Black Comedy – July 2014

Preview Performance

Experience: 7/10

By Peter Shaffer

Directed by Jamie Glover

(Paired with Miss Julie)

Venue: Minerva Theatre

Date: Monday 7th July 2014

We stayed in the Minerva for the interval after Miss Julie to see the set being changed. There was a lot to do; they had to move from the kitchen of a country estate in 19th century Sweden to an impecunious artist’s flat in 1960s London in fifteen minutes. The existing set was cleared, with some of the back wall sections being turned around to provide additional wall parts for the new set. The biggest item they brought on was a large piece of construction which had the bedroom upstairs and a screened off studio area underneath; getting this into the right position took some time. With that placed correctly, the rest of the set could be sorted out, which involved placing lots of chairs, a patchwork of rugs, the stairs up to the bedroom and many paintings plus a tree-like sculpture. The door was in the same place as before, but that was the only similarity to the previous set which I could spot. There was also a telephone on the floor on the left side of the stage, a chaise centre back and a wooden block at the very front of the stage on which stood a brightly-coloured Buddha statue.

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The Private Ear/The Public Eye – September 2013

Experience: The Private Ear 7/10

The Public Eye 8/10

By Peter Shaffer

Directed by Alistair Whatley

The Original Theatre Company

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Monday 2nd September 2013

This was a double bill of two one-act plays, which were joined together by a neat little scene change at the start of the second half. We’d seen The Private Ear partnered with Black Comedy in the 1980s, so this was a new combination for us. As it turned out, I’d seen the film Follow Me! on TV many years ago, so the story of The Public Eye was familiar too, but stage is a different beast to film.

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Equus – February 2008

6/10

By: Peter Shaffer

Directed by: Thea Sharrock

Venue: Chichester Festival Theatre

Date: Thursday 7th February 2008

It’s strange that I found the previous performance of Equus in London more enjoyable than this one, yet I prefer this performance space – I felt it suited this production more – and the performances were as good, if not better. I think this is an example of the surprise factor. I had a greater sense of wonder and awe the first time round as I hadn’t seen the horse designs before. This time, they were still good, but not such a lift to my system. Some of the magic had gone. Ah well.

Simon Callow played the psychiatrist this time, and Alfie Allen the young man. Simon Callow’s portrayal was much more uptight, and I got a greater sense of someone wrestling with their own demons, never mind someone else’s. He seemed on the verge of a breakdown, and although I didn’t entirely relate to the imagery of the horse’s head, I got the sense of something powerful which he had to come to terms with. Alfie Allen’s performance was very good, and this time I felt that even if the sex had happened in a less stressful place, he might not have got over his obsession. With the more open performance space, I had a greater sense of all the contributing factors to his fixation.

Apart from the cast changes, the only other change I noticed was that when Alan went to blind the horses, the lights went out together, instead of one by one, as they did in the West End. A very enjoyable reprise for a very good production.

© 2008 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Equus – April 2007

8/10

By: Peter Shaffer

Directed by: Thea Sharrock

Venue: Gielgud Theatre

Date: Wednesday 11th April 2007

I was keen to see this play, as I hadn’t seen it before, and it’s often talked about as being really influential. Of course, the prospect of male nudity didn’t put me off at all.

The set was impressive. Designed by John Napier, who designed the original production at the Old Vic, it was very bare, but with some lovely touches, mainly the horses’ heads. These were formed from steel wire, making a head-shaped basket, with leather straps between some of the wires. Underneath was a cap for fitting the masks on to the actors’ heads. They were beautifully made, and hung round the walls of the set at the start. The centre was a large plinth, all black, with four black blocks set on it – these could be put on any side and moved around easily to create furniture as required. There were also six stable doors evenly spaced round the back and sides of the stage – these only became apparent later.

As well as the main house being packed, there were a couple of rows of seats up behind the stage, also full. On the whole, the audience were fine, despite having a younger average age than we usually see in a midweek matinee. I did have to ask one man to be quiet, as he seemed to think it was OK to carry on a conversation with the person next to him throughout the performance! There was extra loud applause at the end – some of it may have been down to the Harry Potter effect, but mostly it was well earned.

The story is relatively simple, though quite challenging. We gradually learn why a young man has blinded six horses at the stable where he worked. He’s developed a weird sexual attachment to horses, based on an early experience and fuelled by his mother’s insistent religiosity. When he nearly loses his cherry in the stable barn, he’s driven to this extreme act by his fear of what his horse-god has seen. I couldn’t help feeling that if the young lady (a questionable description, in this case) had only chosen somewhere else for his first night of passion, he might have turned out quite reasonably – her choice just happened to be the worst one possible for him.

I liked all the performances, although there wasn’t much for some of the minor characters to do. Richard Griffiths creates a tremendous sense of trustworthiness, and Daniel Radcliffe managed to get across his character’s strangeness very well. His mother and father were also good, especially Jonathan Cullen as the puritanical socialist who gets caught out visiting a porn cinema. The “horses” were also excellent, and the blinding scene, where torches are used for the horses’ eyes and extinguished as they’re gouged out, was both disturbing and beautiful.

It seems a worthy revival of an interesting play, and I was glad to have seen it. Although there had been some rewriting to bring the dialogue up-to-date, the overall feel of the piece was very modern anyway.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me