Category Archives: Five Mice

HOLY SH!T Kiln, NW4

PARENTHOOD, PRAYER , PROSECCO

 

The renamed Tricycle (no, I am not taking sides)   Is open:  its leader Indhu Rubasingham launches her sprauncy new theatre with Alexis Zegerman’s dark, sharp new comedy about one of the great corruptions of British society:    the battle of ambitious ,anxious  but atheist parents to get their children places at “faith”schools.  

 

 

    It’s a scam.  Churches are shamefully complicit,  taking a register of attendance knowing quite well that some  people will spend a year of Sundays pretending to worship  rather than risk a scruffier school or pay privately.   “On your knees to save the fees” is common enough  to deserve all it gets from satirists.  But also,  as here, it deserves  a thoughtful as well as comic  treatment of its psychological risks. Might it  sow real spirituality?  Or kill it off?  Frankly, how safe is it to intrude uncomfortable dimensions of eternity and ultimate morality into the brittle self-satisfactions of middle class life?   Is prayer and prosecco too volatile a mix? .

 

 

.   Zegerman shows courage in weaving together many strands of resentment , hidden unease and  “othering” – not only about religion and  education  but race, antisemitism, class, money, and, divergent styles of marriage and motherhood    Two couples are rapidly and neatly drawn,  but then deepen. Dorothea Myer-Bennett is Simone:   noisy, cynically gung-ho and  Jewish (“its a race not a religion” ).  She is married to the fairly prosperous web designer man Sam ,  a heavy pot-smoker and looseish cannon who as the year goes on hates the hypocrisies which Simone is distinctly enjoying :   her very loud and high entr’acte hymns are a treat, especially in contrast to her friend Juliet  (Claire Goose) who is more heartfelt about religion.    She is married to Nick , a black teacher (a really excellent rending by Daon Broni)  who is the most appealing of the four  . But it isn’t long before the irritation of Simone’s gung-ho assault on choir, congregational socializing and even Confirmation gets Juliet down.  

  

  In a wonderful downstage moment both are singing a hymn and Juliet, the quieter voice, gives up in disgust.   We never see the priest or the bells-and-smells HIgh Anglican church, but it comes alive all right.   A telling scene of a Jewish shiva raises something unexpected in the scornful Sam, and echoes of Ibo heritage and beliefs in Nick:  that sense of spiritual priorities edging in on them all is oddly powerful.   And then of course, both parents learn which four-year-old won the place at St Mary’s, and hell breaks out.

   

  There are echoes of the inter-parent rows in Yasmina Reza’s classic God of Carnage, and In a well-syncopated sequence of symmetrical offence there are parallels with Clybourne Park:  both are damn  good company to be in.  But there is real pain:   Juliet expressing, to her husband’s dismay, the agonised worry of a white mother of a brown child, fearing for the future and humiliated that with her French-braid blondeness she can’t manage a little girl’s hair as well as Nick – who used to do his sister’s .    Pain too in Simone’s bereaved loneliness for her parents, and in a sense for her whole heritage, and in the way Sam’s confused, guilty, self-indulsgent pothead paranoia latches  onto his Jewishness and working class pride, whichever is the handies,   In final moments Nick has a weary, desperate statement of the self-evident but often invisible truth about parenthood.   It’s a fine play, and should have sold out and hasn’t yet, so go..

  

     Oh, and the new theatre renovations? Very comfy, and seemingly good for designers too, lots of height and room for classy, understated  sliding scenesets.   I was sentimentally fond of the old Meccano galleries and comradely tip-up  seats, but time moves on.

Box office 0207328 1000.  kilntheatre.com

To 6 Oct

rating  five  5 Meece Rating

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ONCE New Wolsey, Ipswich

A RARE OLD TIME IN DUBLIN , IN IPSWICH

 

 

The miniature of Libby Watson’s gorgeous Dublin pub set in the foyer raises your spirits straight away.  Sometimes only an Irish pub will do:  a dream of a pub, rarer now in reality, where  everyone can grab an instrument and joke and blend and drum and pluck and fiddle and defy the hard world outside.  And while as we take our seats it’s Behan’s Ould Triangle and the rest to busk us in,  once the show begins it’s Glen Hansard’s marvellous Falling Slowly:  the song that won the film an  Oscar.  And there you are:  up  walking on the moonbeams with Glen Hansard’s lovely songs.

