Saturday, April 25, 2015

GYPSY - now at the Savoy

Before my birthday trip to Paris - oh yes Constant Reader, I have been to Paris - I had the fabulous chance to see Jonathan Kent's revival of the classic Broadway musical GYPSY which we saw last year at Chichester.  It has now transferred to the Savoy Theatre so more people can experience the thrill of seeing Imelda Staunton's magnificent performance as archetypal stage mother Mama Rose.

I blogged about the show last year (re-read it here) but somehow Imelda's already great performance has got even better!  Scorching the silver Savoy paintwork with her act-closing solos of EVERYTHING'S COMING UP ROSES and ROSE'S TURN, Imelda seems to have dug down into Rose's character and, while still the driven and argumentative woman blind to her children's real needs, she also reveals the inner Rose - a woman damaged by her own absent mother and who has become emotionally shellacked to deflect any more hurt.  As Herbie rightfully describes her, she is "a frontier woman without a frontier". 

One of the many strengths of GYPSY is it's magnificent book by Arthur Laurents which provides the jumping off point for the actresses playing Rose and Louise but without the emotional truth of director Jonathan Kent and Imelda Staunton, the characters can sometimes come across as unlikeable.

But not here, Staunton's Rose and Lara Pulver's Louise are vibrantly human and their final confrontation scene is a titanic clash that is all too painful.  Lara Pulver is quite marvellous as the neglected Louise, all too aware of her lack of talent but who parlays that into becoming her own special creation Gypsy Rose Lee, the classy burlesque queen.

Kevin Whateley has vanished during the move from Chichester to the Savoy and Herbie is now played by Peter Davidson in a fairly anonymous performance which is the one disappointment of the production.

And of course there is the glorious score by Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim which, 56 years on, sounds as fresh and magnificent as ever, especially under the music direction and new orchestration of Nicholas Skilbeck.

One of the score's great showstoppers did just that!  Mazeppa, Electra and Tessie Tura, the frowzy, hard-bitten strippers in a seedy Wichita burlesque theatre, stop their squabbling to teach Louise the most important rule of stripping YOU GOTTA GET A GIMMICK and Louise Gold, Julie Legrand and Anita Louise Combe rightfully earned a huge ovation.  Louise Gold is also covering the role of Mama Rose... now *that* would be something to see.

A special mention must go to Gemma Sutton's disgruntled Baby June and Dan Burton's Tulsa who dances the heck out of ALL I NEED IS THE GIRL.

It has just been announced that the production's run is being extended to Nov 28th - but why wait?  Book now!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

SWEENEY TODD: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street - Attend the tale...

Some productions are anticipated more than others.  One of my favourite musicals starring one of my favourite actresses who I first became acquainted with through her stage work but who has seemed lost to it forever since embracing films - oh and a birthday treat from two lovely friends.  I was on spilkes all day!

As I said, I first met Emma Thompson (both physically and artistically!) when she starred opposite Robert Lindsay in the marvellous revival of ME AND MY GIRL at the Adelphi in 1985.  For the intervening 30 years - 30 years!! - I have marvelled and felt great pride in her attaining the acclaim she has so rightly deserved as actress and writer, but have been quietly frustrated at her absence from the stage.  Her last stage performances were in 1990 when she played a caustic Helena and other-worldly Fool in the repertory season of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM/KING LEAR at the Dominon Theatre with then-husband Kenneth Branagh.

Emma has since said that the grind of being all-singing, all-dancing in ME AND MY GIRL for her run in the show was a strain which I suspect played a part in her absence from the stage although I also heard from an inside source that she had lost the bottle for live performance.

I asked her in 2006 when she was going to return to the stage and she joked that she couldn't do it while bringing up a daughter too - but who is that hidden in the chorus of SWEENEY TODD but Gaia Wise?  As I joined in the roof-raising ovation for Emma's bow I wondered "how can you turn your back on this?"  Hopefully this very short run has given her the confidence again as she really is wonderfully charismatic onstage.

