Monthly Archives: October 2017

FOR LOVE OR MONEY Touring

CLUNTERING FLAPPYSKETS !  DON’T SMITTLE AND SKRYKE , IT’S BARRIE AGAIN…

 

By ‘eck, luv! They Northern Broadsides, they weren’t hid behind t’mangle when they were handin’ out stair-rods!  Who’d be a mauping mardy-grouse, when that Barrie Rutter sets his cast a gabbling and jabbernecking fit t’jeggle a ticket price out o’yer. Even if you are just a harming  nanny-goat from t’South, fandangering shitehawks that you are, making a face like a ram’s clag, skewerin’ up yer eyes to t’caption screens when our Marlene speaks her mind…

 

 

Or, to put it another way, in the final days of the great Rutter’s leadership of Northern Broadsides he is directing and starring in Blake Morrison’s adaptation of Alain-René’s 18c satirical comedy Turcaret, and giving at least half the characters a Yorkshire argot so extreme that my husband – Yorkshire born and bred – rather suspected that a lot of it came straight out of the Old Amos column in The Dalesman. Or in some cases, possibly, the heads of Messrs. Blake and Rutter. Just sayin’.  If it wasn’t Northern Broadsides you’d accuse them of sending up t’North. Practically a hate-crime.  But done with love, fair enough.

 

 

At Bury St Edmunds, where we caught it early on the tour, it happened to be a caption-screen night. Maybe it always is. It wouldn’t be a half bad idea, especially when Jacqueline Naylor’s Marlene-the-housekeeper starts up in scene 1 and you wonder what language it’s in. There is more RP language, if not accent, from the heroine Rose – a susceptible widow (Sarah Jane Potts) — and from Rutter himself as the venal and lecherous bank manager Fuller, who lavishes rich gifts on her unaware that she passes the money on to the more presentable, r Teddy-boy-smooth quiffed Arthur, a gambler, and his gopher Jack. I rather took to Jos Vantyler as the cad.

 

 

An oddly pleasing double-vision will afflict any theatre scholar, though, because beneath the dialect and the 1920’s setting this is every inch a cynical 18c French comedy: stylized asides, obvious overhearings, capering entrances (people always first appear just as their name is mentioned). The characters are staunchly immune to development or reform, figures straight from commedia del’Arte and Punch &Judy. A simpering but deceitful lady, a rich adulterous banker, greedy handsome suitor, crafty servants, comedy farmer, deus-ex-machina bailiff, etc.

 

 

The cast play it that way, which sometimes feels jerky and tends to be psychologically un-engaging (that’s Moliereish comedy for you). But once you get used to that, the second half in particular is farcically entertaining. Rutter booms and blusters, Jim English as the farmer (“nazzled from lookin’ after t’tups since back-end”) finds love with an admirably tarty Sarah Parks as the mysterious Teresa, and Jack (Jordan Metcalfe) gets to run off with most of the money and his prostitute girlfriend (Kat Rose-Martin, even tartier). As he informs us in a final caper, , “A lad and a lass, we may not have class, But we’ll live as we want ter – now we’ve got brass!”

 

It’s an oddity, but by the end quite fun. And one always enjoys the sight of Barrie Rutter doing a curtain-class Charleston while still in handcuffs.

 

Touring Mouse wide
Touring. Rose Kingston next, then Newcastle under Lyme, Scarborough, York…
http://www.northern-broadsides.co.uk

rating three

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LABOUR OF LOVE Noel Coward Theatre WC1

A LESSON IN POLITICS, HUMANITY AND LOVE

 

 

The joyful thing about James Graham is that for all the playwright’s youth, diamond wit and forensic insight, there is a deep humankindliness in his work. He reads the diaries and histories, researches into some bygone crisis and without haughty authorial judgement, reimagines the human motivations of the principal characters. He appreciates, as Shakespeare appreciated both Kings and Dogberries, everything that we are: the combative pomposities and earnest principles of MPs in This House, the knackered , boozy workhorse journalists in INK, the keen election officers of THE VOTE but also the unpredictable electoral rabble of daftheads and drunks, citizens frivolous or earnest, vague or pompous or angry or just proudly new-fledged , all casting their vote. His keen, wondering eye has enough brotherhood to let actors make his characters live as real people, never ciphers or cartoons. Even while we’re laughing.

