Monthly Archives: November 2018

AN HONOURABLE MAN                   White Bear, Kennington SE11

BREAKING THE MOULD….

 

 Our politics is  partisan, quarrelsome, dated in its pattern of two-parties-plus-minnows.   A nest of weary careerists,  pointless betrayals and illogical loyalties,  lined with nervous SPAD-ism and manifesto muddle.     So break the mould!  We often carelessly cry. Bring on a saner spirit of moderate co-operation.    But what happens when you break a mould?  Might you end up with a terrible mess of melting jelly, dripping in all directions?    Or in another image, a brick made ,as the Bible warns they shouldn’t be, utterly without straw?  

        

     Enough with the metaphors. Michael McManus  – writer, formerly of the Press Complaints Commission and IPSOr,  has been a  special adviser in three government departments over decades, and made valiant attempts at getting selected himself.   He knows the mould, and how mouldy it can get.  So this fascinating, timely play is steeped in bitter  experience.

 

  Not that it is embittered: indeed there’s a pleasing streak of idealism in his imagining of what might happen a year or so from now.  Interestingly, it doesn’t matter whether we’ve had a hard, soft, or non-Brexit because as it makes clear we’ll still be fretting about the NHS,  transport,  crime, the borders, free speech, the EU’s attitude, all that.   Its hero is  Joe Newman, (Timothy Harker) who has been de-selected in the Corbyn age and re-elected as  independent Labour on Teesside. 

 

  Joe is a sweet, slightly shy, faintly camp voice of well-meant moderation, who once was in love with Josh (Thomas Mahy), a cross, hirsute Momentum gorilla who is now his enemy.   On his team is the forceful Anne, (Lisa Bowerman), a young thrusting intern Sam,  the older Maggie, and his sensible, kindly “failed fringe actress”  neighbour Liz:  a lovely blowzy performance by Dee Sadler.   So it begins with banter and excitement, which grows into talk of a new party.  And the new party forms fast because, as the veteran Maggie says “What voters want is to emasculate the political class”  .  Britain,  in a memorable metaphor, is like a cat which doesn’t know whether it wants to be in or out, so just sits around licking its balls. 

  

    But a new party – as Shirley Williams warned  before forming one  eight years later – risks having “no roots, no principles, no philosophy and no values”.   And poor Newman, in a series of alarming sessions with hyped-up advisers scribbling on blackboard walls,  finds himself  dragged to and fro, promising to sort out special needs, schools, hospital matrons, Scotland, knife crime, housing, banks – the lot.   Ann, a tough egg, draws lines from all of these challenges to the dread  word –  “Immigration”.  

  

  Only   Maggie quotes Mencken,  warning him against crazy populist promises :  “For every complex problem there is an answer which is simple, clear, and wrong”.    By the second half Newman hears himself sounding alternately like Farage and Blair,  Margaret Thatcher and Tony Benn.  They worry about his image too much: “It might help if you pretend to like football” “But I do..”  .  We watch the polls on screen (there are plenty of TV bulletins throughout, including one with Ken Clarke in it, sounding just like himself). 

   

  At one point when his  new party’s popularity is sagging poor Joe loses his temper with a heckler and lays into him physically, and to everyone’s slight dismay this raises his ratings no end.  One cannot choose one’s followers any more than one’s enemies in politics , and some will be thugs.  Or terrorists, no spoilers.  Suffice to say I enjoyed it no end, in a terrified sort of way.   All it needs to add to the frisson would be a figure in dark glasses,  an International Rescue Committee baseball-cap and heavy false moustache , ordering his fish and chips at the White Bear in a suspiciously familiar voice.  .  We all have to stare bravely into the centre-party abyss, do we not?

   

Box Office  www. whitebeartheatre.co.uk

0333 012 4963  to 8 dec

rating. four 4 Meece Rating

Advertisements

Comments Off on AN HONOURABLE MAN                   White Bear, Kennington SE11

Filed under Four Mice, Theatre

SWITZERLAND Ambassadors, WC2

DEATH AND THE DIFFICULT WOMAN

 

Those who call Theresa May a ‘bloody difficult woman’ should pop in to the Ambassadors and realise that in the ranks of  of BDWs she is the merest dabbler, a tyro. Patricia Highsmith, author of Strangers on A Train and the Talented Mr Ripley series, was  in real life described by one publisher as  “a mean, cruel, hard, unlovable, unloving human being”and by another who actually liked her best as “rough, very difficult”.