 

 

      Like thousands during the London run of the Broadway production,   I fell joyfully for Enda Walsh’s glorious opening-out of the quirky film about a despairing Dublin street musician whose spirits and hopes are transformed by a young Czech woman in the street.  Hansard and Markéta Irglova wrote the beguiling, memorable bittersweet songs together and devised the simple pavement story;   they starred in the film, but it’s made to be a stage musical with roaming, versatile actor-musicians.    And Walsh’s book mines all its hope and humour, and adds more.  And, notably, it rounds  out the character of the girl whose forthright hopefulness changes more than one life. 

 

    And goodness,  director Peter Rowe strikes lucky in his heroine.    Emma Lucia is barely a year graduated from Mountview, and almost startlingly perfect in the part of the Czech girl.  Which requires her to play both Mendelssohn and the Hansard music, sing beautifully  and remain convincingly Czech throughout in accent and manner.  Not to mention magnetizing  us with a modest but firm stage presence so that we believe the galvanizing difference she makes to the (equally well-cast) ragbag of Dublin pub regulars and struggling new Czech immigrants.

 

  They’re glorious too, notably Sean Kingsley majestically explosive as the leather-jerkined rocker Billy, Kate Robson-Stuart as the exuberantly tarty Reza who dances a tango duet with him,  and Samuel Martin as the buttoned-up gay bank manager who writes a truly terrible song about Bandon.   And leading the pack there’s Daniel Healy  as the ‘broken-hearted fixer-sucker guy” who mends Hoovers and is on the point of dumping his guitar on the pavement and giving up music forever. 

 

      This joint Wolsey and Hornchurch production, the regional premiere long overdue for this lovely show,   raises the heart and hits the spot.  I wish it was touring everywhere, because to see such quality at out-of-London prices is almost a human right.  And in this time of unease (I am not typing the B-word) what better than to enjoy the gorgeous joke of the way that the melancholy and doubt  of us offshore islanders gets startled, then invigorated, by that slightly terrifying East European directness of address,   and  that ruthlessly cheerful pragmatism.   “Serious? I am always serious. I am Czech”.   When the drooping busker asks the girl where she gets her energy, it’s “I am a young mother.”.  Her own mother – Susannah van den Berg – surrounded by keen compatriots learning English off soap-operas – is another powerhouse of exotic energy.   

 

    The staging is smooth and nimble, the movement and breaks into dance adeptly homelike:  despite the star quality of the two leads it feels the most ensemble of pieces, especially in the magical moments when an intimate number begins,  thickens as the band moves forward to wrap around the moment’s emotion,  then retreat until we are back in the shabby flat or pavement .  The redemptive, hopeful theme carries the slight strong story onwards,  all the stronger for denying us the formulaic rom-com ending;    but on another level the whole show is a chain of moments,  of treats:  musical, comic or touching.  Perfect. 

 

www.wolseytheatre.co.uk  this week – then to Queens, Hornchurch.

rating five  5 Meece Rating

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THE LOVELY BONES Royal, Northampton

HUMANITY RISING FROM HORROR

 

     It is one of the oldest notions in the world: the unquiet grave.   From Sophocles to modern campaigns we are haunted by the idea that the violently dead cannot  rest until the living either avenge them or find – perhaps carve –  some deeper reconciliation.   Alice Sebold’s remarkable novel caught that timeless strangeness:    the restless electricity of superstition that surrounds shock and sudden loss, and weaved it  into a portrait of an ordinary family’s grief.   Susie, the narrator,   is a 14 year old walking home from school across a cornfield.    Polite and trusting (it is set in 1973, more innocent times)  she lets Mr Harvey the lonely neighbour show her a “clubhouse” underground he has built “for the local kids”.  He gags her with her jingling woolly hat,  rapes and kills her, hides her body, keeps a souvenir charm bracelet.    From an inchoate limbo on the way to heaven Susie watches the investigation,  impatient and frustrated, commenting and  hoping; she  wanders a ghost through her shattered family and sees her little brother growing up, her sister’s first love,  her parents’ dislocation.