 

 

 

And so it is in this chronicle of the Labour Party over a quarter of a century, with newsreel flashes from its older, Attlee history. . It is all seen through the focus of a constituency office in a bricky, scruffy street somewhere in Yorkshire, with a gentle, unconventional and very slow-burning love story threaded through it between Martin Freeman as the MP and Tamsin Greig as xxxx, the former MP’s wife who grumpily agrees to be his constituency agent. Told first in reverse from today to 1990, then forward again in the second part, with some quite brilliant costume and wig changes to rejuvenate and re-age the pair in jumps covered by projected news, it is probably the fairest vision of life from Foot to Blair to Corbyn than anything we will to get in print. And it is , though touching and at times eagerly serious about social justice, tremendously funny.

 

 

I am over a week late with this one, such has been the disarray of press nights and family life, and much has been said about it already.
So beyond that reflection on Graham himself, only brief observations. First,
the absolute glory of Tamsin Greig as the agent – tough, devastating in putdowns and dryly dismissive Yorkshire jokes; an OU graduate, mother of five, a toughly demanding democratic socialist and working-class warrior set against the Blairy “social democrat” progressivism of the MP. Freeman is pretty fabulous too, moving between puppyish enthusiasm, furious frustration and real sorrow for his constituents.

 

 

Episodically skilful, it warms and enlightens, gradually the hard political compromises growing clearer. Labour’s cultural gulf is slyly expressed in the person of the MP’s wife, xxx as a fabulously snooty lawyer horrified that her man’s ambition has taken her to hicksville not Westminster. The future is there too in Tamsin Greig’s character : she could be a prototype of Jess Philips, and reminds us that the Jesses – and xxxx s – took time to fight through the sclerotic masculinity of old Labour.

It shines. It makes you hope that Mr Graham is at work on the evolution of the Conservative party over that period too: until you remember that in 2008 for the National Youth Theatre he wrote Tory Boyz about its trouble accepting gay rights. There’s more material there. One can only hope…

 

box office 0844 482 5140 to 2 Dec http://www.delfontmackintosh.co.uk
rating five    5 Meece Rating

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A DAY BY THE SEA Southwark, SE1

AFTER THE WARS WERE OVER…

 

 

This is a lovely rediscovery, the kind of thing Two’s Company has repeatedly offered us in this enterprising theatre (we owe them those extraordinary WW1 plays “What the women did”, and the rare , fascinating “The Cutting Of The Cloth”. Both here on theatrecat. archive, below.

 

 

 

This is a substantial, gently-moving play – 2 hrs 45 minutes – but in its meditation on life, attrition, middle-aged disappointment, family entanglements and memory it is as engrossing as Chekhov can be. But it is set nearer in time – 1953 – and closer to home: N.C.Hunter was a West End monarch in the age of Rattigan, and this ran for a year with Ralph Richardson, Sybil Thorndike and Gielgud ( it was the play during whose run he was actually arrested for cottaging ). He was, like Rattigan and Coward and others, swept out of memory by the Angry Young Men and the Tynan-led revolt against anything involving a drawing room. But in its portrait of midlife, mid-century feelings and doubts and hopes it is fascinating. Some of its emotions are universal and perennial, others deeply rooted in that uneasy post-war time, and in villas like this, away from the city.

 

 

 

20c history is an offstage but vital character. Laura (Susan Tracy) ,the widowed hostess and worried kindly matriarch, has flashes of pure anger at the statesmen who in her lifetime allowed ‘two immense wars and Europe bankrupt’. Julian her son (John Sackville) , is a workaholic, primly. bespectacled and Brylcreemed middling civil servant in the FO. He seems a chill prig but passionately dreams of a tranquil world future , and burns at his dismissal from the Refugee Committee work in Paris. The sense of a world battered by war, searching for equilibrium, wanting to believe in something, is everywhere.