In Joanna Murray Smith’s  creepy, funny, transgressive, impertinent tour-de-force of a 90 minute twohander about her,  Highsmith lives up to all of this. Especially  in the first half as she comprehensively monsters a visiting young publisher who – after the previous envoy has returned needing trauma counselling – has volunteered as a fan of her Ripleys to plead with her to contact for  a final one. She is probably terminally ill , and in retirement in Switzerland with her cat, pet snails and an extreme chip on the shoulder about the “circus of literary braggadocios”, the alpha males in US literature – Mailer, Vonnegut, Woolf etc. She feels that they and their critical sycophants look down on her for writing mere crime.

 

It is directed with vigour by Lucy Bailey, never one to shrink from the dark side.   Phyllis Logan is superb as Highsmith:tough, hunched, writerly, aggressive and scornful.  Calum Finlay is the young man -perfectly preppy, with his backpack and earnestness. At first, anyway.

 

It is often very funny, and secretly satisfying to this old boot to see a mean, scruffy old female warrior running rings round the apparently naive young man with his irritating young  confidence.  As it goes on the tone changes:a rapport grows up, but a prickly one, and the play becomes a meditation on two things (apart from the sheer fascination with murder ) .

 

    One is the degree to which a public personality becomes  imprisoned by their shtick -in her case antisocial, antisemitic, outrageous racism and general contempt.  The other is the dangerous symbiosis between a beloved character and his creator. The barely spoken fact, which is also important to know if you are not a Ripley reader,  is that after the utter brilliance of the first book about the serial killer, The Talented Mr Ripley, the series became less and less good.   One tires  of him. One point of this play is to suggest that she didn’t:that the amoral, existential character skewed her perspective and undermined her talent.

 

   We move into a zone of illusion and fiction, no spoilers but that isn’t what transpired, ever. The young visitor undergoes a gradual change- which Finlay handles perfectly.  Highsmith doesn’t, but remains her sharp sad ultimately vulnerable self below the carapace . Until…well…

 

 

It was a suddenly wet London evening, the kind when you end up in desperation shoving an Evening Standard under your soaked top for sheer insulation. And somehow, in this creepy play, that clamminess sort of helped. Rather brilliant.

Ambassadorstheatre.co.uk.  To 6 Dec

Rating four. 4 Meece Rating

Comments Off on SWITZERLAND Ambassadors, WC2

Filed under Theatre

MACBETH Wanamaker, SE1

THE EMPTY DARKNESS OF THE HEART

 

  Third time  lucky:  after two glumly disappointing 2018 productions steeped in directorial gimmicks   – RSC and NT –  the candlelit cramp of the Wanamaker gives us back Macbeth.  Here in Robert Hastie’s careful production  is all the  horrror, psychological acuity and profound , terrified morality of Shakespeare’s darkest play.   Darker it is than the wickedly playful Richard III or the ludicrously bloodthirsty Titus Andronicus, because of its very intimacy and humanity.   This is the trapped struggle  of the ordinary, unpsychopathic heart afraid of its own deeds –  sleepless, hallucinating, crazed.  It plays out in claustrophobic darkness, sometimes total when the sconces and candelabra are doused.  Sometimes it is just stricken, anguished faces you see, so close in this small space,  illuminated alone by flickering individual  candle lanterns black-shielded towards us.

 

 Proper Jacobean witches?  Oh yes:   not  period, not comic, cartoonish , or having   their lines too apologetically  trimmed by squeamishly unsuperstitious directors.  Just  quietly horrible: eerie in whispering the incantation, matter-of-fact in their workaday discussion about raising tempests on a seafarer to avenged on his wife who arointed them.    Later,  when the guilty Macbeth’s recalls them they are disembodied, a scuffling of ratlike footprints, a voice from the gallery, a door opening under unseen hands, a face glimmering for a moment.

 

  Good productions bring each viewer private  fresh perceptions and textual flashes of authorial genius. Here for me in Paul Ready’s  performance  it was Macbeth’s naïveté: the smile of sudden ambition in the lamplight, the self-consciously masterful decision  to tell his wife it is all off,  the caving in to her, the hysteria, the dismayed realisation of each new necessary murder.   This is exactly the kind of man who WOULD  do something stupid like bringing the bloody daggers out of the Kings chamber, so that his wife had to take them back and bloody the grooms.  As the desperate tale goes on, we see him ever more alone and ever less able to tolerate it.  

