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Theatre / The Lady from the Sea - Donmar Warehouse
« on: October 22, 2017, 03:47:52 pm »
I last saw this play when Vanessa Redgrave was Ellida (then, I’m pretty sure, pronounced el-EED-a - as opposed to ELLida in this new production).  I was a little concerned that Kwame Kwei-Armah’s production and/or Elinor Cook’s ‘new version’ might be a self-indulgent mess along the lines of Ivo van Hove’s Hedda Gabler.  As it happened, though, I had no problems with this other than wondering what was the point of moving the action to the Caribbean in the mid-20c and making minor adjustments to the text (eg the English ship becomes a Hollywood star’s yacht for some reason).  Occasionally I missed a remembered passage that had been cut (the most significant being the Stranger’s explanation that the gun he brandishes is not meant for Ellida or Wangel but for use on himself in the event of his being reported to the authorities).  Those who don’t know the text are expected to infer this from his pointing the weapon at his temple) and at other times I wondered why details (such as Lyngstrand’s remembering the mystery sailor’s learning Norwegian) that really don’t fit with the new setting were nevertheless retained.  The extent of the changes is something I can’t really discuss in detail but it might be significant that the programme says ‘the performance lasts approximately two hours’ while the actual length is 1h40m.  Whether the 20 minute difference is accounted for by the decision to remove the interval (unusually, the programme makes no mention of the interval or lack of it) or whether the production originally included more dialogue or proceeded at a more leisurely pace I don’t know.  I had a horrible feeling they were going to cut the crucial Arnholm/Bolette subplot but while the scene in which Bolette’s former tutor makes his various offers did seem a bit contracted and hurried it was there after all.

Apart from the above reservations, I found the production pretty respectful.  Nikki Amuka-Bird was a subdued, contemplative Ellida and Finbar Lynch gave his customary solid performance as one of Ibsen’s more sympathetic husbands  - though I couldn’t help thinking how good he might have been as The Stranger (no disrespect to Jake Fairbrother who actually filled the role well).  A little background knowledge, in this play more than most, adds an extra dimension to appreciation; and here it’s certainly interesting to see the extent to which Ellie Bamber plays Hilde with the character’s later development in The Master Builder in mind.  Bamber, imo, gives her character a dangerous combination of precocity and mischievousness (in one of the darkest senses of that word) that really resonates for those who know the later play.  Jim Findley is memorable in the minor role of Ballestred and Helena Wilson (Bolette), Jonny Holden (Lyngstrand) and Tom McKay (Arnholm) all put in decent performances.  The set is simple (and, I’d guess, easily visible in full from almost all seats in the house) with the main feature being a rock pool in one corner.  This represents Ellida’s bathing, the daughters’ fishing and other things as well as allowing several characters to get wet, signifying the pervading influence of the sea.  The placing of a toy lighthouse – reminiscent of Ellida’s original home – above the pool for the final scenes was a bit heavy handed, I thought, but did no real harm.

I’d recommend this, especially as it’s a rarely performed play and any opportunity to see a competent production is welcome.  Runs until 2 Dec:

Theatre / For Love or Money - Northern Broadsides tour
« on: October 15, 2017, 09:43:55 pm »
I must say I wouldn’t have chosen For Love or Money for Barrie Rutter’s farewell tour.  While it would be optimistic to expect productions of the quality of The Game or An August Bank Holiday Lark all the time, I will remember Barrie for those (and many others such as When We Are Married, Rutherford and Son and King Lear) and will probably try and forget For Love or Money.  To say that this adaptation of Lesage’s Turcaret (never heard of either, btw; I got the info from the programme) is lightweight would be charitable.  ‘Inferior’ might be a harsh judgement but I think it’s significant that the cast were, obviously on purpose, hamming it up to almost pantomime levels from the start.  The exception is the widow Rose (fine performance by Sarah Jane Potts) who manages to stay pretty much straight-faced throughout – and who (this is surely deliberate) is the only major character who doesn’t have a northern accent; though Teresa (Sarah Parks) affects several accents including cockney and French.  Rutter is the corrupt and lascivious bank manager Algernon Fuller (whose name may or may not really be Albert, though I’m not sure why we’re meant to care) and his behaviour sets up the (inevitable) topical banker jokes (which is fair enough and, to give them their due, the cast don’t stoop to having a pop at Trump or Brexit just for the sake of it).  Perhaps hammiest and most ott of all (not a criticism of the actor – it’s clearly a feature of the production) is Jos Vantyler as Arthur; the vilest, most amoral of a list of characters who are pretty much all devoid of honour and honesty.  Again Sarah Parks runs him close for sheer grotesquery but Teresa is not one of the bigger roles.  The play is, if it deserves such a label, essentially a morality tale warning of the dangers of dishonesty and disloyalty (it’s probably significant that the only ones who come out on top in the end are the pair who manage to, at least, stay true to each other) but when all is said and done it’s really just an unsavoury tale about unsavoury people.  A picaresque story played strictly for laughs but which, in this production at least, manages to be no more than mildly amusing.