 

 

All the generations have their own struggle. Laura cares for ancient uncle David, nearing his end (a nicely cantankerous David Whitworth). Frances, who grew up there, is visiting with her children and her plain, sad shy nanny miss Matheson (Stephanie Willson). Alix Dunmore as Frances is wispy and sad, widowed by war then shamingly divorced: yet a fascinating portrait of female strength gradually asserting itself, even at its own cost. And in the authentic spirit of postwar compromise and muddle, the household is completed by David Acton as an alcoholic doctor who has – we slowly learn – lost everything and is hired to help old Uncle David. Acton is wonderful, in a wonderful part full of desperate jocose gaiety and banked-down anger at the crazy world: funny, moving, a vital source of the play’s energy, keeping it from mere melancholy. His comradeship with David Gooderson’s family lawyer – who also has a history of regret – is wonderful.

 
Tricia Thorns’ production is strongly paced, but what has to be remembered –  and this applies also to this week’s Oscar Wilde north of the river – is that before TV ruined our attention span, stage plays though it no harm to start slowly, conversationally, almost banally, and work up slowly to their crises. Wilde seasons the wait with epigrams, rather too familiar now; but Hunter does not. So yes, at first it could feel slow.

 

 

 

But  tough directors are right to eschew panicky cutting , and make us all damn well sit still as we would have in 1953, and let the characters grow into reality at their own pace. It is rewarding. It rises to strong, thrilling emotional scenes – some wholly unexpected, even for the seemingly drabbest. Nor is there a cosy last-act resolution, as some might fear in such a middle-British mid-century play.  We do get the new moon moment at dusk (beautiful lighting all through, in Alex Market’s set of overlapping frames with old -ashioned photo corners ). But the balance of hope and resignation in the last act is pure Chekhov, and despite a lovely metaphor Hunter does not insult us with pat answers .
I am glad to have seen it. You have, I fear, only nine more days to do so.

 

 

BOX OFFICE 020 7407 0234 WWW.Southwarkplayhouse.co.uk
rating four  4 Meece Rating

 

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THE LADY FROM THE SEA Donmar WC2

GUEST CRITIC  MICHAEL ADAIR  ENCOUNTERS IBSEN’S BRACING RAGE

 

Ibsen’s 1889 work, The Lady From the Sea has washed ashore at the Donmar in a new version written by Elinor Cook and directed by Kwame Kwei-Armah, who next year will lead the Young Vic. Set in the 1950s on a Caribbean island the lady is Ellida : the wonderful Nikki Amuka-Bird. She is a lighthouse keeper’s daughter and second wife to the island’s physician: Finbar Lynch as Doctor Wangel. As contemporary audiences will readily diagnose, Ellida suffers from depression. Each morning she gets into the sea: leaving the water becomes a ‘catastrophe’, so she swims until she shivers and her teeth are chattering. It’s an unhappy household. Ellida’s stepdaughter Bolette dreams of leaving the island to fulfil her academic potential, yet feels obliged to stay and look after her father. Bolette’s younger, brasher sister, Hilde, yearns for maternal attention. The girls’ father duly spends much of his time at his surgery, avoiding confrontation with his increasingly troubled wife.

 

 

 

On their island, Ellida and her stepdaughters are trapped, surrounded by a sea of masculinity. The affable Doctor Wangel enlists another man to help heal his ailing wife, the war-veteran Arnholm (Tom McKay). He immediately sets about attempting to seduce his former pupil, Bolette, half his age. For comic-relief, Johnny Holden’s Lyngstrand is a sickly and awkward sculptor who has delusions of going to New York to find fame and fortune. He informs us that a good wife is merely a reflection of an even better husband, and learns her talents from him, by osmosis. It is Ibsen’s prescience that is the most fascinating aspect here. At a time when we are still only beginning to uncover the extent of toxic masculinity in present-day society – this century- old plot, with men assertively controlling and manipulative to each woman’s detriment, feels remarkably current.

