Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Entertaining Mister Sloane by Joe Orton, Trafalgar Studio 1, 27-Jan-2009 - Directed by Nick Bagnall

Part way through this play I suddenly thought of Pinter's the Caretaker – I reckoned there was a passing faint echo of the play in a few brief moments. Another play that I thought of was Epitaph for George Dillon by John Osborne and I wondered if somehow Orton was responding to it. Of course both the Caretaker and Epitaph... were written some years before Mister Sloane and Orton may not have seen one of them, so I'm probably just filling up lines here.
First things first, I enjoyed myself, I thought the play and the acting were very good especially in the second half when things got a lot darker.
However here are a few of the things i didn't like:
In the first part of the play things felt a little bit too literal, even the subtlest innuendo seemed to be played for big laughs. This might have been the fault of a willing and pliant audience – fuelled by pre-performance alcohol – looking for laughs and reacting accordingly. Also the actors seemed to be having a wonderful time, often appearing on the verge of corpsing
Another example of literal mindedness on the part of the production was Imelda Staunton's negligee. There is a line in the script where her character Kath complains that the material that she is wearing is almost see-through. The negligee was see-through, very see-through, nothing-left-to-the-imagination see-through. I shouldn't complain about virtual nudity and Imelda Staunton has nothing to be ashamed of.
The only thing that did worry me about Imelda Staunton was that in the first half she was too nice, gentle and lonely, nowhere near the grotesque that that I associated with the role.
Possibly the worst thing but still a fairly minor point was Matthew Hornes's accent which wobbled between Essex and a non-geographical northern.
This play is still in preview so if I'm right not to like something then it may well be fixed before they put it in front of the critics – not that they'll have taken any advice form me of course.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Private Lives by Noel Coward, Hampsted Theatre, 26-Jan_2009 - Directed by Lucy Bailey

The worry I always have with Noel Coward and Oscar Wilde's plays is that an idiot director might decide to delve too into whichever play they are doing, in an attempt to unearth a non-existent dark-side to the piece. I have seen this done and it has never been pretty. I'm not going to deny that there are deeper messages or meanings in the plays of these dramatists but I don't think they work properly unless they are played at the surface and kept apparently frivolous.
Fortunately Lucy Bailey allowed the audience plenty of laughter as well as some moments when I had to dab a little moisture from my eye.
I was not sure that Jasper Britton's Elyot and Claire Price's Amanda had sufficiently upper crust accents but it probably would have made them sound like bad, stereotypical Noel Coward impressions. Although I missed the clipped and rather frosty delivery that I normally would have wanted, instead I got something that felt more realistic and thought I could feel the love between Elyot and Amanda more.
A major departure from other productions that I seen was Amanda's Paris flat. Normally this is a chic abode with Bedroom, bathroom and kitchen leading off from the the living room where all the second half's action takes place. In this production it was a studio flat in a slope-roofed attic. The kitchen was hardly divided from the main area, causing some awkwardness as the maid (Jules Melvin)had to be seen to be doing something when she was there. The bathroom looked too small to actually have a bath in it and the only other room (where Elyot retires) was a box room or walk-in cupboard. The main area consisted of a grand piano and a bed. This arrangement had a certain logic to it but it did seem to present a few minor problems for actors who would normally have been hidden from view.
I didn't find myself having any sympathy for the characters of Sibyl and Victor and I don't suppose I was meant to, although I have felt a bit sorry for them in other productions.

Mrs Affleck by Samuel Adamson (adapted from Ibsen's Little Eyolf), Cottesloe Theatre, 20-Jan-2009 - directed by Marianne Elliott

I suppose what I want in an adaptation is for the adapter to bring something new to the piece. Otherwise they may just as well have done a fairly straight translation. Samuel Adamson moved the play's setting to the 1950s rather effectively and updated the mechanics of the relationships and jobs well but I never really felt that was enough. Also I noticed the period setting speeches - lots of stuff along the lines of (not an exact quote) “What would the new Prime Minister Eden do?” - rather too much. I kept thinking that in normal conversation you don't go round dropping heavy phrases to illustrate the period of history that is happening at the moment. I suppose that it is a trap that writers often encounter and maybe if I'd been enjoing myself more I wouldn't have noticed so much.
I was also a little unsure why he chose the title, I didn't feel that the play belonged to Claire Skinner's Mrs Affleck any than it belonged to Angus Wright, Naomi Frederick or the boy playing Ollie. She had plenty to say but didn't reveal much of herself other than the motive in the original play. This compared with a nicely thought out back story for the half-brother and sister.
I looked up the play Little Eyolf (on which this is based) afterwards and I noticed that the character of Flea, who stands in for the Rat-Wife in the original, was saying extremely similar lines to his counterpart. Not unexpected of course but I remembered how strange and awkward the lines had been coming from Flea. I couldn't quite believe that rats would be devouring communities along the Kent coast in the 1950s.
The set was designed to look a little like the space between two groynes on a beach with seating on three sides. This only came into use in the second and third acts of the play, in the first the unseated end of the space was taken up by the Affleck's kitchen and dismantling that set took the best part of half an hour but this was an early preview.
I couldn't help thinking that it that this could have been, given the actors and standard of acting, an excellent straightforward version of Little Eyolf but it didn't really work as an adaptation.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Every Good Boy Deserves Favour by Tom Stoppard and Andre Previn, Olivier Theatre, 12-Jan-2009 – Directed by Felix Barrett and Tom Morris