Lonny Price's semi-staged production filled the Coliseum stage and spilled out into the auditorium which made it particularly thrilling to see from our great seats in the centre of the 2nd row of the Dress Circle.  SWEENEY TODD was the first in a new initiative to give the Coliseum, the home of the English National Opera and Ballet, over to a musical production once a year in attempt to get some cold, hard cash into the coffers.  How successful this idea will be is open to conjecture as a fully staged production would probably be too costly to stage for a limited run and a semi-staged usually leaves you wanting more.

It's right for big musicals to be performed on the Coliseum stage as in the 1950s KISS ME KATE, GUYS AND DOLLS, DAMN YANKEES, CAN-CAN and PYJAMA GAME all opened there, the relative failure of BELLS ARE RINGING ending this period of the theatre's history.  Of course the occasional musical has been staged by the English National Opera with varying degrees of success.

Of course the casting of Bryn Terfel as Sweeney Todd meant the opera audience would be booking too and he certainly sang the role to perfection but... This year is not only my 30th anniversary of knowing Emma but also is the 30th anniversary of my first seeing SWEENEY TODD onstage.  That was at the long-gone Half Moon Theatre in a production directed by Chris Bond, who had written the original play with music that Stephen Sondheim had seen at Stratford East in 1973.

Since then I have seen nine other productions, sometimes in raptures, sometimes baffled how they muffed it.  However the performances of Sweeney I remember fondly are when he has been played by an actor who can sing eg. Alun Armstrong and Denis Quilley at the National Theatre or Leon Greene at the Half Moon. Some have played the role in the same monotone all the way through which is annoying as Sweeney swings from despair to manic exaltation and actors like the above-named can play all that range with glee. Terfel played the role as I am sure he would in an opera production - letting his singing voice do everything but to do that is to miss so much.

Emma's Mrs Lovett on the other hand was played for all it's comedic worth and she sang it well too.  If she slightly missed out on the darker side of Mrs Lovett - she is the real engine for all the action once Sweeney walks into her shop - I suspect that can only ever really be brought out in a properly staged production. She did rise to the final scene very well when tha actress playing Mrs Lovett has to change from comedienne to tragedienne.

Emma had great fun with all the comedy business that Lonny Price found for her: making her worst pies in London on a kettledrum, stealing a seat from one of the orchestra, singling out a violinist during A LITTLE PRIEST and in a great idea, cutting Sweeney's hair while singing BY THE SEA. For her death scene - always a tricky moment in even the best production - Emma fell backwards into the orchestra pit - luckily straight into the arms of the chorus!

Philip Quast was an excellent Judge Turpin, superbly sung and as commanding as Terfel in their PRETTY WOMEN duet, and Quast was nicely partnered by Alex Gaumond as a particularly Uriah Heap-ish Beadle Bamford.  Rosalie Craig was an impressive Beggar Woman, lending her final scene a tragic pathos, and the sometimes problematic young juvs Anthony and Joanna were well sung by Matthew Seadon-Young and Katie Hall.  I felt Jack North as Tobias was a little overshadowed however.

As I said Lonny Price's vision for the sem-staging was wonderfully thought-through, using the whole of the auditorium - ingeniously so for the CITY ON FIRE scene when the lunatics really did feel all around us having escaped from Fogg's Asylum. 

The start was particularly fun: the stage was prepared for the usual concert staging, a line of music-stands along the stage apron, bouquets on stands on either side of the stage and a grand piano in front of the on-stage orchestra.  The cast walked onstage carrying their bound scripts, Emma looking regal in a flowing red dress, and launched into the brooding THE BALLAD OF SWEENEY TODD.

Halfway through, anarchy broke out with scripts hurled to the floor, music stands thrown into the orchestra pit, bouquet stands kicked over, piano toppled over and used as a podium and the large red curtain at the back is ripped down to reveal a punky backdrop - and the floaty wings of Emma's dress were ripped off!  It engaged me with Price's vision right at the get-go.  What didn't work was the obvious problem - how to do the gore?  I liked the idea of a bloody hand-print flashing on the back wall when a killing occurred but just having Sweeney's victims stand up from the chair and walk off was a bit redundant.

However what Price got exactly right was the last act which, if done right, is the most gripping theatre you will ever see as the action suddenly gathers pace and all the characters face their destinies.  Here, it was thrilling and as usual the show left me breathless!

