Sunday, July 21, 2013

Revivalists: Act two

Now Constant Reader, it might seem like I only see revivals at the National Theatre but I have actually gone to other theatres... like, in the actual West End.  All have featured fine performances but the actual productions themselves all felt wanting of real conviction.

Having missed David Hare's THE JUDAS KISS at Hampstead I caught up with it finally at the Duke of Yorks, primarily to see Rupert Everett's lauded performance.

It is 15 years since I climbed the stairs to the Playhouse's peanut gallery to see the original Richard Eyre production which starred a rather out-of-place Liam Neeson as Oscar Wilde and a play-stealing turn from Tom Hollander as Lord Alfred 'Bosie' Douglas.  The play had vaguely stayed with me but I honestly didn't expect it to be revived anytime soon.  But now we had Australian director Neil Armfield's production and I was surprised how much I liked the play.

David Hare's play covers two key moments in the life of Oscar Wilde.  In April 1885, his libel case against the Marquis of Queensbury has collapsed leaving the way clear for his arrest for Gross Indecency.  His former lover Robbie Ross tips him off that the police are delaying his arrest, almost wanting him to flee to France but Wilde refuses.  Ross thinks he is staying to appease 'Bosie' his spoilt lover but Wilde stays because to flee would be to betray his life.

The second act takes place two years later in the run-down villa in Naples where the broken Wilde is now living with an unrepentantly petulant Lord Alfred who is shagging his way through the local Italian rough trade and looking to get away.  Again Ross appears to reprimand Wilde and remind him that his wife has threatened to refuse him any access to their sons if he sees 'Bosie' again but again Wilde refuses him.  He cannot live his life by other's demands, no matter the consequences or the obvious ruin that Bosie has led him to.  

Armfield's direction was minimal which may be fine for actors such as Everett and Cal MacAninch (superb at playing the vein-bursting frustration of Robbie Ross) but Freddie Fox as the awful 'Bosie' was left with nothing to do but stamp his foot and rant which got old very quickly.  Compared to Hollander's slyly manipulative portrayal, he was resolutely two-dimensional.

Something which cannot be levelled at Rupert Everett who gave a performance of total star power.  His Wilde, the agent of his own destruction, was played with real charisma - you simply couldn't watch anyone else when he was onstage.  It was the sudden shifts that surprised, the way his resigned and weary façade broke down at the simple generosity of the staff of the Cadogan Hotel where he was hiding.  He really came into his own in the second half as the broken ex-prisoner, shuffling around in his slippers when not huddled in his chair.  His weary, rueful manner giving way to one of total exhaustion, like a character out of Beckett.  After loving his recently published second book of memoir as well as enjoying his performance as Benedict Cumberbatch's brother in the BBC's PARADE'S END, it was great to see Everett triumph on stage too.

Further up St. Martin's Lane another actor was giving life to another revival.  Simon Russell Beale, taking a break from the National Theatre, appeared in the first production of Michael Grandage's season at the Noel Coward theatre PRIVATES ON PARADE.

This was a production I was looking forward to, Russell Beale is always worth seeing and I had only ever seen the film version of Peter Nichols' play which was a bit ho-hum.  Sadly the production promised more than it delivered.

At no time did it betray any need to be on that stage at that time.  Yes it's a play about the stupidity of war but it still didn't seem to chime with what's happening now in any other theatres (of war).  It felt more like Michael Grandage wanted Simon Russell Beale to open his theatre season and offered him a big camp role which is anarchic and outrageous but also provides the humanity and heart of the play.

Simon Russell Beale's audience had followed him over the river and there was plenty to drain their blue rinses: the soldiers' knobs got a good airing during the shower scene as well as a featured cameo appearance of Russell Beale's bum.  It must be odd to know that the big shocked reaction you have just heard from the audience is because you flashed your arse.  There was also more effing and jeffing than was probably heard in the whole Malayan conflict, mostly shouted by John Marquez' Corporal Bonny, who did little to dim the memory of Joe Melia's wonderful performance on screen.

It was all very well-directed and presented in the usual Donmar house-style thanks to the set by Christopher Oram and Neil Austin's excellent lighting and there were fine supporting performances from Davina Perera as Sylvia and Harry Hepple as Lance Corporal Charles Bishop but it somehow it just didn't move me.

