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

Kiss Me Kate – August 2012


Music and lyrics by Cole Porter

Book by Sam and Bella Spewack

Directed by Trevor Nunn

CFT and Old Vic co-production

Venue: Chichester Festival Theatre

Date: Thursday 9th August 2012

As predicted, this was a much improved performance. The whole production was much clearer, and seeing it from a central position gave us a much better view. The scene changes were quicker and the dances covered the action better, and although there were one or two very minor fluffs early on tonight the whole show went very smoothly. Because of that, and possibly because of our improved position, I could spot the deliberate errors this time. There was a running gag that one of the dancers couldn’t get her steps right, and they had several extra practice runs to help her. She fell over and knocked into the other dancers, but eventually she cracked it! And of course there are deliberate mistakes during the onstage musical when Lilli/Kate throws her tantrums, and these showed up better tonight as well.

Kate’s I Hate Men was even better than before, and all the songs and dances had come on. Bill/Lucentio was fully up to speed, and First and Second Man were much better. The dialogue was much sharper, and I caught a lot of the lines and lyrics that I’d missed first time round. It wasn’t so clear to me that the General wasn’t right for Lilli tonight – don’t know what’s changed there – but I found Lilli’s leave-taking and Fred’s reprise of So In Love very moving. We were a noisy audience tonight (including some surprising coughs) and were treated to one encore for Always True To You In My Fashion and two for Brush Up Your Shakespeare. And we applauded mightily at the end as well, with more sniffles on my part. Great fun.


There was lots of humour, especially from the General (Mark Heenehan). Hannah declared they were a very happy company, then Gremio ratted on her ‘voice resetting’ noises backstage. She retaliated with the way he frequently changed his lines, and it wasn’t long before the General was remarking that her earlier comment about it being a very happy company…..  Clive Rowe kept disagreeing with everyone else, and with Adam Garcia apparently dancing despite a slipped disc (an earlier performance) you might be forgiven for thinking that life backstage resembled the story of the musical. Fortunately the humour shone through, and they clearly are enjoying themselves very much. Mind you, the backstage action with all the very quick costume changes is a whole show in itself.

On the transfer to the Old Vic, the cast are looking forward to it. Most of them are going, and will get another two weeks to rehearse the changes. The choreographer hasn’t seen the Old Vic stage yet, so doesn’t know how things will change on the proscenium arch stage. At least the Festival Theatre stage gives them plenty of room for the dances. The costumes needed some changes to accommodate the dancing; apparently there was no coordination between the designer and the choreographer beforehand. The slanted set has given the cast some problems as well. There’s a mark on the stage to tell them where the centre is, but it’s hard to see and this may explain some of the difficulty we had on our first viewing.

After the general had finished wowing us with the casual mention of his chat with Kevin Spacey the other day (get her!), he was able to say that this is the first production from Chichester to transfer to the Old Vic since the days when the Old Vic was the National Theatre. (Hopefully they’ll know it by then, he added.)

Trevor Nunn’s experience with Shakespeare came in very handy; he gave the cast a day workshop on delivering Shakespearean dialogue, and apparently changed the script in some way to make it closer to the original play. He also chose to have Taming – The Musical done in Elizabethan costume, which hadn’t been done before (I’m not sure if that’s true, but that’s what was said).

It’s hard for the cast when they have several days off while Heartbreak House is on; as we learned from the Singin’ In The Rain post-show, the muscles need regular use to keep the performance standard up. Didn’t manage to ask if they’ll be doing a cast recording – I do hope so.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at

Kiss Me Kate – June 2012

Experience: 8/10

Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter

Book by Sam and Bella Spewack

Directed by Trevor Nunn

CFT and Old Vic co-production

Venue: Chichester Festival Theatre

Date: Friday 22nd June 2012

If there’s one thing that Chichester are doing really well at the moment, it’s musicals. This is another gem, and given that this was only the 4th performance and it’s likely to improve, get your tickets now because they’ll soon be sold out.

We didn’t have the best angle to watch from tonight. Our seats were right of centre, normally an excellent position, but the set was slanted across the stage to the left, so we felt we were sitting much further round to the side. God knows what the people actually sitting round that way saw! The set was fabulous all the same. It combined the backstage area, the stage itself and a small area outside the stage door, all in the one set. The proscenium arch was placed across the stage facing diagonally left. For the scenes on stage there was a backdrop with a small exit on the right hand side, while cloth drapes, boxes and chairs completed the onstage set. At right angles to the proscenium arch were a couple of boxes, fortunately not blocking anyone’s view on that side. For backstage scenes, the backdrop was raised and we could see the open area with brickwork and doors, or the dressing rooms would be turned round so we could see those scenes. On the far right were the stage door and a small strip of stage down to the stairs which served as the outside world. Lighting changes emphasised one area or the other, and with dancing and one or two songs covering the scene changes, they kept some momentum going. Even so, the changes were a bit clunky, but they’ll improve for practice.

To set up a location in the musical-within-a-musical, they brought on, amongst other things, a box which they placed in the middle of the stage. A spotlight picked it out – this didn’t always happen tonight, but I assume it was intended – a white-gloved hand would open the box with a flourish, and then take out a strand of cloth to start the process. Others would come in to help attach the corners of the cloth set, and then it would be lifted up to give a wall and door (Petruchio’s place), an overhanging cloth (Padua) and a lovely cloth tree, with the patterns of leaves printed on the cloth as well as scalloped strips of cloth arranged all round it. They will find it easier in time, but tonight these sections were a bit too messy and held the energy back a little.