I am sometimes asked what my favourite Stephen Sondhein score is and I have to admit the sheer range and emotional depth of SWEENEY TODD makes it my favourite and to hear it played by the English National Opera Orchestra was another absolute pleasure in a production that moved me to very happy tears.  You made me blub again Emma!!

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Dvd/150: TALKING HEADS (Stuart Burge/Giles Foster/Alan Bennett/Tristram Powell/Patrick Garland/Udayan Prasad/Gavin Miller, 1988/98, tv)

Alan Bennett's incisive monologues never lose the power to draw you in, make you smile but leave you drained at the quietly desperate lives they depict.

They are performed by a dazzling cast: Bennett, Patricia Routledge (twice), Maggie Smith, Stephanie Cole, Julie Walters (twice), Thora Hird (twice), Eileen Atkins, David Haig and Penelope Wilton.

Standouts from Series 1 are Maggie Smith as the depressed vicar's wife whose secret drinking leads to the arms of an Asian shopkeeper and the BAFTA-winning performance by Thora Hird as Doris, reviewing her life in the dying light of day after suffering a fall.

Series 2 wasn't as consistent but several are stunning: David Haig as the park cleaner struggling to hide his secret, Julie Walters as the sour wife realising her husband is a serial killer, and a second BAFTA-winning performance by Hird as Violet, a stroke victim in her 90s.

Shelf or charity shop?  They can soliloquize from the shelf...

Monday, April 06, 2015

STEVIE at Hampstead Theatre

"Who or what is Stevie Smith? Is she woman? Is she myth?"
In his 1977 play Hugh Whitmore attempted to answer the humorist Ogden Nash's question, helped by an acclaimed performance from Glenda Jackson as Stevie Smith, the quirky, profound poet who lived in Palmers Green, North London with her maiden aunt.  Jackson's performance, with that of Mona Washbourne as her 'lion aunt', were immortalised on screen the next year.

38 years on, the play has been revived in a production that is illuminated by Zoe Wanamaker giving one of her best performances - at times I forgot it was her which I guess is the ultimate compliment you can gave a star performer.

It has been a good few years since I saw the film but every so often a certain scene would jog my memory, in particular Smith's visit to Buckingham Palace to receive the Gold Medal for Poetry in 1969 and having to make painful small-talk with the Queen.

Christopher Morahan has directed a subtle, nuanced production that doesn't completely overcome the drawbacks of Whitmore's style of playwriting; similar to his Portland Spies play PACK OF LIES which was narrated by a number of characters direct to the audience, STEVIE is narrated by The Man who also plays various men in Smith's life as well as Stevie who tells the story of her life to her aunt.  I couldn't help wondering why this was as surely her aunt would know it having lived with her most of her life!

However where Whitmore is wholly successful is in weaving Smith's poetry into his play so they seem to come directly from her life and really lift the play.  I cannot be the only one who left the show itching to read more of her work.  Smith seems to float in and out of popularity but she deserves to be reclaimed as one of the greats.

Complementing Wanamaker's performance is Lynda Baron as her redoubtable 'lion aunt' Margaret, barging around the house making tea or dinner, only stopping to have a glass of sherry and a flick through the local newspaper.  Less pixieish than Mona Washbourne, Baron came into her own in her final scene when the aunt appears suddenly changed, losing her robustness to become a shuffling querulous invalid.

Less successful was Chris Larkin as The Man but I suspect that was more due to the writing than any particular fault with the actor.  I suspect if anyone was asked to play a waspish, literary queen that dipping into a Maggie Smith impression would be top of your acting choices so it was a bit jaw-dropping to see Larkin do it as he is her eldest son.

But it's Zoe Wanamaker's show and from the start she gave an idiosyncratic performance as the hunched, scuttling Smith, barking her lines in a slightly lower register, turning on a sixpence from biting wit to pathos.  She brought Stevie Smith, ungainly in her odd clothes and awkward posture, to life and as I said earlier, there were times when I felt that Wanamaker disappeared completely within her.  She also beautifully suggests at the end of the play the tragedy of the encroaching brain tumour which robbed Stevie of her ability to write or speak.

Simon Higlett's stage design also contributed to the show's overall success, the detailed representation of the Palmers Green house on one side slowly breaking up and drifting away to seemingly mingle with the tall trees beyond.

