Wednesday, October 23, 2013

50 / 50

The National Theatre today celebrated it's 50th birthday and so, because it seemed silly buying it chocolates, I thought I would honour this wonderful occasion by naming my 50 favourite productions.

I have laughed, cried, been scared, shocked, thrilled, touched, marvelled, knestled back in my chair and been on the edge of my seat and, more than once, felt the real alchemy that happens when the cast and audience are as one.

Shall we begin Constant Reader?  After all you have shared my thoughts on a few of these...

Let's start on numbers 41 - 50 and remember these are the 50 best... there are no losers here (that might be for another blog):

41) AN INSPECTOR CALLS (J.B. Priestley, directed by Stephen Daldrey, 1992)
42) ANIMAL FARM (Peter Hall after George Orwell, directed by Hall, 1984)
     (Harold Pinter & Di Trevis after Marcel Proust, directed by Trevis, 2001)
     (J.M. Synge, directed by Fiona Buffini, 2001)
45) THE DAY I STOOD STILL (Kevin Elyot, directed by Ian Rickson, 1998)
     (William Shakespeare, directed by Marianne Elliott, 2009)
     (Aeschylus, version by Ted Hughes, directed by Katie Mitchell, 1999)
     (Tennessee Williams, directed by Trevor Nunn, 1998)
49) FRANKENSTEIN (Nick Dear after Mary Shelley, directed by Danny Boyle, 2011)
50) ANGELS IN AMERICA (Tony Kushner, directed by Declan Donnellan, 1992)

Looking at the posters I remember great performances by Kenneth Cranham, John Normington, Barrie Rutter, David Ryall, Janine Duvitski, Ben Daniels, Fritha Goody, Derbhle Crotty, Adrian Scarborough, Michelle Terry, Oliver Ford Davies, Clare Higgins, Anastasia Hille, Paul Hilton, Corin Redgrave, Finbar Lynch, Jonny Lee Miller and Henry Goodman.  Next, numbers 31 - 40:
     (Anton Chekhov, version by David Lan, directed by Trevor Nunn, 2000)
32) THE MYSTERIES (Tony Harrison, directed by Bryden, 2000)
     (William Shakespeare, directed by Nicholas Hytner, 2008)
34) HAMLET (William Shakespeare, directed by Nicholas Hytner, 2010)
35) LONDON ASSURANCE (Dion Boucicoult, directed by Nicholas Hytner, 2010)
36) SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER (Oliver Goldsmith, directed by Jamie Lloyd, 2012)
     (Matthew Bourne after Robin Maugham, music by Terry Davies, directed by Bourne,
     (Federico Garcia Lorca, version by David Hare, directed by Howard Davies, 2005)
39) THE AMEN CORNER (James Baldwin, directed by Rufus Norris, 2013)
     (Ayub Khan-Din after Bill Naughton, directed by Nicholas Hytner, 2007)

