The Lion In Winter – January 2012


By James Goldman

Directed by Trevor Nunn

Venue: Theatre Royal, Haymarket

Date: Thursday 19th January 2012

We were a bit closer for this one than we like – Row B – because we didn’t book early enough. Even so, we had a good view of the action and heard every word, which made for an enjoyable afternoon. Unfortunately we also heard the mobile phone right behind us, and it was at a bad time (there’s a good time?) when Eleanor had just cut her arm. It’s all a ploy to manipulate Richard into giving her what she wants, so nothing to worry about, but the effect was spoiled by the ringtone. Anyway it’s a good old workhorse, this play, and this was a better than average production with some very good performances and a lot of humour. It’s mostly in the first half, true, but there’s still fun to be had in the second half, including one of the best lines – ‘all families have their ups and downs’; in context, it was hilarious.

This play is the archetypal family-from-hell Christmas. Everyone is plotting against everyone else, with the possible exception of Alais, and if I didn’t know the history I would have expected dead bodies to litter the stage. The bickering does get a little tiresome towards the end, but this cast kept our attention all the way through. I really enjoyed Joseph Drake as Prince John; we enjoyed his Nijinsky last summer at Chichester, and this snivelling Prince made a nice contrast.

The set was quite elaborate, making use of two revolves to change the scenery. They had small apartments for intimate gatherings, a larger reception area with a huge Christmas tree – the anachronisms were deliberate – two bedrooms and a wine cellar, all created with the minimum of fuss. I particularly liked the scene in the French King’s bedroom, with two Princes hiding behind the tapestry, another in the four-poster screened by the curtains, and King Henry himself knocking on the door to have a word. The costumes were mock mediaeval, in keeping with the setting, and worked very well.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at

The Tempest – October 2011


By: William Shakespeare

Directed by: Trevor Nunn

Venue: Theatre Royal, Haymarket

Date: Thursday 6th October 2011

This was disappointing, especially after the two much livelier Shakespeare productions we’ve just seen. I have no criticism for the actors, but the production itself was pretty bog standard and often dull, with just a few good sections to keep us in our seats. Admittedly, we were tired after all our travelling, but we’ve seen plays in similar circumstances and been enthralled; not so today.

My main problem was with the set. Prospero’s cell was to our left, and occupied the left-hand box in front of the pros arch. The boxes at the side were mostly swathed in blue cloth, which gave a sort of connection to the rest of the stage, but the fake boxes on either side of the stage, that were part of the Waiting For Godot set, were left as is, so I could only conclude that this deserted island just happened to have a crumbling theatre on it, which rather spoilt the picture. The brick wall at the back didn’t help either, and although this was masked for the performance, I never felt this was a remote island in any sea.

The use of wires to fly Ariel in and out, along with some of the other spirits, looked a bit clumsy at first, but after a while I accepted it, and by the masque scene I was enjoying the spectacle of several flying goddesses. Ariel’s makeup and movement were a bit jerky, as was the delivery of the lines, so not my favourite interpretation, but it worked well enough in this production.

Nicholas Lyndhurst was reasonably good as Trinculo, but Clive Wood seemed completely miscast as Stephano. Their routines with Caliban were moderately funny, but not as good as we would have expected from such strong casting, so clearly something’s gone wrong somewhere. The rest of the cast were OK, and the lines were spoken well enough, but there just wasn’t any sparkle to the performance, sadly.

One aspect of the staging I did like was the opening section, where Prospero came on stage, laid down his staff across the front of the stage, and conjured the storm as we watched. He then stood back as the crew came up through the hatches, and was a background presence for the early part at least – I didn’t notice him all the way through. Another interesting choice was to use two additional actors as extra Ariel’s – they were able to run around the ship causing mayhem, as described by Ariel later, and adding to the image of a mischievous spirit.

Ferdinand and Miranda were like a couple of teenagers, getting some funny facial reactions from Prospero. When he was talking to them, allowing them to be together, he can hardly get a word in edgeways at times because Ferdinand is so full of formal speeches himself. That worked well, but it wasn’t enough to lift the whole performance. There are better Shakespeare productions to be seen, and not all in London.

© 2011 Sheila Evans at

Flare Path – April 2011


By: Terence Rattigan

Directed by: Trevor Nunn

Venue: Theatre Royal, Haymarket

Date: Wednesday, 6th April 2011

We saw a touring production of this many years ago; not a great production and the play didn’t strike us as one of Rattigan’s best. We’re very fond of Rattigan’s work, so we came to this performance with the best attitude – we didn’t have high expectations, but we were keen to see the play again in a more powerful production, to get a better sense of its scope.

Personally, I was gone long before it started. About twenty minutes before the off, they started playing 1940s swing numbers to get us in the mood. I didn’t recognise any specific songs, but the period feel was perfect. Then I started reading the program notes, about Rattigan’s own wartime experiences and the strategy of the bombing campaign against Germany. I had to clean my glasses again, they’d become all mucky from my tears.