STEVIE plays until April 18th at Hampstead Theatre and is well worth a visit.  By the way how ironic that the production should transfer from Chichester to Hampstead where the original Stevie, Glenda Jackson, has been the Member of Parliament!  I wonder if she has been to see it?

Saturday, April 04, 2015

PLAY MAS - Richmond Revivalists

After the enjoyable production of Shaw's WIDOWERS' HOUSES earlier this year, it was revival time again at the Orange Tree Theatre as we went to see their latest offering from the neglected plays of yesteryear, Mustapha Matura's PLAY MAS, first staged in 1974.

PLAY MAS was first seen at the Royal Court with a stellar cast including Norman Beaton, Mona Hammond, Stefan Kalipha and Rudolph Walker, and not only transferred to the West End but also won Matura an Evening Standard Most Promising Playwright award; and now 41 years later it gets it's first revival, and at the Orange Tree no less.

As I noted for WIDOWERS' HOUSES, the audience at the Orange Tree appears to have a very specific demographic (mature, white, clubby) but it was good to see a diverse audience for this play.  Being in a theatre which is only three rows deep presents all sorts of challenges - especially if the lights are turned up to 11 to suggest the tropical atmosphere of Trinidad.  In other words, it was very easy to start nodding off.  But honestly, cast - I did enjoy the play!

The play is set in Port of Spain, Trinidad in the late 1950s: Samuel, a young Trinidadian is the overworked assistant/dogsbody in a tailor shop owned by an Indian mother and son.  Although feckless and picked on by Miss Gookool, Samuel is indulged by Ramjohn who takes time to explain the trade to him and chat about "flims".  However when Miss Gookool fires him for wanting to attend a political rally for Dr Eric Williams' PNM Independence party, Ramjohn does nothing to help him.

Soon afterwards, with Port of Spain exploding with noisy bedlam during the annual carnival or Play Mas (Masquerade), a drunk Samuel crashes into the Gookool's shop in fatigues, brandishing an automatic rifle and threatening to kill them as class enemies.  Ramjohn protects his terrified mother and pleads for their lives only for Samuel to laughingly reveal that he is joking.  However Miss Gookool dies from a heart attack and Ramjohn is driven to despair by the increasingly nightmarish parade of visitors.

We then jump to 1963, the PNM party are now in power and have secured Independence from Great Britain.  Samuel has risen through the ranks to become the new Commissioner of Police and adapts quickly to the corrupt life endemic to this position of power.  He has also acquired a nagging, social-climbing wife who demands all that privileges she think she deserves.

The irony is that the government now face a new wave of student rioters, angry at the PNM's wholehearted flooding of the country with American expansionism.  Increasingly desperate to show his US backers he can deliver security, Samuel threatens to cancel his once beloved Mas to stop any public show of dissent and even tries to recruit former friend Ramjohn to be a spy among his neighbours.

I enjoyed Matura's use of ironic contrasts to Samuel's progress to power: his former love of Hollywood movies replaced by his attending European foreign-language films to show his new status in life; his former shabby outfit in the tailor-shop now replaced by expensive imported suits; his blindness to replacing one colonialist power - Great Britain - with another - the USA and ultimately his use of the Mas festivities to hide a darker purpose.

Seun Shote was excellent as Samuel, going from the clueless assistant to the equally clueless Commissioner while suggesting the insecurity of a man promoted above his ability and aware it could all come crashing down at any minute.

Director Paulette Randall elicits fine performances from Melanie La Barrie as the bossy Miss Gookool, Victor Romero Evans as the chancer Frank who makes it big when the Americans come to town and Llewella Gideon in two contrasted roles of religious females.  I felt though that Johann Myers faded into the background too easily as the hapless Ramjohn.

I felt Randall's best work was in the two middle acts - there was a tangible air of unease in Ramjohn's nightmarish Mas night and a great satirical edge to the comedy of Samuel's delight in power.  However the final act seemed oddly misjudged.  I suspect Matura is at fault too with a too-sudden shift in tone, but Randall had so much happening on the limited stage area that the intended powerful ending actually felt mistimed and cack-handed.

On the whole however, I enjoyed the production and the Orange Tree are to be congratulated again on a long-overdue revival.

