Sunday, 20 October 2013

Un-noted Theatre (aka What do I say?)

I've been to a number of theatrical productions in the last six months that I didn't really know what to say about them. Not that they were necessarily bad, just that I was a bit lost.

'The Winslow Boy' at The Old Vic

I wasn't desperately keen to see this despite the great reviews but had to go. I've seen the film (or at least most of the film) which was a Sunday afternoon staple in the '70s so I was familiar with the tale of the father and his pride and honour. This was always about the father, not the boy who stole a postal order while at military college - or did he? There was some excellent acting in this production but the bottom line was that I didn't really care if the lad was a thief or not. I suspect I should have.

Henry Goodman was excellent as Mr Winslow, starting off a vigorous middle-aged man and ending in a wheelchair worn out my the trials and tribulations of the case. I was most impressed by Naomi Frederick as the suffragette sister with hints of politics in her future.

'Othello' at The National Theatre

I was really looking forward to this production (which is still running at the time of writing) with Adrian Lester and Rory Kineer in the leads as Othello and Iago. I saw a great production of the play in 2011 with Clarke Peters and Dominic West and, I suppose, I was expecting an improved version of that production. And I felt let down by the 2013 version of a military camp in Iraq or Afghanistan with Ikea-type build it yourself furniture.

My problems with the production started early on - why would a women in stretch jeans talk about her husband 'owning' her and why on earth would this be discussed with the elders of Venice? The number of unlikelies just kept mounting up until Desdemona is murdered in her panties in a plywood bed. Like yeah? I don't think so. And that is what I found disappointing about the production.

The play just didn't work for me I'm afraid. Adrian Lester has probably been waiting for the right time to play Othello (it's inevitable really) for a long time and the chance to play with Rory must be perfect but it didn't work for me.

'The Bodyguard' at The Adelphi Theatre

I'm not a fan of Whitney or of 'The Bodyguard' (I've never seen the film all the way through) but when Beverley Knight joined the cast as the female lead then that changed everything. I was introduced to Beverley ten years ago with 'Affirmation' and she was my favourite at the Paralympics 2012 ceremony singing 'I Am What I Am'.

The play started off OK, introducing the characters and giving them the right motivations for whatever was going to happen - the diva, the overlooked sister, the reluctant hero, etc - and I think that's where it all started to go wrong for me. It was rather clinical and unfeeling. It was almost as if every sign of story (I won't say plot) was whittled down to move on with another song - get the acting over with and start another song.  As I commented at half time, there was a lot of wood on that stage.

It's a great vehicle for Bev though and shows off her great voice. The stage came alight when she opened her mouth to let rip with another song, it's just a shame that the production didn't match her high calibre. At one point Beverley sings with her 'sister' and that is such a bad move - the 'sister' has a great voice for a stage musical but, next to a natural singer like Bev, she just fails.

I'm pleased to have seen it but I don't think I'll be going back.

'Edward II' at The National Theatre

I'm a fan of Christopher Marlowe who has written some of the greatest verse in the English language - and some people argue that he was Shakespeare - so I was very keen to see this production of a not often performed play. The Olivier stage at the National Theatre seemed an ideal space for it too. O how wrong I was ....

As soon as I walked into the theatre I realised there was something wrong. Namely, a rubbishy dressed stage with the back walls exposed, a cleaner still vacuuming the carpet, racks of costumes on display. And a sort of shed behind the carpet and the throne. Eh? And it went downhill from there with jerky hand-held video cameras used to (what?) effect. There's even a Benny Hill speeded up sequence filmed on the top of the theatre for some obscure reason. Um, what on earth was going on?

Edward's gay credentials were made obvious by snogging his commoner lover (who had an American accent for some reason) and his brother is now his sister in wobbly high heels. Queen Isobella's French credentials were demonstrated by having her smoke Gauloises cigarettes. Edward III stayed the same age throughout for some reason in his/her school uniform.  Um...?

The director obviously had a strong vision for this production but failed to explain it to me. I felt terribly let down.

'Much Ado About Nothing' at The Old Vic

This is the new, much publicised version of the play starring Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones. I saw them in a touching partnership in 'Driving Miss Daisy' on Broadway a few years ago and someone obviously had the bright idea of casting them as jousting lovers in 'Much Ado'. And that was the first mistake.

I saw an amazing production of 'Much Ado' last year with Meera Syal as Beatrice and she milked every line for a laugh and got the rest of the cast to do the same. O how I laughed. This production raised a smile or two and that says it all for me. Sorry to be cruel, but seeing James Earl Jones shuffle around the stage in his parachute-style onesie does not make for exciting theatre. Neither does an under-dressed stage with only a large table (was it meant to be a table?) as the key piece of staging make for pleasant viewing.

I've seen several productions of the play over the years and Claudio - the lover of Hero - is always an awkward role, but this Claudio was the worst by far (I can't be bothered to look up his name). His American accent was awful and he sounded like Rocky Balboa ordering a pizza for his big scene at Hero's funeral - yes, that amount of acting and emotion. C'mon people, this is The Old Vic - get it right!

I'll leave it there I think. It's always a thrill to see Vanessa - particularly on that stage from which Laurence Olivier announced her birth, the birth of a great actress - but some productions are better than others.

1 comment:

Chris Voisey said...

Ooo you finally got round to them!