The set is rather bare – for the simple reason that the widow has had to sell most of her belongings in order to hold on to her house.  The setting is moved from the (presumably) early c18 of the original to the late 1920s and the costumes (such as Rose’s flapper dress) are of that vintage.  Unusually for a piece like this there are no changes of scene.  Everything takes place in Rose’s ‘spacious but sparsely furnished living room’ which, if we were to take the play seriously, would be a bit difficult to credit but, given that disbelief must be very highly suspended almost from the outset it hardly matters.

I wouldn’t particularly want to put people off seeing this.  It’s not dreadful (as in Sex and the Three Day Week dreadful) but Northern Broadsides have delivered much more solid stuff in the past.  I saw it in Huddersfield as I knew I’d struggle to make any of the Liverpool dates.  It’s finished there now but the tour resumes in Bury St Edmunds on Wednesday and visits Kingston, Newcastle u-L, Scarborough & Liverpool before closing in York on Dec 2:

The Opera House / Re: Tannhäuser - Latvian National Opera, Riga
« on: October 15, 2017, 09:32:05 pm »
Mine is 40% but I'm certain they had the 45% option there, too, but only in full bottles.  The booze was actually quite expensive at Riga airport.  I didn't see any ordinary whisky, gin etc for less than I'd expect to pay in, say, Tesco or Asda on special offer.  Before I settled on the Balsam I nearly bought a litre of unfamiliar Vodka for €8.99 but before I got to the front of the queue I saw on the label 'manufactured and bottled in France'  so I put it back.  I'll wait for a UK supermarket to do Smirnoff or Stolichnaya at £15, which they almost certainly will before Xmas.

Theatre / Re: Prism - Hampstead Theatre
« on: October 12, 2017, 11:27:44 am »
I picked up a return for the Wednesday matinee and, on balance, was glad I got to see the play.  I’ve never really got on with Terry Johnson but I’ve liked Robert Lindsay ever since his days in the Tooting Popular Front without ever seeing him on stage.  He doesn’t disappoint, putting in a flawless, seemingly effortless performance as legendary cinematographer/director Jack Cardiff.  I say legendary but the truth is that Cardiff was just a name for me and it’s likely I’d have appreciated Johnson’s script more if I’d known more of the true story (though, of course, it’s also possible I might have found Johnson’s approach infuriating if it clashed with my preconceptions).  Four performers act out about nine roles (that’s the number named in the programme) with only Lindsay playing the same character throughout.  Lindsay is Cardiff, suffering from incipient dementia as the play opens while Claire Skinner is his much younger wife Nicola, Rebecca Night his new carer, Lucy, and Barnaby Kay his son, Mason.  Skinner is very fine, just as she was in The Father where she also played a character closely related to an Alzheimer’s sufferer.  Without giving too much away, all three of Lindsay’s co-stars play both their substantive roles and act out, in various forms*, famous figures from Cardiff’s life.  Skinner is Katharine Hepburn (or Katie as Jack calls her) and is very convincing.  Night has to be both Marilyn Monroe and Lauren Bacall (I think – who else would be in the flashback to The African Queen with Jack, Katie and Bogey?).  Kay gets to be Humphrey Bogart and Arthur Miller.