 

 

 

Tom Scutt’s set is sparse but effective, white paint flaking off of wooden boards and a large pool of water filled with coral-coated rocks. It is well used, particularly with the rather beautiful effect of mushrooming clouds of sand whenever the cast step into the water. But when Ellida’s former lover appears, and she is torn between him and her husband, the mood is tainted by the staging here. Each appearance of ‘The Stranger’ prompts dark lighting and ominous music – as if the intrigue surrounding this character is more important than her mental state. It was rather a distraction.

 

 

Amuka-Bird is captivating, and Ellie Bamber as Hilde and Helena Wilson as Bolette are wonderful as the daughters, their strength, intelligence and humour tempered with the fragility of living in a world owned by men.
It’s a well put-together and impressive performance of a lesser-known Ibsen play:. Less shocking than in the 1880s, but as relevant as ever.

 

Box Office – 020 3282 3808 to 2 December
https://www.donmarwarehouse.com

RATING  THREE   3 Meece Rating

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ALBION Almeida N1

O ENGLAND IS A GARDEN…

 

There’s a lawn and a vast magnificent tree. In dim moonlight before the start a figure in khaki – could be any war – kneels to feel the earth. Your mind flits to every subaltern war- poet dreaming of country houses; a Forty-Years-On mood flickers.  The title has made its intention clear. Yet in the event Mike Bartlett’s play – directed by Rupert Goold – mercifully does not hammer home its metaphors about England, changing values, retrospection, regeneration. You can pick them up, or not bother.

 

 

For it is an intimate epic of one family, and the lost soldier is specific. He was the heroine Audrey’s son, blown up in one of our inconclusive modern conflicts. It is his absence, and his ashes, which dominate the play’s emotional explosions. And how! After the trauma of the TV Doctor Foster saga, if there is one thing we know Mike Bartlett can create  it is an obsessively barmy woman who in the grip of outrage and personal entitlement will stop at nothing. There are two, or possibly three of these  in this long play (just over three hours). Only the brilliance of the writing, a welcome satirical edge in the first hour and some remarkable breathtaking performances all through prevent it feeling like a Hampstead Novel made flesh.

 

 

 

Both Audrey and Anna’s behaviour hover often on the edge of psychological incredibility – especially if you actually are a woman – but then so have all the great tales from Medea to Lady Macbeth. And there are moments where Victoria Hamilton’s Audrey and Helen Schlesinger’s Katherine circle one another like panthers: scenes so stunning, so eloquently perfect in every tone, gesture, word, half-laugh and expression, that the sheer dazzle of it silences criticism.

 

 
Audrey is a chic businesswoman – owns shops where everything is white . She has abandoned London with her languid second husband Paul (Nicholas Rowe) and her aghast millennial daughter Zara (Charlotte Hope), a  Cambridge graduate with Camden attitudes  who is working as a marketing intern for a publisher (there is perhaps tiresomely much in this play about literary ambition, but this is Islington after all). Anyway, Audrey has bought a 15-room manor house her uncle once owned, with a legendary garden designed in the 1920s and now derelict. She wants to recreate childhood memories and older ideas of grand house life with dressed-up parties and county style.

 

 

The early scenes are very, very funny, as her brisk controlling ways – echoes of every Victoria Wood posh-cow sketch – upset the veteran gardener and his slow-moving wife Cheryl the charlady (grand work from Christopher Fairbank and Margot Leicester) . She replaces Cheryl with a go-getting young Pole who works four times as fast, and the village hates her as she bars them from their traditional fetes in the Big House garden. Visiting is her college friend, the crop-haired, satirically laughing boho lesbian novelist Katherine. Like the bored husband (Rowe is very funny indeed) Katherine provides more laughs and perspective. But fifty minutes in, as Audrey clashes over the ashes with the dead son’s girlfriend Anna (Vinette Robinson) there is a turnaround. Bartlett forces us to accept that even an irritating memsahib draped in asymmetric oatmeal cashmere and business-school ethics can suffer deep, disabling grief.