The costumes were lovely, and in period for the 1948 sections. The Elizabethan look was cunningly woven into the m-w-a-m costumes, though they wouldn’t pass muster at the Globe. The band was above and behind, as usual, and the set completely obscured them this time, but they were a strong presence, naturally. The dancing was fine – the opening number of the second half was about fifteen minutes long! – but the singing and dialogue need to be clearer; I lost a lot of Cole Porter’s witty lyrics, but again this will come on in time.

There isn’t an overture for this show, at least not in the usual style. The chorus sings the opening number, Another Op’nin’, Another Show, adding snippets of later songs, and taking practice runs at the choreography. It was a lively start, and the following scene, with Fred Graham giving some pre-opening notes and taking them through their bows, was good fun. The pre-show scenes continued to fill in the relationships. Lois and Bill (Bianca and Lucentio) are an item, but he gambles (and she’s susceptible to expensive presents, as we discovered later – not that it came as a surprise). Fred and Lilli are always sniping at each other, but she loves him deeply, despite having an ongoing relationship with a mystery man. When she was brought some flowers which were clearly a gift from Fred, as they were the same as the flowers she had in her wedding bouquet, she softened towards him; unfortunately he had intended the flowers for Lois, and although he tried to get back the note he had written for them, Lilli slipped it down her bodice as a good luck token, planning to read it later.

The first m-w-a-m scene, We Opened In Venice, involved the cast moving a load of boxes around the stage on a trolley (I assume). It was messy and lacked sparkle, but didn’t become too boring. Then they did the first set-in-a-box process, and it worked OK. Allowing for massive changes to the original, we then saw some of the opening scenes, with Baptista, Gremio, Hortensio, Lucentio, Bianca and Kate going through a sizeable chunk of Act 1 scene 1 (no Grumio or Tranio in this version), and with Lucentio making himself known to Baptista as a suitor for Bianca.

Bianca then made her feelings clear about her various suitors, and seemed to be happy to marry anyone, anyone at all, in Tom, Dick Or Harry, although there was a definite emphasis on ‘Dick’. At one point a suitor, Gremio I think, tore some cloth off Bianca’s skirt, leaving her with a leg-revealing gap. It looked odd, though presumably it would be easier to dance in, and it’s not unknown for musicals to show off the eye candy to best advantage. Fortunately that extended to the tight tights worn by the fit young men who leapt about the stage, definitely a treat for us ladies.

Petruchio arrived as the suitors were arguing about Lucentio, and broke up their quarrel. He was Lucentio’s friend this time, which meant poor Hortensio had very little to do. He sang I’ve Come To Wive It Wealthily In Padua well enough, but the staging hasn’t stuck in my mind. I forget the exact order of events now, but Petruchio was introduced to Baptista, they left to have a drink, and at some point Kate and Bianca did a brief version of their argument, with Baptista breaking it up very quickly – this may have happened earlier.

With Kate left alone on stage, she used the table, chairs and drinking cups left behind as ammunition for I Hate Men. As Baptista and Petruchio came back on stage for the preamble to the wooing scene, Lilli went off stage, happily opening the note she had kept down her dress. This was where things started to go so very wrong. Having promised never to call Fred a bastard again, Lilli broke that promise a few moments later; we heard her from backstage. Baptista and Petruchio both looked alarmed, and then Kate came back out for the wooing scene, loaded for bear. She didn’t hold back on the pretend slaps, and with the scene being played almost in full, there were plenty of opportunities for her to inflict damage on the ‘bastard’. Finally he’d had enough, and after threatening her with a spanking, he actually carried it out, right there on the stage. The next song, Kiss Me, Kate, had her refusing to do any such thing, and so to the interval.

The second half started with Too Darned Hot, a number that didn’t advance the story but certainly got the energy up again after the break. Paul, Fred’s dresser, was the lead singer and dancer, and he did a splendid job, while the dancing was not only good, it went on for a long while. Hattie, Lilli’s dresser, also added some humour. She was sitting by the front of the stage, sewing something, and when Paul tried to get close to her, she made  several pointed comments, such as “you see this needle”, which did the trick  and kept him away. She also joined in the dance, briefly; singing was her forte.

With Lilli/Kate nursing a sore behind, the next scene was at Petruchio’s house. He nicked the cushion that someone brought on for her, took away what little food she managed to get her hands on – Lilli had been asking for a sandwich since before the show – and had a cloth door slammed in his face when Kate stormed off into their bedroom. His song, Where Is The Life That Late I Led?, was good fun, although I didn’t catch all the lines, and he used the full width of the stage to get us all involved.

Lilli’s mystery man, General Harrison Howell, arrived to take Lilli away – I’ll get to that part later – and after expressing his chauvinistic attitudes to Fred, he was recognised by Lois. She had featured strongly in the General’s R&R during the war, although she didn’t remember much of the ‘rest’ part. With Bill overhearing some of her conversation with General she had to explain herself to him, hence the number Always True To You In My Fashion, which they did very well.