There is no denying however that bestriding them all (usually in black stockings) was Simon Russell Beale as Acting Captain Terri Dennis who simply stole everything that wasn't nailed down with a performance that was outrageously funny and touchingly human.  He's some broad.

I also saw the revival of Terence Rattigan's THE WINSLOW BOY at the Old Vic.  Ever since his centenary those Rattigan productions just keep coming, everything it would seem but the Vivien Leigh screen version of THE DEEP BLUE SEA *fume*.

It was good to finally see the play as I had never seen either of the film versions and even managed to miss the 1989 BBC production which co-starred Emma Thompson as the titular boy's sister Catherine. 

Lindsay Posner directed this revival of Rattigan's 1946 hit play which he based on a real case in 1908 of a teenage boy expelled from a naval college after being accused of stealing a five shilling postal order.  Ronnie Winslow returns home in disgrace but his upstanding father Arthur is compelled to seek justice for him but as the Admiralty's ruling is considered an act of Government it can only be brought to trial by a decree from the.. um, Government.

With the family losing their place in 'good' society and Arthur becoming ill with the stress, their last hope rests with leading barrister Sir Robert Morton who is also a member of the opposition.  Winslow's suffragist daughter Catherine is strongly opposed to his involvement thinking he will only use the case to further his political career and because of his opposition to votes for women. 

In a scene which finally jolted Posner's rather tasteful production into life, Morton visits the house and ruthlessly cross-examines Ronnie in front of his appalled family, seeming to destroy the boy's story.  Morton then reveals he only did it to see how the boy might react to a courtroom and agrees to take on he case.

Through a mixture of guile and oratory Morton succeeds in getting the Government to agree to a court hearing which goes ahead with the Winslow home surrounded by newspaper reporters.  On the day of the trial Morton's ruthless cross-examinations force the Admiralty to withdraw it's charges against Ronnie and the family win the case.  But it's a hollow victory as the family is now near bankruptcy, Arthur's health is ruined as is Catherine's engagement to her Guardsman fiancée.

Any play about an individual trying to seek justice against an impossible bureaucracy will always be topical and Rattigan's play holds up well with it's expert construction.  Posner's production however felt safe and timid with several scenes seeming to tread water until the next entrance cue.  Owen asked me before it started what sort of a play it was and I assured him that at some point a scene would start with the maid turning on the study lamps and drawing the curtains.  And sure enough, there was Violet the loyal maid pulling the curtains and lighting the lamps on Peter McKintosh's rather obvious box set which looked like it belonged to a touring company.

Luckily what Posner was blessed with was a fine cast headed by Henry Goodman's benignly comfortable Arthur Winslow  who is broken by the system he has lived his life upholding.  There was good support from Deborah Findlay as Grace Winslow, ill-equipped to deal with the change wrought on her family and life, and also from Nick Hendrix as their oldest son Dickie who is happy enough learning the new dance steps rather than learn anything in Oxbridge - yes it was a silly-ass part but played with great wit.  Catherine was played by Naomi Frederick and a little more personality wouldn't have gone amiss while Charlie Rowe's Ronnie betrayed a lack of stage experience.  A special mention to Jay Villiers as the family solicitor who quietly loved Catherine.

However the stand-out performance was Peter Sullivan as Sir Robert Morton.  The production's synapses were jolted every time he appeared and his witty, self-assured, disdainful Sir Robert also gave the impression of having a heart under all that veneer.  I've seen Peter Sullivan a few times on stage and here he was finally allowed to take control of the play.  I certainly missed him when he was offstage.

There is a tragic postscript to the story of George Archer-Shee whose story was the inspiration for the play.  The case was won in 1910 but his father Martin, worn down by the two year fight for justice died in 1911.  In 1912, after completing his education, young George emigrated to New York to work on Wall Street.

Two years later in 1914 he returned to enlist in the war, and at the age of only 19, became one of the 17, 873 British soldiers reported missing in action after the first battle of Ypres.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Revivalists: Act one

...and what of the revivals I have seen?  There have been a few... I won't list them by preference, I shall simply pull programmes out of the Poly Styrene tote bag they are currently residing in!

First off the rank is the National Theatre's long-awaited production of OTHELLO at the Olivier.  Ironic that, as Larry O had one of his biggest successes - although retrospectively controversial - when the National Theatre was at the Old Vic.

The big anticipation was for the NT Dream Team casting of Adrian Lester and Rory Kinnear as Othello and Iago.

