Kathleen Turner is absolutely the star of this show, delivering a fantastic performance as a ballsy trailer park mom. Ian McDiarmid plays a perfect foil as the English public school educated art expert arguing about her claim to have bought a Jackson Pollock for $3. Yes, the plot is rather slender and there is no very deep analysis. Who cares? The audience last night certainly didn’t as they rose to their feet to give a standing ovation. This one is all about the acting, not the plot, and the acting is wonderfully enjoyable. As a bonus, I’m planning to go back to Tate Modern and look at the Jackson Pollocks there. I’ve never really appreciated his work, compared to the massive emotional power of the Mark Rothko paintings there, but having listened to McDiarmid‘s character explaining their power and importance, just maybe I will get it this time.
You certainly get your money’s worth with this double bill at 1 hour 20 minutes for David Mamet’s Squirrels and 1 hour 15 minutes for Caryl Churchill’s The After Dinner Joke. The Caryl Churchill was a real treat, a play about aid, poverty, charity, hunger, disasters, politics and more. Amazingly, it also managed to be very funny. Lydia Larson and David Gooderson were brilliant as the two central characters with three other actors playing a huge number of different parts as it jumped from one story to another, all illustrating the central themes and keeping the interest going. Sadly for me, my interest didn’t stay with the Mamet. I have no doubt it was a very clever, well acted play but I have a feeling you need to be a fellow writer, director or actor to appreciate it. Don’t worry, though as the Churchill alone is well worth the £10 a matinee costs for an oldie like me, and if you are lucky enough to be under 26 there are even £5 tickets available!
It’s odd to see a very traditional production of an opera performed in its original language at the Coliseum but this is not the ENO. The prologue and first act did not grab my attention, but Act 2 moves to the Polvtsian camp and the music lifts up wonderfully with the spectacular Polovtsian Dances. Act 3 is quite amazing, starting with a very simple and beautiful aria from Yaroslavna (Elena Popovskaya) wishing her husband, Prince Igor (Sergey Artamonov) were there. It then moves to the stunning a capella chorus as the people lament the loss of their land to the Polovtsians. Then it ends. Leaving out out the triumphant celebration which should follow may seem odd but it works – a beautiful ending to a rather mixed but unmissable production.
The Lyric Theatre Hammersmith is undergoing renovation and much of it is closed. However, they’ve recruited a company of writers, actors and directors to use what space can be made available throughout the year, not announcing anything until the last minute, hence “Secret Theatre.” The first play was Woyzeck which I saw two versions of last year in The Drowned Man and Berg’s Wozzeck, so I didn’t fancy another. Shows 2 and 3 slipped by but I have had a chance to see this one. It is an update on John Webster’s revenge tragedy The White Devil. Hayley Squires has changed Church and State into Star and State, setting it in the alternative world of Glitterland which works well. The plot is simplified slightly and played with almost no scenery in the Lyric Studio. It uses an interesting mix of the original language and modern gangsta talk which shows interesting syntactic and rhythmic similarities between the two. Inevitably, the small company available means that some of the casting is odd but Leo Bill as the central schemer Nemo (Flamineo) is extremely good and I recommend it to anyone interested in theatre.
The National Theatre was inconsistent again this year but Strange Interlude and Children of the Sun were superb. When I reviewed Othello, I wrote, “I feel pretty certain I’ve just seen the winner(s) of the next Olivier for Best Actor.” It’s too early for the Oliviers but Rory Kinnear and Adrian Lester deservedly shared the Evening Standard Award for Best Actor. The Young Vic shone with A Doll’s House (a strong runner up which I saw in the West End) and Public Enemy. The Old Vic didn’t have any productions that grabbed me until the excellent Fortune’s Fool right at the end of the year which I also strongly recommend. I also enjoyed One Man, Two Guvnors but the West End was otherwise a little disappointing this year.