Here is a quick round up of some of the other things I’ve been to seen of late.
Much Ado About Nothing, Olivier
A very decent traditional production by Nicholas Hytner without any gimmick or clever device, just two powerful central performers (Simon Russell Beal and Zoë Wannamaker as Benedick and Beatrice) giving enthralling and intelligent performances, on which the whole of the rest of the play stands. The ensemble is good, though I thought Claudio was a little too wooden, but very winsome, and a decent Dogberry from Mark Addy. I have to admit that the first half of the play is less my cup of tea than the more serious second half, and the play and cast really do come into their own once the situation is established and the characters are allowed to develop. Why oh why do audiences insist on laughing themselves silly for the sake of show (yes, I know you can understand the lines); laughing at the ‘Kill Claudio’ line is all too common but still disturbing (especially after the devastating jilting scene has pulled us firmly away from comedy), please stop it!
The Lover/The Collection. Comedy Theatre
A very welcome outing for these two short early Pinter plays. The cast is top notch, with Gina McKee, Richard Coyle and Charlie Cox in The Lover, being joined by Tim West for The Collection. Both plays are vintage Pinter, dealing with the psychology of identity, sexuality, menace, fantasy and imagination. The Lover is almost absurdist in the rapidly changing relationship between the central couple, whereas The Collection is a more sinister piece, but which also exudes dangerous sexuality (a scene between Cox and Coyle is threatening in tone, but also extraordinarily sexy, and Cox, playing a rescued ‘slum boy’ lounging about on a Sunday morning with his patron and implied lover, West, is trying to dominate the situation with his sexual hold over the older man). I could write a lot more about the excellent cast (and what a discovery Cox is) and the interesting subject matter, but maybe I should just urge you to see the plays, they are compelling and atmospheric viewing.
Uncle Vanya, Rose of Kingston
Sir Peter Hall’s production of Uncle Vanya for the English Touring Theatre opens the new Rose of Kingston. Vanya should deeply move me, it is one of my favourite plays to watch or read, but this production was solid, maybe even stolid, and failed to light up the stage (I should ass that I saw the play in early-ish previews, and no doubt it has improved by now…). Nicholas Le Prevost was simply too high pitched for my liking; he needed to do a lot less declamation. Michelle Dockery was a picture of restraint as Yelena, and Loo Brealey was a very good natured Sonya, these performances being the highlights of the evening for me (incidentally I loved Dockery in Hall’s Bath production of Pygmalion last year, it comes to the Old Vic later this year, and is well worth catching).
I wrote the following about the Rose of Kingston on in response to a Guardian blog, but it (sort of) makes sense on its own anyway:
The Rose Theatre, Kingston
I personally think that the space is difficult; it is a very wide open stage with what look like only little doors leading to the backstage areas. Will touring production, made for more conventional pro arch spaces, be comfortable here? As You Like It a couple of years back seemed to fill the space better than the current Vanya does (a reasonable production with a bit of over enthusiasm in places in my view), which is interesting as it was created for the space (but then also to tour afterwards). It’s not that drama needs to necessarily fill a space, but that a difficult, large or remote stage can take away from the drama and sometimes even damage the actual performances (actors will tell you about special spaces and difficult spaces).
On the bigger issue of artistic leadership and policy, I’m sure Stephen Unwin will create some great theatre for The Rose (and I’ve enjoyed much of his work with ETT), should the money be available for in house productions to be produced (which is not certain). But we also have to think about the local audience; genteel elderly Surry folks will not be after challenging cutting edge work (of course a minority will be, but not in huge numbers and not 5 or 6 times a year I would imagine), rather the classics and dependable names, plus middle brow touring productions are what is wanted, and saleable. Theatres should challenge and try and develop their audience if they want to be more than mediocre, but The Rose has no subsidy and cannot take the risks that I’m sure Mr Unwin and Sir Peter might have liked, at least from the start anyway.
On design, I don’t go in for imitations of Elizabethan theatres, especially ones that use modern theatrical techniques and have a roof (at least there is a mad purity to The Globe, but thank god there is only one of them). Actually at the Rose of Kingston, I found the action on the stage can be quite remote from some parts of the house, more so than in a conventional space with the same number of seats, but situated closer to the stage. They should have gone for a more Swan (RSC Stratford) like configuration, intimate and ‘historical’, but everyone gets a seat.
Of course it is a victory to have a new theatre built, and particularly in the temple to shiny consumerism that is Kingston, and even better to see full houses (as when I saw Vanya), but to entrench itself in the local theatre ecology and gain a loyal audience, compromises need to be made (and hey, who said Blond Bombshells, The Tempest, Mr Green and Sweet William are bad things in themselves? This is not the National!). The Orange Tree over in Richmond gets it right by giving a classical programme (including discoveries and oddities, but which fit into ‘classical’ prejudices usually), with a real house style and artistic ethos, and they have found a loyal breed of, and I want to say small c conservative, elderly ladies and gents to support them over the years (but they have less the half the number of seats to fill). But of course The Rose is entirely a different creature then the Orange Tree, so I’d better stop there.