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Theatre / Faith Healer - Donmar Warehouse
« on: July 04, 2016, 10:49:44 am »
It was the cast that attracted me to the Donmar for this.  I didn’t know Faith Healer and the Brian Friel name doesn’t make me reach for the diary.  I’m not well acquainted with his work, with Dancing at Lughnasa being the only piece I’ve really liked and his adaptation of Hedda Gabler making a rather negative impact.  The chance to see a three hander with Ron Cook and Gina McKee alongside Stephen Dillane (who played the central character but, initially, made least appeal) was not to be missed.

The structure of the piece is quite unusual.  It is essentially four monologues delivered by the three characters with only one person on stage at any one time.  First (and last) is the Faith Healer himself, Frank Hardy (Dillane); a man with a ‘gift’ to which he has a decidedly ambivalent attitude.  On the one hand he is sceptical about it and tells us that even his claim to be ‘seventh son of a seventh son’ is fraudulent; on the other, it defines his life – even his initials are the same as ‘faith healer’ – and, inexplicably, seems to work from time to time.  It also, of course, stubbornly fails to deliver when most needed and the differing narratives of the three characters all deal with several defining events including one astonishing success and one disastrous failure for FH’s powers. 

Frank’s version comes first and last and Dillane plays him as a rather bitter man in a shabby suit and tie, apparently in or outside one of his performance venues.  He speaks affectionately but, it seems, quite unreliably about the other two characters.  For example he goes to great lengths to explain that his companion was not his wife but his ‘mistress’ and came from Yorkshire whereas the other characters both say the couple were married and she was Irish, like him.  This woman is Grace (surely a deliberate choice of name for a character called on to sustain a ‘faith’ healer) and McKee appears in a London bedsit, apparently post-Frank and making a very modest living working in a library.  She gives a rather different version of some of the same stories we’ve heard from Frank.  McKee makes her a diffident but articulate character whose devotion to her husband, to the detriment of herself (and their child), is very obvious.  The third character (after an interval that would surely be dropped if the piece were just a little shorter) is Frank’s manager, Teddy, who really does seem to be cockney as Frank says.  He is clearly a fantasist, as demonstrated by some of the stories he tells from his own life, and opens bottles of Bass with alarming frequency; but you do wonder if his version of Frank and Grace’s story isn’t more reliable than either of the other two.  It is, perhaps, significant that, to the best of my memory, he’s the only character who doesn’t punctuate his monologue with litanies of place names (something of a habit with Friel, perhaps).  Ron Cook, in a bow tie and in a room that is either his lounge or, perhaps, an office with an armchair and drinks cabinet, plays him in a way that  makes me wish it were him rather than Ken Branagh that I’ll be seeing as Archie Rice in September. 

I have to recommend this production for three fine performances and the intimate setting  - don’t wait for a West End transfer if you have a choice.  I’m less sure about the play itself.  The language is attractive and there is plenty of food for thought; but it comes across as rather complex, not to say dense.  It struck me as a play that, rather than just repaying close attention, actually needs to be studied; which is a rather undramatic characteristic.  I will read the text at some point (they didn’t seem to have any left when I went so I’ll need to find a copy) but I’m a bit concerned about a discussion I had at the interval.  I didn’t know the play at all but the man standing next to me seems to have seen every major production in the British Isles and made two very contrasting observations.  On the plus side, he thought the first half Dillane the best Frank he’d ever seen; but at the same time he said that with every production he sees he gets the impression that the play is perhaps not nearly as profound as he initially thought it must be!

Runs until 20 Aug.  Tickets are hard to come by but there’s always the Monday morning Barclays allocation and the standing places sold to personal callers on the day.  Additionally, if you are online frequently, returns are put back on sale as they come in so ‘sold out’ doesn’t always mean ‘no chance’.