      

    Bryony Lavery – no stranger to dangerous topics after her unsettlingly brilliant  FROZEN (https://theatrecat.com/2018/03/02/frozen-theatre-royal-haymarket/)  adapts Sebold’s novel for this first stage version, directed by Melly Still.     The topic makes you shudder,  and the opening moments certainly do despite their discretion: the ultimate nightmare is not treated pruriently, but not softened.   Yet what emerges is a powerful, hopeful  triumph of human love.  A theatrical triumph too,  not least thanks to a remarkable set by Ana Inés Jabares-Pita:   a shimmering cornfield horizon bisects a world below and its reflection far overhead.  Sometimes it is a true reflection,  sometimes showing something else.   Sometimes Susie is brightly lit, the others dim; sometimes all seem to be together, in flashback or apparitions.   

        

     

        Charlotte Beaumont is a revelation as Susie. Looks easily 14, smaller than the others and briskly childlike in her bright yellow trousers,   she roams around her strange reflected ghost-world among adults and siblings who can’t see  or hear her – but sometimes eerily sense her .    As children do  she mainly  takes the strangeness of her new lot pragmatically,   and afizz with young energy moves between brisk teen impatience, astonishment,  dismay , tenderness, laughter and frustration .  She wills Harvey to “make a mistake!” ,  irritated at the detective’s failure to pick up clues in the field, in his house, in his beige-anoraked, bespectacled persona as a tolerated local weirdo (Keith Dunphy) catches that creepy plausibility horribly well).   “He’s got most of me IN HIS BASEMENT!”  shouts Susie, as he bustles carefully around.  

          

          Altogether she is quite wonderful: more than one of us came out asking “Who’s that kid?”.     As her parents,  Emily Bevan and Jack Sandle are all too credible as their marriage threatens to crumble.  Families in tragedy sometimes do.  He becomes obsessed with nailing the suspect Heckler,   and she needs to move on, feed her other children, grieve and seek solace.  

     Sebold does not indulge in any safe-in-the-arms-of-Jesus sentimentality:   Susie does feel – reflecting every bereaved parent’s cry – the unfairness of young death.   “I want to grow up!”  She  calls on David Bowie music for comfort.  Seeing her younger sister – now older than she was – have a tender initiation to lovemaking  the violated, chopped-up victim says sadly  “My sister sails away from me…”.  Her own school boyfriend is with her friend Ruth now, growing up, they talk of her but move on.   A strange ghost moment reconciles her.    Her own companions in the limbo now are Bhawna Bawsar’s Fran, a social worker in life who has chosen helping newcomers as her own heaven, and eventually  a heartbreaking host of puppet-dresses, the other little girls Heckler killed.    

     

       There is a point just after midway in its tight 110 minutes when you find yourself impatient,  feeling too entangled in the problems of the living.  You want the simple Agatha-Christie relief of seeing the net closing around the killer. But like Susie, like all of them,  you need  to admit that no, just zapping the bastard is not enough.  For human resolution vengeance may  not even be entirely necessary.   The “lovely bones” which at last satisfy and give  a heaven to Susie are those that grow around the people close to her: a new scaffolding of love.   