Sunday, March 29, 2015


I am finding it difficult to write about the acclaimed production of Arthur Miller's A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE which has transferred from the Young Vic to the Wyndhams Theatre.  Not because of Ivo van Hove's production which grips like a vice but because of the action of one woman in the audience.

Miller originally wrote the play in 1955 as a one-act verse drama which was unsuccessful so he re-wrote it as a more traditional two-acter which premiered in London the next year in a production directed by Peter Brook with Anthony Quayle.

Belgian director Ivo van Hove has stripped the play down to it's bare essentials: an oblong playing area surrounded by a low ledge - and with on-stage seats on either side - feels like a bear-pit and with the single open door in the back wall there is the suggestion of a staging for Greek tragedy.  Miller acknowledged he was inspired by the Greeks in his story of Eddie Carbone who brings about his own inevitable destruction with a relentlessness worthy of Euripedes.

The white, brightly-lit, space serves for all the locations in the play - even the longshoreman's showers - but mainly for the claustrophobic apartment where Carbone lives with his wife Beatrice and her orphaned niece Catherine who has a deep attachment to him as a father figure.  Eddie has helped finance her secretarial school lessons but is upset when she accepts an office job before finishing her studies.  Exactly what fuels Eddie's smothering protection of his niece?  The situation is blown apart with the arrival of Marco and Rudolpho, two cousins of Beatrice who arrive illegally from Italy to stay in the Carbone apartment.

With no fear of exposure within the tight-knit Italian community, Eddie gets them work on the Brooklyn docks.  While Marco is quiet and respectful, just wanting to send his wages back to his impoverished wife, Rudolpho is more gregarious and a centre of attention on the docks with his blonde hair and love of singing at work.  Catherine is drawn to the fun-loving Rudolpho which triggers Eddie's jealousy and hatred of the younger man who he suspects is gay and using Catherine as his marital meal-ticket to stay in America.

When he realises that Catherine and Rudolpho have slept together, Eddie's jealousy consumes him and after first kissing Catherine he also violently kisses Rudolpho to show his niece what he thinks the younger man really is.  Eddie visits Alfieri, a lawyer who is trusted by the community (and the show's narrator), and hints at betraying the two men to the immigration department which Alfieri warns will make him a pariah.

But Eddie does betrays them and, when they are arrested that night, he dismisses the accusations of Beatrice and of Marco who contemptuously spits in Eddie's face.  Alfieri manages to get them bailed but begs Marco not to go after Eddie who, as he foretold, has been shunned by the community. But Marco wants his vengeance and Eddie wants his name restored, a stand-off that van Hove ends in literally a shower of blood.  It is left to Alfieri to close the play with a halting summation of the tragedy of a man who he will mourn "but with a certain alarm"....

...and it was at this moment in the play that the woman in front of Owen switched on her mobile phone.  

For it's two-hour running time, van Hove's pressure-cooker atmosphere built and built - aided by a constant ominous soundscape - to paraphrase Alfieri about Eddie, it was like a slow car-crash that you are unable to stop but can only view helplessly... all ruined by this stupid woman lighting up the first few rows with the light from her mobile phone.  Owen prodded her shoulder and asked her to please turn it off which she eventually did and after the cathartic relief of the ovation, she was railed at the two women sitting beside Owen and us both.

And what was her excuse for totally ruining the ending of this production?  In a self-righteous tone she whined "I had to check on the children".  That, Constant Reader, was when I LOST IT.  "Why couldn't you have waited FIVE MORE FUCKING MINUTES" I shouted at her smug puss.  Not once did she apologise, not once did that sense of entitlement waver.  

Frankly, I wanted to punch the fucker over the edge of the Dress Circle into the stalls.  On leaving the row, another couple were waiting to tell us they too had suffered through someone behind them rattling their last few Malteasers in a box toward the end of the play and fully understood our anger.  Which of course leads us on to why do theatres sell sweets that rustle and chocolates that rattle?  Why indeed.  And why didn't the Wyndhams give the usual announcement about switching off mobile phones, and why didn't the Circle usher race down to the woman and get her to turn off the phone?

