Tuesday 28 July 2015

Three Days in the Country at the National, or, Tell me the Truth about Love

Note: This is a review of the preview on Wednesday 22nd July 2015. The Press Night is this evening.

It's a pleasure to be able to report (following a number of shows that misfired variously because of work, casting or production) that Rufus Norris's National has at last produced a show pretty close to excellent in all three of those departments. The evening is also a reminder, like the Donmar's Temple, that attention to character, narrative and simplicity of staging can carry you a long way.

The play takes us into the familiar pre-Revolutionary aristocratic Russian territory so often visited by Howard Davies during the Hytner years, though the production intends I think to detach the play to some extent from that setting (difficult in practice because the text remains very clear on that point). We follow through two swift-moving, episodic acts, the romantic longings of various pairings among the company. The fractured marriage of Arkady (John Light) and Natalya (Amanda Drew). The ultimately cold young tutor (Royce Pierreson) who sets various hearts ablaze. The too clinical doctor (Mark Gatiss) and the perhaps lonely old maid (Debra Gillett). And, in a binding central performance, the lover (John Simm) who did not speak years before and has spent a life crafting a mask to conceal his passion. Like Temple the play is often very funny – most of all in the brilliant opening scene of Act Two where Gatiss's self-confessed second rate doctor proposes to Gillett's snuff-taking spinster - but it is ultimately a hard series of studies reminiscent of a line from Babylon 5 – “all love is unrequited.”

Sunday 26 July 2015

Temple at the Donmar, or, What does God require of us?

I booked for this play mainly because the cast included the great Simon Russell Beale, partly because of the venue, and not at all because of the subject matter. This was because an element of that subject, the Occupy Movement, led me to anticipate a lecture. In fact Steve Waters has written a thought provoking, funny (including a beauty of a mobile phone gag, and nice skewerings of twitter and Rowan Williams) and often moving play. The centre cannot hold, but it is a telling reminder of the value of trying, and the pain inflicted on those in that centre.

The focus of Waters's narrative is the Dean of St Paul's (played with a repressed, tortured brilliance by Russell Beale). He's caught in the middle of a number of louder, certain voices. Neither Waters nor Russell Beale commit the error of making him a saint. He's as fallible as everybody else on stage, but that doesn't lessen the value of his example. The character also makes an unexpectedly moving case for a particular type of Church of English minister. A quiet, gentle faith, yet with a hidden power, that perhaps does still have something to say.

Friday 24 July 2015

Radio 3 broadcasts from the 2015 Edinburgh International Festival

In general, I'm not a fan of blog posts that just copy and paste press releases, but since I can't see this information on either the Edinburgh Festival or Radio 3 websites, I'll make an exception.

Here are details of the BBC Radio 3 broadcasts from this year's Edinburgh International Festival. As usual, the evening concerts are deferred until September due to the small matter of the Proms rather than going out live: