Sunday, May 30, 2010

So the ConDem coalition has been dealt it's first stumble thanks to David 'matinee idol' Laws being fingered. As twere.

He has claimed in excess of £40,000 over the past decade for rent, utilities etc. to pay his gay partner whose house he has lived in - although Laws re-mortgaged his Yeovil home to give the guy the money to buy the house in the first place. Now the problem arises because according to parliamentary rules you cannot claim expenses to pay a partner. Only Laws says that he did not believe his relationship to be a partnership in THAT respect.

Now I have many bafflement issues over this. Every politician interviewed are saying he is an honorable man and what a tragedy it is. He is not an honorable man, he has been defrauding the country knowingly for a long time - particularly in view of him dropping the amounts claimed by nearly 50% when he started to be asked for receipts. It's also particularly galling when one reads he has a personal wealth of over a million. His partner also is a director for a PR company so is worth a bob or three.So what's the tragedy? Laws says that he was only trying to protect his privacy as he didn't want his family to know he was gay. So here is an independently wealthy, 44 year old man who is happy to vote consistently for pro-gay policies but who cannot acknowledge his partner to his parents. But how would they have found out he was gay by what he claimed from the parliamentary cash office?

It sounds to me that he is using his gayness as a handy excuse for wrongdoing. Now that *is* a tragedy.

Oh to be a fly on the wall when Laws explains to his partner why he has been telling the world that he doesn't consider him really a partner.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

On Sunday, after the bizarre experience of PARADISE FOUND at the Menier, it was time to escape the blazing heat of London for the cooler interior of the Albert Hall to see the Storyteller himself, Ray Davies.We had seats in the oval stalls section towards the back of the hall and as usual had to filter out what he was singing - and more worryingly, saying - through the ever-muddy RAH sound.

Ray was in good form and, as at Hammersmith last year, the first part of his set was acoustic and he was accompanied by fellow-guitarist Bill Shanley. He worked his way through a wide selection of Kinks hits and b-sides as well as his own material - and yes, when he played WATERLOO SUNSET, the song worked it's magic on me as usual and had an excess of moisture in the ol' tear ducts.

I must break off here and say that as good as he was, I preferred him at Hammersmith last year. The more I go to RAH there is always a reason not to have an enjoyable experience. This time my attention was constantly being drawn to the sadly noticeable areas of empty seating - and also to the people who seemed to get up after only about 15 minutes and leave! Like, why? Was it not the Ray Davies that you were expecting?? We had about 12 empty seats behind us and about 3 blocks of 5 empty seats in front of us. Now the reason that I was eyeing these seats a lot was because, again as usual, we had the Mad Sod magnet on again and two seats down the row from me was a fairly inebriated blonde woman who probably bought the first ever single by The Kinks if you know what I mean.

She was determined to have a good time so was the only one standing and swaying in an uncertain dance, clapping along like a one-person ice-skating audience and generally pulling the focus away from the stage as I had to look her way to see the stage.

Ray was joined by his band for the second section of the show and played, possibly to the show's detriment. mainly his solo material. He ended the show with a couple of fine encores including DAYS and LOLA - how glorious to have a song about a tranny so rousingly belted out by what I guess was a predominantly straight audience!
I'm afraid that another reason why the show isn't sticking in my mind as well as it should is because I had a nightmare getting back home thanks to BR and London Transport not running any trains north of Wood Green up to Enfield. I left Owen at 10:55pm at South Kensington station - and walked through my door at 1:10am - and that was only due to Owen's quick thinking of calling me an Addison Lee cab when I was stranded in Alexandra Palace.

It is a universally-acknowledged fact that no matter how good the evening you have had, a bad journey home will be all you remember.

I would like to see Ray again... but please mate, a smaller venue?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

I am glad I did my last scene-setting blog for PARADISE FOUND. Now I don't have to linger too long over it.

It was truly one of the most bizarre musicals I have ever seen - and I saw BERNADETTE.