 

 

 

Something Audrey has done, in her unshareable maternal mourning, enrages Anna: who despite only dating the son for three months has her own tendency to possessive entitlement. Indeed if you get lulled into thinking that you are watching a decorously entertaining tragicomedy with some nice choreographed entr’acte shrub-planting, brace yourself. By the end of the 95-minute first act it goes the full hyperGoold: thunderstorm, heavy real rain, furiously demented sexual raving in wet earth, and a shock announcement. And that is even before the stinger involving Katherine and Zara, and another demonstration of breathtakingly selfish parasitical entitlement from Anna as she and Audrey grapple for possession of the soldier’s memory.

 

 

Nobody behaves rationally – except surprisingly, the husband, and less surprisingly the Polish cleaner. The London business in the background wobbles, as it would; Audrey’s retro dream dies. Or does it? I have to say that the ending convinced me not at all. But after those marvellous performances, excellent startling laughs and virtuoso explosions of OTT DoctorFosterism, one forgives much. Not all, but much.

 

 

Box Office 020 7359 4404 to 24 November

Principal Partner; Aspen
rating four  4 Meece Rating

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A WOMAN OF NO IMPORTANCE Vaudeville, WC1

OSCAR’S BACK!   IN THE VERY WEEK OF HIS BIRTHDAY…

 

 

A theatrical phenomenon of the 20th century is that some of the most perceptive parts for women were written by gay men: Tennessee Williams, RattiganM Noel Coward; Alan Bennett kindly, Joe Orton cruelly. And, in this case, Oscar Wilde. Because of The Importance Of Being Earnest with its demurely comic Gwendolen and Cicely and absurd Prism, we can forget that he had a savage anger about social justice for women: powerful unease about the double sexual standard and a bracing admiration for tough, outspoken American womanhood. His was, remember, the time when squads of wealthy US girls like Jennie Churchill were coming over and improving our aristocratic breeding-stock no end.

 

 

Of all the plays this is the most melodramatically and explicitly angry: at its heart is the long-wronged, virtuously hiding Mrs Arbuthnot, who finds out at a brittle social house-party that her illegitimate son Gerald has met her faithless lover – now titled and powerful – and been taken on as his secretary. There are terrific, and unfashionable, set-pieces: in among the excellent and familiar epigrams come long speeches of great earnestness both in favour of ‘virtue’ and against it.

 

 

 

But it bounces along, director Dominic Dromgoole allowing absurdity (borderline clowning at times) to keep the mood moving. The casting is wonderful: Eleanor Bron ,as arch as her own eyebrows, expresses aged aristocratic complacency and a throttling dominance of her husband. Anne Reid exudes daffy benevolence , and both senior ladies have split-second comic timing, and can throw lines away so that they explode unexpectedly a second later, and we guffaw). Harry Lister Smith is a sweetly tousled, eager Etonian Gerald, Emma Fielding the cynical Mrs Allonby, Crystal Clarke the priggish American reformer who comes good in the end.

 

Dominic Rowan makes a convincing coxcomb as the seducer. Gorgeous nonsensical cameos are added by William Gaunt’s senile Archdeacon, William Mannering as a drunk lordling, and Phoebe Fildes as poor dim young Lady Stutfield. But at its heart is Eve Best: mournful and troubled in black velvet, hair tumbling, a humble church-mouse amid the quipping brittle socialites. Her wronged Mrs Arbuthnot is the emotional and moral core of the play, and her sincerity carries the melodramatic scenes – no small feat – to just within the bounds of modern tolerance.