Lilli’s attempt to leave the theatre had been scotched earlier, and since Fred had persuaded the General that Lilli’s request was just a whim, Howell wasn’t too supportive of her as they talked in her dressing room. He wouldn’t call the FBI, he wouldn’t let her eat after 21:00 hours, and fancy French hats would clearly be a thing of the past for the wife of the next Vice president of the United States of America! (No chance of that – he’d picked Dewey.) Despite this, they sang a sickeningly smoochy version of From This Moment On, a song inserted in the 1999 Broadway revival.

While Lilli dressed to leave, the rest of the cast entertained us with Lucentio’s love poem to his adored, Bianca. It has gloriously rubbish lyrics, but the tap dancing and singing were good, and as tap is my favourite I enjoyed this number the most. Lilli left via the stage door, and with Howell being so precise and demanding I was aware that this was a completely unsuitable match for her. Fred went back in for the end of the show, and then came the bit we’d all been waiting for.

To go back a little: Bill’s gambling was not successful, and he’d signed an IOU for $10,000 using Fred’s’ name. The gentleman holding the IOU, Mr Hogan, sent round two of his employees, known to us as First Man and Second Man, to collect on the debt. At first Fred denied all knowledge of the debt, claiming it wasn’t even his signature – they all say that – but when Lilli was planning to leave, he saw an opportunity. While acknowledging the IOU, he explained that he couldn’t pay it back till the end of the week, and with Lilli leaving, the show would fold immediately. The two gentlemen, well read in matters Shakespearean, were unhappy about Lilli’s career choice, and made their displeasure known by means of waving their guns around. Until her General arrived, there was nothing Lilli could do but soldier on, with two preposterously dressed minders watching her every move. Their spats didn’t really go with the Elizabethan style of their tabards, and First Man’s sunglasses simply had to be removed.

During the second half, these two men were checking in with Mr Hogan when they learned of a change of management. Mr Hogan’s debts of honour died with the man, so Fred was in the clear and the two men could leave, after changing out of their costumes of course. As they made their way out of the theatre, they found themselves in front of the curtain, facing the audience. Unsure of what to do, they whispered for a bit then launched into the impromptu (but wasn’t it lucky the band had the music ready) Brush Up Your Shakespeare. It went pretty well, though again it should improve with some more performances.

That done, and despite Fred telling someone to get Lilli’s understudy ready to play Kate, there was an empty seat for the final scene. The tree had been set up well enough – they are fiddly, those cloth sets – and the cast had an air of dejection, while Fred was deeply unhappy. With no Kate to supply her lines, and no widow for Hortensio (poor man), Bianca left the stage on her own and the men fell to arguing about the relative merits of the two wives. Lucentio sent for Bianca by one of the women who were in attendance; she didn’t turn up, natch. After Petruchio sent for Kate, there was a long pause, after which Bianca crept back on at the side of the stage and shook her head. Fred sat on a chair, head in hands, and the rest of the cast didn’t quite know what to do with themselves. Then Kate came on from the back, in full costume, and walked to the front of the stage, with the rest of the cast reacting to her arrival. When she spoke her line “What is your will, sir, that you send for me?”, Petruchio leapt to his feet (pause while I blow my nose, sniffle, sniffle) and was overjoyed to see her. It felt absolutely right that she’d come back, and her song I Am Ashamed That Women Are So Simple was more a declaration of love for him than an expression of the sentiments in the lyrics. They finished with a rousing version of Kiss Me, Kate, and this time they did kiss, long and hard.

This was great fun, and despite the rough patches it looks set to be a winner. The cast are all excellent. Hannah Waddingham (Lilli/Kate) has an amazingly powerful voice, even allowing for the mike. She has the looks and the figure to be a 1950s star, and can also do the comedy and the anger. Alex Bourne matched her very well as Fred/Petruchio, with enough charm to offset both of his characters’ arrogance (just) and a strong voice. Holly Dale Spencer’s Lois/Bianca combo was very good, although it took me a while to get used to her facial expressions when she was dancing. She showed Lois’s chorus line background by always standing with one leg in front of the other, foot resting on the toes, and she sang and danced really well. Adam Garcia was another good match as Bill/Lucentio, although I felt his part wasn’t as clearly defined as the other three. Still, he sings and dances well, and isn’t hard to look at. David Burt and Clive Rowe made a good start as the two gangsters, and there’s more to come there too, while Wendy Mae Brown (Hattie) and Jason Pennycooke (Paul) gave excellent cameos in their small but entertaining parts, probably the best defined characters at this time.

Of the rest I particularly liked Paul Grunert who played Baptista; his looks of concern when things started to go wrong added to the fun, along with his attempts to get things back on track by repeating his lines. [From the post-show on 9thAug he has trouble remembering the exact lines anyway…]  The whole ensemble looked good, though, and with practice this show should come on tremendously. We’ve already booked.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at

Noises Off – February 2012


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

Cause Célèbre – June 2011


By: Terence Rattigan

Directed by: Thea Sharrock

Venue: Old Vic Theatre

Date Wednesday 1st June 2011

I must make it clear from the outset that this production is considerably better than my experience rating above suggests. We had to rebook for this one due to ill-health the week of our original tickets, so for once we were back in row R, level with the start of the circle, and much further back than our usual E or F. As a result, I had difficulty hearing much of the dialogue, and a wonky headset didn’t improve matters in the second half. Also, I’d forgotten how much visual detail is lost from that distance, and I find it hard to describe the performances at all, it was such a blur. Even so, I got the gist of the story, or rather stories, as there were two central female characters juxtaposed in this piece; one, Alma Rattenbury, a real-life figure who stood trial for the murder of her husband, and the other, Edith Davenport, a fictitious woman who in the course of the play divorces her husband, loses her son, and, possibly the hardest one of all, loses her black and white judgemental certainty about life. The trial sections were easier to hear, as barristers need a powerful delivery and good diction, and as the bulk of these scenes were in the second half I found I enjoyed myself a lot more after the interval. I still missed some of the humour; the rest of audience was having a better time than me, judging by the amount of laughter I heard.

