Posts Tagged ‘4 star’

Love and a Bottle, Greenwich Theatre 12 July

July 13, 2014


Twitpic from Out of Joint

Twitpic from Out of Joint

You can still see this on Monday 14 July and the Out of Joint tweet that kindly supplied the picture above also says that with code OOJ you can see it for £6.  That sounds like a good idea to me, and it would be even without the reduction.

The Saturday afternoon audience enjoyed this adaptation of the first play of the 20-year-old George Farquhar which, underneath the conventional comedy machinery (at one stage I thought we were going to get the finale from The Marriage of Figaro without the music) and references to the Battle of the Boyne is probably about the joys and sheer stupidity of being young.  Here we followed the adventures of one Roebuck, a penniless young  playwright recently arrived from Ireland and trying to avoid both creditors and the mother of his child.  All of course ended happily with moralising and multiple marriages after Roebuck and Kidderton the Drury Lane man had discussed that very prospect from a professional viewpoint; and I enjoyed the meta-theatrical games in scenes like the trainee actresses from LAMDA  playing actresses backstage.  It would have been even better if they had played boys pretending to be actresses, but Farquhar wasn’t Shakespeare and you can’t have everything.

The uncluttered design and fast pace worked well, as did the Irish folk songs.  How much of the proto-feminist repartee was down to adaptor Sheila Feehily as opposed to George Farquhar I don’t know, but it all worked for me.  The playing was of a uniformly high standard, and the young lady who flirted with fluffing a couple of her lines knows who she is…

Don Gil of the Green Breeches, Arcola Theatre 9 January

January 11, 2014


A pensive Don Gil in Bath, but still the wonderful Hedydd Dylan

A pensive Don Gil in Bath, but still the wonderful Hedydd Dylan

This was a preview, or even a preview of a preview, but it wasn’t since the three plays of The Spanish Golden Age had already had an extended run-out in Bath.  As one would, I was expecting a kind of Shakespeare without the poetry or psychological probing, and indeed we did get Rosalind, very tall and dressed in green.  Here she was Doña Juana, whose beloved Don Martin has left her in Valladolid  to go to Madrid and make an advantageous marriage with Doña Ines.  But he has to call himself  Don Gil.  So she has to go to Madrid herself disguised as another Don Gil so as to outwit the stupid men and other second-tier comic characters and reclaim her true love.  But she wears green breeches, so she has to be the special Don Gil.  (Plot summary here.)  Remember that women cannot help falling in love with a delicate stranger, in Madrid or anywhere else…

It turned out that Tirso de Molina’s strengths here lay in keeping the exuberantly silly plot moving swiftly and convincingly and in providing excuses for the appearance of many green Don Gils of different sexes.  The audience found it very funny, and applauded enthusiastically at the end to make up for their lack of numbers.  Indeed, I could even sit  in one of the two rows that give you a frontal view of the production (and the row behind seemed to be playing host to the claque, while director  Mehmet Ergan had exiled himself to the outer reaches of the bleachers).

This blog heartily recommends Don Gil of the Green Breeches–it could easily reach five-star level with a few more outings in its new home.

The Witch (Thomas Middleton), Lord Stanley 22 December

December 22, 2013


That toasting from your father's skull moment (picture from Little Goblin FB page)

That toasting from your father’s skull moment (picture from Little Goblin FB page)

Not for the first time, we are in the normal kind of foreign court,  rotten with corruption, treachery, traffic with unclean spirits, adultery, deceit and malice.  As suggested by the title, the characters repair to the witch Hecate to further their base plans, though one could ask what they manage to achieve thereby:

No, time must do’t. We cannot disjoin wedlock:
‘Tis of heaven’s fast’ning; well may we raise jars,
Jealousies, strifes, and heart-burning disagreements,
Like a thick scurf o’er life, as did our master
Upon that patient miracle, but the work itself
Our power cannot disjoint.

As compared with the plot summary here and the text here a lot of the witchy stuff had been left out, along with the subsidiary witches, thus giving no opportunity for pedantic comparisons with Macbeth.  Also the Duke has been made Francisca’s secret lover and author of her swelling belly, thus simplifying the plot and increasing the corruption–I like the sound of that!  We did however have the congealed smell of Christmas dinners from the pub below, which was quite appropriate for Hecate’s cave at least:

FIRST WITCH: The juice of toad, the oil of adder.
SECOND WITCH: Those will make the younker madder.
HECATE: Put in; there’s all, and rid the stench.
FIRESTONE: Nay, here’s three ounces of the red-hair’d wench.
ALL: Round, around, around, about, about
All ill come running in, all good keep out.