It is based on a 1939 novel by one Joseph Roth, an alcoholic Jewish Austro-Hungarian whose only other work I am familiar with is THE LEGEND OF THE HOLY DRINKER - a glomfest about an alcoholic down-and-out trying to get his life together. Expect a musical of that sometime soon.

Oh lord where to start... the torturous plot? The Shah of Persia travels to Vienna with his Chief Eunuch due to his terminal boredom with his hundreds of wives and while attending the Emperor's welcoming celebration finally gets aroused... by the Empress.

The Eunuch arranges with a Baron who he has just met to bring the Shah to the brothel where the Baron's mistress - who looks vaguely like the Empress - works and hoodwink the Shah into thinking he has had the real thing.
All goes well but there are always consequences - the Baron is jealous of his mistress... who falls out with the madam of the brothel over a string of pearls that the Shah gave her... so she lands in debtor's prison... and the Eunuch turns up with a full head of hair... to find a-now alcoholic, suicidal Baron and mistress playing in a cheap vaudeville act based on the hoodwinking of the Shah... and the vaudeville is owned by the ex-madam... and it just never ends.

The lyrics aim for wit but land on facile. They are set to Johan Strauss waltzes which no doubt seemed a good idea at the outset but the unrelenting 4/4 time rob the songs of any variety. Happy song, sad song - they all sound the same.

Now onto the set design... Beowolf Boritt's set of black shiny walls with wonky left and right sides looks more like the design for THE STUD: THE MUSICAL and Judy Dolan's costumes are not unlike the contents of a particularly run-down fancy dress shop.

As you will have read in my previous blog, the cast included performers who I have long admired. They all performed with that smiling-wide-but-dead-behind-the-eyes look that signalled "You should have seen me in x - I was great in that!" Mandy Patinkin, Judy Kaye, Shuler Hensley, John McMartin, Kate Baldwin, George Lee Andrews and Nancy Opel all gave as much as they could and it was great to see them on a London stage - it's just a shame the material was so beneath their talents.

I don't know whether it was having two directors - Hal Prince and Susan Stroman - that has given the show such an uneven feel but I doubt if anyone could have breathed life into it.

Just goes to show, you can have more Award-winning talent than you can shake a stick at.. but if are building on a dodgy book and misconceived score, your show will just lie there and die there.

Mandy's expression says it all.

Friday, May 21, 2010

It's supposed to be a glorious weekend weather-wise... so I will of course be spending the evenings sitting in the dark!

I am genuinely nervy about tomorrow's show, PARADISE FOUND at the Menier Chocolate Factory. Nervy because it has the potential to be a real event... but it also sounds a bit dodge. The Shah of Persia and his Eunuch travel to Vienna and get involved in a LA RONDE-style escapade where everyone loves someone else's husband or wife... all set to a score of Strauss waltzes with new lyrics. The production is playing the Menier as a sort of glorified workshop with an idea of it transferring at some point to Broadway.

The reason I am worried is that in 2007 the Menier presented the World Premiere of Maltby & Shire's TAKE FLIGHT - which kinda didn't, and certainly didn't make it over the Atlantic. Once again one wonders whether an under-cooked musical is hoping for the seemingly-magical Menier name to carry it to Broadway.

The talent involved in PARADISE FOUND however is quite staggering...The musical is co-directed by 82 year-old Hal Prince, winner of 21 Tony Awards and a Broadway legend - among the shows he originally produced are THE PYJAMA GAME, DAMN YANKEES, WEST SIDE STORY, A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM and FIDDLER ON THE ROOF and he directed the original productions of SHE LOVES ME, CABARET, ON THE 20TH CENTURY, EVITA, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN.

He of course is also famous for his close collaboration with Stephen Sondheim on his groundbreaking shows COMPANY, FOLLIES, A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, PACIFIC OVERTURES, SWEENEY TODD and MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG.
The show is co-directed by Susan Stroman who has won 5 Tony Awards for her choreography and direction and her shows include CRAZY FOR YOU, CONTACT, THE PRODUCERS and YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN.