The set is functional and while it would be inaccurate to call it uncluttered the clutter is of the convincing kind that might well be found in the garage that Mason has converted into a retreat for his father.  There is an old movie camera, a bar, a chaise longue** and a lot of copies of old masters (by Jack himself) among the home comforts assembled for the ageing cinematographer.  The backdrop lifts ingeniously for the location of The African Queen and the photographic portraits of such as Katharine (and Audrey) H, Sophia Loren, Marilyn Monroe, Marlene Dietrich etc occasionally light up at relevant moments.

I suspect a transfer might be the only chance to see this now but, as I said, I got a decent seat as a return so you might be lucky.  Closes here on Saturday:

*SPOILER ALERT the Hollywood legends are presented both in Jack’s later life as he mistakes those around him for people from his past and as themselves in flashback scenes such as the extended one on the set of The African Queen.  Nicola is saddened by the fact that her husband no longer recognises her and fears he always loved ‘Katie’ more – especially as she sees Hepburn as a formidable rival; at one point asking why it couldn’t have been Audrey he fell for!
** Symbolic of the casting couch?  That’s certainly the implication of the Marilyn sequences, though there’s no suggestion of any Harvey Weinstein behaviour on Cardiff’s part

The Opera House / Re: Tannhäuser - Latvian National Opera, Riga
« on: October 10, 2017, 09:00:00 am »
Thanks, Ollie.  I'd never heard of the stuff but I picked up a half bottle at the airport out of curiosity.  I now feel more confident about passing it on to one of my relatives at Xmas.

Theatre / Beginning - Dorfman Theatre
« on: October 09, 2017, 10:28:40 pm »
Justine Mitchell and Sam Troughton made enough appeal for me to linger in London for an extra day on my way back from Riga.  I actually had no idea what David Eldridge’s play was about but his cv is also quite impressive so that ignorance didn’t deter me.  It turns out Beginning examines the subject of pairing off in the age of social media.  Not – and this might be one of it strengths – pairing off with the assistance of social media but doing so in an environment dominated and, to an extent, with norms dictated by various online and mobile phone platforms.  In this two hander Laura and Danny meet at a party – a tradition so quaint even I remember participating.  To be more precise, she is the host and he is the last man standing (largely because she has taken pains to get everyone else, including his randy mate (Keith, if memory serves) into taxis).  You see, Laura actually fancies Danny without so much as having been introduced via Facebook.  The hussy!

The extent to which Laura fancies Danny soon becomes very clear, though, of course it’s not that simple.  You see they are both in their thirties and Laura, if we take her words at face value, wants a child.  Eldridge manipulates our reactions to the extent that we are inclined to wonder if the kind of child she really wants is a thirty-something infant called, perhaps, Danny; but on the surface it is possibly best to accept that it’s mainly the old body clock calling and she’s looking for someone to impregnate her. 

Danny is not the brightest of chaps but he already has a daughter.  In fact said daughter is a subject of great misery as the mother has moved to Cornwall and won’t allow access.  So even Danny is alive to the danger of fathering another child who will only ever be a monthly direct debit going out of his account.  Not that he’s so cynical – his heartache over the absent daughter is clearly stronger than his resentment over the maintenance payments.  Laura, too, seems genuine enough but both are obviously aware that feelings around conception don’t necessarily persist long after the birth.  And Danny would have to be very stupid not to even consider the possibility that smart, successful, attractive Laura is, perhaps even subconsciously, homing in on a partner who won’t be too hard to dump if she decides she just wants the baby and not the grown up child.

I seem to have gone into some detail without worrying about spoilers but I don’t think there is much danger of spoiling the narrative because, actually, not much of substance actually happens.  The title is, I presume, a reference to the possibility that this meeting is the beginning of a beautiful relationship; and that, to a great extent, is the weakness of this play.  I could believe they live happy ever after.  It’s the idea that they would have got through the two hours of the drama that’s implausible.  Laura stalks Danny like some kind of feline predator, making it very clear what’s on offer with no further ceremony. He, riddled with performance anxiety as well as fear of being caught again, prevaricates to a degree that, while initially comic, soon becomes simply ludicrous.  As mentioned earlier, he doesn’t have an awful lot up top (certainly very little by comparison with the sharp Laura) and when they put the sound system on shuffle it becomes clear he hasn’t got it ‘down there for dancing' either.  Still, at least the ten minutes or so of Bros and various other bubblegum pop acts (presumably from Laura’s youth) highlights the welcome fact that the rest of the action takes place without some director’s idea of suitable background music.  At one point Laura comes straight out with ‘I’ve got a terrible feeling I’m not going to get laid tonight’.  Unfortunately, all that was going through my head at that point was that it took her long enough to work that out.  It really would be a spoiler to reveal how accurate that feeling was but I was already thinking it unlikely these two would still even have been talking to each other at that point.

