There are echoes of Tennessee Williams Richard Greenberg’s play: the opening scene of a good-looking young man in a swimsuit, the neurotic young woman and the domineering mother but this is set in a Jewish American lakeside resort in the 1950s. The three central characters are brilliantly acted: Diana Quick as the German refugee mother, Emily Taaffe as her daughter Lili and Luke Allen-Gale as the mysterious Nick who appears in his swimsuit at the start of the play, a dead-ringer for a young Hugh Grant. In the two smaller parts, Dona Croll as the maid/companion and Mark Edel- Hunt as the second handsome who appears later are also first class.
Directed by David Grindley, the play simmers with the sexual passion of a hot summer where no-one is quite as they seem. Even after leaving, I was not sure which passions were genuine, whether the mother was controlling her daughter to keep her or to protect her, whether Nick genuinely loved Lili or was just after her money. Above all, I was left thinking and savouring some astonishingly good acting.
This shows how good site-specific theatre can be. For around a third of the price of Punchdrunk’s mess, here is a tight courtroom drama set within an old courtroom (actually a tribunal hearing room, I believe). My heart sank as it started in much the way as The Drowned Man with someone leading groups of people up to the bar, then up to the courtroom. Once there, it could not have been more different. I heard one brief episode in a neighbouring room and missed some incidental chat but the main action took place in the courtroom itself and I missed nothing of the story. I was privileged to be the foreman of the jury but you can sit further back if you want – it is quite intimate so you won’t miss anything.
You can get a feel of how appropriate the set was from the photographs here and there is also a short trailer on YouTube. Based, like the film of the same name, on a 1958 book by Robert Traver (the pseudonym of a Michigan lawyer who based it on one of his own cases), the play by Elihi Winer was not completed until 1963 and I have a feeling that this brought its themes crucially closer to the issues of our own time. The cast are relatively young and inexperienced and I can only believe that they put in weeks of hard work to get this good – even the accents were convincing: I have sat on three juries and can vouch for the authenticity of this. I’d love to give high praise to the director but For Short. do not appear to work like that: under patrons Simon Russell Beale and Mark Rylance, they build the production through workshops, often with more experienced actors and directors. I do hope that the Punchdrunk team visit this and realise how well it can be done.
I’ve just fund there are tickets still available here. Don’t miss this one!
It’s great that the curse of Kenneth Tynan has been lifted. Along with Design for Living and Hay Fever over the last couple of years, this shows what a great playwright Noël Coward was. Like Terence Rattigan who is also back in fashion, his plays may seem like light comedies about people whose lives are irrelevant to us today but this is just the surface. This has plenty of the famous quotes: “Extraordinary how potent cheap music is… very flat, Norfolk,” etc., but underneath this there are complex human relationships. Toby Stephens and Anna Chancellor play the divorced couple who meet again on honeymoon with their new partners; Anna-Louise Plowman and Anthony Calf play their respective new spouses. All four are excellent. We got tickets through a Time Out £10 deal but the £10 tickets are still available on the day.
This is why I love theatre. There was nothing great about the performance but Stephen Beckett is very good as the central character and the plot is skilfully crafted with twists and turns. This is the sort of thing I used to watch at my local rep. In those days, a company of actors would take on a number of plays in a season and perform them at this level. They often featured creaking plots and creaking scenery but they engrossed me in a way that cinema can rarely achieve. Do catch it if it comes near you for a simple, enjoyable night out.
Edward Albee called this play by Thornton Wilder “the finest play ever written by an American,” and I can see why. Apparently performed somewhere in the USA every day since it was written in 1938, it portrays the family life of a straightforward god-fearing small New England town. What lifts it from being as boring as that sounds is its groundbreaking construction. To paraphrase Steve Coogan’s description of Tristram Shandy, this is post-modern theatre before there was much modern to be post. The central character is the stage manager, extremely well played by Simon Dobson, who starts by telling us that we are watching a play in three acts and describes the scene: there is no scenery. At one point he holds up a copy of the play and explains that he is putting it in a time capsule to show how ordinary Americans lived in the years from 1901 to 1913.
The first act includes a birth, the second is based around a wedding and the final act shows a burial, as seen by the other inhabitants of the graveyard. It makes a very interesting contrast with Strange Interludelast week. Both were experimental plays describing generations of American life:- the Eugene O’Neill featured nine actors on a stage larger than the King’s Head theatre; this had 14 actors. The American accents of the National Theatre actors were perfect; this had actors from five continents directed by an American, Tim Sullivan, who wisely made no attempt to change their accents. With the limited resources of such a small theatre, one or two of the less important parts were poorly acted but this did not detract from the excellent overall effect. Anyone interested in theatre must see this production.
ENO emailed me an offer of a seat in row E of the stalls for the same price I paid last week to sit in the back row of the upper circle. I’m not a Puccini fan but this is his most famous opera and I thought, “why not give it a go? I am really glad I did. I have found Puccini on the radio boring but this was great theatre in a terrific production, originally directed by Jonathan Miller. It was credited as a revival by Natascha Metherell but Jonathan Miller came onto the stage at the end to take his well deserved bow. Robyn Lyn Evans was a last minute replacement for Gwyn Hughes-Jones as Rodolfo and I suspect Jonathan Miller was on hand to add some last minute direction. You would never have guessed Evans was a replacement apart from a few places where the largely unnecessary surtitles did not quite match the lines he sang.
One of the things that puts me off the Puccini that gets played on the radio is the vibrato used in many of the classic recordings. I am so glad it has gone out of fashion; I detected only the slighted traces of it in a couple of the excellent performances yesterday. Overall, it did not match the astonishing emotional intensity of last week’s Death in Venice but there is a place for both and it was certainly more tuneful.
Jonathan Miller skilfully directs this excellent play by Githa Sowerby who also wrote The Stepmother which I saw at the Orange Tree a few months ago. It is shameful that before this year I had never heard of her as she is clearly one of the finest British playwrights of the early twentieth century, comparable to Shaw or Chekov. Many themes of the play, money, family ties, loyalty and sexism, are as relevant today as they were when it was written almost century ago, even the class aspects apply frighteningly well to our Eton-governed country. Jonathan Miller’s skill is to find the good in the bad characters and vice versa.