 

Her heaven is to see the world go on, without her yet with herself still woven into others’ identities and affections.  And to turn in the last moment to the audience ,  grin,  and wish well to the living.     In what should be a long and successful career,  young Charlotte Beaumont will rarely get a line that jerks so many tears.  

box office  royalandderngate.co.uk   to 22 Sept  and touring, to 17 nov, see below

RATING   five   5 Meece Rating

   (co-production: Royal & Derngate, Northern Stage and Birmingham Rep,  in association with Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse

 Everyman Liverpool 25 September to Sat 6 October  www.everymanplayhouse.com

Northern Stage  9 – 20 Oct    www.northernstage.co.uk

Birmingham Rep 30 oct-10 Nov    www.birmingham-rep.co.uk

New Wolsey  Ipswich 13-17 Nov    www.wolseytheatre.co.uk

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THE HUMANS Hampstead Theatre

 GUEST CRITIC MICHAEL ADAIR IS TRANSPORTED TO NEW YORK, AND FAMILY TRUTH

 

 

The joy of a play like The Humans is that it can take a subject that feels as if it might have been done to death – a family gathering together for their Thanksgiving dinner –  and cause us to forget that it has ever been done before. There is a moment where Arian Moayed’s character, Richard, awkwardly tells his girlfriend’s visiting family about one of his favourite comic books, where aliens share ghost stories about the human race because they consider us to be so frightening. Humans, Richard suggests, are as likely objects of fear and fascination to the monsters as those monsters might be to us. Watching my fellow humans in this superlative performance, I can see his point… 

 

It is making its much-anticipated UK debut, with writer Stephen Karam and director Joe Mantello packing up their Broadway Cast, four Tony Awards and David Zinn’s glorious set to come to London.    The set, recipient of one of those Tonys, is terrific, a rusty, run-down duplex in New York city’s Chinatown, two floors of peeling paint and creaking floorboards with ancient insulation stuffed between. Noisy neighbours thump around upstairs and there is ceaseless whirr and hum of washing machines next door. This transfer has clearly been a labour of love – even the smallest minutiae ensuring that we are absolutely ensconced in modern-day New York with the Blake family for their Thanksgiving. Gifts emerge from plastic bags from Bed, Bath and Beyond, the Coca Cola bottle being poured at the table is the slightly stumpier American shape, so has clearly been imported…there is no suspension of disbelief, everything feels plausible, actual, real. 

 

The play introduces us to the Blakes: Brigid Blake (Sarah Steele) has just moved into the run-down apartment with her boyfriend, Richard. The two are struggling to make ends meet, Richard is a mature student, Brigid is waitressing whilst trying to find work as a composer. Visiting the apartment for the first time are older sister and lawyer, Aimee (Cassie Beck), mother Deirdre (Jayne Houdyshell), father Erik (House of Cards’ Reed Birney) and his dementia-stricken and wheelchair bound mother, Fiona ‘Momo’ Blake (Lauren Klein). The six characters share a meal – on paper plates, with plastic cutlery – their fold-out chairs squeaking uncomfortably beneath them. All have stories to share: money problems, sickness, revelations that build and break throughout the 90 minutes. Everyone, that is, except Klein’s ‘Momo’ – whose son insists had a ‘good day yesterday’ but whose condition has clearly deteriorated/   We are left with the family to unite in sharing tales of a proud Irish matriarch, who loved a drink and who was once the life and soul of these gatherings. We, the audience, are confronted on stage with only a shell of a person, frail, confused and mumbling unintelligibly.

 

 

 The dialogue is impeccable and authentic, switching constantly and abruptly between hilarity, stubbornness, furious indignation, and complete exasperation in a way that only a family meal can accomplish. All can be forgiven, yet nothing can be forgotten. Multiple conversations take place across both rooms simultaneously and the cast deliver it superbly. There are polite disagreements over the pronunciation of ‘Carnegie’ – settled only by Aimee declaring ‘Everybody’s right, guys!’, and the traditional, tense generational impasse, with Birney’s patriarch at a loss to understand why his daughter is so anxious about money, yet insists on living in an expensive New York apartment .  He smugly asks of her superfood diet, ‘If you’re so depressed, why are you trying to live longer?!’. Over the course of the evening Brigid becomes ever more exasperated with her parents: snapping, interrupting and shutting down even the mildest of statements. The two floors of the cramped apartment work beautifully, everything is seen, everything is overheard – it feels like a real family coming together to make do and endure one another.