I am sure if the hag had taken a photograph at that moment then the usher would have made her presence known so it leaves you to surmise that theatre managers are more eager to protect their rights over the rights of the audience.  John Waters has spoken about cinema audiences should become more militant - set light to projection booths if they show films out of focus etc. so maybe it's time for us as theatre audiences to have a similarly terrorist approach to idiots.

What angers me is that now this excellent production is forever going to be tainted by this stupid bitch and I don't want that.  I want to remember the excellent work of Mark Strong as Eddie, Nicola Walker as Beatrice who splendidly showed a woman slowly coming to realise the trouble in her marriage, Phoebe Fox's Catherine, Emun Elliott's Marco, Luke Norris' Rudolpho and Michael Gould's Alfieri.

Ivo van Hove's unrelenting direction leaves you breathless as he ratchets up the tension with every scene so any chance for salvation - Alfieri trying to persuade Eddie not to betray the men, Beatrice trying to tell Catherine to stop pestering Eddie - feel all the more desperate when they fail.

Jan Versweyveld's open but claustrophobic set with it's unexpected showers at the start and end of the play works wonderfully as does his lighting which subtly shifts the intensity of the bright light to mirror the shifts within the characters.  A special mention must go to Tom Gibbons' ominous soundscape which plays throughout the action, sometimes swelling into religious choral sound, that keeps you permanently on edge.

I am hoping the memory of the idiot in the row in front of us might fade but I fear she will not... so here she is.

So be warned if you see this person anywhere near you in a theatre.  Me? I just hope she drops dead.

Dvd/150: BROADWAY: THE AMERICAN MUSICAL (Michael Kantor, 2004, tv)

An unashamedly starry-eyed celebration of that most American of art forms, the Broadway musical.


Packed with interviews from the performers, composers, directors, writers, choreographers and critics who created and witnessed this evolving story, what makes the series really special is the dazzling historical footage of almost every great Broadway star.

Shelf or charity shop?  Singing out (Louise) from the shelf!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

MAN AND SUPERMAN / CLOSER: Love Is A Battlefield

It's odd how sometimes you can see two productions back-to-back and find particular themes that link them across the years - who would have thought that of George Bernard Shaw and Patrick Marber?

I booked to see MAN AND SUPERMAN because we recently saw Shaw's first success WIDOWERS HOUSES at the Orange Tree Theatre and also because I do like a theatrical challenge - the production runs for over 3 and a half hours!  It also gave us the chance to see Ralph Fiennes in the stonking lead role of Jack Tanner, a radical (and of course wealthy) writer who finds himself in the sights of the emancipated Ann Whitefield.

Tanner has no desire to be yoked to a woman in marriage - and believes fervently that a woman shouldn't want that either.  But he finds himself possibly ensnared when Ann's father dies and his will reveals that Ann's guardians are to be Tanner and her father's conventional older friend Roebuck Ramsden. 

Ann is being pursued by the lovesick Octavius whose sister Violet has caused outrage by announcing she is pregnant.  Violet, like Ann, is a young woman who is direct in her dealings with men and unbowed by her condition.  Tanner stands up for her right to give birth as it is woman's highest power but Violet dumbfounds them all by revealing that she is in fact married but refuses to tell them who it is!

Tanner challenges Ann to prove her independence by driving with him around Europe but is panicked when she accepts!  Octavius appears with his American friend Hector (who is Violet's secret husband) and Tanner is again floored when his plain-speaking cockney chauffeur 'Enry lets him in on something he hadn't realised - Ann is actually after Tanner.

Tanner flees to Europe to escape the pursuing Ann but driving through the Spanish Sierras he and 'Enry are captured by mountain-dwelling brigands.  Their leader Mendoza, however, is a poetic ex-Savoy hotel waiter and became an outcast when the woman he loved rejected him.  Well wouldn't you know?  It turns out that his beloved was none other than 'Enry's sister!  They settle down to sleep and Tanner, spun around by all these love affairs, dreams of being Don Juan in Hell.

The ensuing scene is the reason that MAN AND SUPERMAN has a wobbly history as it sometimes performed without this archetypal GBS scene as Don Juan debates with the Devil about man's inhumanity to man and the joys of Hell over the bland dreariness of Heaven.  I had been surprised how enjoyable the play had been up until then but this long scene of solid Shavian talk soon had me drifting off to watch the subtle, ever-changing video screen on Christopher Oram's set.

