This was a preview, so I imagine there will be a bit of tweaking before press night, but it hardly needs it. Simon Russell Beale who was so good as Timon last year is astonishing as the King, his authority, his voice and his body shrinking through the play as his madness takes hold. The direction by Sam Mendes is faultless although, like so many directors in the Olivier, he does love using that revolving stage a little too much – perhaps he will calm that down before it opens. All the acting was first class so it seems a bit unfair to pick anyone else out, although Olivia Vinall, who was so good as Desdemona in the NT’s Othello last year is a superb Cordelia. For someone still at the start of her career, that promises much to come. I won’t say any more as it would be unfair before press night but this really is unmissable.
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!