 

Karam’s mastery is in making it all so authentic. The play takes place in real time, there are no scene changes – dinner is prepared, served and eaten in the company of the audience and Karam perfectly delivers the clenched jaw and aching temples so easily brought about by a tense family reunion. When the revelations arrive, they hit hard; the Blakes are fondly reminiscing about a past that may never have existed , and reluctantly adapting in the face of merciless change. 

 Believe the hype. The Humans is exceptional. 

https://www.hampsteadtheatre.com    to 13 October

Box Office: 020 7722 9301

rating five  5 Meece Rating

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THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR Royal Shakespeare Theatre Stratford upon Avon

WHAT LARKS…

 

 

There is a swimming-pool ladder, a rubber-ring shaped like a swan, a robotic golf cart, some decorative flamingos (one used as a weapon) , and a statue of Queen Elizabeth I. Who is heard offstage, – as tradition says she did – ordering a sleepy Shakespeare to revive the character of Sir John Falstaff. In Henry V the fat knight is only mentioned as having died, “babbling o’green fields”, after being denied in IV Pt 2 by the newly virtuous young King and ordered to “get to his prayers”. So by royal order there was this comedy prequel, and another outing for the talents of the clown Will Kemp.

 
Director Fiona Laird (who also composed the splendid renaissance-disco score) makes the wise decision to go for broke with every kind of lark, and to give designer Lez Brotherston free rein with neon-edged skeleton revolving houses and a loony, diversely anachronistic set of mad costumes. Rugby socks, random kilts, slashed Elizabethan pantaloons pinstriped and worn over modern trousers. Mistress Ford is poured into a multicoloured super-spangled catsuit, and a leopardprint Hostess sports an unforgettable cleavage. Laird has cast the splendidly fearless David Troughton as the fat knight and padded him to within an inch of his life. Over that immensity his costumes too, whether tennis, golf, hippie drag or bestial furs are beyond panto: indeed I notice in unsteady writing at the bottom of one page of my notebook the words BLIMEY, FALSTAFF’S CODPIECE…”.

 
It is a truth universally acknowledged that every six years or so the RSC pretty much has to return to this merry farce, and lark around once more with fat-suit and laundry-basket. The challenge is both to make it new (in this case the laundry-basket is a wheelie-bin, with suitably artful adjustments to the original text) and to keep it moving. Last time round, despite Desmond Barritt’s glorious tweedy Falstaff, my review quoted an audience member sadly saying ““There’s an awful lot of admin, isn’t there, before you get to the jokes”. Indeed the triple-wooing of Anne Page and the cozening duel between Parson Hugh and Dr Caius can feel wordy and distancing to a modern audience.

 
Laird’s tactic to stop this happening is to give wild licence to everyone – and I do mean everyone – to overdo it with glee. You decide that nothing can upstage Jonathan Cullen’s comedy Frenchman Dr Caius (“quelle catastrophe ce Brexit..let me speak a word in your arrrse”) and his interchange with the busty hostess proffering “pardon croissant voulez vous coucher avec le cassoulet”. There you are, thinking that what with that , and Luke Newberry’s Fenton falling over all the time and Tim Samuels as a rather camp Shallow, this really is turning into panto, O yes it is, all we need is a singalong… Whereon along comes David Acton as Pastor Hugh , and leads us all in a couple of lines of Bread of Heaven. And then it’s time for the magnificently circular Falstaff himself to attempt a run-up at the wheelie-bin, to a drumroll, and get covered with malodorous steaming rubbish and carted off by manservants who appear to be conversing in Bulgarian , or maybe Russian, with surtitles.