This revival of one of Rattigan’s less well-regarded pieces was, apparently, successful enough for the Orange Tree to give it another season six months later.  I wouldn’t want to put anyone off seeing it – it’s amusing enough for a pleasant summer evening – but I left with very firm ideas as to why, say, The Winslow Boy, The Browning Version and Cause Celebre deserve serious consideration while this play, perhaps, is best left to obscurity.  Even Flare Path, though clearly very much of its time, scrubs up better.  I won’t include The Deep Blue Sea until I’ve seen the NT production  in a few weeks’ time; but it seemed to me that, as far as French Without Tears is concerned, the thing that’s ‘of its time’ is not so much the play but the kind of allowances audiences are willing to make.  And why they are willing to make them.  The brutal truth, it seems to me, is that even its time, this kind of whimsical narrative and flimsy characterisation was done better  by Noel Coward who kept the laughs coming thick and fast in plays like Hay Fever and Design for Living.

The character at the heart of French Without Tears is the relentless maneater Diana Lake (Florence Roberts) – and I’m afraid she makes suspension of disbelief rather a chore.  The setting is a cramming school in France where candidates for the diplomatic service aim to get their French up to standard with the assistance of the pompous stereotype M. Maingot - deliberate anagram of Maginot? - (David Whitworth ) and his daughter Jacqueline (Beatriz Romilly) – perhaps the most credible character in the play and, unlike her father, not a stock Frenchie at all.   The pretext for the introduction of Diana (the only English female character) into the boys’ club* is as feeble as the possibility of her playing havoc with the affections of the young men.  It is, I suppose, interesting that the role of Diana in the original Orange Tree production was played by Genevieve Gaunt rather than Florence Roberts.  Perhaps the character might be credible if portrayed as someone so irresistibly sexy – a Marilyn Monroe or Brigitte Bardot type, say – that the young men succumb in spite of themselves; but it really is too much pressure to put on the lead actress.  The programme makes a half-hearted attempt to suggest that Rattigan is really giving us a very modern message about male sexuality but I don’t think that will wash.  Certainly the fact that he clearly shows Brian Curtis (Alex Large), who isn’t bothered by Diana at all on account being a regular client of a local fille de joie, as the most contented of the classmates wouldn’t be a very fashionable point of view these days.

The script is mildly amusing though, as I said earlier, not a patch on some of Noel Coward’s comedies.  It also presumes a nodding acquaintance with colloquial French as not all the dialogue in that language is explained.  The characters do elaborate on how (contrary to standard dictionaries) the word fille can be rather rude unless qualified by jeune; but, perhaps understandably, doesn’t go into detail about how the word baiser has very different meanings depending on whether you use it as a noun or a verb.

The set is functional and simple, as suits the venue.  Performances are decent enough, with my personal favourites being Beatriz Romilly's Jacqueline and Joe Eyre's Kit (perhaps Diana's main victim!).

To conclude, the French might be without tears but, in my view anyway, has insufficient laughs to make one overlook its lack of substance. Runs at the Orange Tree until 30 July, then a fairly lengthy tour until November:

*her parents were away and there was nobody to look after so she had to follow her brother Kenneth (Alistair Toovey) to the cramming school where she nothing to occupy herself other than be alluring.

Television / Re: Television - General Recommendations
« on: June 21, 2016, 09:39:53 pm »
I nearly missed this as I misread one of the consonants in the presenter’s name.  No, not that consonant – I just thought that after sitting through Rachel Cusk’s Medea I really didn’t want to see what she made of Shakespeare.  I must confess that, having watched it, I wasn’t that impressed; though I preferred it to the two episodes of Upstart Crow I saw before giving up on that one.  Brooker & Morgan's programme struck me as a sort of cross between Sellar and Yeatman and Sacha Baron Cohen.  Mildly amusing; but the highlight for me was the guy who insisted on the normal pronunciation of ‘pentameter’.

Theatre / Re: Coming up....
« on: June 19, 2016, 11:31:31 pm »
As mentioned elsewhere, How the Other Half Loves transfers to the Duke of York's for an extra three months after closing on Haymarket.  Couldn't happen to a better production imo - and my high opinion of the production must have been shared by many if they have the confidence to extend for so long.

