Tag Archives: From here to eternity

ELEGY Donmar, WC1

SCIENCE AND THE DISAPPEARING SELF

 

 

Suppose neuroscience could cure creeping brain deterioration by taking out whole networks of decaying neurons and replacing them with silicon, guaranteeing functionality, but wiping years of memory. Would you say yes – for yourself or a loved one – as the price of avoiding undignified decline? How frightening is it for the patient to contemplate losing “what binds me to me”, as Zoe Wanamaker’s Lorna puts it in this brief, brilliant, alarming piece? And how wrenching for a long-term spouse to find herself looked at with a stranger’s dispassionate , judging disaste?

 

 
Amnesia and dementia are preoccupying theatres right now. Only weeks ago the Donmar did it a larkier way, as Anouilh’s Welcome Home Captain Fox saw a forgetful soldier confronting his unsavoury previous life; the Park had Alistair McGowan forgetting his gay lover and rediscovering painting, in Peter Quilter’s 4000 Days; Florian Zeller’s The Father won Kenneth Cranham an Olivier.

 

 
The theme particularly suits theatre with its ability to confuse our sense of reality, time, and the reliability of speakers. And few writers are better suited to it than Nick Payne, whose dreamlike, episodic fugue of a play CONSTELLATIONS had great success, and whose extraordinary INCOGNITO was in my view far better, circling around the fate of Einstein’s brain and giving the pain of forgetfulness voice in the unforgettable line “We are a blip within a blip in an abyss”.

 

 
This time Payne is takes on the possibility of deliberately induced, therapeutic amnesia – not(as in the film Eternal Sunlight of the Spotless Mind) just to wipe out unwanted exes but to treat disease. The story is told backwards, beginning with an unnerving encounter between Carrie (Barbara Flynn) a retired RE teacher, and a slightly irritated Lorna (Zoe Wanamaker). Carrie is plying a newly discharged Lorna with questions and reminders; we discover that they were happily married, having met in their forties. Yet now in Lorna, not a fleck of memory or affection remains.

 

 

 

Rolling backwards, under Josie Rourke’s tight direction, we see the stages Carrie went through as Lorna became ever more confused, aggressive, angry and unpredictable. This backward travel is brilliantly effective because – after being slightly embarrassed by the galumphing neediness of Flynn’s heartbreakng Carrie, met by Lorna’s scorn at awkward reminders of their love, we gradually get to see and believe in that love. It makes the loss all the more horrifying: we see caring, kindly reassurance from Carrie as the confusion mounts, with Wanamaker – as ever a packet of electric energy – terrifying in bursts of anguished aggression. Then earlier still, the couple face the grim diagnosis together, loving, even joking, firm in their devotion. It is done with shattering credible honesty, the two women deep in tune. We learn too that Lorna was the more reluctant of the two, protesting “This isn’t progress!” “It could save your life!” “But I want THIS life”. And bitterly, we see that the treatment was given the green light under Lasting Power of Attorney by Carrie: who now must suffer most. The philosophical and ethical questions burn deep.

 

 

In between , Nina Sosanya as the doctor explains, persuades, speaks of neurons and myelin and axons and how memory cannot be replaced because it is non-linear and associative, though there have been experiments on “mice, rats and zebra fish” which sadly became “psychotic”. Behind them, Tom Scutt’s set is a great glass pillar containing a vast, dead oaktree trunk riven as if by lightning, and intermittently obscured by smoke. A metaphor almost too devastating, as the final moments, seventy minutes in, return us to scene one and a crisp, unemotional Wanamaker rejecting her once-beloved’s yearning for one fond word, a kiss, a sign…
box office 0844 871 7624 to 18 June
principal sponsor : Barclays

rating     four   4 Meece Rating

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FROM HERE TO ETERNITY – Shaftesbury Theatre WC2

HURTLING HUNKS AND DEATH BY BLUES

God, I hate star ratings!  Even when, as here, rebelliously expressed as mice.  For nearly three hours the fourth one hovered uncertainly, annoyingly,   over Tim Rice’s bravely enormous new show and Stuart Brayson’s music,  as it veered between grand moments and some pretty standard “song-that-goes-like-this” numbers.  Can’t pretend that a classic was born,  but neither is it dismissable.  Big money and big courage sometimes pay off.

Rice’s admirable aim was to forget the 1953 movie with Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr rolling in the surf ,  and exhume the even bleaker bones of James Jones’ angry novel about the bored brutalities of the US military garrison on Hawaii  just  before the 1941 raid on Pearl Harbour.  He pulls no punches,  restoring Jones’ account – too shocking for Hollywood – of soldiers “rolling the queers” in the gay club to raise money for their own brothel-crawling.    Its title is bitterly drawn from Kipling’s poem about disillusioned NCOs:  “done with hope and honour, lost to love and truth” .

There are two love affairs:  Sgt Warden (Darius Campbell, aka Danesh) falls for Karen, the commander’s wife while the damaged, cynical  Prewitt  (Robert Lonsdale) finds a deep connection with a local whore,  after being mercilessly beasted for refusing  to box for the honour of G company.   His friendship with the irrepressible tragic Latino Angelo (Ryan Sampson, engaging in the extreme) is the third emotional sinew of the story.

But the energy of it comes from the military:  a  tsunami of testosterone, a male ensemble drilled (it is rumoured) by a real sergeant-major until not a twitch of camp can remain in their manner.   Javier de Frutos shapes them into a masterpiece of dramatic choreography which  I have rarely seen equalled.  The stage is full of hurtling hunks:  pushups and star jumps, hula-moves and brawls, larking or lovemaking, the khaki whirlwind dominate the action.  Whether in stand-by-your-beds or beat-up-a-brothel routines they are breathtaking.  So are the girls they whirl and hurl around a restrainedly evocative  set by Soutra Gilmour.  Bruno Poet does the lights, and Brayson’s music gets rich orchestrations under David White. Nothing has been spared.

But it’s a musical,  and must justify itself by songs.  Some are fine (the fourth star-mouse finally landed during the finale, with “slaughter from the sky, fire in the sea” and a hymn to The Boys of ’41).  Campbell’s grainy, savagely virile voice is well used in “More than America” and less well in love duets (though Rebecca Thornhill’s gorgeously sexy Karen more than makes up for that).  Prewitt has one magnificent anthem “Fight the Fight”, and does it full justice; the two men doing the “Ain’t where I wanna be blues” are perfect.     But Tim Rice’s fatal fondness for over-jangly rhymes too often weakens the lyrics:   some are plain banal.  “She’s untouchable, a princess, and a whore / But I just see a beauty at my door” Please!

On the other hand the tarts‘ song “You got the money, we got the ass”  is splendid.  I went home singing it. Got some odd looks on the train.

box office  0207 492 1532    to 26 April
Rating :  four   4 Meece Rating

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