We had read a few snippets about this production, as well as hearing comments from several friends, so we kept our expectations low when we took our seats for this performance. And as so often happens, that helped us to enjoy the good bits of this performance while not being distracted too much by the rubbish stuff, and when I say ‘rubbish’, you can take that literally. When the National wants to show the excesses of our materialistic, throwaway society, as in the Simon Russell Beale Timon several years ago, they do it in style. Well, there’s a lot of the Olivier stage to fill with something – might as well be bin bags.
This was something of a disappointment. Given the high standard of some of his previous performances, we were looking forward to seeing Lucien Msamati as Salieri, as well as revisiting this excellent play in a different production. The reviews had been very good, although we hadn’t read any of the details, so it was only as we took our seats that the potential problems became apparent. Still, we kept our minds as open as possible and restrained our expectations: even so, I found myself revising my rating of the experience down and down again. Steve enjoyed it more than I did – he would have given it 7/10 – but we were largely in agreement with the overall standard. So was the paying public, it would seem, as this matinee was only just over half full, leaving large swathes of empty seats in the circle, rear stalls and sides.
Nice to see this one again. We saw the original National production in 1987, and the revival at Chichester in 2000; both were good, but this was probably our favourite. The individual performances were all excellent, and with several Ayckbourn regulars in the cast they brought out the humour perfectly. Overall I felt this was a lighter version of the play; the story became a bit darker towards the end, but it wasn’t as dark as either of the earlier productions.
I was a little disappointed with this production today. I felt the concept didn’t quite work with this play, although there were some very good performances and one excellent piece of editing. The concept also meant I had no sympathy with Lear, thus no emotional engagement with him, and that’s a pretty big hole in the centre of the play.
I was pretty tired today and found myself yawning a bit in the run up to the interval, but that was largely because, with a three act play, they took the interval after the second act. It makes for a shorter second half (apologies to any mathematicians out there) but it can be a long wait for a chance to stand up and stretch. Once refreshed, the final act came across as more powerful, and I was wiping my eyes more than once in the last half hour.
This was a fantastic performance. The modern setting enriched the detailed characterisations while the set gave us the necessary locations without being too elaborate. We had one understudy on stage today: Robert Demeger was indisposed so Jonathan Dryden Taylor took his place as the Duke.
By Carl Zuckmayer, new English version by Ron Hutchinson
Directed by Adrian Noble
Venue: Olivier Theatre
Date: Wednesday 3rd April 2013
I wasn’t sure what this would be like, but as we’ll be seeing Arturo Ui again this year at Chichester, this seemed like a good play to contrast with it. They started on an empty stage with a black background which had a working clock projected onto it; according to this clock the performance began at ten to seven. Lots of prisoners came on stage and formed up into rows, singing a hymn. There was some dialogue at this point, but the music was too loud for us to make out much of it. At the end of the song, two of the prisoners were due for release, but there was a problem. One of the prisoners had the correct papers but the other, Voigt, had none. There followed some amusing exchanges as the Prison Director didn’t want to free Voigt until he got his papers but the guard refused to take him back as there weren’t any papers authorising his return to prison. Eventually the Director was distracted by memories of his time in battle, and Voigt was released into the care of Kalle, the other prisoner being released and Voigt’s friend.