Constant Reader... I have been a busy Hector recently so cry you mercy!
I have not STOPPED! It's like that when you have a birthday... yes, birthday. Where was my card? Anyway I have much to impart... firstly two theatre visits. Because if you hadn't noticed, theatre takes precedence every time.
We saw one of the last performances of THE LITTLE DOG LAUGHED at the Garrick written by Douglas Carter Beane. I loved his riotously fun book for the Broadway musical XANADU so was keen to see this play. It's New York run earned him the first of his two Tony Award nominations - he was nominated for XANADU the following year. I enjoyed the play's whiplash wit and killer one-liners but felt I would have got more into it had it been played by actors who could have been more at home with the show's Gotham rhythms.
Like... the whole Broadway company has come over with HAIR!... surely they could have spared some actual American actors for this too?
Tamsin Greig is an actress I have never really taken to and while she certainly convinced as Diane, the gimlet-eyed L.A. actor's agent who will gallop over anyone to get her way, I was always aware of her wandering, generic US accent - half the time she seemed to be doing a bad Sandra Bernhard impression. I am sure Sandra could have persuaded to do a limited three month run in the west end... failing that Ruby Wax.
Rupert Friend played Mitchell her #1 client, a handsome new actor generating serious Hollywood heat - and who has "a slight recurring case of homosexuality". A visit to New York has him calling an escort agency and opening his hotel door to the chirpy part-time rentboy Alex, here played by Harry Lloyd. Again the play suffered as the many hesitant, embarrassed exchanges between the two characters seemed to be played with EXCLAMATION MARKS!!! at the END!! of!! each!!! exchange!!!! It was like watching the puppet characters of Rod and Nicky from AVENUE Q.
There wasn't much change either out of the performance of Gemma Arterton as Ellen, Alex's sometime lover who is a spoiled sometime-model and Z-list celebrity. Arterton might be a happening film actress at the moment but she looked a bit amateur-hour-in-Dixie on the Garrick stage.
I suspect some of the above problems are the fault of director Jamie Lloyd who seems to have favoured artifice over substance. Worryingly we have tickets for two more productions of his in the future.It sounds like I had a Hellish time - but most of the time I was laughing at the deliciously savage lines that Beane gave his lead character - and in among the laughs there were some truths about the problems of being a gay actor in Hollywood. Namely the kudos a straight actor gets for playing a gay role - as Diane says "That's like the pretty actress putting on a fake nose and winning the Oscar" whereas "a gay actor playing a gay role? That's not acting - it's bragging".
I also loved being there for when Mitchell said to Diane that he wanted to be a successful out film actor and she shouted back: "Are you British? Do you have a knighthood? Then shut up!"
We were sitting behind Sir Derek Jacobi and guest! He roared.
I'd love to see the play again - but maybe not if the above were cast again.
Of course one straight actor who won awards for playing a gay character was Jonathan Pryce as Lytton Strachey in CARRINGTON - which leads me on to...
My second evening at the theatre was to see Christopher Morahan's revival of Pinter's 50 year-old masterpiece THE CARETAKER at the Trafalgar Studios as is, the Whitehall Theatre as was. It was nice to think that Divine once acted on that very stage in 1977 in WOMEN BEHIND BARS - with Fiona Richmond yet.
Of course in THE CARETAKER it's the men who are trapped in their environment.
Jonathan Pryce was Davies, the vagrant who is saved from a fight by Aston, an oddly subdued man who not only invites the tramp back to his large cluttered attic room in a derelict house but who also offers him the room and a spare bed for as long as he needs it.Davies' joy is soon thrown into confusion when he is surprised the next morning by another man, Mick, who tells him that it's his room, his house. Before Mick can beat him up Aston arrives back and tells Mick - his younger brother - that Davies is his friend and he wants him to stay.
As with most Pinter plays, there then follows a psychological battle for control with all three men wanting some control over one or both of the others - the cramped, cluttered room becomes a mindgame where there is always someone holding what they think are all the cards.Jonathan Pryce was wonderful as the derelict Davies - querulous but ingratiating, self-pitying but boastful, seemingly always on guard for the next physical attack or prying question. His ferrety, crumbling shabbiness made it all to easy to believe that this Davies would walk from the centre of London to Luton on the promise of some second-hand shoes. What Pryce made obvious was how Davies' survival techniques are all too easily his undoing with the brothers.
It was great to see him in this as my only other CARETAKER was the BBC production in 1980 where Pryce played Mick to Warren Mitchell's Davies and Kenneth Cranham's Aston.There is another stand-out performance by Peter MacDonald as the emotionally-submerged Aston. His quiet absorption in his plug-mending is of course the perfect springboard for Pryce in their scenes together but his performance is slowly building to the quiet desperation of his long second act speech where he reveals his secret to Davies.
Aston tells Davies of how he was sectioned as a teenager and how, despite his pleading with her, his mother gave permission for him to be given electroshock treatment which was administered as he stood terrified against a wall, leaving him impaired. It is of course telling that during this confession, Davies falls asleep, oblivious to his would-be friend's tragedy. Peter MacDonald was mesmerising in the scene.Sam Spruell plays the volatile would-be property owner brother Mick and I felt him to be a bit lightweight - I never felt any genuine menace in the character and Mick should have an almost Kray-like ability to be totally unpredictable. You should feel that Davies' attempts to ingratiate himself with Mick should feel like watching someone pulling a sleeping tiger's tail.
It was intriguing to see the play on that stage bearing in mind the last production I saw there was the revival of ENTERTAINING MR. SLOANE. Orton's play has some striking similarities to this one and you can easily see how he was influenced by Pinter's shark-below-the-surface style.
I think the only fault I could single out with Christopher Morahan's production is that it possibly could have done with a more disorientating atmosphere - the production seemed a bit too 'joined-up' at times. But it was an engrossing night - with a special mention for Eileen Diss's grungy, cluttered set design for the brother's room.