What a wonderful afternoon. This is the second full length new ballet composed by Joby Talbot and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, following their tremendous success with Alice in Wonderland and it is just as good. It is also important to mention designer Bob Crowley and lighting designer Natasha Katz who also worked on both ballets so effectively. Many people only remember the direction “Exit pursued by a bear” at the end of Act I so there’s always fascination to see how it has been done. I won’t give it away – it’s good but not as brilliant as the bear in the Terry Hands production for the RSC which I saw in the mid-80s. On that occasion, the entire stage was covered in white fur representing snow throughout the first act. At the end, the whole thing reared up and became an immense bear – fantastic but it wouldn’t be practical to dance on fur. I’ll give a clue that there are similarities in the two approaches. Christopher Wheeldon likes to develop his choreography directly with the dancers, so the matinee I saw was not danced by the ones who helped develop it. I am not sure this was any disadvantage as it gave them a chance to bring an extra something to the part. On this occasion, the star was Bennet Gartside as Leontes, an amazing performance as he replaced Thiago Soares who was supposed to dance it this afternoon. His dancing was superb and, above all, he captured the character of the king, as he moved from happiness through jealousy and tragedy to joy. My only regret is that I only booked for one performance and now it is sold out so it will probably be a couple of years before I see it again.
Back to this lovely new theatre in Finsbury Park, this time to the smaller room to see a very powerful play. The play starts with the central issue, a swimming coach has been accused of inappropriateness with a child. It then jumps backwards and forwards, filling in background, adding more information and showing what happens next. This clever structure takes the audience back and forth, doubting his innocence then doubting his guilt. It runs straight through for 80 minutes to maintain the tension as it builds to a very frightening conclusion, but the doubt stays with you. It is translated from the Spanish and this very occasionally shows. If the script could do with a little more work, the acting and direction are superb. Lee Knight is very good as the accused coach but I was particularly impressed by Kathryn Worth as the swimming pool manager. She manages to convey her profound distress and confusion not as a prima donna but as a very ordinary woman facing a terrible dilemma. They are advertising £10 seats online – just look for codes.
Someone asked me if this was a tribute act. It most certainly is not: it is an intelligent, well written, well acted, one man show about the life and career of Eric Morecambe. Bob Golding deservedly earned an Olivier for this clever insight into the life and career of Eric Morecambe. I was working as a volunteer usher and the show’s producer noticed that I looked rather like Eric, so he asked me backstage to meet him and took a photo of us together. I may look a bit more like Eric Morecambe than he does but I could never capture the man so perfectly on stage. There are plenty of laughs but that is not all this show is about. There are plenty of moments of pathos and simple humanity, adding up to a brilliant portrayal of one of Britain’s greatest comedians, sympathetically portrayed by Bob Golding. You don’t need to look like Eric Morecambe, or Ernie Wise, to appreciate this. It’s on tour and I’d recommend you to catch it if you can.
Most Alan Ayckbourn works well in smaller theatres but this was written for the Olivier and works well in it. Dating from the 1980s, it is a critique of the corrupt selfishness encouraged by Thatcher, so this is an apt time to revive it. Gawn Grainger is Ken Ayres, a man who prides himself on his honesty and decency, brought in to manage the furniture company run by his wife’s aging father and root out the corruption that is damaging it. He starts off as someone who would never take a pen or some paper clips from work and ends up getting mired in the corruption around him. With such a heavy underlying theme, this is not one of Aycknbourn’s funniest plays but it manages to make you laugh and to make you thing.
The road sign on the highway from Los Angeles airport says “Palm Springs and other desert cities” and that’s where this play is set. It starts with the conflict between the Republican, old Hollywood parents and their daughter, a liberal writer who has chosen to live in New England but is home for Christmas. It turns out that she has written an autobiographical book about the dead brother they never talk about and tension builds. Her brother tries to calm things down while her alcoholic aunt does her bit to stir things up. A brilliant observation of a dysfunctional family with some interesting plot twists I won’t mention. What seems cut and dried turns out to be that much more complicated and more fascinating. The Old Vic has been transformed to create a theatre in the round which works brilliantly, especially if you get a seat close to the stage (although the front row seats are very low so get the second row if you can). Sinéad Cusack as the mother, Peter Egan as the father and Martha Plimpton as the daughter all give unmissably brilliant performances, so make sure you don’t miss it.
This is the second Pinero play I’ve seen revived in the last couple of years; it was also by far the better production. The National Theatre’s production of The Magistrate tried too hard and was ultimately unsuccessful. With a teeny fraction of their resources, in a theatre smaller than the Olivier’s stage, this was successful. Written in 1895, 10 years after The Magistrate, it is a well crafted look at the role(s) of women in Victorian society and the dominance of the aristocracy. Rhiannon Sommers was superb as Mrs Ebbsmith, matched with yet another excellent performance from Christopher Ravenscroft. Straightforwardly and skilfully directed by Abbey Wright, it was produced by Primavera Productions formed by Tom Littler who also directed Dances of Death, my favourite play in a small theatre last year. I don’t intend to miss anything by them.
After a week with no chance to go to the theatre, it was great to catch two terrific performances yesterday, the first being the matinee of LAC. This updating of Swan Lake featured “Her Majesty of the Night” rather than Rothbart as the evil manipulator but was otherwise much the same story. It was a shame that it was performed to pre-recorded music, the quality of which was not as high as I would have liked, but everything else was marvelous, especially the terrific costumes by Philippe Guillotel. It was very much an ensemble production of a uniformly high standard so it is unfair to single out a specific performance, but the choreography by Jean-Christophe Maillot was energetic, flamboyant and passionate with a great touch of humour, often at the expense of Petipa’s original. It is a shame it was only half full for the matinee but you’d never have guessed it from the volume of the well deserved applause at the end. I do hope this vibrant, original company makes visiting London a regular event.