Eventually we return to the plot when Tanner and 'Enery are 'rescued' from the brigands by his pursuing friends but Tanner 'saves' Mendoza and his cohorts by telling the police that they were acting as his guides.  All the threads of the character's storylines are tied up in an Andalusian garden and Jack, finally worn down by the slyly predatory Ann, capitulates to married life although stating it will be on his terms.  Dream on Jack!

Ralph Fiennes gave a hugely enjoyable performance - made even more funny because he seemed to be channelling Leonard Rossiter as Rigsby in RISING DAMP which makes perfect sense for the role!  It's the best I have seen him on stage and makes one realise how much he is missed there.

Fiennes' excellence is sadly not matched by Idira Varma as Ann.  She certainly had the character's intelligence but lacked that quintessential quicksilver spark to make her Ann interesting.  Faye Castelow's spirited Violet showed all the individuality and tartness that Varma lacked.

There were fine supporting performances from Nicholas Le Prevost as the disapproving Roebuck Ramsden, Ferdinand Kingsley as lovelorn Octavius and Elliot Barnes-Worrell as the cocky cockney 'Enry Straker.  Tim McMullan is not an actor I usually like but here his fruitiness suited the heartbroken brigand Mendoza and the lushly urbane Devil.

Simon Godwin also directed the 3 and a half hour STRANGE INTERLUDE at the Lyttelton and it shared MAN AND SUPERMAN's speed of pace but although enjoyable, it ultimately felt that was down to the performances and not what Godwin had actually contributed.  Christopher Oram's arresting design of traditional sets against a video wall was handy to look at when Shaw's dialogue overwhelmed one.

With Jack Tanner's futile attempts to keep love at arm's length still fresh in my mind, it was interesting to then see the revival of Patrick Marber's CLOSER at the Donmar.

Marber's savage drama/comedy features two men - Dan a writer, Larry a doctor - and two women - Anna a photographer, Alice a sometime exotic dancer - who are all desperate for love but who are also desperately bad at staying in love.

I saw the original National Theatre production in 1997 (and the 2004 film version) so was curious to see how well it stood up 18 years later.  It was with some relief that I found still a fascinating, tantalising, brilliantly cruel play about the way you can hurt the ones you feel are closest to you.

Perfectly suited to the intimacy of the Donmar, you hung on the four characters every words, almost flinching at the emotional brutality inflicted.  It is definitely a play written by a man as Larry and Dan tend to get the bravura lines and the showier business - in particular the scene where they encounter each other in an Internet chat room and Dan toys with Larry while pretending to be Anna.

The women are more problematical; the roles feel somewhat lightweight compared to the men and, in particular, the character of Alice maddeningly feels like the young Marber's wank fantasy stuck in a naturalistic setting.  Alice is unknowable, an enigma to be solved by her lovers, but also a tantalising creature of habit, but also an innocent nymphet - it's like Marber is working through his own version of Wedekind's LULU.  The only resolution he can find for her is to have her die - a very Victorian end for such a modern girl - and in the play's coup de grace it is revealed that even her name wasn't real.  She is less a character, more a collection of pin-up girls.

As such I felt Rachel Redford was the weakest member of the cast as she didn't have the personality to distract from the character's flimsiness but I liked Oliver Chris as Dan, the personable young writer whose charming demeanour covers a shallow user of people.

The two more interesting characters were wonderfully played by Rufus Sewell as Larry and Nancy Carroll as Anna.  Sewell was a revelation, burning up the stage with a kinetic energy, emotions flickering across his face within seconds of each other while his eruptions of spiteful, lethal anger were great to watch.  Nancy Carroll brought her remarkable quality of attentive stillness to Anna, a woman who seems to be forever anticipating the next inevitable disappointment.  She proved again how exceptional an actress she is.

David Leveaux's direction caught every nuance of Marber's deftly-woven script, balancing the humour and the drama to great effect.  Bunny Christie's ingenious set had a cool East London, minimalist vibe hugely helped by Hugh Vanstone's lighting.

Two excellent revivals showing the possibility and impossibility of love.