In 2003 Nicholas Hytner directed Lester as Henry V in a production that looked more like a War On Terror than a war against the French and here he gives us the same shtick, as Cyprus becomes a dusty, dry, compound which suggests Afghanistan.  I have no problems with this approach but it does chime with the idea that Shakespeare can only be relevant if put in a contemporary setting and that the audience won't 'get' the timeless aspect of his plays unless it's made obvious.

And above all, it makes for a very drab evening.  I sympathised for the actresses playing Desdemona and Emilia whose respective wardrobes looked to be the best that Primark and Millets can offer.  I do appreciate how the unrelentingly awful barrack-room atmosphere of Vicki Mortimer's set suggested a world where wives are out-of-place and more likely to be victimised.

Did I enjoy the production?  All in all, not as much as I had hoped.  Kinnear was fine, creating a very recognizable character: the reliable bloke, everyone's mate, but secretly snide and conniving.  Lester rose finally to the challenge but he is such an intelligent actor that it was a real struggle to believe that his Moor would simply change from loving husband to jealous tyrant.  It didn't help that the production literally had him exiting as the former and 5 minutes later bursting through the same door as the latter.

I guess there was so much anticipation that these two actors would bring the drama that it was bound not to deliver totally.  Olivia Vinall played Desdemona as the usual milquetoast blonde, oh for a Desdemona who actually puts a fight.  Lyndsey Marshal was also lacking something as Emilia.  It's worrying when the performances that stayed with me were those of William Chubb as an unforgiving Brabantio and Nick Sampson as a sympathetic Lodovico.  The lead supporting male roles of Roderigo and Cassio were played by Tom Robertson and Jonathan Bailey with little effect.  I did like the brief flash of fire that Rokhsaneh Ghawam-Shahidi brought to Bianca.

Vicki Mortimer's interiors of flat-pack and office furniture combined with Jon Clark's glaring neon lighting design gave us a world of mundane joylessness.  The production certainly gave us some new Othello images: Othello heaving into a handy toilet at the news of Desdemona's alleged infidelity and Desdemona meeting her death in a tee-shirt and drawers on a Seconique bed.

In 2011 I saw OTHELLO in Sheffield with Clarke Peters and Dominic West which the director Daniel Evans set in a more 17th Century style and I have to admit I preferred that production.  There was less to prove, less of an 'event' and there was stronger characterisation especially in the two female roles.

Also at the NT was CHILDREN OF THE SUN by Maxim Gorky in a new version by Andrew Upton.  There were big hopes for this as it reunited Upton, director Howard Davies, designer Bunny Christie and lighting designer Neil Austin who had struck gold with Bulgakov's THE WHITE GUARD in 2010.

Disappointment set in early as Bunny Christie's set was practically the same as THE WHITE GUARD - big windows, small closed area, long corridor stretching away from the audience - check, check, check.

Gorky's 1905 play can be included in the Russian stable of plays where silly people fritter and fuss their lives away not realising that events in the world outside will change them forever.  Protasov, a scientist tinkers away with his experiments at home, oblivious - wilfully or not - to the growing chaos around him - his wife Yelena is fighting off the advances of an artist friend, his sister Liza is becoming more and more mentally distressed, Boris the town vet who loves Liza is becoming more and more depressed while his sister Melaniya is almost semaphoring her adoration to the scientist which, of course, he cannot deal with.

All the while the offstage anger of the town's people is growing at the cholera that is sweeping the town which they blame on the scientist poisoning the water with his experiments.  Gorky based the play on an 1862 cholera epidemic but anyone seeing the play in 1905 - the same year as the Bloody Sunday massacre of workers and their families - would know exactly what the left-wing writer was really saying.  Allegedly at the play's first performance, the audience got so agitated at the offstage sounds of a riot that the actor playing Protasov had to assure them it was part of the play!

Writing the above actually makes me wonder why I didn't enjoy the production more.  Howard Davies is one of our finest directors but by God, his Russian productions tend to the ponderous and without Chekhov's more forensic writing of characters, Gorky's people did nothing to keep you interested in their fate.  On and on it went in Upton's modern speech, scene after scene with the characters reiterating what they had done in the previous one with no change in tone.  Luckily there were a few performances that I clung to.