The all-American cast also boasts many Broadway performers of the highest calibre:
They are led by Mandy Patinkin, Tony Award winner for Che in EVITA and nominated for a Tony as George in the original SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE. He appeared in the 1980s concert production of FOLLIES as well as appearing in such films as RAGTIME, THE PRINCESS BRIDE, YENTL and DICK TRACY and tv shows CRIMINAL MINDS and CHICAGO HOPE (Emmy Award). His only other book show appearance in the UK was in the frankly awful musical BORN AGAIN which opened and closed in Chichester in the 1990s - and yes I saw it!

He is joined by (from left to right):
George Lee Andrews: original companies of A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, ON THE 20TH CENTURY and PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (in which he appeared over 20 years - a Broadway record!)

Kate Baldwin: Best Actress Tony Award nominee this year for the revival of FINIAN'S RAINBOW

Nancy Opel: original companies of EVITA, SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE, URINETOWN (Best Actress Tony nominee) and TOXIC AVENGER: THE MUSICAL! I saw her a few years ago as Yente The Matchmaker in the Broadway revival of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF.

Judy Kaye: original companies of GREASE, ON THE 20TH CENTURY (replacing star Madeline Kahn as the lead 2 months after it opened), THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (Supporting Actress Tony Award), RAGTIME, MAMMA MIA (Supporting Actress Tony nominee), SOUVENIR (Best Actress Tony nominee) and replaced Patti LuPone as Mrs. Lovett in the latest revival of SWEENEY TODD.

Shuler Hensley: National Theatre, West End and Broadway companies of Trevor Nunn's revival of OKLAHOMA! (Supporting Actor Olivier Award & Tony Award), TARZAN and YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (as The Monster, Supporting Actor Tony nominee). His films include VAN HELSING where he played... yes you guessed.. The Monster!

John McMartin: original Oscar in SWEET CHARITY (Supporting Actor Tony Award nominee) which he repeated in the film version, original Ben STONE in FOLLIES, DON JUAN (Supporting Actor Tony nominee), Cap'n Andy in Prince & Stroman's revival of SHOW BOAT (Best Actor Tony nominee), HIGH SOCIETY (Supporting Actor Tony nominee), INTO THE WOODS revival (Best Actor Tony nominee) and GREY GARDENS.And that's not all! The seven supporting actors include Lacey Kohl who was in the short-lived musical CRY-BABY and Pamela Winslow Kashani who was Rapunzel in the original production of INTO THE WOODS.

All squeezed onto the Menier stage - Lord knows how I will have the energy for Ray Davies on Sunday!

There is an article on the Daily Mail website warning men who take Viagra that a new report states they are doubling the chance of going deaf - like they would care!

And how do they illustrate it?
In 1979 Len Cariou and Angela Lansbury made theatre history as the original Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett in Sondheim's greatest musical SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET... marvellous to see them together again last month at a celebration for Sondheim's 80th birthday, still singing and wowing the audience 31 years later!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The second trip to the theatre last week was to see Howard Davies' National Theatre production of Bulgakov's THE WHITE GUARD at the Lyttleton which was a healthy antidote to the tortured dramaturgy at the Donmar.

Andrew Upton has adapted the 1926 Russian play with a muscular and rangy twang and although I was daunted by the 2 hour 40 minute running time - and there are some longueurs in the first act - I found myself hooked in the argument and sweep of the action.

Bulgakov's play is part satire, part-family drama, part tragedy and I was struck how no one has ever felt it warranted a film version as the action constantly moves from the intimate to the epic. Oddly enough it has previously been televised for the BBC as stand-alone plays in the 1960s and 1980s.

The play focuses on the constantly changing goalposts in the lives of people caught on the losing side in a war. We follow the fortunes of the Turbins, two brothers and a sister, who live together in a large Kiev flat - which is lucky for their friends and relatives as the Turbin's is an open house to them.
A major draw-back for the uninitiated is that Bulgakov was writing to an audience who knew exactly what their immediate history was so it was necessary in the interval to have a quick speed-read of the programme to find out what exactly the background was.

