Monday, 24 August 2015

'Splendour' at the Donmar Warehouse

Last week we went to see the new production of 'Splendour' at the Donmar. I hadn't heard of the play before so it was nice to come to it cold and with no idea where it would go.

It's set in some Eastern European country with a dictatorship or at least a one party state and is set in the reception room of the presidential palace on the eve of revolution. We meet the characters - the photographer who's been invited to take a portrait of the current president, her translator and the wife of the president who keeps them going in terms of conversation and vodka while waiting for him to arrive, and then her long-term friend arrives for moral support. It's a stragely simplistic introduction to the play.

We learn about the four characters as the play progresses, as it restarts and emphasises different aspects of the characters. The translator isn't a terribly good translator but rather from rebel territory escaping her past, the photographer just wants to leave and photograph the revolution rather than stay for a possible portrait, the friend isn't really a friend to the wife of the president, she simply carries on to protect her children, and the wife of the president? Well, she intends to stay the wife of the president come hell or high water, and will stay in the palace whatever happens.

It's quite a strong play and we learn about the characters as it progresses. No-one is quite what they seem to be but they must keep up the charade because that is who they are. The play takes place in the reception room of the presidential palace, with enormous windows that can't keep out the sound of revolution but they all ignore it until the end. The grand chandeleir sputters and goes out, only to shine brightly again for each new scene as the play starts again and again only with a different emphasis each time and eventually we learn more about the characters and their circumstances. We learn that the husband of the friend didn't really commit suicide and why the friend doesn't see her grown up children any more, why the photographer buys bed linen after every asignmnent and why the translator steals.

The play is set within a ring of broken glass (not really glass, but supposed to represent the shattered chandelier after the palace is stormed, I assume) and begins and begins again until the final time when the sordid truth emerges.

I liked the play and liked it's telling and development, Sinead Cusack was the president's wife with Michelle Fairley as her long suffering friend, and Genenieve O'Reilley as the photographer and Zawe Ashton as the translator. I thought they were all excellent but the photographer was a bit one-dimensional and didn't really grow as much as the other characters. I've seen Sinead on stage before and she was, as ever, excellent, but I really liked Michelle Fairley, a very different character to her 'Game of Thrones' persona as Lady Stark, and Zawe as the translator, sly and snide but ultimate fearful except where shoes are concerned. Not a great play but certainly one to make you think.

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