Saturday 12 May 2018

The Inheritance at the Young Vic, or, A Dissenting View

Note: This is a review of the performances of both parts on Saturday 5th May 2018.

The reviews (with a couple of exceptions), the social media comments, and the standing ovation last Saturday night all tell a similar story of high praise for this new two part play. I was far from convinced, as I shall try to explain.

My principal issues relate to the text itself. The problems start at the beginning. We are confronted with a group of young men who appear to be in some sort of writing class, dreaming they are being advised by the ghost of E.M. Forster, who are wringing their hands because they don't know how to tell their story. New work is replete with similar instances of this kind of thing and, personally, I loathe it. Just get on and tell the damn story, decide how you're going to start and do it – don't inflict your indecision about how to do so on me. As far as I'm concerned it undermines suspension of disbelief from the beginning by deliberately pointing up the artificiality of theatre.

Tuesday 8 May 2018

Present Laughter at Chichester, or, What is Miss Erikson doing??

Note: This is a review of the performance on Monday 30th April 2018.

There was a fair bit in the first half of this revival which made me stare, and not in a good way. But the most revealing about what has gone wrong was Miss Erikson's silly walk. This was presumably intended to be hilarious, I just found it baffling. It sets the tone for what follows.

I previously saw this play when the National Theatre revived it in 2007 with Alex Jennings in the lead and directed by the late, much missed Howard Davies. I remember it as being often very funny, but also possessing point and heart. Sean Foley's new version at Chichester is, sadly, none of these things. The dominant theme of the production is physical comedy. Occasionally this is quite funny – but nearly all the gags are victims of being overly repeated – it is indicative that one of the funnier moments in the performance I saw was an ad-lib to retrieve a hat, and even then I've seen funnier ad-libs. I suspect the reason for this approach is that Foley doesn't trust the text. He may even be contemptuous of Coward and the world he depicts (there is a suggestion of that in the exaggerated upper class accents deployed by several members of the company). The text is actually full of pointed lines which depend on nuanced delivery to really strike home and draw the laugh – I have the impression Foley has not encouraged this. Indeed, the very opposite – the majority of the text is delivered at pretty much the same level. Similarly, these characters are actually funnier if they retain a degree of reality – but they are all reduced so much to caricature here that I lost interest in them as people and consequently lost interest in their repeated pratfalls.

Thursday 3 May 2018

Absolute Hell at the National, or, Voices from the Edge of the Abyss

My only previous encounter with director Joe Hill-Gibbins was his frankly dreadful production of Edward II in the Olivier. As a result, I was not particularly optimistic about this in advance. To my surprise it proved to have much to commend it.

The work itself clearly merits revival – I dissent here from quite a few professional reviewers. It's a powerful ensemble piece set in Soho on the verge of the 1945 Labour election victory. Although the cast of characters is very large, and many get only a limited time on stage, I found the ambiguities of the writing intriguing not annoying and I never felt the text needed to do more to flesh them out. Even in the smaller cameos it always gives us just enough to interest and convince. On the whole it doesn't feel overlong (certainly not in comparison to the recent similar marathon of John in the Dorfman), though I did feel Ackland struggled a bit with an ending.