Mitchell and Troughton have a good stab at making all this interesting though they were both a bit too histrionic for my liking.  The themes, too, are interesting ones: Danny in particular suggesting several times that, say, internet dating simplifies things that here seem so awkward (the irony being that he hasn’t done any dating of any kind for years).  But I thought there was no getting away from the fact that after roughly half an hour the temptation to yell out ‘oh, just call yourself a cab/send him home in a cab’ at every impasse became almost overwhelming.

Runs until 14 November

Theatre / Labour of Love - Noel Coward Theatre
« on: October 09, 2017, 11:30:04 am »
This House and Ink convinced me that James Graham is one of the most meticulous researchers writing for the stage but left me feeling he could benefit from honing his dramatic and characterisation skills.  With Labour of Love he moves away from dramatising history using mostly recognisable real life characters to inventing a group of fictional characters to set against a historical background – specifically the story of a Labour Party constituency organisation between the divisive conflicts of the Militant/Kinnock period to today’s rift between Momentum and the leftovers of New Labour.  Sadly the results are not good.  While the piece is partially redeemed by the fascinating backdrop of real events, the fictional characters are sketchy, the story unconvincing and  the last half hour of an overlong (2h45m) piece descends into a morass of sentimental gloop.

I was pleasantly surprised by Tamsin Greig.  As I’d always found TG's radio/tv acting horribly mannered I was disappointed to read Sarah Lancashire had withdrawn and half expected to find her replacement, Greig, insufferable.  As it turned out, her performance as Jean Whittaker, traditionalist Labourite agent to NuLab candidate David Lyons (Martin Freeman) who has been imposed by the party on her safe Labour constituency after the retirement of the MP (who is also her husband), was the best on show here.  If anything it was Freeman who came across as wooden and mannered.  And as his wife, Elizabeth, poor Rachael Stirling was saddled with a gross caricature of a champagne socialist (they even made her a friend of Cherie Blair!). The most interesting thing about her was just how much Ms Stirling resembles her mother these days but, to be fair, I can’t think of anyone who could have made this part work.

The format is quite simple – they action goes backwards from the last election (where Lyons threatens to buck the prevailing trend by losing a safe Labour seat) to the early 1980s when he first got allocated the seat.  The set changes – it’s always the constituency office but obviously the décor changes over the years – are covered by the projection of media images on the curtain.  Then, after the interval the process is reversed until we are back in the present day.

There are a few decent lines* but overall Labour of Love sadly confirms my suspicion that it’s the history in Graham's plays that makes most appeal and that he could really do with a guiding hand to improve his dramatic and characterisation skills.  He is, however, still young (which is perhaps the most remarkable thing about the way he brings a past through which he didn’t live so convincingly to the stage in This House and Ink).  Booking until 2 Dec:

*SPOILER (and expletive!)  ALERTI liked Jean’s resigned observation on seeing some exit polls that ‘we’re more fucked than a Bradford hen night’ or her guess that the Red Rose symbol represents the modern party because ‘it’s quite pretty and has lots of pricks’.  Now that I think of it, Greig even gets the best gags,

The Opera House / Tannhäuser - Latvian National Opera, Riga
« on: October 09, 2017, 09:45:00 am »
This was, shall we say, an interesting experience.  The Latvian National Opera is a handsome house with the unusual feature of having rows of dining room type chairs individually screwed to the floor rather than the more common connected seats.  I found this arrangement very comfortable.

The curtain was down during the overture and lines from the Song of Solomon (and possibly other works I didn’t recognise) were projected on it.  The opening scene gave us Tannhäuser (Andris Ludvigs), Venus (Julianna Bavarska) and four naked acolytes on a simple arrangement of slopes and outcrops representing the Venusberg.  Tannhäuser is in vaguely paramilitary gear and Venus looks markedly unattractive with her topknot and Croydon Facelift – though of course those features are, whatever their actual effect, intended to be alluring so this could have been a conscious comment on popular fashion.  The naked acolytes are, as so often happens, not really naked but sport very visible g-strings and probably body stockings (I do wish they’d just use appropriate costumes if nudity isn’t thought acceptable.  The pretence just looks tacky – though, again, tackiness might be intentional). 