I thought the set and lighting worked very well together, so that about one-quarter of the playing area was Hecate’s lair and the rest was the kind of place where powerful degenerates hang out.  The production was clear, strong and well-paced.

I particularly enjoyed the sparkling if brittle cynicism of Charlotte Mack as Francisca  the adulteress, unmarried mother, and schemer against her virtuous sister-in-law; and the various layers of deceit required of Emma Richardson as the Duchess when her machinations went awry.

With a more-or-less universal happy ending, true lovers reunited and an extremely modest body count, this is great fun and funny and well worth seeing!

Fortune’s Fool, Old Vic 11 December

December 12, 2013


Kuzovkin and Olga Petrovna--picture from

Kuzovkin and Olga Petrovna–picture from

In this case I’ve rebuilt the play from scratch, cutting and changing things I didn’t like, wrote adaptor Mike Poulton in the really rather good programme to explain how he had approached Turgenev’s Nakhlebnik.  It didn’t tell you the story though, so I’ve hidden a synopsis away here.

That approach to adapting led to some strange inconsistencies, even leaving aside the preview symptoms.  Olga Petrovna (Lucy Briggs-Owen) was far too old and worldly-wise for someone who had left home six years ago at the age of 13.  That rather unbalanced the action because you didn’t get the feeling of her as a very young woman learning to live and having to use challenging life experiences as building material for her personality. That rather let the field open for the cut-rate Oscar Wilde of Richard McCabe’s Tropatchov, which was just overdone.  Consequently it was rather strange that in his humiliation Kuzovkin turned on Olga Pavlovna’s husband Eletsky, who had been largely blotted out by Tropatchov.

Then the Expressionist linen-cupboard where Kuzovkin was discoverd at the beginning didn’t lead to anything apart from Eletsky courting Olga Petrovna in dumb-show and thus contradicting the rest we saw of his character.  (And some generic comic business with much rushing around the stage in place of actual scene-setting.)

I’m not going to complain once again about the French of English actors–and Tropatchov’s is meant to be very bad, but Eletsky’s was hardly any better and Olga Petrovna was all the time calling her husband Paul (English) rather than Paul (French), which lost the point.

On one occasion, the butler Trembinsky wanted the draughtsboard cleared away that Kuzovkin and his equally humble pal Ivanov had just been playing chess on; someone referred to the Old Master dying 30 years ago, which made it difficult to see how he could even have been thought to be  Olga Petrovna’s father; in the second act, Eletsky wanted Kuzovkin to repeat to the awaited Tropatchov what he had said to the same Tropatchov  earlier that morning–on his mobile, perhaps…

But I enjoyed it and was touched by the  confrontation between Kuzovkin (both Lear and the Fool) and Olga Petrovna (still Cordelia, even if miscast); I thought that Iain Glen did Kuzovkin’s ruined nobility very well, and the rest of the cast will surely catch up at least to some extent.

I think that this will be well worth seeing later on in the run…and this blog has information about other Russan plays on in London, both this year and next

The Love Girl & the Innocent, Southwark Playhouse 12 October [Preview]

October 13, 2013



Picture from Facebook page

At the beginning, there was an announcement that Rebecca Oldfield (playing the heroine Lyuba)  would be on book, having taken over the role at the last minute.  There were no programmes.  The set looked far too clean and well-organised to be a Russian workplace, never mind a Soviet prison camp.

The play, of course, is by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and is set in a Gulag in 1945.

In theory, it follows Nemov (Nerzhin in the original), a captain newly sent to the camps and Lyuba (short for Lyubov’ = love, a perfectly normal first name for women in Russia).  Nemov loses his post as production supervisor to a more cunning rival; he and Lyuba fall in love and the question is whether she can bear to enjoy the protection of the camp doctor so that Nemov will not be sent to another camp.

In fact, a large proportion of the play involved scenes from camp life and establishing the fates of the multitudinous characters, and it worked rather well in this production; clearly a lot of theatrical intelligence had been applied by director Matthew Dunster to making it all work on stage.  Of course, none of it looked anything like what you can see at the Gulag Memorial in Perm, but I felt that someone had read the text carefully and made sensible decisions about how to present it on that basis.

The thing about Lyuba being on book meant that she had the text with her in the second half and referred to it with increasing frequency.  In fact, in her explanation with Nemov she was trying to explain that she was not free, the constraint she was under–and there it was  in her hand–I found that almost unbearably affecting.