The Turbins find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time - namely the Ukraine in 1918. The Bolsheviks are in control of Russia and their Red Army is besting the White Army of Tsarist sympathisers whom the Turbin brothers fight for. When Russia signed a peace treaty with Germany to get out of the war they handed the Ukraine over to Germany who installed a puppet leader, the Hetman.However 8 months later WWI was over - Germany fled the Ukraine, taking their Hetman with them, chased out by a vengeful Ukranian people's army. Now the beleaguered White Army were fighting the militia who hated them for supporting the Hetman - and the Red Army was rolling ever closer, ready to crush them all.

Through these events, the Turbin siblings cling together, occasionally finding a moment to rest before a new enemy is firing rifles in the street outside. Their flat is the base for the Turbin's White Guard friends as well as a student cousin who has landed on their doorstep from nowhere. Among them is the dilettantish Shervinsky, a Lieutenant with artistic leanings who always checks the ground around him to know where to land on his feet when it kicks off.
In true Chekhovian fashion every man who walks over the Turbin doorstep falls in love with the cool and ever-practical Elena - no doubt because she appears to be the only woman in Kiev. However with the flight of the Hetman and German occupiers, the Turbin brothers are forced out into the streets and here Howard Davies steps up the action to take us from the relative safety of the flat to the violent and explosive outside world.

Howard Davies has always shown a remarkable clear-eyed and straightforward directing style but unlike Jamie Lloyd's efforts as mentioned at the Donmar, he never loses his grasp of the actual text and you trust him when he lets the play seemingly coast so you get to know the characters then to subtly change the tempo to give you and them a feeling of impending danger.
In this he is helped immensely by the set design of Bunny Christie who seamlessly moves the action from the apartment to the outside world, indeed the first transition is the sort that usually garners a round from the audience - the whole fussy and cluttered set for the Turbin's flat slides away from the audience for what seems like miles until the stage is left bare for the next scene in the empty Royal Palace.

Christie also takes us into the cramped basement headquarters of the militia where there is hardly room to swing a corpse and into the soulless gym of a deserted school which is under shellfire. Her effortless stagecraft is combined with the usual excellent lighting by Neil Austin to give us a real world in crisis.Davies also elicits fine performances from all his ensemble, he has the unerring gift of being a great director of a large NT company as was seen in his productions of BURNT BY THE SUN. THE HOUSE OF BERNARDA ALBA, THE SHAUGHRAUN and FLIGHT (also by Bulgakov).

Conleth Hill makes the potentially unlikeable Shervinsky into a genuinely intriguing character, one whose pragmatism will always keep him one step ahead of his enemies while Justine Mitchell plays the idealised heroine Elena with a real humanity which overrides any irritation that may come with her character's all-round saintliness.

There are notable supporting performances from Pip Carter as the gentle cousin who arrives unexpectedly to stay, Anthony Calf as the ludicrous Hetman who swears undying devotion to the country while doing all he can to escape, Kevin Doyle as Elena's cowardly politician husband and Barry McCarthy playing two examples of Ukrainian worker stoicism.

Although it is not a forgotten masterpiece, the play still touches on the unrelenting turmoil caused by war.

The real irony, which Bulgakov must have appreciated, happened when the serialised version of his initial novel was banned by the Bolsheviks. The Moscow Arts Theatre had liked what they had read and commissioned him to write it as a play which finally saw it's debut in 1926 after several rewrites forced on Bulgakov by the censors. Despite getting bad reviews by the Party critics. the play had a sold-out run - and one of it's biggest fans was one Joseph Stalin!
Amazingly Stalin saw the play shining reflected glory on the Bolsheviks - if they could defeat such worthy opponents then they must be themselves worthy winners. He saw the play 15 times so the play was kept in the repertoire.