The set was quite complicated. It had to be, because the action moved around a lot, giving us flashbacks to the night of the murder as well as alternating between the courtroom and people’s homes. There were chairs and tables, a drinks cabinet, a gramophone, stairs and walls, and a judge’s bench for the court scenes. An upper level was used for a scene in the prison, but mostly the different locations were indicated by lighting different parts of the stage. This did allow for quick changes of scene, but I found the overall effect a bit stark, with high, open spaces dwarfing the small figures.

I wasn’t entirely sure about the structure of the play itself. It seemed bitty in the beginning, starting with the swearing in of Edith, then jumping between the two women’s lives to show the events prior to the murder. The contrast between the two leads didn’t really get going until Edith’s surprise assertion that she couldn’t be on this particular jury because she was prejudiced against Alma, and so wouldn’t be able to give her a fair trial – perhaps if this was done right at the start, it might create greater tension throughout the play. As it is, that part happens at the start of the second half, and left me a little confused. Was that bit before the swearing in? Or had the swearing in already happened, and now Edith was trying to get out of her civic duty? Anyway, the trial scenes in the second half gave the play a better structure, and were more entertaining on the whole. We did get flashbacks to the events of the murder, which were acted out in front with the court behind in darkness, and these made it very clear that Alma hadn’t been involved in the murder at all, but that her behaviour in general had influenced the police to view her as guilty. With the jury advised by the judge, and defence counsel for Alma, that they were only trying her for murder, and not for loose living, there was only one verdict they could return. As we didn’t know the result beforehand, I was still tense as we waited for the decision, so it was a relief that she got off. Even so, it didn’t surprise me that she took her own life shortly afterwards – she didn’t seem the most stable of people to begin with, and despite her feelings for her son, she evidently felt suicide was the only way out.

The performances were at least fine, and several were much better than that. Nicholas Jones was perfect as Alma’s defence counsel, and with his stronger delivery I caught almost all of his funny lines; he had plenty of them as well. I liked Lucy Robinson as Stella Morrison, Edith’s sister. She had a more relaxed view of some things than Edith, who was totally uptight, although Stella was an out-and-out snob. The worst thing about the Rattenbury murder for her was that Alma was involved with a servant! She placed a bet on the outcome of the trial, £600 at 3/1 on Alma being found guilty, based on the disparaging way Edith refers to Alma after day one of the trial. No wonder she was unhappy when Alma’s acquitted.

Niamh Cusack and Anne-Marie Duff came across well as the contrasting leads, even though I didn’t hear all of their lines, and I’m hoping that I get to see and hear this play properly sometime in the future.

© 2011 Sheila Evans at

As You Like It – June 2010


By William Shakespeare

Directed by Sam Mendes

Company: Old Vic Bridge Project

Venue: Old Vic

Date: Wednesday 30th June 2010

This was a bizarre mixture. The Bridge Project brings together British and American actors for joint productions – this year’s offerings are As You Like It and The Tempest – but we expected they would rehearse in one group. Today’s effort looked liked they’d rehearsed separately, and were still trying to figure out how to put the two halves together. For the most part, the Brits were good, with clear delivery of lines and some animation to their performances. For the most part, the U.S. team were OK, despite noticeably weaker delivery, but with Christian Camargo as Orlando the standard of performance nose-dived. His delivery never rose above the mechanical, his demeanour was lacklustre, his expression deeply depressed, and I even wondered if he was on some form of medication, he seemed so out of it. This obvious weakness brought the whole production down, and it was all the worse for us because Edward Bennett was in the cast, playing Oliver, the younger-looking older brother to Orlando – ‘unless the master were the man.’ One quick cast change would improve this production enormously; as it is, the better performances saved it from a miserable 2/10 rating, and judging by the empty seats which appeared after the interval, we weren’t the only ones suffering. I did nod off a bit in the second half, but according to Steve, I didn’t miss much.

The set was pretty good, though. The stage had been brought forward again, and there were exits through the first boxes on either side, as well as stairs at the front left of the stage. A couple of tall skinny tree trunks sat one on either side of the forestage, and there were stacks of chopped wood nestling in each of the boxes. A long garden bench sat further back on the left for the opening scenes, and during the play all sorts of furniture, carts, etc. were whisked on and off, so efficiently that I really didn’t notice them.

For the opening scenes, there was a full length wooden wall not far behind the bench, with a door in the centre. Once into the forest, this wall rose up and exposed the rest of the stage, with lots more tree trunks and a ramp up to the central exit at the back. In the summer, the undergrowth was rampant, and there were plenty of locations for an ardent romantic poet to stick his oeuvre. The costumes were modern.