Florian Zeller's The Truth, after a successful run at the Menier has found a West End home at Wyndham's after People, Places and Things finished and before No Man's Land arrives:

There still seems to be no place for Zeller's The Mother - possibly because Gina McKee is in Brian Friel's Faith Healer at the Donmar from next week.  I certainly plan to see that:

Theatre / Re: How the Other Half Loves - Theatre Royal, Haymarket
« on: June 19, 2016, 11:20:26 pm »
Your opportunities to catch this production just increased significantly.  Due to close on Saturday (to make way for Breakfast at Tiffany's) it is now booked in at the Duke of York's a few hundred yards away for a substantial extra run (7 July until 1 October if uktw is to be believed).  I read that Tamzin Outhwaite won't be in the cast, but there's no reason to suppose it will be very much less of an attractive proposition in its new home:

Theatre / The Philanderer - Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond on Thames
« on: June 19, 2016, 04:06:09 pm »
The opportunity to see The Philanderer after last year’s Widowers’ Houses was one that I took up with enthusiasm but, also, with determination to make allowances for an early work and the imperfection that might entail.  I wonder if Mrs Warren’s Profession, the last and best known of Plays Unpleasant, will come to Richmond in due course.

If anything, The Philanderer is a weaker piece than Widowers’ Houses; though that impression might have been influenced by the (imo) rash decision to set the production in the present day (the two fathers have clearly been to see the current West End production of How the Other Half Loves – and the Orange Tree is such an intimate space that we are surely meant to spot the title on the programme that one of them throws on the table). 

First things first, though; there are intrinsic weaknesses in the play.  For one thing, the famous Shavian wit is not nearly as polished as in, say Man and Superman.  But there are more serious problems – such as the author’s invention of the Ibsen Club, whose constitution appears to have been drafted to suit the play’s plot developments.  Ostensibly an institution devoted to absolute gender equality (applicants have to be sponsored by a member of each sex who  declares that the candidate is not a ‘manly’  man or a ‘womanly’ woman; and ‘manly’ or ‘womanly’ behaviour is grounds for expulsion); but when Shaw wants to stage a ding-dong between Grace (Helen Bradbury) and Julia (Dorothea Myer-Bennett) we suddenly hear that ‘when two ladies quarrel in this club, it is against the rules to settle it when there are gentlemen present’. 

There are other niggling anomalies but none so bothersome as the sheer implausibility of the events of the play taking place any time in the 21st century.  On a trivial level, in the aforementioned scene Grace really does refer to ‘ladies’ – a term that would surely be avoided these days.  Furthermore, the idea that, progressive as he undoubtedly was, Ibsen’s name would be used these days for a club claiming to embody the cutting edge of equality is bizarre.  Leonard Charteris (a man of 40) is a founder member so we can’t pretend the name is of purely historical provenance).  Most unfortunate, though, is the decision to add Shaw’s original final act as a sort of epilogue or an extension to Act 3 (which is how the ‘running time' notice describes it, even though the addition more than doubles the length of Act 3). While it’s true that the customary, amended, ending is rather tame and conventional it’s easy to see why Shaw was persuaded to make the amendment even before the play was published.  This is not A Doll’s House with its radical ending butchered to spare the feelings of a German diva; but a sermonising, dramatically feeble, effort whose absence is no real loss to the theatre.  It’s true that the original finale is more recognisably Shavian and contains blistering attacks on matrimonial and divorce law; but the amended one is shorter and, for me at least, brevity is the soul of dramatic integrity in this case; especially as the ‘fourth’ act moves us on four years from the events of Acts 1-3 which take place on two consecutive days.  Whichever ending you prefer, though, the decision to give us the original ending in a modern setting was very odd.  It simply doesn’t make sense to be discussing the confounded difficulty of getting a divorce including, I kid you not, the advantages of taking up temporary residence in a South Dakota hotel, when the laws that created such a situation eased to exist long before the first production of How the Other Half Loves, let alone the current one.  I really can’t see any advantages of the present day/ modern dress approach that compensate for these absurdities.  The play still has relevance as it’s easy enough to tick off ways in which gender relations are as fraught now as they were in the early 20c but, in my view at least, that is better done if we have a setting in which the details make sense.