Again I am remembering the performances of Vanessa & Corin Redgrave, Eve Best, Roger Allam, Jack Shepherd, David Bradley, Sue Johnston, John Normington, Simon Russell Beale, Zoe Wanamaker, Rory Kinnear, Clare Higgins, Fiona Shaw, Sophie Thompson, Penelope Wilton, Deborah Findlay, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Cecilia Noble, Meera Syall and Harish Patel.  Next, numbers 21 - 30:
21) THE WINTER'S TALE (William Shakespeare, directed by Nicholas Hytner, 2001)
     (William Shakespeare, directed by Trevor Nunn, 1999)
     (Anton Chekhov, version by Michael Frayn, directed by Christopher Morahan, 1984)
24) WHITE CHAMELEON (Christopher Hampton, directed by Richard Eyre, 1991)
25) A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE (Arthur Miller, directed by Alan Ayckbourn, 1988)
     (William Shakespeare, directed by Bill Bryden, 1983)
27) THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING (Joan Didion, directed by David Hare, 2008)
28) THE SECRET RAPTURE (David Hare, directed by Howard Davies, 1989)
29) THE SPANISH TRAGEDY (Thomas Kyd, directed by Michael Bogdanov, 1984)
30) RACING DEMON (David Hare, directed by Richard Eyre, 1990)
Again more excellent performances by Alex Jennings, Deborah Findlay, John Normington, Henry Goodman, David Bamber, Derbhle Crotty, Ian McKellen, Charlotte Cornwall, Saeed Jaffrey, Tom Wilkinson, Nadim Sawalha, Michael Gambon, Robert Stephens, Jack Shepherd, Susan Fleetwood, Brenda Blethyn, Derek Newark, Vanessa Redgrave, Clare Higgins, Jill Baker, Penelope Wilton, Michael Bryant, David Bamber and Oliver Ford Davies.
We are getting down to the business end of things now, numbers 11 - 20:
11) ALL MY SONS (Arthur Miller, directed by Howard Davies, 2000)
12) GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS (David Mamet, directed by Bill Bryden, 1983)
13) AFTER THE DANCE (Terence Rattigan, directed by Thea Sharrock, 2010)
14) THE SHAUGHRAUN (Dion Boucicault, directed by Howard Davies, 1988)
15) THE RIVALS (Richard Brinsley Sheridan, directed by Peter Wood, 1983)
16) OTHELLO (William Shakespeare, directed by Sam Mendes, 1997)
17) PRAVDA (Howard Brenton & David Hare, directed by Hare, 1985)
     (Nick Stafford after Michael Morpurgo, directed by Marianne Elliott & Tom Morris,
     (Henrik Ibsen, version by Inga-Stina Ewbank & Peter Hall, directed by Hall, 1975)
20) RICHARD III (William Shakespeare, directed by Richard Eyre, 1990)
Any of these could easily rank in my top 10 but for the grace of more personal favourites.  The late James Hazeldine and Julie Walters confronted their family's secrets and lies in ALL MY SONS, Jack Shepherd was a human dynamo as Ricky Roma in the London premiere of GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS, Nancy Carroll, Benedict Cumberbatch and Adrian Scarborough confronted devastating loneliness in Rattigan's rediscovered masterpiece AFTER THE DANCE, Stephen Rea led a wonderful company in the rollicking Irish yarn THE SHAUGHRAUN (which also showed off the capabilities of the Olivier stage to great effect), Michael Hordern and Geraldine McEwan sparkled in High Comedy style on John Gunter's magnificent Bath set design in THE RIVALS, Simon Russell Beale and Ian McKellen gave two wonderful portraits of Shakespearean evil as Iago and Richard III while Anthony Hopkins proved their equal in hypnotic nastiness as Lambert La Roux the press baron in PRAVDA while Joey the War Horse galloped into our hearts.
In 1975 I was taken on a school trip to see Ibsen's JOHN GABRIEL BORKMAN at the Old Vic, my first exposure to the National Theatre.  I was fascinated by the play, I didn't understand most of it but something connected within. I know I was amazed by the performances of Peggy Ashcroft and Wendy Hiller as the sisters fighting for the heart and soul of Ralph Richardson - who at one point memorably turned to the fractious schools matinee audience and bellowed "WILL YOU KEEP QUIET!!!"  Not a peep was heard after that.
So here we are...

     (Abe Burrows & Jo Swerling music by Frank Loesser, directed by Richard Eyre,
2) TALES FROM HOLLYWOOD (Christopher Hampton, directed by Peter Gill, 1983)
3) THE BEGGAR'S OPERA (John Gay, directed by Richard Eyre, 1982)
4) HAMLET (William Shakespeare, directed by Richard Eyre, 1989)

     (Henrik Ibsen, version by Nicholas Wright, directed by Richard Eyre, 1996)
6) FOOL FOR LOVE (Sam Shepard, directed by Peter Gill, 1984)
     (Hugh Wheeler after Christopher Bond, music & lyrics by Stephen Sondheim,
      directed by Declan Donnellan, 1993)
     (Bertolt Brecht, version by Susan Davies, music by Hanns Eisler, directed by
      Richard Eyre, 1982)
9) BEDROOM FARCE (Alan Ayckbourn, directed by Ayckbourn, 1978)
10) KING LEAR (William Shakespeare, directed by Richard Eyre, 1997)

So there you have it, ten productions that are never far from my mind.  Richard Eyre directed six of them, Peter Gill directed two and Alan Ayckbourn and Declan Donnelan one apiece.