  

  As for her, Michelle Terry is enigmatic, troubled:   part brisk housewifely organiser, part deeply damaged woman : her speech about giving suck and dashing a baby’s brains out is tremblingly intense.  The relationship is interesting,  she weakening visibly each time the hysterical Macbeth rejects her hand after the deed.   Her final sleepwalking screams into the gloom are shocking,  but her return to housewifely briskness  ‘“a soldier and afeard? To bed, to bed” even more so.  She fascinates. And so, in his growing resignation, does Ready,   slowly understanding the futility of his track to dusty death, the aridity of what he has won.

 

See? Keep away from bleeding polystyrene heads and gimmicks and the play itself comes back, timeless and terrifying.     Hastie eschews both full modernity and period dress  for universal black and grey with detail of 18-20c shapes;   the bloodied messenger is in an Aran sweater.  The Globe’s policy of inclusiveness gives us among other 21c castings a female Macduff – Anna-Maria Nabirye in a performance strong enough to be the last thing you’d notice about him/her .   Laura Moody’s score -mostly vocal  from herself and two other women above – expresses both the discordant wickedness of the play and, sometimes,  its powerful religious sense:    Duncan kneels to pray by the candlelit footlights; so do the rebel thanes .   When Macbeth cannot say “Amen” makes his stricken face, in the flickering light,  says it all.

 

box office shakespearesglobe.com   0207 401 9919

to 2 feb

rating four 4 Meece Rating

Comments Off on MACBETH Wanamaker, SE1

Filed under Four Mice, Theatre

DON QUIXOTE Garrick. WC2

THE KNIGHT WINS HIS SPURS AGAIN:  A NOBLE DELUSION

  

  Need a Christmas outing? Quailing at panto, feel you and the kids need some Euro-culture to counteract Brexidepression? Trust the RSC, and a return of James Fenton’s version of the deluded knight-errantry of Cervantes’ 17c satire.  Our hero traverses Spain on a cobbled-up Rosinante, aglow with well-meaning chivalry and succeeding only in annoying tavern-keepers, shepherds, clergy and his dismayed volunteer squire Sancho Panza. As a parable of the apparent inadequacy of  legend in a real world it is timeless and matchless. 

 

  Angus Jackson’s production makes everything of it: countless visual jokes, horseplay , bread rolls hurled between ensemble and audience, cast members collapsing on the laps of the front rows.  Sancho Panza is Rufus Hound ,to whom I am at last reconciled, and able to forgive his awful excursion into Coward as Gary Essendine at Chichester.  He does his amiable joshing standup to get us going , well in his natural element and a massive fat-suit, but by the strange end is emotionally engaged, credible, even touching. 

 

     There are Pythonesque, Blackadderish nonsenses to enjoy and some nice windmills and dodgy flying.  But the real and central delight is David Threlfall as the self-styled Don Quixote de La Mancha.    From the first moment, an old old man so deep in his books that the ensemble gathers around him singing the legend of Lancelot in his poor head,  I was in love with every straggling white lock.  When repeatedly his visor falls over one eye and his enthusiasm overcomes  sense he radiates a dignity-in-absurdity that has heart as well as  humour. He inhabits the character totally as good comic actors must:  unaware, sincere, genuine, mad.

       

 

The second half  darkens into real old-Spain torments and mockeries, though  enlivened by an excellent two-man lion, a hawk, a joust, innumerable puppet cats and some more horsing around by the horses (this is very RSC in its allowing ensemble individuals to shine).    The near-Lear  death scene is particularly harrowing to those of us by this time helplessly in love with every clank of Mr Threlfall’s cuirasses:  perhaps have a couple of drinks in the interval, and tell the kids it  really is all right in the end, in the best of all peculiar Spanish worlds.

 

box office  0330 333 4811   To 2 feb

rating four   4 Meece Rating

Comments Off on DON QUIXOTE Garrick. WC2

Filed under Four Mice, Theatre

HADESTOWN Olivier, SE1

A SWING AND SWIRL THROUGH HELL

 

  It’s certainly not family-panto time along the glittering Thames riverbank:  what with Martin McDonagh’ grossout-silly Dark Matter downstream at the Bridge, and the NT’s buffet of Labour politics, infertility, Edgar Allen Poe and World War I  now joined by  this portrait of a modern Hades.  A dark smoking hell of labouring slaves under a tyrant King swallows young love and foils a melodious rescuer.   With the Orpheus myth it can’t end well.  “It’s a sad song”  says the gorgeously dapper Hermes, shooting his cuffs and flashing his lurex waistcoat, “But we sing it all the same”.  

