Thursday, June 28, 2007

Bedroom Farce by Alan Ayckbourn, Richmond Theatre 25-Jun-2007 – Director Robin Herford

Time was when if I wanted to impress friends who were Doctor Who fans I would tell them that I’d once sat six feet away from Louise ‘Leela’ Jameson while she got naked and had sex in a play. These days, with the all new Doctor Who series, I’d probably have to tell them that I’d once seen David Tennant in his pants (‘What the Butler Saw’ Lyttelton 1995 – as it happens) to earn the same kind of Doctor Who related kudos. Of course what I never mentioned was just how clumsy and awkwardly I thought Louise Jameson’s sex scene was written.
I mention this Louise Jameson stuff, obviously, because she was in the play but also to mark a kind of turning point. This was the first time I’d seen her play the part of an old woman, well not exactly old but late 50s. I think the phrase I’m looking for here is playing a part where she was no longer expected to be sexually appealing. Of course I haven’t seen her on stage for over 10 years nor have I followed her recent TV career so any switch to less sexually vital parts may have happened a while back and I’ve been too slow to notice.
Although the programme was full of blurb about the seventies, when the play was written, this production was updated for modern times. Doing this didn’t seem to involve much more than the casual mention of emails. However it did make the older couple (Colin Baker and Louise Jameson) seem even more old fashioned than they were originally written (50 somethings of today expressing attitudes of 50 somethings from 30 years ago) and now I think about it, the absence of mobile phones was a bit odd – although their presence would have made the second half of the play pointless.
Another point of interest for me was that my namesake Timothy Watson was appearing as the bed-bound character Nick. I’m never sure whether I want him to do well as an actor or not. He always seems to get pretty good reviews in the stage stuff he does but I haven’t seen him that often. Also for some reason I never got round to see him when he was in the Woman in Black for what seemed like a couple of years.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Betrayal by Harold Pinter, Donmar Warehouse, 21-Jun-2007 – Director Roger Michell

I’m beginning to think that I don’t really like this play. The conceit of telling the story backwards is fine, the characterisation is great and the dialogue is mostly brilliant but there’s something about the play that leaves me cold. It is the single Pinter play that I’ve seen the most (four times now) so familiarity could be making it pall but I’ve seen the Homecoming three times and I still think well of that play. It might be a combination of not being able to warm to or care about Dervla Kirwan in this production and the whole stew business. The stew has never felt right, it’s like an indigestible lump that, for me, fixes the play in its period (late sixties/early seventies – when this production was set) and doesn’t seem to belong as part of an afternoon romantic tryst. I know that there are all sorts of practical reasons why the couple would want to dine in the privacy of their Kilburn flat but it’s a fragment of unromantic domesticity that find jarring. It would be even worse if the play was set or updated to the twenty-first century where the cooking reference would either feel anachronistic (the female lover cooking for her man) or would have something to do with heating up a couple of Marks and Spencer ready meals. Maybe I’m bothered by the notion that everything else in the play would allow it to be set at anytime in the last fifty years which would make it more timeless and universal.

Another thing that bothered me about this production was that I found myself distracted by the set while there was action on stage. It wasn’t the moth that seemed to have got trapped in the projector that showed the year of the scene. It was the tracks of the curtain rails on the ceiling; I couldn’t resist trying to trace their complex route before realising that I should be watching what Toby Stephens was up to. The set such as it was, was really just several sets of long, thick, white net curtains that were swished around the stage between scenes by the stage hands and left in different configurations to indicate the walls for different rooms. Oddly when I came in to the theatre and saw single curtain almost forming a box on stage I was reminded of one of the last Pinter’s I saw at the Donmar. That play was Old Times and it was, if memory serves, performed entirely inside a large Perspex box. The odd thing is that, that production had the same director and designer, Roger Michell and William Dudley which I didn’t know until I looked it up in the programme.

I discovered that I can’t really remember the male actors in previous the productions of this play. The only one that really rests in my memory is Martin Shaw who played Robert in the first production I saw back in 1991. The pity is that the man who played Jerry in that production was Bill Nighy several years before he became BILL NIGHY; I just can’t call him to mind.

The only other that might just be worth mentioning is that there was a fleeting moment where Sam West’s mouth was set exactly like his father’s. It lasted just long enough for me to notice it and wonder if it was going to happen again.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Five Wives of Maurice Pinder by Matt Charman, NT Cottesloe 18-Jun-2007 - Director: Sarah Frankcom

Someone is going to get hurt. Someone in Row A. Someone in a seat numbered between fifteen and twenty-something. I know this because I was in Row A and I saw the chips of masonry fly in the direction of those seats as the breeze-block wall was knocked down with a sledge hammer. OK I’m being overly dramatic but it was slightly unnerving to have a young man swinging a hammer within a few feet of where I sat.

I wondered if perhaps the designer hadn’t quite taken into account that there would need to be an audience sharing the same space as their transverse set. It did seem to take up most of the Cottesloe’s floor space. Also people in my row were turfed out during the interval so that stage hands could lay a concrete (concrete-effect on wooden board anyway) floor on part of the set [Insert slow builder joke here].

As the play got underway I sorted through what my nice liberal opinion of polygamy/polyandry should be. Basically I concluded that so long as it wasn’t abusive or fraudulent then it wasn’t worth complaining about. See, nice, liberal and just a bit glib. Actually I got the feeling that this is more or less what the author, Matt Charman, felt too, although he seems to have concluded that polygamy is always going to be abusive even if there’s no overt violence and little psychological bullying. There was only one outside character expressing moral outrage at the situation but he was driven in part by lust and wasn’t given a strong enough argument against Mister Pinder’s lifestyle. I’m not sure that I entirely bought the set up and maybe there was a more powerful play in the story of the introduction of the second wife rather than the introduction of the fourth and fifth ones. Also perhaps there would have been more tension if Maurice Pinder had been written as more charismatic and manipulative but then the situation would have felt almost ordinary which I think.was the author’s intention.

I felt the need to remind myself about Matt Charman’s first play A Night at the Dogs which I saw a couple of years ago (and which won the Verity Bargate award). I couldn’t remember whether the reviews of it had been positive or excited and my own recollection doesn’t go much beyond ‘interesting’ which is my usual unhelpful comment. I think I missed any common themes between the two plays. They both end, I reckon, with the optimistic possible future slightly outweighing the pessimistic one but in the case of Five Wives… I’m not sure that there was a strong sense that Pinder had learnt anything or changed. Perhaps that isn’t necessary and it probably wasn’t the intention; it’s just me wanting a bit more of a battle.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Gaslight by Patrick Hamilton, Old Vic 11-Jun-2007 - Director: Peter Gill

For some reason during tonight’s performance I kept wondering if I’d ever seen Rosamund Pile in colour. Something about her pale skin and hair together with her grey dress made me wonder if I’d ever seen her in colourful than a beige or cream. Thinking harder I believe she wore some bright colours (or brightly coloured trimmings) in Summer and Smoke last year.

When I first heard about Rosamund Pike she annoyed me. It wasn’t her fault of course it was that the publicity for Die Another Die seemed to talk about her as if she was already well known (none of the usual ‘newcomer Rosamund Pike’ stuff). As her name and face were unfamiliar to me from TV, film or theatre I wrongly assumed that she was some model-turned-actress doyen of the style pages and celebrity mags. I never saw any evidence of that, though and she impressed me in things like Hitchcock Blonde and Summer and Smoke. That said I’m still a little uneasy about exactly where she earned her top of the bill status. She’s good but is she that good?

I suspect that the director and cast decided that they couldn’t do this play as straight melodrama. It wasn’t quite played for laughs either but there was a slightly jokey feel to things when Kenneth Cranham was on stage. I hope it was deliberate because if the occasional, sometimes nervous laughs were unintentional then it won’t look good in front of the critics. It certainly didn’t match the descriptions of the play and subsequent movies which talk about the play as a psychological thriller. Perhaps playing it straight would have looked too ridiculous to modern eyes.

There was one incident that almost halted the play tonight, Ms Pike managed to drop one of the important-to-the-plot rubies which bounced nosily of the stage before disappearing from sight. Pike and Cranham struggled not to join in with the audience’s laughter (which turned into applause) and it was rather lucky that an interval started a couple of minutes later because I’m not sure that they or the audience felt willing to take anything too seriously at the time.

I was actually mildly disappointed with the play given my knowledge of Patrick Hamilton’s novels – I remember being astounded at the depiction of madness and obsession in Hangover Square and it was a book that I’d only picked up because I’d heard it was something that I vaguely ought to read. The play’s ending is telegraphed well before halfway and there is never enough jeopardy for the heroine. I almost wanted it all to be in her imagination or some tortuous trick cooked up by her husband and the ‘detective’, maybe even that the detective was the bad guy. I’m not sure that the husband was given enough opportunity by the play to convince her that she imagined everything.

I’m complaining too much so I ought to mention that everybody seemed to have a good time and even booed the husband (Andrew Woodall) as if he were a pantomime villain (not sure that the cast and director were necessarily looking for that reaction).

I’m always reminded when I see Rowena Cooper (who played Elizabeth) of the first time I encountered her. It was on TV in the eighties where she played Alan B’Stard’s male election agent who got a sex-change part way though the series.

Andrew Woodall was in Peter Gill’s play Certain Young Men and I remember in that play he played a man in a monogamous homosexual relationship who has an affair with a younger man (possibly played by Danny Dyer). His character cursed himself for his weakness but still gave into temptation. Not relevant of course.

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