I remember Ian Holm's breath-taking Lear, crashing from majesty to despair in a brave, ferocious performance, none more so than in his naked 'heath scene'.  In 1978 I saw BEDROOM FARCE and the great comic performances of the late Michael Gough and Susan Littler as well as Cheryl Campbell and the mighty Stephen Moore as the charming but awful Trevor.  It should have been the trigger to becoming a real theatre fan but maybe I was still too young to appreciate what I was seeing and it would not happen for another 4 years.

Of course when it hit it was with a glorious bang thanks to Richard Eyre's 1982 NT company.  His production of Brecht's SCHWEYK IN THE SECOND WORLD WAR launched Bill Paterson on the world.  His canny, cocky and unstoppable survivor was played with his trademark relentless energy and was ably supported by Harry Towb, Imelda Staunton, Brian Glover and Julia McKenzie as Anna Kopecka, a world-weary pub landlady just trying to survive the occupation.  I still treasure her performance of The Song Of The Nazi-Soldier's Wife.

Her pragmatic Anna hinted at the Mrs. Lovett she was to play 11 years later in SWEENEY TODD at the Cottesloe.  This intimate production was directed by Declan Donnellan with an air of real menace and suspense.  Julia played Mrs. Lovett opposite Alun Armstrong and later Denis Quilley when it transferred to the Lyttelton.  Her Dickensian shopkeeper was a triumph, gloriously sung of course, but wonderfully acted too with great comic timing and an underlying seriousness so she could step it up when the musical turns into tragedy at it's climax.

I re-visited JOHN GABRIEL BORKMAN when Richard Eyre directed it with Eileen Atkins and Vanessa Redgrave as the estranged sisters.  If that wasn't enough, lifting the production to greatness was Paul Scofield's titanic performance as Borkman.  Oh that voice, I can hear him now in his final speech - it was if he was whispering to me alone.

Ian Charleson returned two years after GUYS AND DOLLS to memorably lock horns with Julie Walters in Sam Shepard's powerful, funny FOOL FOR LOVE as the incestuous couple trapped in a bare motel room.  Peter Gill ratcheted up the intensity as the couple literally bounced off each other and the walls of the set.  Five years after that, already in declining health, Ian returned to the National to take over in Richard Eyre's HAMLET.  I have written before about his performance, the like of which I know I will never see equalled, when on 11th October 1989 I saw him for the last time.

Peter Gill also directed the magnificent TALES FROM HOLLYWOOD which managed to be as expansive as it's subject town yet also painfully intimate.  Michael Gambon, in his white suit, was our guide through the bizarre and baffling Hollywood which greeted the German writers and artists émigrés who fled the Nazis and he effortlessly had the Olivier audience in the palm of his hand.  He was matched by two astonishing performances from Ian McDiarmid as a disdainful, vicious, painfully funny Brecht - "I feel like a sausage in a greenhouse" - and the tigerish ferocity of Billie Whitelaw as the vulnerable yet defiant Nellie Mann, not waving but drowning in her claustrophobic new life.  Christopher Hampton's huge success with his next play LES LIAISONS DANGEREUSES overshadowed TALES... but for me it's his masterpiece.

Which leaves me with again with Richard Eyre and his wonderful company, packed with talent and genius.  A company that could encompass Brecht's biting satire in SCHWEYK, the highwaymen, jailers, petty thieves, gin-soaked tarts and wronged maids of John Gay's BEGGAR'S OPERA and it's Broadway mirror image of crap-shooters, gamblers, showgirls and Salvation Army do-gooders in Frank Loesser's GUYS AND DOLLS.  Ian Charleson, Julia McKenzie, Bob Hoskins and Julie Covington led them tapping from Times Square into my heart where they remain.

1 comment:

Owen said...

I've seen some of these!