I think the reason this play works better than you might think is that Solzhenitsyn had something to say, and knew how to say it, if not in the most polished theatrical language; and he had split himself between Nemov (captain arrested straight from the front) and Lyuba (sordid upbringing and unreasonable artistic gifts).  Of course that’s what’s so Russian about the whole thing–the stupid squalor of a sixth of the earth’s surface turned over to various grades of slavery and against that the spark of the divine.

As for the actors, I thought that Rebecca Oldfield did very well and Cian Barry as Nemov actually moved and held himself like a soldier, which is a rare and welcome thing on the stage.  Emily Dobbs also made a strong impression as Granya, the sniper who shoots her husband (you can more-or-less work out who was playing what part from an article here).

I should also point out that this was billed as a preview…see here for what I know about other Russian plays in London.

Jason, English Touring Opera/RCM 04 October

October 6, 2013


Picture from ETO's Facebook page

Picture from ETO’s Facebook page.  (That set makes it look as though everything is happening indoors…)

This blog and its pals thoroughly enjoyed their outing to the wilderness that is SW7 for this opera by Francisco Cavalli, dating from 1649.  The important thing is that the music is really very, very good.  Since Cavalli had moved some way towards giving important characters nice cantabile arias by comparison with Monteverdi, it’s also more accessible and immediately appealing than you might think.  The orchestra–identified as the Old Street Band, which seems to be ETO’s period instrument group–played divinely under conductor Joseph McHardy, and I have never seen an opera orchestra looking so happy either.  The singers were uniformly very good as well–there was a cast change announced, which I think came down to Demus/Apollo being sung by a student cover from RCM–it certainly didn’t detract from anything.

The story is that of Jason and Medea (obviously enough) turned into a tale of amorous entanglements and happy endings, which was the kind of thing that happened to Classical plots in those days.  My only criticism would be that the opera was surely aiming at a sharp contrast between knockabout farce and the romantic-tragical-dramatic, but the farce was not really in evidence here and many jokes went missing.  On the other hand, the full-on treatment of the Royal Academy of Music’s 2010 production with self-propelled stage props and the like would have been difficult for a touring production.

Go see!–that music really is extremely lovely.

Some problems of continuity in J L Carr’s ‘A Month In The Country’

September 18, 2013


Try Books! was highly impressed by this novella, and quite rightly so.  We briefly recall that the story is set in 1920 and concerns the protagonist Birkin arriving in the North Yorkshire village to uncover a wall-painting in the church.  Not a great deal happens, you might say–he uncovers the painting, but without any great repercussions, recovers somewhat from his experiences in the Great War and does not have an affair with Alice Keach, the vicar’s wife.  At the same time, and following the provisions of the same will, another man (called Moon) has come to search for the grave of Piers Hebron, d 1373.

The narration impresses with its reticence–things like the death of Emily Clough are alluded to so that the reader himself sees and feels them, instead of a description being imposed on him from outside.  The manner of the North Yorkshire locals–direct but without meaning harm is beautifully evoked, as is the changing of the seasons.

That is the important bit.  There are also some reservations.  It may be  good that we confront so many items of specialised vocabulary in so short a space:  fish-base, baluster, ashlar, sinoper haematite, sneck, but some of them raise doubts:

‘a spendid repertory of North Riding dishes was performed amanti bravura to an applauding Londoner’

–I rather doubt that amanti bravura  means anything at all in Italian or in English…

The way in which Moon finds Piers Hebron to have been a convert to Islam at the end of the story so that he must have been the  intriguing sinner depicted in the mural Birkin has uncovered is all rather too neat:  presumably it means This is the end of the story, you can go now.  Which I imagine is why neither Birkin’s masterly mural nor Moon’s two discoveries have any consequences at all.

People move away, grow older, die, and the bright belief that there will be another marvellous thing round each corner fades.

Then there are some strange lapses of consistency.  The month seems to last at least from the end of July to sometime in September.  At the beginning, Birkin learns that his deceased funder herself cleared a patch of the painting; he worries about this, but then it’s never referred to again.  At the beginning, Birkin also tells the Reverend J G Keach that he will need to use the stove in the church since he does not have his own, while later on he cooks on his own Primus.  Alice Keach ends up referring to her husband as ‘Arthur’, which doesn’t sound very JG-ish.

Apparently this all came about because the author didn’t believe in proof-reading, and it’s unfortunate in a novella–especially such a good one–while forgetting what you’ve said in a novel is less likely to distract the reader.