However having Stalin as a front-row regular had it's cost. When the dictator criticised him in 1929 all his plays were quickly withdrawn from theatres and nothing he wrote was ever staged again - apart from THE WHITE GUARD which quickly appeared again in 1932 when Stalin happened to wonder aloud why it didn't seem to be on anymore! It ran for another 7 years providing Bulgakov with a steady income but no other outlet for his work.

Bulgakov, unlike a good number of his contemporaries, survived the show trials and executions only to die aged 48 from a kidney disorder in 1940.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Right where was I? Theatre....

Owen booked tickets last week for the Mark Haddon play POLAR BEARS at the Donmar. I presume he was working on the theory that as we enjoyed WAR HORSE so much then we were bound to enjoy this. Yeeeees...I had read some reviews for the play as I was not expecting to see it so had a good idea of what I was going to see, however there were some surprises - namely that it was only 90 minutes long. So we took our seats, along with Janet Street Porter, Damian Lewis and Helen McCrory, in the back row of the Donmar stalls, somewhere where I will happily sit to watch 90 minutes traffic of the stage.It wasn't long before I started to feel that this was less a play than a talking piece. As scene followed scene involving two actors standing across from each other - because POLAR BEARS is populated by people without furniture - talking at each other, I had a mental picture of Mark Haddon sitting in his writing room reading the pages out loud - and that's how it stayed.

The play has been directed by the omnipresent Jamie Lloyd - already this year we have seen his production of THE LITTLE DOG LAUGHED and there is Sondheim's PASSION coming up later in the year - and again, I found his touch to be speedy but not particularly inspiring. The same was true of his Donmar production of PIAF. So POLAR BEARS whipped along but never seemed to be going anywhere, all in all it made for quite a long 90 minutes.
This is Haddon's first theatre play after gaining praise as a novelist and deals with a man slowly coming apart dealing with his partner's bi-polar disorder. Haddon's two novels have dealt with the subjects of Autism and Dementia - so yeah, the guy's a regular laugh riot. I suspect he has a Collins Home Medical Dictionary propped up next to his Thesaurus.

Sadly I felt it was all a bit borrowed... a bit David Hare, a bit Pinteresque, what I never felt was that I was hearing an original voice. The opening scene sets up the situation of the man - a philosophy teacher - explaining in an obviously manic way to his partner's brother that he had killed her and her body was festering away in the basement? But had he? The next scene had the woman on the phone from Oslo where she was due to leave for...To be honest I really didn't care. The action telescoped forwards and back again but I suspect that was only to provide some contrast to the scene that had gone before. She's up! She's down! She's up again! He's ordinary! He's losing the plot. It gave the actors a wide scale to bounce from one end to the other in a second but some shading would have been welcomed.

I must admit I found Richard Coyle to be a bit irritating as the man whose world of thought is thrown into chaos by his wife's irrational mood swings - it would have helped if his character's look wasn't that of a mid-70s Open University Professor. Jodhi May was interesting as the woman who's career as a children's book illustrator was compromised by her manic depression, although again I longed for her be given the chance to play some more subtle gradients to the role than either UP or DOWN.She was given more-than-able support by her onstage family - Celia Imrie gave a moving performance as the girl's mother, always wary of her daughter's actions and Paul Hilton was fine as her brother - always on the make buying-and-selling but tied to an unhappy family. The cast was rounded off with David Leon who played among other things a chatty irreverent Jesus during one of May's wilder moments. In the play's most bizarre scene, he also played a mortician who dragged a shink-wrapped body onto the stage to describe in detail the stages of a corpse's decomposition. Maybe there was no interval as the Donmar carpet would have been covered in regurgitated ice-cream.

Looking back there was one scene between Coyle and Imrie that hit home due to it's stillness when she showed him two drawings her daughter had done - one perfect and the other a childish scrawl and revealed that the latter was done when she was 'normal', that it was her depression that gave her any talent. Soutra Gilmour's oddly formal panelled set brought to mind the one she designed for THE LITTLE DOG LAUGHED - why she has a thing for cornices only she can tell. Jon Clark's lighting however was constantly intriguing.