As Protasov Geoffrey Streatfeild was enjoyably irritating, his baffled incomprehension at the world outside of his science lab wonderfully done.  Justine Mitchell as Yelena seemingly reprised the same role she played in THE WHITE GUARD, that of the only sensible person who knows what is going on outside as well as inside.  Paul Higgins was very effective as the tragic Boris.

Two actresses whose performances really stood out were Lucy Black as the wealthy, imperious but lovelorn Melaniya and Florence Hall as the Protasov's stroppy maid Feema, marking time as a servant until she could marry a wealthy man.  Emma Lowndes as Liza and Gerald Kyd as the artist in love with Yelena both usually outstayed their welcome.

However just as I thought the play would never end - it did with a bang!  The rioting mob finally broke in to Protasov's enclave and as Yelena rushed out into the melee brandishing a revolver, Protosev was left alone in a state of shock at what he had brought about.  His beloved science lab is set on fire and the play ended with a MASSIVE explosion which certainly woke the audience up - and going by the look of them gave them a few heartaches!  I loved it!!  I now want plays where there are exploding sets at the drop of a hat - bring it on!

Oh and on the subject of the NT... I have never blogged about their revival of SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER!  I had never seen the play before and I'm happy that this is the one to compare all future ones too. 

A play has to have something going for it to still raise genuine laughs 239 years after it was written and Goldsmith's classic farce of mistaken identities still delivered despite Jamie Lloyd's uneven handling of the play which felt at times like an adult panto - I really could have done without the outbursts of song from the ensemble between the scenery changes which diluted the tension of the plot.

The production was helped immeasurably by a delightful cast who sparked memories of Peter Wood's great 1983 production of THE RIVALS in the same theatre.

Steve Pemberton was an exasperated Mr. Hardcastle and in a performance of the most glorious over-the-topness, Sophie Thompson stole everything but the lighting gantry as the painfully nouveau-riche Mrs. Hardcastle.  Anyone who saw her play the scene where she welcomes her visitors from London to tea won't forget it with her strangulated pronouncements on all that was "farshionable"!  Sophie never fails to deliver on stage and here she created a wonderful monster!

For once at the National the other lead roles were also very well balanced, ex-Corrie star Katherine Kelly as Kate Hardcastle and Cush Jumbo as her friend Constance were equally matched with the posh blokes out of their depth, Harry Hadden-Paton as Marlowe and John Heffernan as Hastings.  Katherine Kelly in particular was a real surprise as Kate, possibly the most sensible character in the piece.  Daniel Fynn was the only one to pull focus as the troublesome Tony Lumpkin.
The classy quality of the production was exemplified by Mark Thompson's sumptuous costumes and sets and Neil Austin's lighting.  It was one of the increasingly rare productions which truly embraced the Olivier stage and showed it off to it's full potential.

More recently the National has also given us Eugene O'Neill's epic STRANGE INTERLUDE at the Lyttleton.

I had missed Glenda Jackson's version in the 1980s - and they never show Norma Shearer and Clark Gable in the 1932 film! - so I grabbed my chance to see it.

Um, does it sound odd to say that I wish it had been longer?  Simon Godwin - and the cast I presume - have tightened up it's standard 5 hour running time to a cantering 3 hours 30 minutes but I still felt oddly short-changed.  The play just seemed to be an upmarket soap opera - surely at that length there should at least be some sense of profundity?

Nina Leeds is a young woman who has cracked mentally under the grief of losing her pilot fiancée in WWI as well as the pressure of living with her professor father.  She makes the break from him and sinks her sorrow into being a nurse - and with sleeping around (always an under-rated tonic for misery).

She returns to the family home, still restless with inner demons and marries Sam, an amiable advertising man who will never challenge her wilful nature.  She learns from his mother however that there is a strain of madness in the male line of his family and, horrified at this prospect for her unborn child, Nina has an abortion procured by her father's doctor Edmund Darrell - then promptly seduces him to provide the replacement - you go, girl!  Hovering in the background is an old family friend Charles Marsden, a fussy would-be writer who lives with his ailing mother who secretly loves Nina.

We follow the lives of Nina and her besotted men over twenty-odd years and from the start the audience are included in on the secret thoughts - so the scenes are always played on a knife edge as we are privy to their secret thoughts.  The one who this works best for is Charles, his bland exterior covering a spiteful and frustrated interior life.