It was an inauspicious start.  Vocally Bavarska was OK but nothing special while Ludvigs just seemed not up to it - with excruciating failures to meet several notes.  His delivery just disintegrated on several occasions in Act I.  To be charitable, that might have been due to mild illness as he was better in Act 2 (bit of a throat spray in the interval, perhaps?) and in Act 3 he got through Inbrunst im Herzen quite well (to my surprise and relief) before again falling apart in the piercing cry of ‘Elisabeth’.  Things improved after the Venusberg scene though (at the risk of seeming mean) the boy cast as Ein junger Hirt wasn’t really up to it either.  Relief came in the form of really decent performances from Romans Polisadovs and Rihards Macanovskis as Hermann and Wolfram respectively.

Act 2 was a bit of a turning point; stand-in soprano Liine Carlsson, singing the role for the first time, began a really impressive performance as Elisabeth.  A Belgian chap I spoke to during the intervals – and who clearly knows a lot more about opera than I do – thought we might be witnessing the early stages of an illustrious career.  I can’t make predictions of that kind but I shared the feeling that Ms Carlsson’s singing and acting were very fine – certainly a cut above most of the performances in this production.  She was aided by the fact that this production took a rather uncoventional line with Elisabeth (a character I’ve usually regarded as rather soppy – especially set against Wagnerian heroines such as Brünnhilde and Isolde).   In Act 2 Ms Carlsson signalled a deep unhappiness and reluctance on Elisabeth’s part with regard to the big song contest.  In Act 3 she was even more unconventional: apparently wearing only underwear beneath a greatcoat and with her right leg bathed in blood and bound with a belt as a makeshift tourniquet.   What did it all mean?  Could Liz be committing suicide?  I suppose this might be of a piece with the other flagrant heresies in Wagner’s drama – the invocation of an ‘Allmächtge Jungfrau’, the notion that a pope would declare forgiveness impossible … and now a character appearing in heaven to intercede for our troubled hero shortly after her own suicide!  Whatever it means, I have to say it at least made the character interesting.  Liine Carlsson might well, as my Belgian acquaintance predicted, be one to watch.

The chorus is very good and the orchestra under Andris Veismanis gives a good account of itself if you forgive some glaring errors from the offstage brass in the performance I saw.

Worth a visit – especially at the comparatively low prices – if you’re in the area on any of the relevant dates:

Theatre / The Lie - Menier Chocolate Factory
« on: October 08, 2017, 08:11:00 pm »
I couldn’t help thinking the justified praise for The Father and The Mother might have led to an unseemly haste to get Christopher Hampton to work on more Florian Zeller stuff while the brand was hot.  Certainly The Truth wasn’t nearly as original or impressive as the aforementioned pieces and The Lie is, in my opinion, a level lower: a reasonably amusing but rather ordinary sex comedy/comedy of manners. 

Set entirely in the living room of Alice and Paul (real life couple Samantha Bond and Alexander Hanson) the entire drama revolves around how much the supposed infidelity of Michel (which Alice says she has witnessed) impinges, or should impinge, on the couple’s relationship with Michel and Laurence (Tony Gardner and Alexandra Gilbreath) whose arrival for dinner is expected literally minutes after Alice drops her bombshell.  The audience is introduced to the various permutations of who might be telling the truth and who lying, who knew what, who didn’t know and who is pretending to know and to the  effects of all this on domestic harmony.  As these are also rehearsed with the visitors the permutations are quite numerous.  But it’s not only easy enough to follow the ins and outs (I rather expected a surprise revelation but none came*) it’s also difficult to care very much about this exploration of bourgeois embarrassment – especially as all four characters are unsympathetic even by petit bourgeois standards. 

