I’ve succumbed to pressure (well three suggestions) from friends to do a theatre blog, seeing as how I spend far too much time, and money (according to certain people) on pursuing my passion. Well shouldn’t a passion be indulged because, if not, why have one? And if the passion is healthy, informative, fun and free from mortal sin, even more reason to continue sending yearly subscriptions to The National, Donmar and Old Vic. So my three, four, sometimes more evenings a month, heading down the M11 to replace all things racehorse with all things thespian will continue ad infinitum with, hopefully, Pen, my partner in crime and Annie, my daughter, in tow.
SEPTEMBER was quite busy, with four new previews at The National and an unprecedented Saturday trip to The Vaudeville.
We started with Arnold Wesker’s The Kitchen at The Olivier. It was fun to see that wonderful space transformed, thanks to the Designer Giles Cadle, into the Tivoli restaurant, especially as the last time we were there it housed the eerie, sombre world of Professor Frankenstein and his Creature. I expected a naturalistic piece of theatre but instead, Director Bijan Shelbani cooked up a superbly choreographed dance, no mean feat when in charge of 30 or so characters. The slight whoosh of gas being lit, glimmer of naked flames and bubbling of imaginary sauces being stirred enhanced the feeling that this was a real kitchen, despite there being no actual food, apart from what looked like olive oil. The ensemble cast were flawless and the main character of Peter, a strung out German fish cook who persuaded me that he could explode with emotion at any time, was poignantly played by Tom Brooke. Various critiques have criticised the play as being imperfect, but perfection is rare and, for me, The Kitchen, served up an excellent evening.
Next up was Mike Leigh’s new play, Grief, at The Cottesloe. Being a huge fan, I was full of
excited anticipation on Monday, 19th, especially as at this stage we still didn’t know the title of his new offering. The acting couldn’t be faulted. Lesley Manville, was at her dynamic best playing Dorothy, the sad, buttoned up mother, helpless as to how to get through to her equally depressed daughter, Victoria, played by a superb Ruby Bentall. Sam Kelly, playing her older, bachelor brother Edwin, was mesmerising, whilst the other characters superbly brought snatches of light relief into this desperate suburban sitting room. The despair was tangible, thanks to Mike Leigh’s attention to the smallest detail. Every character was beautifully drawn; no caricatures here, just tiny subtle gestures speaking volumes. The many scene changes were not so much changes as rearrangements and, whilst they hindered Annie’s enjoyment, they enhanced mine, helping to portray the repetitive, desolation of this family’s daily life. The devastating ending, although in a way expected, was still emotionally shattering. More new plays please Mike – may I call you that?
We had the treble up with goodies, because the third preview, this time at The Lyttleton, was also excellent. The Veil, Conor McPherson’s new play drew me in and kept me there for the whole 2 hours, 45 minutes. Even Annie, who wasn’t so sure about the subject matter, namely psychics and hauntings, was completely captivated. Rae Smith’s spooky Irish country estate house set the scene completely, aided and abetted by Lighting Designer, Neil Austin and Stephen Warbeck’s Sound Design. I knew from the beginning that we were in for a treat, although, as in all good stories, I didn’t know exactly where it was going and was desperate to find out. The characters who took us on the journey were beautifully portrayed, although I was rather bemused with Grandie; presumably she was suffering from dementia? For me, the three actors who particularly stood out were Jim Norton as The Reverend Berkeley, Peter McDonald playing Mr. Fingal the estate manager and the daughter, Hannah, played by Ursula Jones. Fingal’s breakdown towards the end of the play moved me to tears and Hannah’s hysteria could so easily have been annoying and contrived in the wrong hands. I’d also like to say that Peter McDonald is very easy on the eye!
Broken Glass at The Vaudeville was the final play of the month and I have a confession to make. Now, don’t get me wrong, I admire Arthur Miller, Anthony Sher and Tara Fitzgerald enormously, but this production failed to engage. I know, I know, it’s had wonderful reviews and, quite rightly, because Anthony Sher as Phillip Gellburg and Tara Fitzgerald as Sylvia, his wife are deeply moving, but, horror of horrors, I had to fight to stay awake. This will probably stop anyone ever reading anything I write ever again (if they ever did) but I’m not prosecuting the production, more the space in which it is housed. It was a very hot, muggy night in late September (remember that Indian summer) and our seats were in Row P, meaning that we had the balcony acting as a low ceiling, making the whole experience rather claustrophobic. I felt as if I were sitting at the back of a long tunnel and totally failed to engage with what was going on on stage. Maybe if the piece had been staged incorporating more “business”, my attention would have held, but however hard I tried – and try I did – there were long snatches of conversation I missed as my head drooped. I’m sure if I’d seen it in a more intimate space, where the whites of the character’s eyes were visible, I would have enjoyed it more. I should have gone to see it at The Tricycle.
Great, first blog done and dusted. Who said I wouldn't get round to doing it?