As the central quartet move into middle age they are joined by Nina and Edmund's son Gordon who has grown up with the suspicion of his mother's relationship with Doctor Ned.  When Gordon is grown and falls in love Nina finds herself implacably jealous of the threat to her relationship with his son but by now she should be aware of what curves life can throw, eh?

As I said, Simon Godwin's production rockets through the text but this actually leaves little space for reflection on the character's actions as they bounce on and off Soutra Gilmour's pretty sets, through innumerable quick frock and wig changes.  O'Neill's device of having the characters address their private thoughts to the audience suffers too as they sometimes do this at such a speed that it comes across less like high drama and more like sitcom. 

Speaking of comedy, while watching the play I kept thinking of Groucho Marx in ANIMAL CRACKERS where he spoofs O'Neill's premise while talking to Margaret Dumont and Margaret Irving, he keeps stopping to address his thoughts to the audience such as "Pardon me while I have a Strange Interlude"!

Anne-Marie Duff gave a fine performance as Nina, making the character's wilful behaviour understandable and believable.  A lesser actress would struggle with this which is maybe another reason why the play is rarely revived.  The other standout performance was Charles Edwards as Charles Marsden.  Bristling with resentment at Nina's choices in life he nevertheless made the character a fully-rounded one and his deftness of touch was missed when not onstage.  They also aged wonderfully!
Jason Watkins was fine as the optimistic Sam while Darren Pettie (last seen flashing his knob as the Angel of Death in the less-than-impressive THE MILK TRAIN DOESN'T STOP HERE ANYMORE on Broadway) was again adequate enough as Nina's sometime lover, it's just a shame they couldn't have found a more charismatic performer.
Ok time for an ice cream and an interval wee... Act Two starts soon!

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Remembrance Of Things Past

Ooo catchy title... I must copyright that.  Oh.

Right, Constant Reader, now that I have found my voice again, time for a bit of a catch-up on productions seen.  But I have seen so many!  I will do it in bite-size chunks.

New plays, not too many.

The latest of Peter Morgan's factional musings on the reality lived behind lives in the public eye found him returning to the ultimate person who is known to all but known to none, our Brenda.  He hit pay-dirt with her in 2006 with THE QUEEN and THE AUDIENCE reunited him with the film's leading lady Helen Mirren.  La Mirren hasn't done too badly out of HRH either and here she was given the opportunity to give a tour-de-force performance as Morgan bounced hither and yon across the six decades of the Queen's rule giving her minutes to change costumes, wigs and playing age.

Indeed it was a remarkable performance with Mirren finding a quiet through-line amidst the skilful onstage quick changes and turning on a sixpence from the young Queen finding her feet with Churchill to the slow, slightly stooped Matriarch running rings around Cameron.

The problem I had with Morgan's play was also it's purported unique selling point.  As Morgan has as much idea as we do in what takes place when the Queen meets the Prime Minister in their private weekly meetings, each section settled into a pattern of the Queen playing Devil's Advocate with whoever she was meeting so ultimately Morgan's script played it safe and certainly did nothing to shock or provoke it's - ahem - audience.  His most controversial gambit was to have the Queen haunted by her teenage self which didn't really amount to anything that would have him dragged to the tower.

 A play by Peter Morgan about the Queen starring Helen Mirren on Shaftesbury Avenue is going to attract a certain public and they were out in force when I went.  EVERYTHING got a round, the curtains, the frocks, the set, needless to say the Corgis.  The only real frisson during the show was in the enjoyable sparring match between Mirren and Haydn Gwynne's basilisk Margaret Thatcher - you could almost feel a large section of the audience having to choose between two heroines.  Seeing it a week or so after the absurd blanket canonisation of the old bitch it was good to see Morgan's jaundiced view of her.

Morgan obviously has a soft spot for Harold Wilson as he appeared three times: as a gauche bull-in-a-palace at their first meeting (cute but quite far from the truth I suspect), a PM-out-of-water in Balmoral and his announcement of retiring.  Richard McCabe played him very well - not so much an impression as 'an impression' if you get my drift.  His performance in the final scene was particularly touching.  Paul Ritter's turn as John Major was very entertaining and Michael Elwyn was a silky, deceptive Anthony Eden.  Edward Fox was a last minute replacement for Robert Hardy as Churchill and it showed.

Stephen Daldrey certainly kept the traffic of the stage moving briskly and Bob Crowley's design was spare and elegant.  I just wish Morgan's play - apart from the Thatcher scene - hadn't felt so damn timid.