The set is admirably simple and uncluttered but with neat little touches such as a different item suspended overhead for each Act.  The chandelier of Cuthbertson’s drawing room gives way to a bust of Henrik to represent the Ibsen Club and finally a medical surgery lighting rig for Dr Paramore’s consulting room.  There are some fine performances, especially from the two main female characters, Helen Bradbury as the super-cool Grace and Dorothea Myer-Bennett as the ultra-competitive Julia.  Caught between them is the philanderer himself, Rupert Young as Leonard.  Young tries his best to convey the kind of charm that might have attracted these two very different women; but I’m afraid the appeal is still a bit of a mystery to me.  Christopher Staines does well as the diffident Dr Paramore but, understandably, struggles with the character change imposed on him in the final Act.  Paksie Vernon as Julia’s bluff sister Sylvia – a seemingly model member of the Ibsen Club who insists on being called by her surname, even by family friends, on club premises.  As the two fathers Mark Tandy as Cuthbertson and  Michael Lumsden as Craven give decent portrayals of parents who seem to accept and go along with, even if they can’t understand or approve of, ‘modern’ ways.  Which leaves just Joe Idris-Roberts – shown in the cast list as Spedding (a character who doesn’t appear except in the original ending) but surely doubles as the Page in Act 2.

Runs for another week if you want the opportunity to see this rarity:

News and Current Affairs / Re: Alberto Remedios
« on: June 14, 2016, 09:49:15 am »
Sadly, Wikipedia confirms this.

I don't remember hearing anything about it on the radio so I presume the family didn't want too much publicity.  I seem to remember our old comrade Ron Dough having some stories about the man.  I think I saw him just once, in the Goodall Ring which I enjoyed despite not usually being fond of Wagner in translation.  No doubt he'll be meeting Rita in Scouse Valhalla.


Theatre / Sunset at the Villa Thalia - Dorfman Theatre
« on: June 12, 2016, 11:55:24 pm »
I found Alexi Kaye Campbell’s new play rather lightweight compared with The Pride.  I might have been even less flattering about it were it not for a rather fine performance from Ben Miles as Harvey, a US government floater* operating in political hot spots.  Allende’s Chile is mentioned and so is Zaire but we meet him in 1967 on Skiathos at the time of the Colonels’ coup in Athens.  Fine as Miles’s performance is, the character of Harvey is rather problematic as it dominates and rather unbalances the narrative.  He is a peripheral character who overshadows the central couple – playwright Theo (Sam Crane) and his actress wife Charlotte (Pippa Nixon) – who we first meet when they are renting a cottage on the island while Theo works on his new play.  In the second of the two acts they are still there nine years later, having bought the cottage (and renamed it Villa Thalia) at Harvey’s instigation, had a couple of children and a bit of commercial success for Theo’s writing.  They really ought to be the central characters but they are just a bit too, ahem, wet.  Theo wants nothing more than a quiet life to get on with his writing and Charlotte is one of those liberals out to make the world a better place by, well, buying The Guardian and such like.  Harvey, as he is not shy to tell the others, actually believes in something (he doesn’t actually say what it is, but he has a convincing way of putting it) and is willing to make difficult decisions and do uncomfortable things for his beliefs.  He’s also, clearly, haunted by some of the uncomfortable things he’s done; but that adds to the impression that he’s a fully rounded character – a colour image against a monochrome background.  He is accompanied by his ditzy, dypso wife June (Elizabeth McGovern) who, one imagines, he has looked after in the same way he proposes to look after Theo and Charlotte.  It is easy enough to believe he is the kind of ‘good man’ he thinks he is – in a rather suffocating, paternalistic way.   Even when he overcomes the scruples of the young couple when they fear they might be exploiting the desperation of the indigenous owners of the cottage, Maria (Glykeria Dymou) and her father Stamatis (Christos Callow) it’s possible to believe he really sees the English couple’s offer is better than the Greek pair’s other option of trying to manage the property after they emigrate.  Personally, I wondered whether the Greeks weren’t under the impression that they were the ones pulling a fast one, but nobody else I spoke to saw it that way.