I just wish I had enjoyed what it was illuminating more.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Like Gavin Creel I appear to be getting a bit behind...

A week ago, Owen and I finally saw one of the Princesses of 80s/90s Pop, Miss Belinda Carlisle. We had booked to see her a year or so ago at the Shaw Theatre but she chose to stay in that night and sort her hair out or have a deep pore cleanse or something - anything but appear on the Shaw stage. But when we arrived at the Jazz Cafe there was no hastily-scribbled BELINDA CAN'T BE ARSED messages on the door so in we went.

For once we were standing downstairs and after a while I remembered why we started sitting upstairs - as much as I like the Jazz Cafe it can get a bit claustrophobic when there are more than 12 people standing in front of the stage. Just as I was thinking how better it would be to have the stage at the end of the room as opposed to at the side... there she was, walking down the stairs to the stage.It was billed as An Acoustic Evening With... - *after*, I hasten to add, we had booked - so I was a bit nervous what we were going to be presented with, but I needn't have worried as her two guitarists, keyboard player and percussionist managed to make quite a row between them which fairly well duplicated the BIG sound that her best songs always had.

She was very Rive Gauche in her black long-sleeved top and black jeans and looked very trés chic especially with her auburn hair swinging away. She seemed very at ease and was nicely un-gushing.In a setlist that spanned her career from the Go-Gos to her most recent cover album of French songs so we were treated to RUNAWAY HORSES, SUMMER RAIN, VISION OF YOU, I GET WEAK, LA LUNA (her "La Isla Bonita" moment), CIRCLE IN THE SAND, MAD ABOUT YOU, EMOTIONAL HIGHWAY, VACATION, OUR LIPS ARE SEALED, BIG SCARY ANIMAL, LEAVE A LIGHT ON, BONNIE ET CLYDE and WE WANT THE SAME THING (I think!) and finally LIVE YOUR LIFE BE FREE, HEAVEN IS A PLACE ON EARTH and NE ME QUITTE PAS.

It was great hearing all these songs live after all these years and I would very much like to see her again, although I would prefer somewhere where I had a smidgen of personal space. She left the stage saying how it would be nice to come back soon and do all this again "maybe with some new songs" - I hope they are all uptempo pop classics, being an old pro at this she will know the slow new ones ALWAYS get the audience talking between themselves.

Now I need to blog about TWO theatre trips... Constant Reader, it's all go believe me.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Posh? Meet Posh....

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

On Saturday Owen and I ventured to the leafy burb that is Richmond. It's another world I tell you... especially down by the green. It makes you wonder how we ever lost the Empire.

Which was all very appropriate as we were there to see a matinee performance of Northern Stage's production of...
The show is always worth a revival so I was keen to see it as I had read good reviews of it during it's tour. Northern Stage is a producing theatre in Newcastle and this was also the first of their productions I had seen.

I also haven't visited the Richmond Theatre for quite a few years - um... 22 to be precise - and it retains it's Victorian charm and deserves more regular attendance. Again it seemed to be the right place to see this show.I had seen the show once before when the National Theatre production played the Roundhouse in 1998. The play is by a far a more poignant experience than Richard Attenborough's overblown film version but this production had some annoying factors that pulled focus from the central message.

I suspect Joan Littlewood, who created and directed the famous 1963 Theatre Workshop production at Stratford East, would have liked the spirit in which the production was mounted although it featured my musical bette-noir - yes the hated idea of actors playing instruments. The trouble with this approach was made apparent quite soon into the production - do you get the best actors for the job - or the best actors who can play an instrument?Sadly time and again one was drawn to the air of am-dram with some of the performers - the show calls for each actor to double/triple up so any inadequacy is soon clear - also for some unknown reason every attempt at a European accent met with the lines becoming incomprehensible.

There were exceptions - I liked Robert Hands, Victoria Elliott, Christopher Price, Thomas Padden and best of all, Gary Kitching as the show's MC and later a coldy detached General Haig. The original production had the show performed by a pierrot troupe which of course suggests the period - as I watched the show I thought how interesting an all-male production might be, played as if by a battalion's theatrical troupe. There was no such theme to this production, just a group of performers.

