Archive for May, 2013

This review was originally written for The Public Reviews: http://www.thepublicreviews.com

Coming in the wake of the Leveson Inquiry, a revival of this richly comic satire on London’s18th Century chattering classes could hardly be more timely. Sheridan paints a picture of a society dominated by idle gossipers and hypocrites to whom nothing matters less than the truth, a group that could easily be seen as the equivalent of certain sections of the modern media. Unfortunately, opportunities to highlight and explore these parallels are largely missed in Zoe Ford’s rather conventional interpretation for Turn of the Wheel Productions. Inexplicably the evening begins with flashing disco lights and a Eurythmics track blaring out, but, apart from this and some other curious music choices at scene changes, there are no attempts to update the play from its original period. The actors appear in splendid costumes and wigs and only the sparsely decorated sets suggest that this is a modest production. Grace Fairburn, as Lady Sneerwell and Alicia Bennett, as Mrs Candour, make excellent Queen Bitches and Sebastian Aguirre is suitably loathsome as their cohort, Joseph Surface. Sadly, the actor playing the key role of Sir Peter Teazle needed to withdraw at a late stage; replacing him, Rob Maloney was reading from the script in some scenes, but he has managed to capture the essence of a character that displays exasperated rage when confronting his wife yet is always a kind and honest man, capable of exposing the antics of the gossips. Playing Lady Teazle, Tabitha Becker-Kahn is the evening’s biggest comic delight, excelling as a country girl who has married a much older man and becomes intent on social climbing, only to face rejection by the elite gossiping circle. Sheridan is disdainful of the scandalisers and firmly on the side of their victims. He condemns those who take the moral high ground, seeking to profit from it, and he forgives those who may be guilty of minor aberrations but remain fundamentally decent. The production, which is is bound to improve once it has fully recovered from its unfortunate setback, occasionally sparkles and rarely falls flat. Maybe it could have brought more that is new to Sheridan’s work, but, nonetheless, it is always a joy to see this delicious classic revived.

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It seems that Harold Pinter intended this 1958 play to be a Kafkaesque satire on authoritarianism and human rights violations, aiming it specifically at the Soviet Union. However, it comes across as more typical of Joe Orton than of the style that was to become Pinter’s trademark and, if there are indeed serious themes, they are well and truly submerged in Jamie Lloyd’s production, which is performed as broad comedy throughout. The establishment of the title is some sort of state-run rest home, managed by a ridiculous martinet (Simon Russell Beale) and his scheming lieutenant (John Simm). This clown/straight man double act dominates the production, squeezing every possible laugh out of a script which mixes verbal gymnastics with physical slapstick. It all has the feel of a very protracted sketch from “The Two Ronnies”; but that was a very funny show and, for much of the time, so is this.

This review was originally written for The Public Reviews: http://www.thepublicreviews.com

The City of York is described in this play as built on a graveyard above another graveyard and we are told that, whilst it was once famed for trains and chocolate, it is now known chiefly for its ghosts. The evening begins with the audience being ushered into a room above a pub where we encounter Mr Richard Baraclough sitting next to a small table, ready to sup a pint of Abbot’s ale. He appears a sombre figure, dressed in a black cloak and top hat, sporting a moustache and bushy sideburns. He admits to being a failed actor and an alcoholic and it transpires that he is a ghost hunter or, to be more precise, a tour guide showing visitors around locations in York where ghosts have reportedly been sighted. What we hear in this one hour monologue is eerie, but the creepiness is diluted by tongue-in-cheek scepticism. As a result, the tales Barraclough tells are all mildly amusing, sometimes gruesome but seldom particularly frightening. He tantalises us with early mentions of the ghost of George Pimm, a 19th Century ogre, before revealing the full story which forms his centrepiece. The structure of the monologue relies heavily upon repeatedly overturning expectations, so that a scary tale comes to a humorous end and a humorous tale turns scary. This device works in the beginning but it becomes much too obvious as the evening progresses. This production comes from Theatre of the Damned whose mission is to explore the “neglected world of the Theatre du Grand Guignol”. Playing Barraclough, Tom Richards makes piercing eye contact with every member of the audience individually and he fits the part well (this is not a backhanded compliment as he is clearly not a failed actor and probably not an alcoholic). However, the writer has miscalculated by putting his words into the mouth of a character who is, like most of us, dubious about the supernatural, as we did not come just to hear our views confirmed; what we really wanted was to be scared witless. The management of the Old Red Lion could also have made a big mistake by starting performance at 7.30 and thereby missing a trick to sell both more tickets and more beer. A 9.30 start would have allowed us to enjoy a couple of hours of merriment in the bar before wandering upstairs clutching our full glasses of Abbot’s to join Mr Barraclough and listen enthralled to his tales. Surely this is the context in which this monologue was meant to be performed. Unfortunately, making a sober judgement with things as they are, this does not add up to much of a night out at the theatre.

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photo-113In Nicholas Hytner’s production, Cyprus becomes a modern day war zone looking something like Afghanistan and the chief protagonists are clearly defined by their class, Othello appearing as if a Sandhurst-trained officer, Iago a soldier from the ranks. ┬áConfined to an army base, the characters have little to do but idle time by gossiping, kicking around footballs by day and swilling beer by night; it is an environment in which it seems inevitable that petty resentments will fester and personal jealousies will be nurtured. Setting the play in this context proves to be a masterstroke as it gives greater clarity to all the plot developments and helps to throw light on the two great enigmas – Iago’s motivation and Othello’s gullibility. Preconceptions that Adrian Lester could be too lightweight for the title role are confounded as emphatically as suspicions that Rory Kinnear is turning into the finest Shakespearean actor of his generation are confirmed. As Iago, Kinnear gives a towering performance, smirking at his own duplicity, often standing front of stage plotting and scheming in collusion with the audience and lacing his words with sardonic humour; his delivery is so modern and true to character that it is often easy to forget that he is speaking the language of Tudor England. Relative newcomer Olivia Vinall is an endearing Desdemona, slightly built, tomboyish and vulnerable and the rest of the company is solid. There was a hitch with scenery at this performance which caused a five minute interruption near the beginning but, otherwise, the sets change smoothly from open exteriors to small claustrophobic rooms with fluorescent lighting. This is a production which exemplifies the National Theatre at the peak of its form.