I’m not sure how useful it is to look for parallels with modern-day Greece or US hegemony in this play.  Plenty of reviewers seem to want to do this, but I suspect it might not be primarily a political piece but more of a meditation on those who act and those who merely strike smug poses.  Or on how easily people are persuaded to overcome their scruples if a persuasive outsider redefines the situation.  Apologies if all this musing makes little sense but I thought Sunset at the Villa Thalia seemed more of a parable than a polemic.  I kept thinking of Rosemary’s Baby but with Roman Castevet (accompanied by his ditzy wife Minnie) as the central character rather than Rosemary (and Guy).  Ira Levin’s novel and Polanski’s film would probably not have worked so well with the sorcerer to the fore – which brings me back to the fundamental lack of balance in Campbell’s play.

Worth seeing (but perhaps not worth going too far out of your way to see) if only for Miles’s performance:

*I’m having trouble finding out what this means.  An espionage glossary defines it as ‘A person used one time, occasionally, or even unknowingly for an intelligence operation’ but that doesn’t seem to fit and I wondered if Campbell was having a little joke using an invented technical term that’s the same word used vulgarly for a turd that won’t go away no matter how often you flush.

I don’t know how many of the far from full house at the Barbican were, like me, principally there for the rare chance to see Sarah Kane’s Phaedra’s Love rather than the, perhaps equally rare, opportunity to see Isabelle Huppert on a London stage.  Kane’s piece was at the heart of a very long portmanteau production using the works of three writers and a few artists with, apparently, little direct connection to the written works; and, bizarrely, the only interval is taken about three quarters of the way through Phaedra’s Love.   By the end I was seriously wondering if the positioning of the break was a deliberate attempt to make sure those who had come mainly for Sarah Kane didn’t just go home at the interval.  Of course, a simpler explanation is that continuing to the end of Kane’s piece after Wajdi Mouawad’s treatment of the Phaedra myth would have stretched the first ‘half’ to about 140 minutes; but my suspicion is a measure of the extent to which I thought Kane’s work dramatically superior to anything else on offer in this production.

I found Mouawad’s effort bloated and pretentious while the piece that followed Kane’s – based on JM Coetzee’s Elizabeth Costello was diverting enough but had the feel of an (over?) extended sketch; though I might have enjoyed it more had I been familiar with the source material.  As for the guitar of Grégoire Léauté, the warbling of Norah Krief, and the dance of Rosalba Torres Guerrero; they might all be good in their own context, or as cabaret entertainment, but, for me, detracted from rather than enhanced the drama.

I trust, then, that you will forgive me for concentrating in Phaedra’s Love rather than going on at length about how tedious I found the rest.  I noted, having re-read the text on the train, that the surtitles (the performance is in a French translation) follow Kane’s script quite faithfully – and the spoken words (as far as I could tell with my imperfect French) seemed to be an accurate rather than a ‘free’ translation.  Exceptions to this rule are the final scene before the interval – which isn’t in my version of the script and struck me as gratuitous – and the resumption – where Theseus’s encounter with Phaedra’s corpse seems to have been promoted above the prison scene with Hippolytus* and the priest.  And, although the script is treated with respect, the director appears to get round some of the difficulties of enacting Kane’s stage directions by the age-old method of not bothering.  More than once he just has Huppert recite the directions as if the actions of other characters were just Phaedra’s memory or imagination.  This struck me as cop-out – especially from a director who introduces supernumerary musicians and dancers and back projection into the mix.