Last year there were lots of interesting aspects to the productions; this time I found little to excite me, but there was one gem nestling amongst the straw. When Touchstone was describing the seven degrees of quarrelling, he involved the Duke and Jacques, encouraging them to act out the various stages. When he came to the end and made the reference to a quarrel being patched up with an ‘if’, he looked meaningfully at the Duke. I caught the reference to the two men being ‘sworn brothers’ afterwards, and at first I thought the Duke’s reaction was his recollection of how his own brother had treated him. But then his words to Touchstone were accompanied by a gesture, touching his nose I think, which made me realise that Touchstone had been referring to something in the past between the Duke and his brother. We enjoyed that idea very much.

I wasn’t so taken with Jacques imitating Bob Dylan for his verse of the first song in the forest. It was a good enough impression, especially with the mouth organ, but it distorted the words so that I couldn’t hear the ‘Ducdame’ line. Since I know the play well enough I still got the humour of Jacques’ next line, but it was weakened for me.

Touchstone was pretty good, Audrey, Phoebe and their swains were fine (William headbutted Touchstone, good for him), Celia was OK, and LeBeau was fine if a bit too affected with his very slow delivery. Antony O’Donnell was fine as Corin, and Michael Williams as both Dukes did very well. I liked the changeover, although it took a little time. Duke baddie discovered his daughter’s flight at court, standing in a square of light. The scene ended, the wall rose, and the Duke and his men walked back to where some boxes sat, took out the extra clothes they needed and put them on, while the boxes were repositioned for the next scene. It worked quite well, and at least we were clear that the same actor was playing two parts.

Charles was the skinniest wrestler I’ve ever seen, not much bigger than Orlando. The fight scene was played out under a swinging light, à la Callan, which made it harder to see what was going on. Perhaps they weren’t confident in the fight director, as the little I could make out wasn’t very convincing.

I’ve already put the boot into Orlando, so that just leaves Juliet Rylance as Rosalind. It sounds like faint praise to say she was fine, but with such a limp Orlando I don’t know that she could have done any better. I did like the way she ran the lines together into unintelligibilty when questioning Celia about Orlando – it got the point across even better than clear enunciation of every word. She’s certainly a good actress to make us believe Rosalind was actually in love with the big lump. Better luck next time.

© 2010 Sheila Evans at

Six Degrees Of Separation – February 2010


By John Guare

Directed by David Grindley

Venue: Old Vic Theatre

Date: Wednesday 17th February 2010

We’d seen this years ago with Stockard Channing and Adrian Lester, and apart from bits of the story, what I remember most from that production was the cynical humour, showing up the high flyers in New York society as vain, superficial and gullible. This production was much nicer to the socialites, and with the cultural references dating the play so quickly, perhaps that was inevitable. Steve rated this higher than I did, based on the excellent performances and the overall quality of the production. I agree with him on all of that, I just find the piece too insubstantial to rate it any higher.

The set was simple, with a sofa and table on the revolve, starting with its back to the audience, a double-sided Kandinsky hung at the back and rotating gently before the start, and four curved wall sections that sneakily backed away at one point (I didn’t notice them moving) to open the stage up. Two side walls had the main entrances and the main colour was a plush warm red, with the sofa in green. The inkwell and the dog picture that the husband is concerned about at the start are dangled over the side of the balcony (or box?) to right and left, and spotlit, so we won’t miss them.

The story concerns a young black man who cons his way into rich people’s apartments by pretending to be the son of Sidney Poitier. He’s very charming, talks knowledgeably about Catcher In The Rye, and gets small sums of money from his hosts. When the Kitteridges find out he’s also brought a rent boy into the house for some casual sex, they’re horrified (of the ‘we could all have been murdered in our beds’ kind).

There’s a lot of humour in the situation as the couples discover a number of them have been taken in, and when they try to report the incidents to the police, they realise that no actual crime has been committed. A little more investigation on the parents’ part brings their kids into the play – sulky teenagers or what! The shock expressed by one of them that they gave away his pink shirt was good fun, though I think that bit went on a little too long. The prospect of the children narrowing down their friends to a small group of suspects by looking for drug addicts, alcoholics, homosexuals and similar brought suitably contemptuous responses. As if!

Ms Kitteridge soon figured out who to talk to, a chap who was now at MIT, and she got the full story of Paul’s start on his career of non-crime. The MIT chap bribed Paul to have sex with him by teaching him how to speak and behave, and feeding him all the information about his classmates’ families that Paul would use later to carry out his con trick.

When these families go public, Paul has to change tack, and now he cons a young couple from Utah, up in New York to make it big. This time, he tells them he’s Mr Kitteridge’s illegitimate and unacknowledged son, living in Central Park, and trying to get in to see his father. They offer him a bed, he cons the guy out of their savings after the woman has turned him down, and then spends the money treating himself and Utah guy to a great night out at the Rainbow followed by sex. Realising what’s happened, Utah guy throws himself off a building (took me a while to get that it was him), and with Utah woman making a complaint, the police finally have something to go on.

When Paul makes a phone call to the Kitteridges, they, or rather Mrs Kitteridge, persuade him to wait where he is; they will come and pick him up and take him to the police themselves. She makes all sorts of promises to him, as his fantasies are rampant, and although he clearly has brains and charm we can see he needs a lot of help if he’s going to be able to use his talents. Mr Kitteridge, much less tolerant than his wife, lets the police know where Paul is, and with heavy traffic delaying them, the Kitteridges arrive too late.

