Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Othello by William Shakespeare, Rose Theatre, Kingston, 25-Apr-2009 – Directed by Barrie Rutter

In spite of the fact that Lenny Henry has mastered and impressed in dramatic roles on TV before, it was difficult, in this play, not to see his comic persona coming through. However I think it was more that I was recognising very familiar mannerisms and tones of voice that would often presage a joke or a laugh, rather than Lenny Henry doing anything wrong. It could well be that someone unfamiliar with his work would reckon that his performance was very good. And other than my brain expecting jokes around the corner, my only real complaint about his performance was a feeling that he was isolated (especially when surrounded by others) from the rest of the cast – he didn't quite seem to be part of the team. Of course Othello is meant to be an outsider but I felt it was more his own separation from the cast rather than his character's. It's as if the cast was a unit and he wasn't part of it. As ever this could all be imagined on my part, I don't think it is deliberate and definitely doesn't indicate any tension backstage. He wants to be part of the team, the cast and crew want him to be part of the team, I just think he wasn't quite there and I'm probably making mountains out of molehills.
It's a shame to have doubts because in the final scenes I forgot about Lenny Henry and saw just Othello – he was powerful and convincing. He wasn't quite Chiwetel Ejiofor who is my benchmark of Othello perfection but he was certainly bears comparison to some of the other half-dozen Othellos I've seen.
Of the other cast members I particularly liked Conrad Nelson as Iago (in spite of his uniform which had a slight air of old-time cinema usher about it), Jessica Harris's Desdemona (even if the line Desdemona, If Only You Had Spoken kept popping into my head in the last scenes, and Maeve Larkin's Emilia.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Rookery Nook by Ben Travers, Menier Chocolate Factory, 21-Apr-2009 – Directed by Terry Johnson

I wanted to start this with a paragraph about how, with the Aldwych Farces, the actors aren't playing characters so much as doing the Ralph Lynn part (monocled silly-ass), the Tom Walls part (smooth lothario), the Robertson Hare part (henpecked husband or servant) or even the Mary Brough part (cockney battle-axe or mother-in-law). While it is at least partly true a little checking suggests that Rookery Nook was too early an Aldwych Farce for the roles to be set in stone and that Travers re-wrote the plays late in his life to concentrate on character more than slapstick.
All the same, I think the chemistry between the three main male characters works best when it is relaxed and familiar and I'm not sure that's what happened here. I think it was primarily that that Neil Stuke's Gerald Popkiss (the Lynn part) and Edward Baker-Duly's Clive Popkiss (the Walls part) didn't gel completely as a double act. They came close but I didn't think they were, as I said, relaxed and familiar with each other as I think they needed to be. For some reason I needed Gerald Popkiss to come across as completely non-threatening and innocent when the beautiful young girl (or rather gell) in pyjamas, Rhoda Marley, seeks refuge in the house, Rookery Nook where he is staying. While he wasn't threatening I didn't think Neil Stuke was quite the pleasant silly-ass that I thought was required.
I've done the usual whining about petty things and could go further with the pacing – the first act seemed to have been over-extended with long silences and business simply in order to make the interval after it happen closer to half-way through the night. However there were plenty of laughs in this production and they seemed to be in the right places – Terry Johnson is not one of those directors, who are afraid of audience laughter or can't find the jokes and who hide behind the “we are looking for the dark-side of the play” excuse. Perhaps though, the jokes didn't get quite the size of laugh they could have. People had fun but I had the sense that it could have been a deal funnier.
I have to be a little cautious, given the director and actors (some like Sarah Woodward, quite capable of comic genius – if underused here) there is potential for great things and I suspect it was just an off-night where things didn't come together.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Edward Gant’s Amazing Feats of Loneliness by Anthony Neilson, Soho Theatre, 31-Mar-2009 – Directed by Steve Marmion

I am a little worried that there comes a point in Anthony Neilson's plays where he gives up on his strange (sometimes fantastical) but compelling narrative and does something really odd like bringing on Teddy Bears that demand imaginary cups of tea. I didn't think this play lived on much past the Teddy Bears, the author still had enough to produce a coup-de-theatre at the end but it almost felt that he lost interest in the original story and just wanted to end it.
The play is scripted as a recreation of Victorian travelling show and depicting the last ever performance. Edward Gant, our showman and his troupe of three actors, replay stories from Gant's life or rather stories that were told to Gant on his travels.
While I would have liked to see many more of these “feats of loneliness” (there were only two stories of this kind) I don't want it t sound too much of a complaint. After all the Teddy Bears were excellent, if anachronistic (play set in 1880s, Teddy Bears invented 1900s) but I greatly enjoyed the inventiveness of the 'feats' stories and thought there was a shortage of others.
As seems inevitable I also wanted to know a lot more about the characters of the participants in the performance. We get suggestions of tensions and the 'real' lives of the troupe towards the end of the play. It is done in a way that tries to pretend the the breaking of the fourth wall is deliberate but might not be. I'm not not certain that this was successful.
Reading back over this I realise that I haven't made it absolutely clear that I had a good time. I did. Honest

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