 

          So they should, and not just as he consolingly suggests because one day a bad world might come good instead.   Bluesy, folky, beautifully paced and musically satisfying, it is a treat:  touching without sentimentality and with enough topical bite to startle without hammering the point.   My jaw actually dropped when the basso-profundo King Hades (oooh, Patrick Page, what a showstealer)   closed the first half with his minions in a chanting, thundering  hymn “Build the Wall! To keep us free! The enemy is Poverty! Because they want what we have got…”.    Anais Mitchell’s concept album, developed and directed as a stage musical with Rachel Chavkin,  wowed New York two years ago  and should make a legion of whooping new fans for her here.  Like me. 

  

    From the start it grips and intrigues: Rachel Hauck’s set is moody, shadowy, a bar-room with a balcony above and seven musicians disposed around – though others, notably Orpheus himself and the three elegantly scornful Fates in floaty grey chiffon  – pick up instruments and play at times.   Amber Gray as a marvellously slutty, drunk, high party-girl Persephone tear it up gleefully on her six months holiday from being Hades’ dutiful wife below,  capering amid the street-dance ensemble,  keeping up the energy.  

 

  Reeve Carney’s youthful Orpheus and Eva Noblezada’s Eurydice are scruffy, ordinary, ineffably sweet as they fall in love. And hungry.  It’s a time of grinding poverty, a New Orleans 1930 world.  Which is how Eurydice is suckered into signing up with King Hades, tyrant of the underworld slave kingdom, where gloomy labourers in dungarees and goggles work “..there aint no rest for the weary soul, Hades keeps you toiling”.    Orpheus finds his way down by playing a song so beautiful the stones of the very wall weep,  and through despair and hope gets inexorable Hades to melt briefly:   “What has become of the heart of that King, Now he has everything?”    

         

Staging all through it is wonderful:    fluid, startling, great use of  smoke and shadows and a brilliant triple revolve with a circular pit into which characters sink or rise to dominate.    Orpheus’ terrifying walk , trying not to look back ,  is tense and nightmarish,  the three rings turning like the circles of hell itself.   I hadn’t expected to enjoy it this much.  But I did .  

 

box office  020 7452 3000  to 26 Jan

rating four  4 Meece Rating

Comments Off on HADESTOWN Olivier, SE1

Filed under Four Mice, Theatre

THE SIMON AND GARFUNKEL STORY Vaudeville, WC2 & touring

LIKE A BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED DECADES….

 

 If you’re my age, it’s a time machine. Songs like The Sound Of Silence and  Bridge Over Troubled Water (bestselling album 1970,71 and 72)  saw us through tempestuous teens and disastrous student passions, even more in some ways than the Beatles because there was something always jauntily cheerful about them (even Yesterday..).  Few songwriters catch melancholy, muddled self- doubt laced with romantic wonder at life better than Paul Simon: in the folk-rock genre (always better when most folky) they swept the West; unbelievably, even the schlocky soundtrack of Mrs Robinson –  heyheyhey!  – knocked Hey Jude’s na-nanananaaaas off the No.1 spot.

 

So here, as Mr Simon finally hangs up his touring boots fifty years on , is a tribute show with Sam O”Hanlon as him and Charles Blythe as Art G , and a variety of instrumental ensembles and video backdrops of news, ads and cityscapes, to feed our nostalgia and demonstrate to the new generation the late sixties vibe.  Which is, basically,  agitprop-meets-playschool.  Plaintive songs from Simon’s solo time in London merge into the astonishing line of hits which still startle in their poetic energy and inventive scoring.

 

The word ‘story’ is stretching it a bit: it is more tribute gig than theatre, unlike Jersey Boys or Million Dollar Quartet or any of the doomed-diva-drink-and-drugs  genre.    The story is mild: two nice middle class friends make music, go their separate ways for a bit, reunite, tour exhaustingly, hit Grammy success and separate again    piquantly,  at the very moment their big album starts its three-year dominance.   Garfunkel even went back to teaching high school math in 1970 for a bit.  Can you imagine any of our boy-band lightweights doing that? 

 

     A series of captions in part 2 reminds us of their  subsequent, less glittering  achievements. But it’s hard to make theatre out of their lives, not least when they deliver the brief  rather wooden narrative moments while still standing behind their mics so you can’t see their faces. The new generation may  also find itself baffled by the all-too-faithful evocation of the pre-choreography age of rockers who only twitched the odd leg or snapped their fingers, preferring to concentrate on the actual singing. Even when they are “dadadadaaa daaa da da daaaa.. feeling GROOVEEEE”  against a sort of teletubby frieze.