Mirren and McCabe won this year's Olivier Awards for Best Actress and Supporting Actor which just happened to be two categories that A CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME wasn't nominated in - lucky for them as it swept seven other categories including Best Play, Set, Lighting and Director.

Now, some history.
I have never read Mark Haddon's novel the play is based on as I spent a lifetime one evening watching his play POLAR BEARS and as that arsed me off so much I couldn't bear to set foot on him again.  I was aware of the basic premise but it was interesting to be one of the few in the packed Apollo Theatre who didn't know what was about to transpire.  By the way, we appeared to be sat in the designated American section - it was like being back on Broadway.

Luke Treadaway might have won the Best Actor Olivier award but the slacker doesn't do Monday or Tuesdays - they just don't have the range any more - so I saw Johnny Gibbon in his West End debut.  He certainly gave a relentless performance as the autistic teenager Christopher Boone who, when his neighbour's dog is killed with a pitch-fork, decides to find out not only who the killer is but the other mysteries in his life.  I am sure a long career beckons.

I must admit the plot itself didn't offer too many surprises, when the killer is revealed it was all a bit obvious - and was quickly dispensed with - the dead dog being the McGuffin to get us involved in Christopher's journey to find the missing mother he had been led to believe was dead. 

We experience his disorientating journey from Swindon to London through his eyes and this is where Marianne Elliott's production triumphs.  Elliott, set designer Bunny Christie and lighting designer Paule Constable combine to give us stage image after image which are haunting, delightful and exciting.  There were plenty of younger types in the audience and it made me wish that hopefully a good number of them will be excited by what the theatre can do in the hands of an accomplished team.

However, like a number of other productions this year, I came out thinking that I wasn't as blown away as I had been led to believe I would be.  The problem here was that the acting wasn't really all that.  Performances were either drawn larger-than-life or so muted as to be anonymous.  Even Niamh Cusack - so good recently in two productions at the Old Vic - here barely registers as Christopher's teacher.  We pride ourselves on the quality of British stage acting but more often than not, what you get are performances that have you wondering whether they bothered putting the understudy slips in the programme.  Just saying.

But as a work of theatrical possibilities?  Dazzling.

I have also had two dollops of Alan Bennett.  Earlier this year I had read his memoir A LIFE LIKE OTHER PEOPLE'S so I was curious to see the play UNTOLD STORIES which drew on part of it.

The play took two parts, the first half was a theatrical amuse-bouche called HYMN that was almost over before it began, a 30 minute reflection on the music Bennett remembers having an influence on him growing up.  More than anything it got us accustomed to Alex Jennings' unerring and affectionate interpretation of the author.

The main part of the evening was COCKTAIL STICKS in which Bennett turned his attention to the subject of his parents.  When I read A LIFE LIKE OTHER PEOPLE'S I had found it unbearably moving as Bennett gave us his recollections of growing up with his loving but socially embarrassed parents to whom the world seemed a party they didn't have the courage to attend.

They were played by Jeff Rawle and Gabrielle Lloyd with a gentle charm and as, in the book, Lloyd as his mother moved more centre-stage as she slipped into the twilight world of dementia.  Ultimately I think it works better on the page, especially the final section where Bennett turns his quiet anger on the institutionalised stripping away of any dignity his mother had at a pace with the dementia stripping away her identity.

After this it was natural to see Bennett' s latest play PEOPLE at the Lyttleton.  Now I had been one of the 8 people who saw THE HISTORY BOYS in the same theatre and not liked it.  Indeed I recently saw the screen version and again, found little to enjoy outside of Frances de la Tour's caustic performance.  So here was a chance to enjoy her playing the lead role for a change.  I presume it is what one could call a play of ideas, the trouble being that it is all ideas and no play.

A packed Lyttleton audience laughed itself through the play while I sat with the occasional half-smile.  Bennett has worked himself up into a right old state initially about the National Trust and on a larger scale, the idea of a culture, an identity that can similarly be shaped and packaged and sold back to you.  I have no problem with this argument and occasionally a point was made that shone through.  I just didn't buy the package.

Frances de la Tour played Dorothy Stacpoole, the heir to the crumbling stately home that has been in her family for years.  Now just she and her equally eccentric companion Iris live there so she is a sitting target for a beady-eyed consultant for the National Trust, played by Miles Jupp who was taking a break from being a panellist on innumerable quiz shows, and her Reverend younger sister (Selina Cadell).