In The Father Zeller has remarkable success in putting his audience inside the head of a man with Alzheimer’s.  In The Mother we get insights into what it might be like to devote your best years to people who seem to be drifting away leaving your life meaningless (or empty nest syndrome to use the modern term).  By comparison, the concerns of smug, shallow individuals for a kind of sexual fidelity they probably scorn on an intellectual level anyway are pretty trivial and certainly not original. 

On the positive side, the performances are pretty good and the play is passably amusing.  Overall, though, the expectations raised by the Zeller/Hampton name and the relatively expensive ticket prices could lead to disappointment.  It is, therefore, hard to recommend The Lie with much enthusiasm.  It is striking that tickets seem to be readily available for most dates.  That’s unusual for The Menier.  Runs until Nov 18:

*SPOILER ALERT unless you count the excruciatingly clunky coda in which, after a false 'curtain' one of the scenes is replayed with events in another room being shown in shadow play.  Not only was this extremely clumsy but, to me anyway, the 'revelation' was pathetically predictable.

Theatre / Re: Prism - Hampstead Theatre
« on: October 07, 2017, 10:26:38 pm »
I'm rather hoping for a West End transfer.  I could have gone next Wednesday but they only had Circle seats when I looked and, while the sightlines are fine from upstairs, the last couple of times I've been in their Circle I've been treated to the glow from mobile phones belonging to people who don't seem to know the meaning of 'switch off'. 

It's sold out completely now but I plan to look again  on Monday/Tuesday.  If it does transfer, I hope Lindsay and Skinner transfer with it as they are the main appeal for me.

Theatre / Re: The Norman Conquests - Chichester Festival Theatre
« on: October 07, 2017, 10:16:05 pm »
Oh dear.  I blame the library computer. £60 for decent stalls seats for all three plays in one day!. 

Theatre / The Norman Conquests - Chichester Festival Theatre
« on: October 07, 2017, 12:53:40 pm »
Alan Ayckbourn’s masterly trilogy examining aborted plans for a dirty weekend against the background of family members maintaining uneasy though surprisingly stable relationships and from three different perspectives over roughly the same period never fails to impress if the production is good.  And this Chichester Festival Production (which surely must go to the West End even if it doesn’t tour) is good.  ‘Farce’ hardly does the work justice, presenting theatregoers with the ironic feeling that uproarious laughter is not really appropriate here even though you (or at least I) consider the events and situations far more humorous than the works of, say, Ray Cooney whose contrived, implausible plot twists regularly bring the house down.  Perhaps we are on alert not to laugh too loud lest we miss the next gem.

The six characters are the same for each play – two married couples and two singles – all from the same family plus spouses with the exception of Tom (John Hollingworth), the amiable but gauche, slow-witted neighbour who is rather less than semi-attached to Annie, whose fate has been to stay on at the family home looking after selfish, needy  mother – the seventh (silent, unseen) character in the drama and one whose past sheds light on the behaviour of her offspring.  The pretty, gamine Jemima Rooper yet again (after One Man, Two Guvnors and Hand to God) gets to prove that she doesn’t need to trade on her femininity, playing the put-upon, often frumpy Annie to perfection.  The only quibble I had was that she left a big pause between the two words of my favourite epithet, ‘Nun’s knickers’, which, imo, didn’t work at all.  Sarah Hadland as Sarah is a little too close to Penelope Keith for my liking (the role, like Beverly in Abigail’s Party, is so closely associated with one actor that it must be an agonising decision whether to copy Keith/Steadman or try and find your own way in to the character and risk the disapproval of people with a fixed idea of how she should be) but fine all the same.   The same is true to a lesser extent of Reg but Jonathan Broadbent managed not to have me comparing him with Richard Briers.  Hattie Ladbury gives a very fine performance as Ruth – my favourite character - and Trystan Gravelle as the eponymous Norman, perhaps the most unlikely lothario in dramatic history, was also spot on; as was Hollingworth as Tom.

The set is in the round and, unlike the Liverpool production a few years ago, is completely changed for each constituent play rather than having all three sets on a revolve.  It’s well worth the trip to Chichester if you can get there and if there are any tickets left the three plays in a day discount makes it a bargain (I got very decent seats for £0 all in).  Highly recommended:

Theatre / The Blinding Light - Jermyn St Theatre
« on: October 04, 2017, 06:25:24 am »
Tiny Stage, as always at the JST, coming to within inches of the front row and pretty much level with the audience (there is a rim bit it's only a couple of inches high).  For this reason the front row, while not really a bad place to sit, has more disadvantages than usual: principal among them being that you're always looking up if you want to see faces and it's usually hard to see more than one charácter at a time.

