Liolà – November 2013

Experience: 8/10

By Luigi Pirandello, adapted by Tanya Ronder

Directed by Richard Eyre

Venue: Lyttelton Theatre

Date: Wednesday 6th November 2013

This was a very good production and an excellent adaptation too; well worth the trip up to see it. We took our seats very close to the off today, as a body in front of a train at Wimbledon had shut off our usual route to the National: change at Clapham for Waterloo. But the Victoria line was still open, and we had just enough time to get to the National the long way round. As a result, we missed some of the foreplay, but did arrive in time to see the central platform on the stage being cleaned by a group of women using foot cloths.

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Quartermaine’s Terms – March 2013

Experience: 8/10

By Simon Gray

Directed by Richard Eyre

Venue: Wyndham’s Theatre

Date: Saturday 16th March 2013

Henry David Thoreau wrote that the “mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation”, a quote which I have always remembered but never understood until today. Simon Gray’s work exemplifies this concept, particularly in this play where the characters present bright and cheerful facades to cover the truth of their inner despair. We get to see both the inner and outer aspects of their lives during a performance, and thankfully there’s enough humour to lighten the load.

The set was as usual for this play, with an old leather armchair front left for Quartermaine himself, other seats across the front, a table and chairs behind, lockers on the right and a small kitchen area back right. Other staff room paraphernalia – books, filing cabinet, etc. – were dotted around, with entrances at the back and on the right. The style and costumes were all appropriate for the early 1960s.

The performances were all excellent, and there was plenty of laughter from the audience. Rowan Atkinson played the central character really well, and a lot of the humour was down to his performance. His character came across as more cartoonish than the others, and this portrayal brought out less of the sadness in Quartermaine’s life that I experienced in Nathaniel Parker’s previous interpretation (June 2008), but it still worked very well, and with such a strong cast the production as a whole was excellent. Conleth Hill was marvellous as the erudite older teacher who eventually takes over the school, while Will Keen wrung every last drop of social embarrassment out of the accident prone but hard-working Derek Meadle. Malcolm Sinclair was suitably stroppy and forgetful as the headmaster, and the rest of the cast were equally as good. Well worth the visit, although I wouldn’t care to spend much time with any of these people in real life.

© 2013 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

The Last Cigarette – April 2009

6/10

By Simon Gray and Hugh Whitemore

Directed by Richard Eyre

Venue: Minerva Theatre

Date: Monday 6th April 2009

I was torn between giving this production a 6 or 7/10 rating. The acting was very good, there was a lot of humour and some moving moments, yet overall I found it not as interesting as other pieces on the same subject; the John Diamond/Victoria Coren A Lump In My Throat, for example.

The set was a three-way split, with three identical desks, chairs, pile of books and pair of slippers carefully arranged along radiating patches of carpet. From what I could see (and from a surreptitious feel of the texture) the carpet was a basic mid-blue, with ray-shaped bands which had been speckled with gray paint, resembling cigarette ash. There was a large screen at the back, and although there was a selection of images to illustrate the story being told, the main image was that of a man, presumably Simon Gray himself. Unfortunately, and I don’t know if this was intentional or not, the image was blurred, with two identical pictures being projected slightly out of sync. It was mildly distracting, as I tried to figure it out at first, and then, once I’d realised what it was, I occasionally looked at it again when the offerings on stage weren’t so engrossing.

The three actors, Felicity Kendal, Jasper Britton and Nicholas le Provost, played three versions of the author. Like some gargantuan inner conversation, they took us on a reminiscence through Simon Gray’s life and some of the circumstances around his experience with cancer. The advantage of having three actors doing this was that the ‘spare’ ones could play the parts of the other people in each scene, and the down side to that was that I wasn’t always clear when they were back playing the author again. Felicity Kendal was the hardest for this; although she was very good as a man, so to speak, she naturally played all the woman’s parts required, and I sometimes found I lost track of who she was. But this is a minor quibble; the play was still very entertaining, and we enjoyed ourselves more than we’d expected to.

One more point. Having read one or two reviews beforehand, and at least one from a critic who’d known the man himself, I was glad that we hadn’t known him at all as we didn’t expect accurate impersonation, just a tribute in play form to his life and work. Which we got, and were well satisfied.

© 2009 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me