The show kept the show's device of using projected slides of Western Front photographs, contemporary propaganda posters, etc. to illustrate or counter-point what is happening on the stage as well as the idea of flashing up the progress of the war and more importantly, the total of the casualties for each battle.

The production had the inspired idea of using a News 24-style rolling news banner with - instead of a clock - 19:14, 19:15, etc. Again however this was hampered by the projections being against the brick back wall which made the moving text hard to read and digest. And yet... and yet... despite all this, I still found it a moving, poignant show. The songs - full of either clear-eyed optimism or bleak, cynical despair are a permanent memorial to the fact that the ordinary soldiers were under no illusion what there lot was and after the final news headline with the still-shocking numbers of the dead of the 1914-18 war has rolled by and the company sing the re-written version of Jerome Kern's THEY DIDN'T BELIEVE ME, it's impossible not to shed a tear...

"And when they ask us, how dangerous it was,

Oh, we'll never tell them, no, we'll never tell them
We spent our pay in some cafe,
And fought wild women night and day,
'Twas the cushiest job we ever had.

And when they ask us, and they're certainly going to ask us,
The reason why we didn't win the Croix de Guerre,
Oh, we'll never tell them, oh, we'll never tell them
There was a front, but damned if we knew where."

For all it's flaws, it's a production that finally hits home.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Sad news this afternoon about the death of Lynn Redgrave aged 67, only a month after her brother Corin's.Much has been made of Lynn's feelings of being a 'spare thumb' while growing up in her theatrical family but in the same year as Vanessa was acclaimed at the RSC for her performances in AS YOU LIKE IT and TAMING OF THE SHREW, Lynn and Corin made their London stage debut's in Tony Richardson's MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM at the Royal Court with Rita Tushingham.Lynn then appeared at the Old Vic in the first years of the National Theatre and showing the range of her ability, from Coward (Jackie in HAY FEVER) to Shakespeare (Margaret iin MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING), Farquhar (Rose in THE RECRUITING OFFICER) to Brecht (Kattrin in MOTHER COURAGE). She made the move to film with a supporting role in her brother-in-law Richardson's TOM JONES then to co-starring in THE GIRL WITH GREEN EYES as Rita Tushingham's more gregarious, wordly roommate which earned her a BAFTA nomination.However she gained her biggest success by switching personas in Silvio Narizzano's GEORGY GIRL. Now playing the gauche and unloved flatmate to Charlotte Rampling's glamorous but nasty friend, Lynn's eye-catching performance made her an unlikely heroine for the swinging sixties audience and she found herself nominated with sister Vanessa for a Best Actress Academy Award - Vanessa was nominated for MORGAN: A SUITABLE CASE FOR TREATMENT - but ultimately they both lost to Elizabeth Taylor's Martha in WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? Personally I can't say I am a big fan of either film - I guess you had to be there to appreciate them.However she only made two more films in the 60s - SWINGING TIME again with Tushingham as two Northern girls seeing fame in swinging London and as the Sergeant Major's daughter in THE VIRGIN SOLDIERS.

Her work then seemed to proceed in a haphazard manner, no doubt due to family commitments - she married John Clark in 1967 and had children in 1968, 1970 and 1981.

Take for instance the first few years on the 1970s:

appears in LAST OF THE MOBILE HOT SHOTS, a little-seen or remembered Sidney Lumet film with James Coburn based on a Tennessee Williams flop "The Seven Descents of Myrtle" with a script by Gore Vidal (!); appears at the Garrick with Richard Briers in Michael Frayn's debut play THE TWO OF US.

appears at the Royal Court in David Hare's debut play SLAG with Anna Massey and Barbara Ferris; appears in an Italian spaghetti western with Vanessa's next amour Franco Nero called VIVA LA MUERTE...TUA. 1972: appears in Woody Allen's EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT SEX BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK as a Queen seducing Allen's Court Jester and in the woeful EVERY LITTLE CROOK AND NANNY as a woman posing as a Nanny to a mafia Don.

appears in the little-seen Jack Gold film of Peter Nichols' savage comedy THE NATIONAL HEALTH which contrasts the run-down reality of a failing NHS hospital with the antiseptic fantasy of a hospital soap opera; appears at Greenwich Theatre in BORN YESTERDAY directed by Tom Stoppard.

