Humble Boy – March 2018

Experience: 8/10

By Charlotte Jones

Directed by Paul Miller

Venue: Orange Tree Theatre

Date: Thursday 29th March 2018

It was good to see such a strong production here again, after our last visit. The set was good, the performances very good and we enjoyed ourselves very much. The only downside for me was that I’m currently waiting for an appointment to get my ears syringed – until that happens everything is a bit muffled. But in such a small space, and with such skilled actors, that wasn’t a problem today. I may have missed the occasional word, but that’s normal.

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Widowers’ Houses – January 2015

Experience: 7/10

By George Bernard Shaw

Directed by Paul Miller

Venue: Orange Tree Theatre

Date: Thursday 8th January 2015

First of the year, and it’s another good start at the Orange Tree. We learned from the post-show that this was Shaw’s first play and while it certainly isn’t his finest work, there was a lot to like. Sadly, the theme of slum landlords is still relevant today.

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The Winter’s Tale – October 2013

Experience: 7/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Paul Miller

Venue: Crucible Theatre

Date: Thursday 10th October 2013

A creditable production of this play, and worth the trip to see it. I had the usual problems with moist eyes at the end, which is as it should be, and there were a number of laughs throughout the evening. We spotted some interesting interpretations, and overall it was a good ensemble performance. Not up to the standard of their Othello or Macbeth, but still deserving a fuller auditorium than they got tonight.

The set was nice and simple. There was a wooden panelled wall at the back of the stage with wooden floorboards stretching away from it to create a rectangular floor space. A wooden hand cart sat in the front left corner of this stage at the start, piled high with luggage – this Polixenes really was on the point of leaving. Around all this the stage was painted white, with a textured surface giving the impression of snow, highly appropriate. On either side of the back wall there was a doorway in the white surface, and white steps led off down each forward entrance. Once the lights came up I could see that there were cracks in the wooden panels at the back which allowed some of the light to shine through, all suggestive of wear and tear and disintegration. That was it at the start, and apart from some items being brought on as needed, the stage was largely bare throughout.

The costumes were interesting too. We guessed that the early scenes were in Edwardian style, but the military uniforms seemed to have echoes going back to Waterloo. The later Sicilian scenes had moved on to the 1930s, which again fitted with starting the play in the Edwardian era. Bohemia had a wide range of styles, but given the nature of the scenes most of the outfits were rustic or countrified. With a bare stage, the other aspects of a design can’t help us to place the period accurately. Fortunately we had a good view throughout from the front of the stalls, to the right of the centre.

Camillo entered with Archidamus, the former in a long black coat, the latter in military uniform. Archidamus indicated the luggage cart when referencing Polixenes’ planned departure, and the cart was soon moved off stage. The royal party came into view in the doorway, and stood there chatting for a bit. Mamillius came forward and did some sword practice in the middle of the stage while Archidamus and Camillo continued their conversation by discussing him; played by Thomas Barker tonight, this was a very assured performance. Mamillius also wore a military uniform which was a scaled-down version of his father’s. To round this off, he even had a doll wearing a similar uniform tucked into his belt. This was the toy he played with later on after being instructed to “go play” by his father.

Once Leontes, Hermione and Polixenes came forward onto the stage, Camillo and Archidamus left them alone. The strong relationship between the two men came across very clearly, so it was no surprise when Leontes took Mamillius to a back corner of the stage to chat with him, leaving Hermione alone to persuade Polixenes to stay. As a result, Leontes heard only parts of their conversation, and these snippets were the trigger for his jealous fit. At one point, holding Mamillius by the head, Leontes’ forefingers were pointing up on either side, looking like horns. He kept glancing at his wife and his friend, and when he heard Hermione’s lines “If you first sinned with us…”, it was clear that he misinterpreted this light banter as a confession of adultery, confirming his sudden suspicion. Mamillius was affected somewhat by his father’s mood, and kept glancing at him to see what was going on.

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The Enchantment – August 2007

2/10

By: Victoria Benedictsson

Directed by: Paul Miller

Venue: Cottesloe Theatre

Date: Tuesday 21st August 2007

This was a less than thrilling afternoon’s entertainment, which left me hoping the problems with the play were partly down to the adaptation, although I suspect they’re more fundamental than that.

The basic story is simple. A Swedish woman, who has lost her family through illness and death, has herself been ill and is recuperating in Paris, tended by some compatriots she’s met there and who live in the same building. She’s already keen on a particular sculptor and when he arrives, she’s drawn into a destructive relationship, from her point of view. He seems quite happy with the arrangement, confusing free love with consequence-free sex, as many do. She ends up killing herself by jumping fully clothed into the Seine – in those outfits, any woman would sink like a stone in seconds.

I found it hard to relate to these characters. The woman herself, Louise, seems to be a loser through and through. We don’t really get to see what she was like before, although people keep mentioning how she’s changed, and she doesn’t do anything – no hobbies, no work, nothing. What does she do all day? She’s a cipher, so perhaps it’s not surprising she falls for someone who simply wants to use her to fuel his art.

The sculptor is also an enigma – I couldn’t get any real sense of his personality, just his behaviour, and that’s not enough to keep me interested for this long. The other characters in Paris were drawn equally crudely; the step-brother, the woman artist who’s nursed her and who was the sculptor’s previous great love (coincidence, eh?), her husband, and her sister(?) who’s in love with the step-brother. If this sounds confusing, it’s because none of this was introduced as clearly as I would have liked.

Back in Sweden, there were more characters, and this was the most entertaining bit of the play. The housekeeper, Botilda, is a cheerful soul, who can’t see why anyone goes to Paris since they’re all so gloomy when they come back! She has some lovely lines. There’s also a mother and daughter who give us a glimpse of the middle-class Sweden that the author knew only too well, and was presumably avoiding. This daughter is also keen on the step-brother, entertainingly so, but no chance. Finally, there’s an older man, the bank manager, who’s been keen on Louise since she was twelve, and who’s been proposing regularly to her for years. He offers her one final chance to snap him up, but she’s still too wrapped up in her passion for the sculptor to consider him.

All the actors gave good performances, and I don’t intend any criticism of them. I particularly liked Marlene Sidaway as Botilda and Niamh Cusack as Erna, the lady artist. At least she was playing a spiky character, which is so unlike most of the women in drama of this period. There were also physical problems, too. The set was as spread out as for The Five Wives Of Maurice Pinder, and the seats we had were poor. We were off to one side, but facing in to the centre of the stage, so that when anything happened on the part of the stage behind us, we were completely cut off from it. Unfortunately, this happened fairly often, so I felt rather detached a lot of the time. The theatre was also very stuffy during the first half, so I found myself nodding off a few times, especially as nothing much was happening on stage to keep me alert.

Steve described this afterwards as “a poor man’s Ibsen”, and that just about nails it. The writer herself had been shattered by finding that her lover, the leading arts critic of their generation who had fostered a regeneration of Scandinavian art, wouldn’t review her work because she was a woman! From what I can glean from the program notes, she wrote this, her one and only play, shortly before she killed herself in despair, and while suffering can inspire great creativity, it doesn’t seem to have worked here, partly because her characters are so empty (reflecting her own feelings, presumably), and partly because she didn’t have experience writing drama. It may be that another adaptation would bring out more of the original, but don’t hold your breath.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me