Since they’re not family, and don’t know Paul’s real name, Mrs Kitteridge can’t find out what happened to Paul. She hears, some months later, that a young man hanged himself in prison using a pink shirt, and while she’s telling us this, we see Paul walking along the top of the wall towards the picture. I think when he gets there, he points at it, and smiles at the audience. Lights.

© 2010 Sheila Evans at

The Cherry Orchard – July 2009


By Anton Chekov, translated by Tom Stoppard

Directed by Sam Mendes

Company: Old Vic Bridge Project

Venue: Old Vic Theatre

Date: Wednesday 1st July 2009

As we arrived today, I remembered that the same line was shown on the screen at the back for The Winter’s Tale – “O, call back yesterday, bid time return” [Richard II, Act 3 Scene 2]. The platform was the same, again a nursery with a child’s bed, back right this time. The furniture was much smaller this time. Two oil/gas lamps hung from the ceiling. For the second act, the furniture was cleared and cushions were strewn around. After the interval, for the party scene there were two central round tables, one on each side as it were, and another table front right. They all had lots of bottles and other party debris on them. A cordon of simple chairs completed the setting. For the final leave-taking there were the usual piles of luggage and a few remaining nursery chairs, just to remind us where we were.

We were both a little disappointed with this production, after the glories of The Winter’s Tale. While the performances were all good, none seemed outstanding, and they just didn’t involve either of us emotionally. As a result, I found myself getting quite bored during some parts, although I must admit there were also a number of good laughs to be had. This version didn’t mention that Varya was adopted, as far as I could tell, so her situation didn’t come across so clearly, and her relationship with Lopakhin was confusing as well. I reckoned Lopakhin was simply in love with Ranevskaya and not really interested in Varya at all, but the final conversation between them, where he fails to propose, suggested otherwise. He got down on his knees, held Varya’s hand, and then came out with some banal remark about the weather. Very funny, but without tearing at the heartstrings as this scene can do. He also stood behind her and appeared to stroke her hair, indicating some strong emotional attachment to her, but for me it came out of the blue.

The final scene, with Firs all alone in a locked up house, started to be moving, but the symbolic music, with the chopping and the cracking sounds (they’re meant to be there) somehow spoiled it for me. Frankly, my dear, I didn’t give a damn, and I was finding the seat pretty uncomfortable by this time as well.

Selina Cadell as Charlotta did her magic tricks very well, and I was aware when Lopakhin was exulting at having bought the estate where his father and grandfather had been serfs, that some aspects of this play may have stronger resonances for an American audience than for us. The American accents weren’t a problem but they didn’t help either, unlike The Winter’s Tale. So not my favourite production, then, but a hopeful start for the Bridge Project. We’ll look forward to their next offerings.

© 2009 Sheila Evans at

The Winter’s Tale – June 2009 (3)


By William Shakespeare

Directed by Sam Mendes

Company: Old Vic Bridge Project

Venue: Old Vic

Date: Wednesday 24th June 2009

This was a superb production, played on a thrust version of the Old Vic stage that was eerily reminiscent of the old RST. The set was plain, with a large square platform slightly raised above the rest of the stage and positioned well to the front, though with enough space for the actors to walk in front of it. The back and side walls were all done in floorboard style, as was the platform. For the opening scene, the platform held a child’s bed, complete with teddy bear, on the left hand side, some cushions with a bottle in the middle, and on the right a table and chairs, a fairly plain wooden set that could be found in many a kitchen today. I could only make out a chess set laid out for a new game, plus some glasses. There were many lamps hanging down at different levels towards the back, together with lots of candles on stands, and two large swings did duty as shelves for another swathe of candle lamps.

The platform was cleared quickly once it was no longer needed, and various tables and chairs were brought on as required. The candle lamps were blown out early on, while the lamps and candle stands kept going till we left Sicilia. That change was done rather well, I thought. The attendants lined up along the back wall, in relative gloom, and first the men, then  the women, blew out the nearest candle simultaneously, while the hanging lamps were gradually drawn up, as were the swings. This left the stage nicely bare for the Bohemia scenes, with the back wall lifting up to show us sky and clouds. The sheep shearing feast (and what idiots would shear their sheep in the autumn?) was a riot of balloons in red white and blue, while the return to Sicilia was given a wonderful mourning effect by the bare stage and just one long bench. For the statue scene, a small plinth was placed at the front of the platform, with an arc of chairs facing it and us. The bear, incidentally, was a ‘real’ bear rather than the paperback version, and did the job nicely. Costumes were some period or other, probably nineteenth century but don’t quote me, and I thought they worked very well; neither as austere nor as bucolic as the current RSC version.

So to the staging. Instead of the usual chit chat between Camillo and Archidamus, Mamillius came to the front of the stage, sat on the platform and using ‘his’ teddy bear, gave us the lines from a later scene about a sad tale being best for winter. I say ‘his’ because Mamillius was doubled with Perdita, both being played by Morven Christie, a doubling that we’ve seen before and which works very well. After this, we got the first line from Leontes, sitting on the bed with his pregnant wife beside him on the floor. Polixenes was sitting by the table, but moved over to recline on the cushions, where Hermione joined him as part of her persuasion strategy. Leontes had to help her up at first, but she was soon down again and lolling against Polixenes in a way that could be seen as overly friendly, if you’re half blind and inclined to think the worst of people. Leontes obviously falls into that category, but his suffering and his madness were clear to see. There was good use of lighting in this production, with asides spotlit and the background action either highlighted or dimmed.