And there were more tears to come, for all sorts of reasons. The play started quietly enough, with an almost empty set, the residents’ lounge of the small country hotel where all the action takes place. There was a door to the lounge bar front left, with the light switches beside it, further back was the reception desk, and back left was the main door. The stairs were back right, and between the door and the stairs was the enormous window, all carefully taped up in case of bombs. On the right was the fireplace, and there were lots of chairs and tables scattered around. Above this main set, there was a panel which showed pictures of the take offs, including the final, fatal one. There were also many sound effects of plane engines – thank God they didn’t use Lancasters or I’d have been well sodden before the interval.

The play began with the arrival of Peter Kyle, a famous film actor, born British but now an American citizen. He’s recognised fairly quickly by the only other person in the lounge, Doris, otherwise known as the Countess Unpronounceable (Skriczevinsky). She’s not Polish herself, but is married to a Polish pilot, Johnny. She persuades Mrs Oakes, the hotel proprietor, to let Mr Kyle have a room for the night – even though we’ve established that the hotel is full, she grudgingly lets Mr Kyle sleep in the Wing Commander’s room, but makes him promise not to touch any of the Wing Commander’s things.

This scene is a marvellous combination of different facets of life at that time. Eager for news (aka gossip), Doris is bright and chatty one minute, then when she hears the sound of engines she becomes brisk and businesslike, with a strong sense of underlying tension. It could seem an odd shift, but here it worked brilliantly to take us into the characters’ world without a lot of explanation. Fortunately, with Peter Kyle being an ex-pat, so to speak, there were plenty of opportunities to explain RAF slang to everyone when needed, and although many of the terms are familiar now, I found it helpful to be reminded that these words and phrases were just being coined.

The other characters start arriving, and soon we’ve met rear gunner Miller, his wife Maudie, Johnny the Polish Count, Teddy Graham (a bomber pilot) and his wife Patricia, who used to be an actress, and who had even been in one of Mr Kyle’s plays in London some years ago (Steve and I exchanged knowing looks).

We also met Percy, the hotel’s waiter, a young lad not yet old enough to be called up but old enough to take a keen interest in the activities of the local bomber squadron. He didn’t get anything out of the bomber crew, but that didn’t stop him spreading rumours about likely raids and intended targets.

The final character is ‘Gloria’, aka Squadron Leader Swanson, who appears late in the first act to send the airmen on a dangerous mission. With her husband off to fight the Hun, Patricia doesn’t get a chance to tell him she’s leaving to be with Peter, and as events unfold, first she and then Peter himself recognise that they have to end their affair.

Just as they end things, we’re treated to the safe return of Johnny, who landed in the drink, and had quite an adventure getting back to base. With his arrival, everyone cheers up, apart from Peter and Patricia, and the play concludes with drinks all round – even Mrs Miller has a port in her hand and the beginnings of a smile on her face – and the first verse of a very lewd song.

There were marvellous performances all round. Although I found Sienna Miller and James Purefoy to be more ‘theatrical’ than the rest, that was reasonable given their characters, so I’m not complaining. The most emotional scene, where Teddy breaks down and reveals his terror to his wife, was very moving and difficult to watch. Harry Hadden-Paton’s performance was particularly good – it’s a tricky scene to get right, but he went a long way into the man’s fear and sense of his own weakness without losing my sympathy or making it comic. Of course, his wife’s reactions are an important part of making the scene work, and Sienna Miller held her own beautifully.

The other sniffle fest was after this, when Peter reads the Count’s letter to his wife, given to her in case he doesn’t return from a ‘do’. Written in French, she needs Peter’s help as translator, and there’s a moment for both of them when he reads that the Count had been looking forward to taking his wife home to his country after the war; Peter had voiced the opinion that she was a Countess only till the war was over (how wrong can you be?) and she had overheard him (that’s the trouble with public lounges). Both actors made the most of this intimate moment, even though it wasn’t really an intimacy between themselves.

For all the sniffles, there were also a lot of laughs to help things along. With very little actually appearing to happen, we still get a fascinating insight onto life at that time for a particular section of the population, such is Rattigan’s skill as a playwright. We’re really looking forward to the rest of the planned Rattigan productions this year – if they’re half as good as this, we’re in for a fantastic time.

© 2011 Sheila Evans at

The Rivals – February 2011


By: Richard Brinsley Sheridan

Director: Peter Hall

Venue: Theatre Royal, Haymarket

Date: Saturday 19th February 2011

Bit disappointing, this. The set was fantastic, all in cream, with a marvellous trompe l’oie curve of Georgian rooftops in a crescent above the flat back wall, which had a magnificent central door, and two smaller doors to either side. Exits and entrances could also be made directly from the wings, and the curve of the rooftops came forward to yet another Simon Higlett picture frame, about halfway up the stage. In front of this were two elaborate doors, one on each side, and I did finally notice a beautiful parquet oval in the floor. So the location was abundantly clear, and with the extra furniture brought on and off (by liveried servants to boot), and wonderful costumes, there was plenty to enjoy visually.