She then appeared on Broadway in MY FAT FRIEND with George Rose and John Lithgow and settled in America permanently. Her career in the 1970s then drifted along with acclaimed performances on Broadway - a Tony nomination as Vivie in MRS. WARREN'S PROFESSION, ST, JOAN directed by her husband - and appearances on US TV. Her only other big screen appearances at this time were as real-life madam Xaviera Hollander in the utterly godawful THE HAPPY HOOKER and, to better effect, as the nymphomaniac fashion designer in the disaster movie send-up THE BIG BUS. Lynn was cast in the Glenda Jackson role in the tv spin-off of Jackson's film HOUSE CALLS but this ended in turmoil with Universal TV sacking her in 1981. Costly legal proceedings dragged on for years - she claimed she was sacked for breast-feeding her newborn baby Annabel and if nothing else the case did much to highlight the continued problems mothers faced with this situation in the workplace. However the case all but bankrupted her before it was thrown out of court. Needless to say the 1980s saw her concentrate heavily on US TV work - she became a spokesperson for Weight Watchers - and the occasional stage appearance. The 1990s saw a return to the London stage on two occasions - the only times I saw her onstage. She was an emotional Masha with Vanessa and niece Jemma in Chekhov's THREE SISTERS at the Queens in 1990 but the production wasn't well received and the press gloated when Lynn vilified Vanessa for her condemnation of the first Iraq invasion. They had also just filmed an unnecessary tv remake of WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE which truly deserved condemning.

However for Lynn there was always material in her family and in 1993 she wrote and starred in SHAKESPEARE FOR MY FATHER on Broadway. An exploration-cum-exorcism of her feelings towards her father as viewed through the words of his beloved Shakespeare, she received a Tony Award nomination for the piece and I saw it when it had a month-long run a the Haymarket.By then she had co-starred in the Oscar-winning SHINE and in 1998 received a second Academy Award nomination, this time for Best Supporting Actress, for her role as James Whale's disapproving maid in GODS AND MONSTERS.

However - in a seemingly endless pattern of good/bad strokes - this was the same year her personal life was splashed over the newspapers.
In 1991 her assistant had a baby boy and refused to name the father. The assistant later married Lynn's son but this marriage foundered. in 1998 - at a Thanksgiving dinner yet! - Lynn's longtime husband John Clark admitted he was the father. He had tried to start the relationship up again with the assistant who was having none of it and was threatening to tell Lynn.The marriage's dirty linen was washed in public for two years before a divorce was granted in 2000. She made her final appearance on the London stage in 2001 at the Piccadilly Theatre in the National Theatre revival of NOISES OFF when she replaced Patricia Hodge for the west-end run. The same year she received an OBE but in 2002 she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Her battle against the disease and subsequent mastectomy and chemotherapy formed the basis of a 2004 book with photographs by daughter Annabel but by then Lynn had already won a Drama Desk award for Best Supporting Actress for an off-Broadway production of Alan Bennett's "Talking Heads" monologue MISS FOZZARD FINDS HER FEET.

Her role in Maugham's THE CONSTANT WIFE won her another Tony award nomination in 2005 and in the same year, she appeared alongside Vanessa and niece Natasha in James Ivory's sadly rather leaden THE WHITE COUNTESS.

More supporting roles followed in films and US television - her last screen role was a guest star in UGLY BETTY - and she was working on stage almost to the end in NIGHTINGALE, another 'family' play she wrote, this time based on the life of her maternal grandmother.
Her career was certainly full and varied but one can't help wondering what greater legacy she might have left had she not moved to America at such a crucial point in her career.