 

 

 

As many don’t know the plot, no spoilers. But I will signal to you the production’s grand and suitable joke. Anne Reid, benignly smiling as our stately hostess, turns out to have a fabulous knack for singing the most sentimental and minatory of Victorian parlour songs, trilling thrillingly in a character so extreme that I thought my late and shameless Granny was back to haunt me . She does three unexpected entr’acte moments, so that the three sumptuous sets (by Jonathan Fensom) can be changed in impressive silence as she emerges through the blue velvet curtains with her staff – and Ms Fildes – on fiddle, clarinet and guitars. Thus Reid belts out emotional renderings of “A Boy’s Best Friend is his Mother” and The Gypsy’s Warning, and we melt and cheer. Give that woman an album, now! These appearances, nicely introduced by her butler as if we were guests at the same social weekend, betray that Dominic Dromgoole, late of the warm and larky Shakespeare’s Globe, does not wish entirely to dispense with its spirit cosy inclusivity and confine his casts entirely behind a fourth wall.

 

 

Actually, talking of that, here’s a nice irony. This week Nicholas Hytner opens his new theatre, The Bridge, and you can hear him on Radio 4 musing on how the Victorian proscenium theatre, a gilded picture-frame, was ideal for plays up to 1950 but is problematic now. (R4 PLANKS AND A PASSION, 1130 tues 17th). While at the same moment Dominic Dromgoole – late of the Globe – begins his Classic Spring series by demonstrating, in this first Wilde revival, precisely how they did work for those plays and audiences.

 

 

 

But some things linger on for centuries. In this Harvey Weinstein week, there was not a little topicality in the theme of women being sexually shamed and hiding while men get away with it, “Women are pictures, men are problems” scoffs Lord Illingworth. His real nastiness emerges through the charm, just as the real pain of the second act gives a sharp sour jangle to the familiar epigrams. Wilde didn’t only use his teeth to smile.

 

 

box office Phone: 0330 333 4814 to 30 Dec
rating four  4 Meece Rating

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BEGINNING Dorfman, SE1

 

LUKE JONES RELISHES ELDRIDGE ON MIDLIFE CHAOS

 

When the music stops and the lights click on, your first thought is ‘sweet Jesus what the hell went down at this party”?     I thought twenty year olds were bad. These two late thirty/early forty year olds were knee deep in bottles, stubbed out fags, plates, streamers, scuffs, spills and no doubt smells. They’re the only ones left,  and it’s her flat. It’s a housewarming which has noticeably cooled. But they’re staring at each other intensely.

 

 

 

David Eldridge’s new play is a tense, frustrating flirt. Laura and Danny (absolute champions Justine Mitchell and Sam Troughton) don’t know each other but, over an hour and forty minutes,  dig an incredibly intense relationship. Like 2017 Pinter the majority of their chat is bleakly familiar, but still somehow thumps you in the feels. The plot is nicely thin; two strangers lost in loneliness, edging closer to life’s dusty shelf, fall in something resembling love. But Eldridge’s skill –  also down to Polly Findlay’s incredibly naturalistic direction – is in quietly cranking up the tension then puncturing it. Sometimes you feel the dramatist’s direction a little too much, but for the most part you can lose yourself in it. Towards the end as they strip almost naked, kiss and desperately cling to one another, Danny (after a corking pause) asks if Laura could flip the heating on. Reader, we roared.

 

 

Troughton steals the show with his nervy, boyish and damaged 42 year old Essexian. His drunken wobbles and neuroses are a photorealistic portrait. Theatrics  have been parked. Mitchell’s too is a witty performance which nimbly negotiates the gags cracking into profundities.

 

 

My only hesitation about this play is that occasionally – and very briefly –  the pace dipped and my interest slipped. And a few times Mitchell’s performance veered just far enough out of the outstanding naturalism  into something a smidge stagey. Also social media mentions occasionally feel a bit stale and forced, but it is set in 2015 and don’t forget these characters aren skirting forty so….y’know.

 

 

But these gripes are slight. ad I not brought my pen and sharped my critical binoculars as is normally my way, this all would probably have passed me by.   If you’re up for a bleak, honest, comparably brief manifesto for shaky late-love; strap in.

Luke Jones
Box Office: 020 7452 3000  to 14 November

rating  four 4 Meece Rating

 

 

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