Sappho…in 9 fragments, Rose Theatre 27 May

May 27, 2013


Picture I appropriated from

Picture I appropriated from

This turned out to be a monodrama lasting 65 minutes by Jane Montgomery Griffiths, with the single performer Victoria Grove getting to play I guess four parts.  It started with Sappho in a wooden cage thing with ropes and sheeting beginning the Hymn to Aphrodite with rather Modern Greek pronunciation and leaving out the specific invocation of the god and her attributes.  I feared the worst.

As the thing developed Sappho explained how she had become a thing of gaps, which gaps men had attempted to fill with salacious pedantry, and by making her die for the love of a sweaty public transport worker (Phaon the ferryman).  This was built around sections and phrases from Sappho’s surviving works and other literary sources, including Yeats, the myth from The Symposium, and other sources I probably should have recognised.

Then we got into the affair between Atthis, a young American actress now, and the star who was playing Phaedra (in a play that had apparently gained the most famous line from Medea) and that was very good, especially as Victoria Grove got to play both of them and the star’s daughter as well.  And threw herself about the roped cage, not infrequently hanging upside-down to deliver her lines.

That’s what you need to do of course:  put what you want to say about Sappho and women in the theatre and love into concrete characters and their relationships, not a public lecture.

As for the 9 fragments, using the Voigt numbering I detected at least allusions to Nos 1, 34, 47, 49, 53, 94, 105A, 105B, 110, 111, 120, 130, 145, 137.

What was the reason for the cage and the ropes?  The human female form divine was hardly invisible to the Greeks in the way it was in the Christian era, after all.  Maybe that Sappho turned confinement to her own purposes in the same way that loss of the text became polyvalency.


(See here for what I know of other Greek plays in London.)

Dido Queen of Carthage, Greenwich Theatre 22 May

May 24, 2013


Picture from

Picture from

Well I enjoyed this performance, probably because it was a good play!  The theatre was perhaps a quarter full, to be kind, and at the beginning at least I often had difficulties in catching what the actors were saying, both because of uneven delivery of Marlowe’s blank verse and because they were just facing away from the audience.

It wasn’t my fault anyway since I had prepared myself by reading the text, so I can report that there was a prologue adopted from somewhere else and The Passionate Shepherd to His Love had been adopted as a kind of leitmotiv.

How much the tricksy lighting, vocalise, and stylised playing with ropes actually helped things is hard to say, but I thought the puppet Ascanius was good.  The actors became more settled in their delivery as time went on, though Aeneas was never exactly secure in this regard and insecurity seemed to be the keynote of Dido’s characterisation.

The ending would have been overwhelming if the cast had just sung a bit better and in two parts.

There is a ticket offer as follows:

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Medea in the Amphitheatre, Guildhall Art Gallery 13 March

March 13, 2013



Still from rehearsal video gives some idea of the proceedings

Let’s be practical here.  To start off with, you want the entrance on Basinghall Street, and I think you need to arrive early to get a good seat either right at the front or in the banked seating at the back.  Actually I managed the latter even though I did not arrive early and hence or otherwise did not encounter any programme-buying opportunities, although a few people in the audience had them.

Oh yes, the seating is not amphitheatre-like at all, but long and narrow like an emaciated church.  And in my section at the back, a young woman spectator was telling her friend about an elaborate plan for revenge on a man…she wasn’t a plant either…

As everyone knows, this was a production of Medea using original performance practice as far as possible, even if not on the same scale, as a very thoughtful essay on the event website points out.  So we had masks, an all-male cast, the chorus singing to the accompaniment of a solo flute.  Sometimes it was just interesting in an antiquarian kind of way, sometimes you felt this is the way it was meant to be as you felt something of the power of Greek tragedy.  Perhaps this was particularly the case with Medea, where you felt the male will and intellect trapped behind the white woman’s mask.  The actor here delivered his lines with an effective dying fall, but not so you could always make them out at the back–in contrast to Jason, who was always audible and never convincing, just as a Jason is meant to be.

But there was so much that worked much better than it normally does.  The stylised acting gave due gravity and spacing to the action, the chorus worked very well–their excursions up the aisle were especially effective–and the general reflections on life and fate for once seemed to be organically connected with the action.

We say:  well done to all concerned…

And I’m well impressed by Sophie Richards, who not only brought this enterprise into being, but also provided a pretty damn good translation.

See here for what I know of other Greek plays in London.