The answer to Dorothy's problems appear to arrive in the bizarre twist of an ex-lover appearing who is now a porn director who asks for his latest film to be shot in the house.  We then had a lengthy scene of the filming which made laboured use of knob jokes, social embarrassment and the like to little purpose other than for Frances de la Tour to swish around in a 1960s style couture ensemble.

Ultimately Dorothy cannot keep the real wolves from the door and the house is taken off her hands and renovated fit for the paying proles consumption.  But she still had a trick up her sleeve...

Frances de la Tour was as watchable as ever (the cast even included her brother Andy as a vicar) and she found wells of sympathy for her improbable character and it was amusing watching Linda Bassett make bricks from straw as her bizarre cohort but otherwise it just seemed to ramble on taking a long time to get to an obvious pay-off.  The ubiquitous Bob Crowley's dark and cluttered set was obviously going to be given a make-over and it was Constant Reader, before your very eyes.

It was pointed out by director Nicholas Hytner to Bennett that the National Trust share more than just initials with the National Theatre and it was a peculiar sight to see the well-heeled audience hooting with delight as Bennett took less-than-veiled potshots at their ilk.

Ultimately it all felt rather like Bennett was having his cake and eating it too.

Still, always nice to hear Petula Clark singing DOWNTOWN.

Monday, July 01, 2013

So... where was I?

Hopefully Constant Reader you are still there.
It's been a while.
It's a funny thing but when you lose faith in what you think of things then it is difficult to think that others will be interested too.
So I have not shared my thoughts on this, that and t'other and have wondered what might make me start again.  That production? That film? That gig? That exhibition?
Well no.  Not that exhibition.
But this exhibition has!
Yesterday afternoon Owen and I had an adventure and made our way to the leafy 'burbs of Dulwich.  It's like another world!  Hard to believe it's only 20-something minutes from Brixton by bus.  I presume it's twinned with Richmond.  You know, the kind of place where you wonder how did we ever lose an Empire.
Which was all very appropriate as we went to see an exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery (I do like the use of the word Picture) which covered the years 1908 - 1922 in the artistic lives of six students of the Slade Art School: Paul Nash, C.R.W. Nevinson, Stanley Spencer, Mark Gertler, David Bomberg and, my own favourite, Dora Carrington.
It's not a huge exhibition but it does give you an insight into the six artists and in particular, their humanity.  Time and again your read their own comments on the changes they are living through - their struggles with what movement best represents them and in particular, the men's response to the all-encompassing impact of World War I.
I knew Carrington and, to a lesser degree, Gertler and Spencer, but it was good to get more familiar with the work of the other three, Nevinson in particular.  I had written him off as one of Wyndham Lewis' lot but was heartened to find out that they had fallen out.  His modernist works such as 'Dance Hall Scene' give way to the more, blocky woodcut-like paintings of the War years.  Along with Paul Nash's desolate paintings of the blasted Western Front, they make for sombre viewing,
It strikes me that Carrington is the most under-represented of the six artists while David Bomberg remains the most elusive to define.  The exhibition does leave you feeling oddly sad, as so few of them seemed to fulfil the genuine promise of their pre-war years.  Of the six, Carrington and Gertler killed themselves, Nevinson and Bomberg ended their lives in obscurity while Nash and Spencer thrived.  Spencer is the strangest case, his unique vision remains the most constant throughout the exhibition.  I wonder if this points to a reason for his more long-term success over his contemporaries.
Last year I had recourse to research more into Carrington's life so it was a joy to see her work again.  From her early pencil sketches - her study of Gertler is particularly fine - and a delightfully illustrated letter to Paul Nash, to her paintings, she reveals how she made the personal public.  None more so than in her hypnotic portrait of her beloved Lytton Strachey.

I stood looking at this picture for a long time, caught up in the intensity of her concentration, with, I don't mind telling you, a tear welling.  Entering the last room I read on the wall the entry she wrote 21 days after Lytton's death from undiagnosed cancer "Everything was for you... I see my paints, & think it is no use for Lytton will never see my pictures now, & I cry" and felt so sad.    

The exhibition is open until September 22nd so there is still plenty of time to experience it for yourselves - clicky on the image below:


It's good to be back x