This version of the play was an amalgam of the three ‘original’ versions, and while it was coherent, it did feel a bit minimalist at times. However, we got a fuller Mrs Malaprop than usual, which in this case was a real treat. Perhaps just shaded by my memories of Stephanie Cole’s portrayal, Penelope Keith did a fine job of getting across her character’s misuse of the English language, and I’m sure there were several instances which I’d never heard before. Peter Bowles was entertaining as Sir Anthony Absolute – not as physical as some we’ve seen, but he conveyed the changes of mood very nicely. The servants, Fag and Lucy were splendid, and I’ve often thought the servants’ parts are some of the best in the Restoration Comedies.

The main problems I found today were the weakness of the romantic leads, and the lack of a brisk pace to keep the energy up. It’s a problem with Peter Hall’s directorial style now that his productions are a lot less physical, and this can make things a bit dull, although there’s no doubt the language comes across brilliantly. Jack Absolute was played by Tam Williams, and seemed a bit weak. Lydia Languish was played by Robyn Addison, making her professional stage debut, and was sadly wooden and inexpressive. Annabel Scholey was fine as Julia, although Tony Gardner, excellent in other stage comedies we’ve seen, was rather dull as Faulkland. Gerard Murphy was good as Sir Lucius O’Trigger, but had relatively little to do, and I did like Keiron Self as Bob Acres, the unsuccessful suitor to Lydia, who manages to avoid a duel, but not the makeover from a tailor.

I still enjoyed seeing the play again – it’s a total classic – but I wouldn’t recommend the production as the best I’ve seen. Perhaps they’re just getting a bit jaded towards the end of their run.

© 2011 Sheila Evans at

Waiting For Godot – August 2009


By Samuel Beckett

Directed by Sean Matthias

Venue: Theatre Royal, Haymarket

Date: Saturday 1st August 2009

I’m so relieved to have finally seen this play. I’m not a fan of Beckett’s work – I think he’s hugely overrated – but I did want to see this one in case it changed my mind and awakened me to the riches others evidently see in his oeuvre. It didn’t. But now, bliss, oh bliss, I can ignore Beckett productions with a clear conscience, confident that there’s nothing for me there. (But then there’s Endgame, Richard Briers’ farewell to the stage…)

The set was interesting. The stage had been built out a little (row A was lost) and on either side at the front was an arched entrance topped by two dummy boxes, designed to echo the real boxes next to them. However the stage ones were dusty and dilapidated, and the narrow bit of roof that stretched between the sets of boxes was crumbling away. There was also a lighting gantry stretching across the space which emphasised the theatricality of the performance. The back wall was of brick, with a plank door to the left hand side. A short distance in front of it was a crumbling wall, and since Estragon climbed up that way to get onto the stage I assume there was a ditch in between them. The stage floor was mainly planks, painted dusty white, and with a steepish rake from the wall down to the middle. The rest was flat. There was a gap in the raked planks approximately in front of the rear door, and a makeshift bench forward of that. Right of centre, at the bottom of the rake, stood the tree – a scrawny trunk and several windblown branches, totally bare. The lighting suggested various times of day, including evening and night time; each half ended with the two leads in a contracting circle of moonlight.

If there is a plot to this play, I, along with the rest of the universe, have yet to discover it. Two tramps, Vladimir (Patrick Stewart) and Estragon (Ian McKellen) spend two evenings waiting by a tree for a chap called Godot. If he comes, they’re saved. If not, they have to come back again and wait the next evening. There’s a sense of endless repetition, coupled with forgetfulness and uncertainty – was it yesterday they met Pozzo and Lucky, or is this the first time they’ve seen them? (And, frankly, who cares?)

Pozzo (Simon Callow) and Lucky (Ronald Pickup) are master and slave. On day one, we see Pozzo treating Lucky badly, as well as being ‘treated’ to a very long speech by Lucky which appeared to contain some garbled dialogue concerning the nature of existence. Possibly. (I found it pretty boring.) On day two, Pozzo has gone blind, and when he and Lucky arrive they fall over, leading to a surfeit of falling over gags. On both days, after they leave, a young boy clambers out from underneath the wall to give the tramps a message from Mr. Godot – he won’t be coming tonight, they have to wait again tomorrow evening. And that’s basically it. Nothing to get excited about or even stay awake for. There was a surprising and entirely necessary amount of humour throughout, mainly during the banter between the two old men. They were a regular old couple, been together for years. And that’s about all I can say about them.

Apart from the funny bits, I found it terribly dreary and I had to stop myself from checking my watch too often. Still, the rest of the audience seemed to enjoy it and I did like the entertaining way they took their bows, with Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen acting like a couple of song and dance men. Even so, it was good to be outside in the rain and heading home.

© 2009 Sheila Evans at