After the initial part of this scene, Camillo and Archidamus had left, so there’s a much greater sense of the intimacy of this group at this point. With Hermione and Polixenes chivvied off stage, Leontes at first told his son to go and play, but then took him over to the bed, and with much tenderness caressed and kissed him. It’s here, in Mamillius’s bedroom where Leontes suborned Camillo to kill Polixenes. When Leontes started to shout at Camillo, Mamillius woke up, and had to be reassured back to sleep. Later, when Polixenes arrived, it was noticeable how quiet he was so as not to wake the sleeping prince.

We then got the scene of Hermione’s arrest. At first, all was going well, with Mamillius drawing or painting at the table, and bantering a little with the two waiting women. Hermione was on the bed, and then Leontes came in with a few courtiers and all hell broke loose. Mamillius was clearly upset and was taken away, while Hermione seemed unbelieving at first. Her attempt to reconnect with the man she knows and loves so well was touching to see, and spoke volumes about the closeness of their relationship previously. The impact of her being accused publicly was also apparent, having been set up by the earlier lack of courtiers. When she was taken off, the platform was cleared for Paulina’s entrance.

She arrived with a couple of suitcases (hers, or intended for Hermione, I wondered?) and the chat with Emilia was as usual. The next scene had Leontes, wrapped in a blanket, coming down to the front of the stage, clearly tortured by the situation. Polixenes and Hermione stood on either side of the stage at the front, motionless, the objects of his jealousy and hate.

When an attendant arrived to tell him about Mamillius, he actually brought the boy on stage in a wheelchair, looking very listless. I think he was wheeled off before Paulina comes on, but I’m not sure. Anyway, she did come on, wrapped in a shawl to disguise the bulky parcel she’s carrying. Not the most ferocious Paulina, perhaps, but certainly with plenty of authority, and the men were definitely not taking any chances with her. The comedy in this scene came across well, and Leontes was almost moved to compassion when he went over to pick up the little baby whom Paulina had left on a chair. This was the cuddliest Leontes I’ve ever seen, showing physical affection both for Mamillius and the baby, though sadly the outcome was the same. He sent Antigonus away with the baby, and then came the news that the oracle’s judgement has arrived. Leontes divested himself of his blanket and put on his jacket while the set was prepared for the trial scene, and in the meantime Cleomenes and Dion sit at the front of the stage talking about the wonders of their trip to Delphi.

Once they’d gone, the trial could begin. There was now a long table across the stage with three chairs, and there were four chairs to the left side of the platform where Hermione’s ladies sat after helping her on. She sat to the left and Leontes to the right of the table, with one of the other courtiers sitting in the middle as judge. He looked like he’d rather not have the job, to be honest, and there was a hint of trembling in his hand as he held the indictment and read it out. Hermione was in a drab shift, not fully recovered from childbirth though without the blood stains that often accompany this scene. She held her own pretty well, reading the first part of her speech from a tatty scrap of paper, while Leontes seemed fatigued and depressed rather than angry and vengeful for most of this scene. It was the judge’s nervousness and unhappiness that really conveyed the harshness of Leontes’ absolute authority.

When the oracle was called for, the judge used a sword for Cleomenes and Dion to swear on, and was clearly relieved to read out the good news of Hermione’s innocence. Unfortunately the king was determined to have a guilty verdict, and the inevitable happened. I liked the way this production allowed the actors to breathe and think instead of having to deliver their lines like a supermarket checkout person – so many per minute. When Leontes was talking with Paulina after she’s announced the death of his wife, he moved over to the table, and during his lines he paused briefly to pick up the piece of paper Hermione had with her during the trial. It was another touching moment, and another example of the layers of detail in the performance which made it such an enjoyable experience.

We were now off to Bohemia and the stage was cleared, with the back panel raised to show us a cloudy sky. Antigonus came onto this stage near the front and left the baby dead centre, speaking his lines to the audience. Which is why he didn’t see the big brown bear sneaking up on him from behind. As he got up to leave he turned and saw the bear, which reared up on his hind legs and …. blackout. The gory details were left to our imaginations. (Thankfully.) Then the old shepherd arrived, calling for his sheep, and set the tone for the comedy to come. The dialogue came across clearly, aided by Richard Easton (nice to see him again) providing some strong expressions to supplement the lines. Just before he headed off after the meeting with his son, he put the baby down and turned round to announce that he was taking on himself the role of time, a lovely way to segue the two scenes. He gave us the Time speech with both Florizel and Perdita standing at the back of the stage, so we would be prepared for who was who in the second half. Interval.

The second half began with Polixenes and Camillo, both older, having their little conversation, and the final line – “we must disguise ourselves” – got a good laugh. Then we met Autolycus for the first time. With the cast being split so that British accents were in Sicilia, and American ones in Bohemia, it was no surprise that Autolycus ws dressed like a hobo Bob Dylan, with a guitar which he used to accompany the songs he sings. I felt at the time it was  shame they hadn’t gone for some American country or folk songs instead of the regular Shakespeare stuff, as it’s even harder to get across the jokes with some of the songs than it is with the antiquated references in the dialogue. However. He sang and played well enough, and again the spoken lines came across more clearly than many another player’s.