How was la Huppert?  Rather histrionic since you ask.  I suspect this is something of a continental tradition but her style was of a sort that I have become used to seeing described as over acting.  This was particularly the case in the Mouawad material but there were signs of it in the Kane, too.  In the Coetzee piece she was more playful – and all the better for it, I thought.  As far as Phaedra’s Love goes, I found both Andrzey Chyra’s Hippolytus and, especially, Agata Buzek’s Strophe more suited to the mood of the play.

To conclude, even knowing what I now know I would have chosen to see this for the simple reason that, as things currently stand, opportunities to see Phaedra’s Love hardly abound.  I would not have felt short-changed if Kane’s play had been the only thing on the bill; and, while I’d have preferred it to be in its original language and with a more suitable cast, this is what’s on offer; and the Phaedra’s Love part of it is not at all bad.  If you go for the cheap gallery seats, try and get in the middle.  Too far to either side and you’ll struggle to read the surtitles.  Too far to the right and you’ll miss parts of the box (containing Hippolytus’s room in Phaedra’s Love) that slides on the stage from time to time.

Until 18 June

*For some reason this production, although it is in French, is billed as Phaedra(s) so I'm using the English versions of the character names.

The Concert Hall / Re: Liverpool Concerts, 2015-16
« on: June 11, 2016, 11:35:15 pm »
Actually, I thought you were away as you mentioned a trip to the South West some time.

Did you enjoy last night's performance?

The Opera House / Re: Pleasure - Liverpool Playhouse
« on: June 11, 2016, 11:33:37 pm »
Thanks.  Listening now.

The Concert Hall / Re: Liverpool Concerts, 2015-16
« on: June 10, 2016, 08:06:16 am »
I had a few problems with harps in the first half of yesterday’s concert.  Sitting at the front extreme left of the hall I was very close to the two harps, and not that far from the bells, used in Scriabin’s lush Poem of Ecstasy with the result that my reception of some parts of this piece was slightly distorted. Overall, though, it was a rousing performance from the RLPO.  Sadly, I can’t say the same for Glière’s Harp Concerto – though I couldn’t really blame the orchestra or the soloist Catrin Finch as I just found this piece very uninspiring.  Perhaps I’m just not very fond of harps – except for the tremendous impact they add to Wagner and Strauss scores; but I found the orchestral part pretty dull, too.  After the interval, though, there were no harps in The Rite of Spring but certainly no shortage of impact.  This astonishing piece still has the power to surprise after over 100 years and, rather like its close contemporary, Holst’s Mars, the Bringer of War, still delivers a jolt in its more violent phases even when you know what’s coming.  Petrenko’s reading last night certainly had that effect and I thought he had the orchestra on top form for this piece even if I personally found the first half of the concert somewhat underwhelming.  This is repeated tonight and those who, like me, were attracted by the opportunity to hear what Petrenko makes of Stravinsky’s masterpiece will not, I think, be disappointed.

There’s a lot to admire in this revival of Frank McGuiness’s 1985 play.  The timing of the revival is, presumably, to mark the centenary of the battle of the Somme which is the background to the action.  McGuiness’s twist is to focus on the particular loyalties – personal, political, religious and patriotic – of eight members of an Ulster regiment.  Perhaps even more interesting is that the author sets himself the task of understanding the motivation of people from the other side of the Nationalist/Loyalist divide than his own; which, to my mind at least, he achieves without rancour or excessive sentimentality.  The play also deals with group cohesion (specifically, perhaps, male group cohesion – there are no female roles in the play) under stress.  Despite the fact that all eight characters would identify as Protestant, virulently anti-Fenian Loyalists they differ widely in their personal characteristics; but there are several references to the principle that even quite profound personal distaste would not damage the ‘all for one, one for all’ principle.  The loyalty is cemented by vows to fight ‘for Ulster’ but several glaring ironies are (surely deliberately) not addressed; most obviously, perhaps, is the fact that their wider allies include millions of the hated ‘papists’; and that at least two of the eight are veterans of Carson’s Ulster Volunteers – a militia dedicated to fighting the Home Rule for Ireland policies of the state they now support on the Somme.  Another irony is directly related to the plot so you might not wish to know about it if you plan to see the play.*