 
A great pleasure of Laird’s production, ceaselessly funny and over-the-top, is that it reminds you that Shakespeare is the honoured ancestor of a hundred sitcoms. Caius is pure ‘Allo ‘Allo, Rebecca Lacey’s Mistress Page has moments of Sybil Fawlty, while her friend Ford has a definite Miss Brahms moment and another, when acting-out the trickery on Falstaff, remniscent of Eth from Take it from Here. Falstaff himself ,in drag, even offers an unShakespearian hommage to Dick Emery with “ooh you are awful, but I like you”. Again wisely, Laird appoints Toby Park of Spymonkey as physical-comedy director. This is a man who knows , to the finest detail, exactly how to trap a fat man in a codpiece under a sun-lounger.

The panto mood, however, does not extinguish proper RSC respect: the set-piece deception scenes are skilful – especially between Troughton’s fat rogue and Vince Leigh’s suspicious Ford disguised in a Russian hat, dodgy accent, and plastic nose ’n specs set. Nor do we lose that brief electric moment when the comedy slows for a brief moment and the Fords face one another: he suspicious, she denying. And for all t her skintight spangles there is a frisson, an echo of all those other chaste accused women: Desdemona, Hero, Hermione.
But only for a moment. We still have many larks to come. And are grateful for them. As Mr Punch would say (his ancestry is in there too) “That’s the way to do it!”.

 

box office http://www.rsc.org.uk to 5 Jan
rating five. Because being daftly funny is harder than it looks.

5 Meece Rating

 

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GREEK Arcola, E8

GUEST REVIEWER CHARLOTTE VALORI MARVELS AT GREEK PERFECTION AT GRIMEBORN

Like the roar of an older, bolder London, Mark-Anthony Turnage’s GREEK bounces snarling onto the Grimeborn stage, celebrating its thirtieth anniversary in the first ever revival of its world premiere production for Munich and ENO, directed both then and now by Jonathan Moore. The significant privilege of reviving such an iconic production of this groundbreaking work with the original creative team (Turnage himself has been attending rehearsals) has given Grimeborn its jewel for this year’s festival, and the Arcola easily one of the hottest opera tickets in London this summer. But this is no historical re-enactment: GREEK is as raw, angry and daring as ever, and the production feels boxfresh. While references to the social tensions of the Eighties (overflowing bins, unemployment, strikes and riots) still express the ‘state of plague’ in “this seething heap of world,” Moore works in touches of today: the London Riots, mobile phones, and wifi, while a huge graffiti wall beside the stage (a giant painted lightbox, used to screen projections of police brutality and civil unrest) proclaims HIPSTERS OUT! Dalston – you heard.

On a black lacquered stage tantalisingly bare of props, framed by a square of piped, colour-changing light running from floor to ceiling, the action unfolds with visceral immediacy. Designer Baśka Wesołowska produces a clear playing space where Moore creates violent aggression with superbly controlled choreography: fights are brilliantly dislocated across the stage, Eddy and his combatants landing (and realistically receiving) coordinated punches from a distance. Immaculate attention to detail is everywhere: as the orchestra tune up, Eddy attempts to enter the theatre, but is thrown out summarily by security. Moments later, he explodes into the auditorium to tell us his hideous story.

Lithe with physical menace as a young hoodlum, gracefully tense as an older, successful man who nevertheless feels he has more to prove, Edmund Danon’s Eddy is spot on: his London accent perfect, his baritone already richly tender, but capable of scorn and challenge, he seems born for this part, sliding from speech to song with confident command, and exploring the arrogance, fastidiousness and impetuousness of his accursed character with skill. Laura Woods is magnetic as his Wife (and Sis), her mezzo of liquid fullness, her hungry longing for her lost child heartbreaking, their erotic connection thoroughly disturbing. Philippa Boyle’s Mum is a tour de force of versatile character acting, her soprano lyrically expressive, while Richard Morrison’s Dad seethes with fragile machismo: the libretto, adapted from Berkoff’s play by Turnage and Moore, interleaves London slang with historical phrases, producing a Clockwork Orange mosaic which builds its own mythological atmosphere, and Boyle and Morrison in particular use a dazzlingly wide range of vocal styles to deepen this effect. A bowl of blood produces a deliciously grisly eye-gouging scene, but the shocks don’t end there, the opera remaining irrepressibly punk to the last. Turnage’s score, vividly delivered by the Kantanti Ensemble with crisp conducting from Tim Anderson, is astonishing: brimming with visual images, perfectly catching the cadence and textures of the London soundscape, setting words with unfailing clarity, combining mastery and humour like a gangster who grips you by the throat while slapping you conspiratorially on the back.