With such a bare stage, the only place he could hide to avoid the young shepherd (I do wish Will had given the shepherds names) was below the back end of the platform. When he did emerge, it was with a large wooden cross which he proceeded to crucify himself on, only without the nasty business of the nails. This was good fun. He stole the shepherd’s wallet, as per usual, and after they went off to their various destinations, the stage was set up for a regular hoe-down. In addition to the balloons, there was a table laden with food, lots of chairs and a band, who struck up at every opportunity, including the ballads. The flowers were very nice, one of the women was nursing a small baby, and the two visitors were in the traditional long beards, hats and glasses. I thought they might have cut the satyrs dance, but we got a lively version of it here, with three men and three women adding balloons to their outfits to emphasis certain physical characteristics. Two of the women were Dorcas and Mopsa, the young shepherd’s jealous girlfriends, so there was some strategic balloon popping going on which left the young shepherd looking very deflated.

After Florizel’s attempt to marry Perdita had been broken up by his father revealing himself, the couple and Camillo went to the side of the stage to sit down and plot their escape. Meanwhile Autolycus came on, replete with purses, and was suitably happy to be in decent clothes again after the switch. He was a very casual courtier to the two shepherds, sitting in a chair, and it seemed plain that he once was at court and knows the manners instead of acting the total clown as some do. They reacted with terror to the news that they were to be killed, and were only too happy to ask for his help in approaching the king. And so we’re off to Sicilia at last.

The final act started with the bare stage and the bench, and when Leontes and Paulina arrived he was carrying a small bunch of flowers which he left centre front, as if laying them on Hermione’s grave. It was a lovely touch. Only one attendant was with them, and after the argument over the king’s remarriage was settled, the news of Florizel and Perdita’s arrival was brought, followed shortly by the people themselves. There was a moment of recognition from Leontes when he first sees Perdita – she was well cast to resemble Hermione – and I noticed that at the end of the scene, when Perdita was left with Paulina for a moment, Paulina got her first good look at the girl and her face also lit up as she recognised the similarity. I sniffled. I wasn’t sure if Paulina actually realised what the similarity meant, but it was a possibility.

The reporting of the reunions was well done, and then the bench was removed, the plinth brought on (placed over the flowers, I think), and Hermione’s ascent onto the pedestal was assisted by a group of attendants huddling in front of the plinth. She managed to stay pretty still, but it’s not easy for that length of time and so close to the audience. I liked this set up though, as it meant we got a good view of the other characters’ reactions to the statue. I sniffled a fair bit during this scene, as is only to be expected, and then with the reunions finally over we got to applaud good and hard for such a wonderful performance.

I loved the clarity of the dialogue in this production. I heard many lines for the first time and others were fresh and new, or given emphasis by appropriate gestures or expressions. Simon Russell Beale in particular was excellent as Leontes. I’ve already mentioned how much more affectionate he was with the children, and I also got a greater sense of him being driven by his jealousy to behave this badly, almost against his will. His suffering was more evident than I’ve seen before too, all of which made the play more focused and the eventual happiness all the more enjoyable.

The rest of the performances were also good, and the ensemble played very well together. Richard Easton’ shepherd was another highlight, and I suspect I’ll be even more impressed retrospectively after seeing The Cherry Orchard next week, once I’ve got a better appreciation of the actors’ range in different parts.

© 2009 Sheila Evans at

Table Manners – November 2008


By Alan Ayckbourn

Directed by Matthew Warchus

Venue: Old Vic Theatre

Date: Wednesday 26th November 2008

This is the middle play in the trilogy, in the sense that the overall action begins in the garden, the next earliest scene is in the dining room, while the sitting room kicks off last. It’s slightly darker in tone than the sitting room; this is where we get to see each character at their worst, and also where we get the revelations about each woman’s relationship with her man which make sense of Norman’s conquests. We do also get to hear the men’s side of things, too, and we can see for ourselves that Sarah and Ruth are no picnic, but as they’re the ones Norman is targeting, I reckon it’s natural to have a bit more sympathy for them. He certainly does.

He also gets a punch on the jaw during dinner, courtesy of man-mouse Tom, who finally stands up for Annie only to find that Norman was actually insulting his own wife Ruth. Tom’s apologetic “Oh, that’s rather different” got a huge laugh, while the punch itself got a smattering of applause.

The parts were better balanced this time, as Ruth turns up during the second scene, and I love the way Ayckbourn keeps giving us twist after twist. We were in the same seats as before, and the view was still pretty good, though I was nearly blinded by one of the spotlights which came on for several minutes while one of the characters was centre front, if there can be such a thing with theatre in the round. Fortunately it wasn’t on for long, but it was a real nuisance while it was.

The performances were all good again, and if I single out Amanda Root for special praise it’s only because her character, Sarah, has so much more to do in this play, and she handled the twists and turns, the gentle gradients and whiplash-inducing switchbacks with impeccable mastery. Even seeing her from the back, there were some wonderful expressions on her face! She went from cheerful and bubbly (or irritating, as her husband might call it), to worried, to censorious, to nervous, to hysterical, to unhappy, to hopeful but wary, to determined, to cheerful again, all in the space of two and a half hours and with a few other ports of call along the way. Wonderful.

The set was much simpler this time. Still the big jammy dodger effect, but the room itself had only a small storage unit for cutlery, etc., a fireplace, a low stool, and the long dining table with only four chairs, which was never going to be big enough to sit those people round it without open warfare. The entrance from the house was far left from where we sat, the door to garden was to our right. And it’s the garden scenes we’re looking forward to next.

© 2008 Sheila Evans at