Thursday, January 15, 2009

Another year... another show! And unsurprisingly... another theatre year starts in the Olivier Theatre.

I was a little surprised when Owen said he had booked tickets for EVERY GOOD BOY DESERVES FAVOUR. I had obviously not mentioned my antipathy to Tom Stoppard loud enough. So for once I felt a bit on edge as I took my place in my favorite theatre.

Sure enough after a few minutes we were being battered over the head with his preening wordplay that screams LOOK AT ME... I KNOW THE
ENGLISH LANGUAGE, ME... I JUST MADE A PLAY ON WORDS! Tom Stoppard has the same effect on me as Michael Frayn's NOISES OFF... it makes others roar their heads off while I feel it's written by someone who has read every book on the mechanics of making people laugh but has no sense of humour. However the knowledge that the running time was 65 minutes made me plow on. And then something changed my mind. The play is written by Stoppard with a score by Andre Previn and once the on-stage South Bank Sinfonia started playing I was hooked.

Toby Jones plays a madman in a Russian asylum who is not
only convinced he hears an orchestra playing all the time but joins in with his triangle. His orchestral reverie is interrupted by a new cellmate (Joseph Millson), a political activist - who just happens to have the same name as him - who has been incarcerated in the asylum for dissent. The activist is first quizzed by Jones about all things music - refusing to take in the fact that his cellmate is not a fellow musician - and later by a violin-playing psychiatric doctor (Dan Stevens) who tells him he can be released as soon as he admits his madness in opposing the State has been cured. The action in the Asylum intercuts with scenes in a schoolroom where the activist's son is being taught by a teacher who is sympathetic to him but who is also a loyal Party member.

Although it has not conquered my antipathy to Stoppard I did enjoy Felix Barrett and Tom Morris' production. The Sinfonia under the baton of Simon Over sounded wonderful throughout and became almost a character itself as they interrupted the scenes with music - soaring, troubled, soothing, discordant - to reflect the inner life of the characters. The production is full of physicality and although the modern dance torture scene was a bit obvious again it was fine as the music was so good.
The performances also made it watchable. Toby Jones had great fun with the role of Ivanov the madman and Joseph Millson was quietly effective as Ivanov the dissident who goes on hunger strike to frustrate the doctors. The servants of the State were also well played by Dan Stevens as the smooth doctor more worried about missing his amateur orchestra rehearsal than the injustices he was perpetrating and Bronagh Gallagher was excellent as the teacher, happy to admit that the Stalin years were the Bad Old Days but unyielding about the current regime.
A special word too for Bruno Poet's lighting which also contributed to the air of spooky threat and isolation.

In a perfect world however my first theatrical experience would have been on Monday night at Studio 54 in New York where the Roundabout Theatre staged their benefit rehearsed reading of Sondheim's A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC with Natasha Richardson as 'Desiree', Victor Garber as 'Frederick', Christine Baranski as 'Charlotte' and - gulp - Vanessa Redgrave as 'Mme. Armfeldt'. She looks radiant in the photos from the event.

Sondheim came on at the end to share the applause. Now if there really is a God they would have recorded it.

*whipps out rosary beads*

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