The play has a pretty classic three act structure, albeit with an extended prologue and a short epilogue.  We see the volunteers on induction and their personality differences, as well as their shared loyalties, are explored.  Then, in perhaps the most poignant part of the play, they are split into four pairs and shown on leave back in Ulster.  Finally, they are back on the Somme getting ready for an advance.  It’s a structure that works very well as the characters are explored from several directions and empathy established.  The plot doesn’t really need much development – everyone knows what happened at the Somme.  The acting is very good, with Donal Gallery as Pyper outstanding and, to my mind anyway, no weak links.  The sets (different for each act) are simple and, I should imagine, present no visibility problems from anywhere in the house.  Background music is, thankfully, kept to a minimum though the rumble of battle can just be heard in the background and there is some frantic beating of a Lambeg drum in the ‘home leave’ scene (and this, rather oddly, drew a round of applause last night!).

I thought the attendance for the first preview was disappointing, though not embarrassingly low, and hope it picks up considerably as the run continues.  Well worth seeing; at the Playhouse until 25 June then a fairly long run in Dublin in Aug/Sep.  A tour of N. Ireland also seems to be planned but no details are given on the EP website or the uktw.

*The play has a sort of prologue by one of the characters, Pyper, in the present day (or in 1985, which makes more sense).  As the scene fades to the first meeting of the eight comrades we get the same man in 1916 and it quickly becomes clear that he’s already half-mad and has volunteered with the specific intention of getting killed.  The irony is that he is the only survivor, while the seven men who volunteer to defend their way of life don’t get to the end of the battle.

Theatre / The Threepenny Opera - Olivier Theatre
« on: June 07, 2016, 02:04:50 pm »
I was a bit surprised by this new Threepenny Opera inasmuch as my advance fears turned out groundless but aspects of the production that I hadn’t anticipated were rather irksome.   I know Die Dreigroschenoper fairly well and wouldn’t normally go to an English translation; but I generally like the work of Simon Stephens so I thought I’d give this one a go.  This paid off as, to my mind at least, this is a very decent adaptation.  The translation is extremely free but where it follows the spirit of the original – which it does in most of the songs – it is very convincing.  Where it deviates radically it is less impressive.  The Anstatt Dass song, for example, doesn’t seem to have much in common with what we hear from Rory Kinnear and Haydn Gwynne as Jonathan Jeremiah and Celia Peachum; and it is one of the few examples of Stephens going for gratuitous shock tactics, as, I see, he is accused of doing by some reviews.  My fears that the original might have been diluted by political correctness were also unfounded.  It’s true that the Eifersuchtsduett concentrates on Polly’s intellect rather than her legs, but that has more to do with the imagining of Polly (Rosalie Craig) as an accountant than anything else. But the implication in the Barbara Song that women are attracted to bastards rather than nice chaps survives unchallenged in the English; and numbers like the Zuhälter Ballade and Die Ballade von der sexuellen Hörigkeit are as sordid as ever, though Stephens doesn’t give us the latter’s controversial last verse (which is usually omitted even in the German productions I’ve seen).  Among the things I hadn’t anticipated, though, was the importation of two numbers from Happy End.  I suspect this won’t have been too noticeable for people who don’t know the piece well, but to people like me it came across as pointless.  Aren’t there enough musical numbers in The Threepenny Opera without giving Jenny (Sharon Small) Surabaya Johnny to sing and covering some scene changes with the tune of the Mandalay song?  I mean, what has Surabaya to do with the story (especially as the locations in the Kanonensong have been changed to ‘from the Somme to Kandahar)?  And were they re-locating Mutter Goddam’s from Mandalay to London; or just making an incredibly heavy-handed point about the famous ‘happy end’ of The Threepenny Opera?