The play deals with a period in August Strindberg's life when he appears to have given up writing and taken up alchemy.  I must take the playwright's word for it that this actually happened but, if it did, he appears to have gone the whole hog, believing in the literal existence of the Philosopher's Stone and seriously trying to manufacture gold by transmutation - in a Paris hotel room, if you please.  When we meet him he looks more like an eccentric, impoverished artist than a follower of 'the true science' as his clothes are daubed with what looks like paint in various colours of the palette.  As portrayed by Jasper Britton he is an intense, frightened but determined individual convinced he is on the verge of a historic breakthrough that will change the nature of reality (or, perhaps, the reality of nature).  The ironic thing is that he himself is not sure of the reality of his experiences - particularly of the three women who visit him during the course of the play.  These are a cleaning woman, Lola (Laura Morgan), his first wife Siri (Susannah Harker) and his second wife Frida (Gale Gordon).  Or are they?  Strindberg, and we, are never sure if they are figments of his imagination and he even suspects thay are demons sent by forces determined to thwart the alchemist's imminent success in uncovering the secrets of the universe.

The above is examined in an unbroken 90 minutes with very fine performances by all.  Also examined is the past (and even the future) of the four characters with copious references to the life and Works of AS and Siri's involvement in his career.  It is, therefore, possible that those with an extensive knowledge of AS will get more out of The Blinding Light.  I have a feeling, though, that Howard Brenton avoids the trap of making the play inaccesible to those with no previous knowledge of Strindberg.  The narrative is pretty self-contained and should be comprehensible to most audiences.

The set is simple: just the living área of a Paris hotel suite with doors to an unseen bathroom where the alchemist's experiments are carried out and to a bedroom where, ahem, other unseen activities have to be imagined.  I was at a loss to work out the significance of the fingerless clock over the scene and the pedant in me wondered whether there would have been pillows in a c19 Paris hotel room - I remember reading a guide book in the 1970s warning British tourists that if they wanted pillows they'd have to make a special request and, sure enough, every hotel I visited supplied only a bolster as standard.

The Blinding Light, while unlikely to become a classic, is recommended - runs until Oct 14:

Theatre / Re: Coming up....
« on: September 16, 2017, 09:56:47 pm »
she'll be fine as Lulu (though nothing on my fave, Julie Walters in the BBC version from the late 80s, I think).

Yes, very good. But with, inter alia, Peggy Ashcroft as Meg, Ken Cranham as Stanley and one H. Pinter as Goldberg she was in a cast of a quality that few theatres could put together even for a limited season.  Danusia Samal was decent enough in the Royal Exchange production with Maggie Steed that I mentioned earlier but Lulu is probably not a role you'd want to play more than once.  Which reminds me, Ms Steed was in the recent radio adaptation with....Toby Jones.

Waterman probably just thinks McCann is the same Terry McCann he played in Minder!!

Just to clarify...I was sort of playing on the similarity of the surnames (and the Little Britain spoof of Waterman).  DW has not, of course, auditioned for the part.  I remember him on stage, though.  When I worked in a pub near the Old Vic he was in a revival of Same Time Next Year playing the Michael Crawford part with Rula as his Michelle Dotrice.  I think they were still married then though how well they were getting on might have been indicated by the fact that he dashed over to the pub for a swift one at, it seemed, every interval.

Theatre / Re: Coming up....
« on: September 16, 2017, 12:10:21 pm »
Thanks, Jim.  I was actually told about this yesterday.  I’ve never heard of her, which is hardly surprising as I’ve watched about half a dozen TV programmes in the last half decade and mention of The Doctor’s glamorous assistant still makes me think of the late, lamented Liz Sladen.  I was hoping for someone like Jodie McNee or Kate O’Flynn but, hey, at least it’s not Billie Piper.  Just Petey and McCann to cast, then.  Any truth in the rumour that Dennis Waterman put in for the latter?  He’s getting on a bit but he says he’s played McCann before and, as a bonus, he could write the theme tune, sing the theme tune…

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