Thursday, February 26, 2009

Burnt by the Sun by Peter Flannery from a film by Nikita Mikhalov & Rustam Ibragimbekov, Lyttelton Theatre, 24-Feb-2009 – Directed by Howard Davies

So you have a successful and brilliant General with a beautiful young wife and he is politely despised by her family. At which point the similarities between this play and Othello are probably not worth pursuing but it was nice to feel I'd spotted (or imagined) it.
It would probably be better to make allusions to Chekhov - thirty yeas on but I felt that at least one of the writers (Peter Flannery or the writers of the original film) was self-consciously aware of this. There was a chorus of former land-owning hangers on who could be loosely described as Chekhovian but I had the sense that they were fully aware that they might be seen like that.
OK (after the waffle) the setup:A former Revolutionary and Civil War hero General Kotov (Ciaran Hinds), lives in semi retirement with his young wife Maroussia (Michelle Dockery) and their daughter. He tolerates the presence of her her snobbish semi-aristocratic extended family while they, politely, regard him as some kind of ill-educated thug – I think the play didn't try to feature the disgust that the family might easily have felt to the married couple. Into this idyllic Stalinist world comes Mitia (Rory Kinnear) a former student of Maroussia's musician father and lover of Maroussia. The General seems to know Mitia and is surprisingly tolerant of the closeness between Mitia and his wife. Of course Mitia has an agenda...
I think that while enjoyable, I could see that this play had plenty of places where it could have taken a much more raw and powerful turn but it chose a steadier path. It may well have been for the best but I think it lost out on intensity. Maybe that was the work's film origins showing through, perhaps it was insufficiently theatrical.
I didn't feel that I was given enough of a reason for Mitia's shallow behaviour perhaps a film would show lots of close ups etc. to illustrate it better. I doubt the too many others will mind as it sometimes seemed as if the part was just a brilliant showcase for Rory Kinnear's talents (bit suspicious about some of the piano playing but the singing and dancing were excellent).
I sometimes worry that people might cast Michelle Dockery just to stand around looking beautiful and imperious because it is always better to see her act. I particularly noticed a secret look of girlish delight at Mitia's return and a more prominent occasion when she was spellbound by his presence, simply tapping a glass.
I want to say that Ciaran Hinds had the look of Stalin about him but that wouldn't convey his character's generous, almost innocent spirit or how well he played it.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Three Days of Rain by Richard Greenberg, Apollo Theatre, 9-Feb-2009 - Directed by Jamie Lloyd

I did think of starting this with a clumsy Beatles parallel. You know the sort of thing: in the early sixties two musicians called John and Paul had a song writing partnership. Of the two John was better looking and seemed more obviously creative. Yet it was the quieter, more skilled musician, Paul who created their first classic hit Yesterday.
Of course this parallel doesn't bear close inspection, if only because the play is about an architectural partnership and has a love triangle. It probably also gives away the ending of the play.
I saw this play about ten years ago and I seem to remember it being a great deal quieter. That was in a smaller venue (the Donmar Warehouse) so the earlier production didn't need to make as much noise as this one. They seemed to be trying to fill up a larger space and give the audience more opportunities to laugh. I wouldn't say this approach didn't suit the play, many lines worked better, in the first half, done in a more heightened, nerve-jangling way but I did feel less interested in the characters' stories before the interval. It was almost as if we had been presented with a finished tale – An Architectural partnership where one had all the talent and died earlier, while the other was a hack who, afterwards, lived off their shared reputation, always feeling guilty about taking undeserved credit. In spite of knowing the play already, I felt as if I didn't need to find out what really happened to the parents. Somehow there was no mystery.
The second half, where we see the parents' stories, was played more quietly and gently and had more people get soaked to the skin in a narrow curtain of rain at the front of the stage. The “getting soaked” was especially true for Nigel Harman who spent much of the second act standing in the rain striking “struggling artist” poses.
Actually I had a slight problem with Nigel Harman, which will sound odd or even familiar, I didn't think that he had that easy sex-appeal that either of his characters seemed to require. In fact I spent some of the first act wondering if his character was meant to be gay.
James McAvoy was far too unsympathetic in the first act but made up for it in the second. These complaints about theactors are really about what they were being asked to do rather than what they actually did.
Nowadays every time I see Lyndsey Marshal I hope that she'll get a decent love story with a happy ending (something she was robbed of in A Matter of Life and Death amongst other things). Not, of course, that she'd want to do something so easy but somehow I think she deserves one.
I seem to remember that when I first saw this play I enjoyed it but couldn't see what the fuss was all about. That is pretty much how I felt this time.

Monday, February 02, 2009

King Lear by William Shakespeare, Young Vic, 29-Jan-2009 – Directed by Rupert Goold

I'm not entirely sure why they had a character called “the boy” in this production, he wandered onto the broken stone steps (which formed the rear of the performing area) at the beginning of the play and seemed to hang around for most of the rest of it, saying very little but sharing occasional significant looks with King Lear and others. This is no reflection on the actor, who was just doing a job, and I may be imagining it but his presence did seem important and was never explained.
After the show I had a quick scan through the reviews from Liverpool (where this production started); it does that there have been a few changes. There weren't too many things to complain about in this production. It is as if a good solid straightforward play has been rescued from a mess. There are still some messy bits that seemed to interfere; such as when Lear crowd surfs his way on in the storm scene, and then has to perform with the rest of the cast throwing shapes (and I don't mean dancing) around him. I'm not sure what it was supposed to mean but it just looked silly and people giggled. Another thing to produce inappropriate tittering was the final duel which is still fought with obviously plastic toy swords. Edmund gets despatched in a rather odd way. Edgar appears to stab him in the mouth which is logically awkward as Edmund then has a few more speeches to make (through the fatal mouth wound).
Although the elements of football hooliganism mentioned in the earlier reviews are still there - in the looting and the St George's flag face paint – I didn't think it was foregrounded; at least I didn't think football hooligan before I read the reviews.
What we did get was a strong and powerful central performance from Pete Postlethwaite, even if he was wearing a dress for one scene (appropriately I thought). The rest of the cast were, I thought, good too – it's always good to see Nigel Cooke and Charlotte Randle. I liked the notion of Goneril's (Caroline Faber)pregnancy even if it made no sense at all. It was also good to see Forbes Masson as the fool although I got the impression that the director hadn't really worked out how to get rid of his character, he seemed to hang around a bit like “the boy”.

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