 

But musically it is a treat, from the opening growl of  The Sound of Silence , through the gentle folksy love songs  O”Hanlon does alone in the London scenes,  to the complex harmonies and crypto-prophetic lyrics developing through the Bookends and Bridge albums. Blythe does Bridge over Troubled Water alone as an encore, displaying an amazing voice hitherto masked in the harmonies.  In the first half genius burns – hardly one song less than brilliant –  in the second I found it less likeable,  but I suspect it depends at what stage  in their career you used them as a soundtrack to those adolescent, face-down-on-the-futon, moments.

  

There was a lot of clapping along, which was fine. An odd retro evening, but agreeable. I hope the young adopt the best songs.   O’Hanlon broke my heart in Cathy’s Song,   just as the real Paul did…. long, long ago…

 

Tickets: Touring Mouse wide

http://www.thesimonandgarfunkelstory.com/tour-dates/

LONDON now,  then touring UK through 2019

rating  three   as theatre, but hey, it’s a gig…Musicals Mouse width fixedMusicals Mouse width fixed

Comedy Mouse

Comments Off on THE SIMON AND GARFUNKEL STORY Vaudeville, WC2 & touring

Filed under Theatre, Three Mice

BILLY BISHOP GOES TO WAR Jermyn, SW1

THE SAVAGE BEAUTY OF THE FIRST AIR WAR

  

Britain did not stand alone  in WW1.    As our hero sings in John MacLachlan Gray’s  1982 play:

“South Africa and Canada and Australia to boot /   Are saying ‘Mother, here we are!  Now  tell us who to shoot?”

    This  1982 Canadian play is a fascinating sidelight in this centenary week,  a biography of one star pilot in that war.  It not only takes us above the terrible trenches and into the skies but reminds us of that  “Colonial”contribution.  Those Anglophone lands lost many sons but in the process  gained a new confidence in their future independence.  It also reminds us that WW1 began, incredibly,  with cavalry charges – Billy came over in a boat full of army horses – but ended with the newest of technology.   War moved aloft, in the canvas and prop planes of the Royal Flying Corps.   Without parachutes,  youthful pilots  flew them with an average 11-day survival , and in one model  were sent out – for reasons of weight -with only bombs, no guns.

 

 

. Among them was our hero. Billy Bishop, a callow, rebellious young Canadian who failed his military academy finals by cheating and arrived, seasick and shocked by a voyage through torpedo attacks, as a cavalry officer.    Weary of the mud and boredom in camp he looked up to see a plane, and discovered that he might manoeuvre himself into a job as an Observer. Despite daft laddish injuries,   a  weak heart and being disgraced in training he came good.  He trained as a pilot, patronised by Lady St Helier (who had Canadian connections). He   won the  MC and VC and to his horror was paraded socially before political grandees as a kind of human trophy.   He was  one of the highest scoring fighter pilots and so valuable as a symbol  that he was pulled off duties before the Armistice and sent home  because  Canadian morale needed encouraging and,  unaccountably to the sombre English mind,  that young nation preferred its heroes to survive.

 

It is the well-worn wartime  tale of impossibly young men  thrown into the desperate exhilaration of war, losing friends daily, impassioned against “the Hun”,but sometimes suddenly softening  at the burning realities of death.   But it is also a universal portrait of a bad-boy coming good, finding a metier,  hurling himself at his talent almost too hard, in and out of drink and depression: almost a rock star story. 

 

  Most of the time, in Daisy Blower’s painstakingly detailed set (including a piano for the many atmospheric songs),  two men are on stage:Charles Aitken as young Billy, lean and manic, half annoying and half irresistible, shares the narration with Oliver Beamish as his older self , the Air Marshal of the 1950s . Neatly and deftly each becomes other characters:   Beamish often authority figures, Aitken at one point almost worryingly convincing as a French bar chanteuse .  They meld beautifully, each a part of the other, singing together sometimes.

       There is for my taste slightly more evocation of dogfights and of  Billy’s remarkable solo raid on a German airfield.  But it is brilliantly done, probably necessary. Gray’s writing is often startlingly poetic;   the songs – some from the period –  vibrate with atmosphere.  Early on, the sense of a  lonely Canadian’s longing for his own peaceful skies is poignantly beautiful.

 

Box office 0207 287 2875 www.jermynstreettheatre.co.uk  

to 24 nov

rating four   4 Meece Rating

Comments Off on BILLY BISHOP GOES TO WAR Jermyn, SW1

Filed under Four Mice, Theatre