GREEK’s thrusting, vicious defiance feels like a blast from a braver, riper creative moment. It’s dark, edgy, bloody, and disturbing. It isn’t for the faint-hearted: snowflakes may sob with woke anxiety into their ironic gender-neutral moustaches. For the rest of us, it’s a clarion call of what art can, should and must provoke.

Presented by the Arcola Theatre as part of Grimeborn 2018, with generous support from the Grimeborn Funders’ Circle

Until 18 August. Box office: 020 7503 1646 or online here

Rating: Five 5 Meece Rating

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KING LEAR Duke of York’s , WC2

MADNESS, MENACE, MAJESTY

      

      You need not be aged – or even a man – to be a memorable Lear.  But there is an intense and concentrated emotion to it when a great actor in the last decades of life takes on the role.  Derek Jacobi, in Michael Grandage’s Donmar production, threw me seriously off-balance.  Now Ian McKellen, even older (80 near year) is  a more military, striding figure; but in dissolution equally wrenching.  The dignity of his late gentleness,  “not in my perfect mind” stops the heart;  so does his moment of pity for the long-neglected poor (who gather, silent ghosts, behind him in the storm).   For this third time in the role we are told that he deliberately chose to play it in the intimacy of Chichester’s Minerva last year;   here in the West End a reconfiguring and reduction of the Duke of York’s   (with a central walkway and false wall) maintains much of that atmosphere.   

 

          Jonathan Munby’s production has military uniforms and modern dress, but the theme of upward appeal to unseen gods, always strong in the text, is signalled by the Latin chant in the first scene and an almost nervous flinging up of hands by court officials at relevant lines;   in Lear himself it gives pathos to the sense that his growing mental fragility is a malignity sent down from above by the gods who toy with all frail humans,  so his own flaws of temper and self-knowledge are only feeding it.  His sudden spurt of rage at Cordelia is wholly credible,  and her unscripted gasp of “What?”  perfect.  As in the Grandage production, Cordelia is of black heritage, a dignified and touching Anita-Joy Uwajeh:  far from being “colourblind” it adds a sense that this most-loved child came from a second, southern wife, perhaps after the chillier mother of Goneril and Regan.    Since we have already heard Gloucester joshing about Edmund and the “sport at his making”,  this small detail adds to the sense of intimate family tragedy, joys and dangers cascading down the generations. 

 

 

      Little sense adding to the praise of McKellen: he is magnificent, both in emotional line and in delivery of certain well-known lines which he makes new.   Mever have I been more chilled than by his flat, prosaic reply to the more musically eloquent Cordelia’s pleading.  With deliberation the father says:  “Better thou hadst not been born than not to have pleased me better”. Brrr.    So just talk of the other excellences:  Sinead Cusack as Kent,  whose character works remarkably well as a decent straight-speaking middle-aged woman;  Lloyd Hutchinson as a Fool with echoes of Eric Morecambe,  Munby’s elegant solution to the old mystery of what happens to him,   Michael Matus a Jeeves-like Oswald, beautifully nasty;   James Corrigan giving Edmund dangerous vitality and not a little humour,  Luke Thompson’s Edgar becoming Poor Tom better than any I have seen. And, not least, Kirsty Bushell as a psychopathic sexual sadist in a flippy short skirt, fit to give you nightmares.   

 

         So,  heroic and beautiful and serious, the terrors of the earth.  Well worth 3 hrs 40 minutes in heat which, despite the theatre’s pretty good ventilation, made you maternally pleased for the cast when after 90 minutes Lear, Edgar, Fool and Kent get wet through to their underpants by some stonking good stage rain.     

       

box office  atgtickets.com   to 3 nov

rating five

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