Monday 18 July 2016

The Deep Blue Sea at the National, or, An Emotionally Cold Evening

Note: This is a review of the performance on Tuesday 12th July 2016.

Carrie Cracknell and Helen McCrory who previously united at the National for a much praised Medea in 2014 now return for what is, apparently, Rattigan's masterpiece. Just about every other critic seems to have loved this. As with that earlier Medea I was not very favourably impressed.

For those not familiar with the play, it concerns the mess Hester Collyer (McCrory) has apparently made of her life, both in regards to any profession (she may have some artistic talent, but has not fully developed it) and her love life (she spends much of the evening dealing with her ex-husband, a straight-laced judge, and her current lover, an ex-RAF pilot). The central question is whether the thwarted suicide which opens the play will become a successful one by the conclusion.

Saturday 16 July 2016

Il Trovatore at the Royal, or, An Understandable Fall from Fashion

Note: This is a review of the performance on Monday 11th July 2016.

A number of commentators have remarked on the fact that Verdi's Il Trovatore occupies an uncertain place in the repertory these days. Given a narrative as creaky as this, and the evident difficulty of locating four world class voices, I am not at all surprised. Despite some positive elements this new Royal Opera production does not make a compelling case for the work.

The production is another indifferent, though not unrevivable, effort for the company. David Bosch's debut contains a number of things I've seen too often in recent times. He makes ineffective use of projections – I was particularly baffled as to why plants starting growing in one of Leonora's early arias, or why we needed a cartoonish drawing of Leonora later when it was perfectly obvious whom the Count was singing about. There is little, until the last scene, in the way of set apart from barbed wire, crosses and a vague attempt at trees such that the overall sense of place is feeble. The excessive tank suggests some kind of modern battlefield but beyond that there is a lack of clarity as to exactly where or when we are supposed to be – and some costuming (especially of Leonora) doesn't fit well with the implied modernity.

Wednesday 13 July 2016

Richard III at the Almeida, or, Rupert Goold is Uninspired (Again)

Note: This is a review of the performance on Thursday 7th July 2016.

Many critics and audience members at present rate Rupert Goold's Almeida highly. I, on the other hand, don't think I've seen a really exceptional show there since Our Town (and that was an American import). This latest effort sees Goold returning to Shakespeare where again he has often received high praise from others and hasn't especially impressed me. This latest effort does not change my mind.

As a production it is muddled. The first problem is that Goold can't make his mind up about when we are (where is also far from clear). Guns are mingled unconvincingly with swords, modern suits with armour. The set is little help. It is largely minimalist – and those items which are present like the throne on a platform at the back and the overdone skulls in the wall add little. Goold's main idea is to play it all over Richard's grave (the action is framed by its recent excavation, an unconvincing device). During most of the second half the grave is uncovered and sits centre stage while various protagonists struggle to navigate their way around it, or drop handfuls of earth into it, and I kept wondering whether somebody was going to fall in by accident. That most characters in this play are teetering on the edge of the grave, and many of them do indeed end up in it, is clear enough without piling on the symbolism. A further effect of all this is, as is too often the case with productions of the Histories, a failure to convince that a kingdom is at stake.

Friday 8 July 2016

On the Twentieth Century at the Guildhall, or, It's About Life on a Train

Note: This is a review of the performance on Saturday 2nd July.

Regular readers may have realised that I have a real soft spot for what I think of as old fashioned musical comedy. By this I mean shows which are real musical comedies – witty, plot on the silly side, happy ending assured – musicals, one might put it, as they once were. This 1978 show (music Cy Coleman, book & lyrics by the incomparable Betty Comden and Adolph Green) has had a recent London outing, off-West End at the Union, but I wasn't able to catch it – so I was delighted when I discovered the Guildhall was reviving it for the musical theatre class's end of year show. I was even more delighted when I started to scan through the programme book on Saturday evening and discovered that the director was Martin Connor and the choreographer Bill Deamer – the team responsible some years back now for the magnificent Babes in Arms revival at Chichester (still, I'm tempted to say, the best musical revival I've ever seen there). And I was not disappointed – yes there are some uneven aspects to the evening but taken all in all, it's performed with great panache, and that vital sense of pure enjoyment which says yes, we know this is all a bit silly, but isn't it such fun. Indeed it is.