My immediate thought after the play was that this was a Russian short story (or what I think of as a Russian short story given almost zero knowledge - blackly comic with authoritarian overtones anyway) with orchestra. The more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve wondered if the music and the play meshed. Certainly with one actor seemingly imagining or controlling the orchestra and another actor and sundry dancers in the orchestra, there was a great deal of integration but with the benefit of hindsight I’m remembering them as being separate; existing in the same space but not communicating. I’m not absolutely certain that I felt this at the time and it does seem to belie the facts of the play. However I get the feeling of the music and the play allowing for and acknowledging the others presence but not actually talking rather like a long married couple who still communicate but have nothing to say to each other anymore.
I’m not going to say that it wasn’t good because it was and I enjoyed myself and my initial thoughts might have more to do with me mulling it over too long. If I had problems with the piece it was that I wanted more substance from the play. One example is that the comic pay-off of the play happens as a result of two characters having the same name and although I was aware of the fact I didn’t think that it had been clearly enough stated or that other comic misunderstandings had been attempted. Of course it would have been very easy to overdo the setup and make the joke too obvious. I wanted to feel that the two characters with the same name were really cellmates and, possibly, had bonded in some way. I would have also liked a more complete picture of the Doctor or at least something that left me wanting more rather than feeling that I hadn’t seen enough (I realise that it’s a fine, maybe non-existent, distinction).
I was completely taken in by Bryony Hannah’s portrayal of the boy Sasha, in that, in spite of having a programme and reading the cast list, I missed that fact that he was a she.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Hamlet by William Shakespeare, Novello Theatre, 1-Jan-2009 – Directed by Gregory Doran

I suppose I can be philosophical about David Tennant’s absence from this play. I have, after all, seen him in about 13 other plays over the years and will hopefully see him in a few more in the future. Also I would have gone to an RSC Hamlet anyway, whoever was playing the prince.
There were a few gaps in the seating as the lights went down and (probably patronisingly) I did feel a little sorry for those that had swallowed their disappointment and come to the play for the good of their immortal soul, or something, especially as some of the early scenes felt incredibly static when the stage was full of people. I realise that there are a lot of long speeches where everyone on stage has to pay attention to the speaker without fidgeting but something made me aware of just how still they all were. It may have been that the audience didn’t react, at all, until the farewell scene between Polonius, Laertes and Ophelia. This is a minor quibble because the play warmed up quite quickly after that and any silence from the audience felt more like wrapt attention than bewilderment.
The most disappointing thing about the play was that I didn’t find myself missing David Tennant in the slightest. I’ll not use any fancy words about Edward Bennett’s performance other than that I believed it and he seemed to fit the role well. Some masochistic part of me probably wanted some traces of a David Tennant-shaped hole in the production but I couldn’t spot one. There were one or two things I didn’t like: The duel at the end was a little chaotic and unpractised and Edward Bennett left out about four lines from the “To Be or not..” soliloquy which would have been an unlikely cut even if no one cares about making quietus with a bare bodkin these days.
The production re-ordered some of the scenes and I thought it made the story hang together quite well. One problem with the swapping around of scenes was that it was a long two hours until the interval and I was certainly beginning to flag as it approached. Something I noticed strongly this time was the sheer stupidity of the scene where Osric delivers the news of the wager, setting up the fencing match/duel. I think it has always bothered me a bit – the way that Osric seems oblivious to the passions that have ripped through the court, introducing Laertes as if he is a visiting celebrity rather than the man who tried to storm the palace just days earlier and has recently had a fight in a grave with Hamlet.
It was good to see the likes of Patrick Stewart, Penny Downey and Mark (I’m sure it’s him in the “Water in Majorca” Heineken TV ad) Hadfield doing their stuff, as well as the underused John Woodvine.

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