There was a bit of messing about with both the characters and the story but certainly nothing on the scale of some of the ‘adaptations’ in, say, the Almeida’s Greeks season.  JJP is imagined as a gay man for whom Celia is more of a business partner than anything else.  This was less problematic than the fleshing out of Celia’s relationship with Macheath.  This is, I suppose, hinted at in Polly’s Lied ('Wenn meine Mutter selber Wusste all das vor mir')  but in this production Mrs P is unequivocally one of Mac’s old conquests – and romantic enough to hold a torch, which is not how I imagined her at all.  Peter de Jersey is a convincing enough Tiger Brown, but basing his underlings on the Keystone Cops was not, I think, a good idea.  I’m afraid, too, that I have to agree with some reviewers that Kinnear’s Mac doesn’t really have the charm to explain his success.  The male bond with Brown is credible enough, and the production invents a device which might give him a hold over establishment figures; but his magnetic appeal to women is convincing neither to me nor to the women sitting next to me.

The music is live, and rather well (perhaps too well?) played, though the voices are a mixed bag (which is not really a problem in this piece).  The set is a bit fussy and obstructive – a bulky stage-within-a-stage in particular causing problems for anyone with a seat side-on to the stage and possibly not much better for those in the gods.  It’s not a major problem but I think it could have been avoided.

To conclude; a bit of a mixed bag worthy of a recommendation with reservations.  But of the two things I saw on my latest trip south I find myself surprised to be saying that if you can only see one thing, choose the Ayckbourn in the Haymarket would be my advice.


Theatre / How the Other Half Loves - Theatre Royal, Haymarket
« on: June 07, 2016, 11:04:39 am »
This is wonderful entertainment with Ayckbourn the master craftsman and consummate wordsmith  being well served by a marvellous cast.  Nicholas le Prevost is in his element as genial, if rather bumbling and patronising boss Frank Foster and is ably matched by Jenny Seagrove as his unfaithful, but otherwise supportive, wife Fiona.  Tamzin Outhwaite (good to see her show her mettle in a decent piece after the rather poor Raving at Hampstead a few years ago) and Jason Merriels as Teresa and Bob Phillips as the other couple involved in the almost compulsory adultery at the heart of the plot are also very fine.  I was a little concerned that Gillian Wright as the timid Mary Featherstone and Matthew Cottle as her ridiculously deferential husband William, the innocents drawn into the web of deceit, were rather overplaying the gaucheness of their characters but I soon got used to it.   

Hilarity abounds thanks to Ayckbourn’s gift for simple but precise plotting and his unerring feel for a classic line.  Frank calling from upstairs to tell Fiona that they’re running out of ‘bathroom stationery’ was the cause of tremendous laughter – after a delay of a second or so while people worked out what he meant!  But it’s not all belly laughs.  The clever device of using the same set for two different living rooms keeps the audience alert – especially when both rooms appear to be active at the same time.  There are different entrances and furniture for each room and the front of the stage has two adjacent telephones where the furtive and often quickly curtailed calls that unperpin the plot take place.  The importance of this is emphasised by the fact that the theatre leaves the centre seats in the front row empty.  There are few lulls in the pace of the action – indeed it’s so hectic that I swear Le Prevost and Seagrove, on one occasion, dissolved in fits of mirth as a result of something that was happening in the other house!  This is, perhaps, a bit unprofessional if it wasn’t deliberate but I don’t think anyone was inclined to blame them.

There are times when, at the curtain call, you get the impression that the cast members are justifiably proud of their efforts and chuffed at the effect they have had on the audience.   This, for me, was one of those times.  Perhaps How the Other Half Loves is not quite Ayckbourn’s best play, and it’s certainly not too profound; but, when it’s done as well as this, the entertainment value is priceless.  You have a few more weeks to catch it.  Day seats – front row sides – are £15 and offer a fairly decent view unless you’re very short.  There is quite a lot of furniture on stage, though, so unless you’re above the stage there will be slight restrictions.  Catch it if you can.

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