has a lot of spirit but no way of doing anything about it, as he’s in a wheelchair. There’s also a chap called Moe Axelrod, whose connection with the family I couldn’t figure out but who eventually runs off with the daughter, and a brother, Uncle Morty, who’s done very well for himself, apparently.

Showing us a particular period through the lives of ordinary people can work very well, but here I felt it came across as more of a domestic drama, on a small scale. I didn’t get any sense of larger forces at work, although what did come across in both this play and Big White Fog was human resourcefulness triumphing in the end. Both plays left me feeling that these folks would get by.

The performances were all good, the set was fine, and Steve noticed that the Almeida is diversifying in order to make ends meet. They’d taken in a load of washing and it was hung up over the stage to dry – presumably the heat from the lights would do the job in double quick time. Or it could just have been set dressing to indicate the washing strung out between apartments. Whatever.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at

Big White Fog – June 2007


By: Theodore Ward

Directed by: Michael Attenborough

Venu: Almeida Theatre

Date: Saturday 16th June 2007

This is a play, written in the 1930s, dealing with the various ways that black folk in US northern cities (Chicago, in this case) handled the discrimination they experienced every day. The family is a mixture. The wife, Ella, is the daughter of a woman (Martha) who’s part-white, born out of wedlock, and inordinately proud of being a Dupree. Ella has married Victor, a fully black man who’s heavily involved in the movement set up by Marcus Garvey, encouraging black people in America to return to Africa to set up a modern state there. Ella’s sister, Juanita, has married Daniel, who’s a wheeler-dealer type, trying to work the system to his advantage, and doing OK at this time, though the Depression gets even him in the end. Daughter Wanda chooses to drop out of school to work in a shop, as she doesn’t see education helping her much, while Les, the son, has received an ambiguous letter suggesting he’ll be accepted for a scholarship to study chemistry at college.

We see how things develop over several years, eventually ending up in the middle of the Depression. Les is turned down for a place at college because he’s black, and the scholarship committee is specifically forbidden from granting scholarships to black people. He turns to communism as an alternative, supported by a Jewish friend. Marcus Garvey does a runner with the money raised to found the Black Star Line, and is eventually put in jail, but Victor stays resolute to the end, becoming even more important in the organisation, and even less able to provide for his family as he’s put all their savings into Black Star Line shares. Wanda, influenced by her friend Claudine, ends up with a white sugar daddy, only she’s the one who has to be sweet to get any money out of him. And there’s also Uncle Percy, Victor’s brother, who spends all his time having fun, drinking and spending his money on clothes (and, presumably, women). He ends up a serious drunk. Meantime, Ella has done her best to keep her family together and cared for, but eventually even she has to speak up and complain.

One of the most interesting aspects of this production is that it’s the complete opposite of the colour-blind casting we’re so used to. It’s totally colour-sensitive. I noticed this first when Claudine comes in, as she’s light-skinned enough for me to be unsure that she’s playing a “black” character. Later, the racism amongst African-Americans comes to the fore, as Martha lets rip at Victor because he’s a black man! I know that no group is free of its own prejudices, but it’s rare to see this shown on stage. We get a touch of Queen Lear at this point, as Martha flounces off to her other daughter, only to return years later, saying she can’t stay with Juanita another night.

The other point of interest is how much the Depression affects everyone, black and white. Given that the Communists are racially integrated, it’s a sign of hope, but given that the whole country is suffering, it’s a setback for those trying to improve the lot of black people.

I did enjoy this play. It was amazing to see such a huge cast on the Almeida stage, and good to see an “authentic” piece – written by a black playwright at the time. I didn’t feel it was particularly shocking or even that powerful; it seemed quite gentle given the subject it’s covering, but that may be down to my detachment in time and experience from the events depicted. All the performances were excellent, though Novella Nelson (Martha) and Clint Dyer (Percy) were my favourites. The set reminded me of the Eric Sykes show, with the stairs, door and sitting room. Good fun.

© 2007 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