Monthly Archives: May 2021

WALDEN         Harold Pinter Theatre SW1

SPACE IS THE LIMIT AS THE WEST END RETURNS

There was real excitement in a first west end moment since the November lockdown crushed the few brave shoots of returning theatre.  The Sonia Friedman “re emerge”  season kicks off with  not only  a new play- Amy Berryman’s 2020 debut – but  one which is about  the frontiers of science coming up against  the messiness of human desires; the thirst for knowledge and the pull of biology,  and siblinghood,  envy,  hope.   It was ninety minutes of proper stimulus, at times intensely moving, still haunting.

  It is futuristic sci fi, set  fifty to a hundred years hence.  Lydia Wilson’s Cassie  has returned from pushing forward the boundaries of plant biology in a whole year stationed on the moon. There is talk of a plan to colonize other planets because so much of the earth is wrecked by global warming, but  passionate division between such interplanetary hopes and the broadening “Earth Advocates”  rebels who want to fight for the home planet in a Thoreauesque return to nature.  One such is woodsman Bryan,who now lives with Cassie’s sister Stella in a cabin In the  forest (the sisters are children of a famous astronaut, hence the names – Cassie is Cassiopeia!). 

          But Stella, a brilliant NASA scientist, never got up to space herself ,  and now has turned away from it and wants a child and the warmth of Fehenti Balogun’s  likeable, baffled Bryan. Gemma Arterton conveys, with delicate precision moment to moment,  the conflicted richness of her double longings:  Wilson in contrast shows the almost frightening austerity of the sister home from the cold moon and willing to spend the rest of her life on Mars.   A mission  which, it turns out, owes much to Stella and might draw her back.   

          It’s beautifully set  by Rae Smith,  the cosily credible cabin finally vanishing in the bleak trickery of lighting as the final coda reaffirms the strangeness of an unimaginable future,  and the enduring warmth of  human ties and vulnerabilities. I loved it. It made me think.  

http://www.atgtickets.com  to 12 June 

five revived mice

Comments Off on WALDEN         Harold Pinter Theatre SW1

Filed under Theatre

AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS      Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds

AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS      Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds

INSTEAD OF TRAVEL…

    So what do we need, to reopen a tiny Georgian playhouse in a time of continuing uncertainty, masking, distancing, and wondering whether we’ll ever travel freely again?  A bit of Strindberg or some challenging new-writing about  vitriolic divorce as a metaphor for global warming?   Not in the view of CEO Owen Calvert-Lyons, who also directs.  He kicks off the recovery season with a sprightly bit of reimagined Victoriana,  a family show  (ideal for half-term,  parents: there are actual facts in it about time zones).  

      So here are three guys playing thirty parts – reduced-Shakespeare-company or NT-Brent style –   in an impressive variety of hats (toppers, bowler, Sherlock-style deerstalker, cap, fez and a very seductive veil). Their mission: to whizz through Jules Verne’s “adventure farce” in 90-minutes-including interval.   As virtual travel therapy (London-Suez-India-Hongkong-Yokohama-San-Francisco-NewYork)  it whimsically reopens the world.  As Imperial nostalgia it is full of unashamedly unfashionable paeans to Victorian technological pride and national arrogance: though artfully, all across the world they mainly find inappropriate accents from Scottish to Pennsylvania-Welsh.  Oliver Stoney is mainly Phileas Fogg,  Roddy Peters mainly Passepartout,  and the  misguided pursuing detective Naveed Kahn resplendent in a tweed Norfolk jacket in all tropics, as befits a decent Englishman of 1872.

       I mentioned the Reduced-Shakespeare style – everyone playing too many parts and pretending dismay when it’s a problem and they should be meeting themselves –  but  Toby Hulse’s version , seen first in 2010,  is less wild, gentler,  paced for a broad variety of ages,  and decently close to the Verne story.  Any Yardley’s set is terrific:  evocative, flexible,  witty,  permitting everything from the Albany and a suttee to an elephant ride and  train-roof chase (I think that bit needs strobe, but probably wiser not to do that when everyone’s feeling weird anyway). 

    They do not shy away from the culturally dodgy bit where Phileas Fogg decides to rescue an Indian princess from suttee.  Would have been a shame if they had, because the glamorous Aouda is played first by a worryingly floppy dummy and subsequently to great effect  by Kahn, flirting his layers of drapery with a will,  albeit presumably on top of that sturdy jacket.   He is the natural funnyman of the troop:  it is hard to get enough atmosphere going as these distanced shows launch out into the post-pandemic world,  but in that regard he did the heavy-lifting with aplomb.

        I suspect that as it goes on some of it will speed up and audiences get used to laughing aloud again without fear of Shedding The Virus.   But there was enough, ripples from below as I looked down from my lonely box.   And once the kids start being brought along,  released from a hideous year of teacher-on-screen and video games,  they’ll laugh it to life.  It deserves it, because even after the steamboat-trousers-off scene and the romantic denouement Yardley’s set has a big surprise, just to send you off happy.

box office  www.theatreroyal.org   to 5 June

Performed also at Southwold Arts Centre  8-12 June   tel. 01502 722572   

rating 4 family-show mice!

Comments Off on AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS      Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds

Filed under Theatre