This starts with a 1950s couple meeting at a table at a tea dance. They start talking and she tells him she has just murdered someone. He isn’t really listening, talking about the dancing… Over the next thirty minutes we steadily uncover who they are, what their history is and what her confession is about. It may only be half an hour but the writing by Andrew Bridgmont is first class and the acting is perfect The actors are sadly uncredited, even in the theatre’s own publicity, but I am fairly sure the woman was played by Claire Porter as I found clips from an earlier performance on YouTube. It is apparently part of a trilogy of linked plays – I’d love to see all three.
This is a really intriguing whodunnit. Simon Slater is excellent as an alcoholic ex-policeman turned failing photographer in 1957 London. He is alone on stage for the best part of two hours, telling the story and impersonating the other characters. It is set in seedy clubland so this involves singing, playing the banjo, playing jazz saxophone and doing close-up magic, all of which he does really well. I daren’t give away anything of the plot, very cleverly crafted by Douglas Post – watch it and find out for yourself. The performance takes place in the intimate surroundings of the St James Theatre Studio, its night club atmosphere suiting the play perfectly. Thoroughly recommended.
It is unfair to compare performances in small theatres with those in large theatres but in this case, Michael Pennington’s astonishing performance in Dances of Death would not have been out of place on the stage of the Olivier. Howard Brenton superbly edited Strindberg’s play to include the rarely performed second act – this really should have gone on to the West End. As usual, the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond was dependably first class, most notably The Stepmother starring the superb Katie McGuinness (and Christopher Ravenscroft who was also in Dances of Death). The slightly larger St James Theatre was more variable but Rutherford & Son and The Room Next Door were both excellent. A final word must go to the Old Red Lion Theatre for another astonishing play by Philip Ridley – The Fastest Clock in the Universe. He is clearly one of our greatest playwrights and I’d never heard of him until last year.
The full title of this play is In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play and the use of the vibrator to cure “hysteria” is at its centre. However, it is about much more than that, an examination of the role of women in late 19th Century New York and of attitudes to science and art. It is also a very funny, uplifting play about love. The playwright, Sarah Ruhl, is new to me but this is beautifully written and superbly acted, particularly by Natalie Casey as Catherine Givings and Jason Hughes as her husband, Dr Givings, who uses the new device to produce “paroxysms” in women and the occasional man. Despite the slightly cheeky poster, the women are as well covered by their voluminous undergarments as they are in their full costumes, although the subject matter is definitely adult.
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.
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.
Faye Castelow who was so great in After the Dance at the National plays Ruth Ellis in this play about the last woman to be hanged in Britain. It is a superb performance, into which she throws her all, looking totally drained at the curtain call. Apart from the detective investigating the killing who acts as narrator, the cast is all female which makes a pleasant change after seeing so many all-male or male dominated plays. It is also written by a woman and sees Ruth Ellis’s tragedy very much from a woman’s viewpoint. The direction (by a man) is a little clumsy in places, unnecessarily trying to add drama through flashing lights and sound effects, but this is very well worth seeing. Time Out Offers are offering 41% off at the moment – don’t miss it. P.S. it is an extremely comfortable, modern theatre.