Monday, 6 July 2009


4/7/09, Glyndebourne

I take it all back about Falstaff. Saw it once, at Covent Garden, with Bryn Terfel, and thought it tuneless and humourless.

Actually it's really quite funny, especially in this production by Richard Jones, and it's not entirely tuneless: it's just that the tunes are rarely developed, explored or reprised.

You get the impression that by the time he wrote Falstaff Verdi was bored with conventional opera, a form he'd clearly mastered completely, and was anxious to try new things. And by and large succeeded.

I'm writing this up weeks after the event, so recall very little of the detail. Christopher Purves in a fat suit and safari suit was funny as Falstaff; some of the other visual memories include the mock-Tudor pub, the rows of cabbages and lettuces outside the 1930s semi where the Fords lived (designer Ultz); and some genuinely funny farcical business with people rushing on and off at the end of Act One, before Falstaff is tipped into the river. Act Two began with him being fished out of the orchestra pit (aka River Thames) and producing a spurt of water from his mouth.

Few clear memories of the last scene but it was effective.

Reviews here:


2/7/09, Almeida

Missed the beginning, which meant I didn't realise the last scene was a kind of repeat of the first. The 1950s father was a paedophile; when his wife discovered the awful truth he went to Australia and sent postcards to his son, who never learnt the truth from his mother (with whom he had a poisoned relationship in adulthood). So he went to Australia and met a girl whose brother had been abducted and murdered on the beach. And they fell in love and went to Ayers Rock and then he died in a car crash. And she grew up to marry a very decent cove, and we saw them in middle age, she suffering Alzheimer's, he desperate because he knew she didn't really love him, and their son had gone off who knew where. And the son was is in the final scene as the father who was visited by his son (by whom? we never discover), who at last broke the cycle of misery and drought by a reconciliation with his father, and at last it began to rain.

And there was a fish fell out of the sky.

Writing this weeks later, D and A and I struggled to reconstruct all that. Scenes from all four periods/generations were interwoven, played out on the same set, sometimes with characters from different periods overlapping, eating soup, echoing dialogue. It was written by Andrew Bovell, who also wrote the screenplays for Lantana and Strictly Ballroom.

It was mesmerising. It shouldn't have worked but it did. I thought up until the very last scene that it was going to leave us with a very bleak message indeed about the sins of the fathers; but it didn't, and the ending, which might have seemed force, was in fact tremendously moving. Tears welled up.

Reviews here:


29/6/09, Tricycle

90 mins, no interval. A lovely bit of rough theatre from the Baxter Theatre in Cape Town, a six-strong cast singing, dancing, playing a dozen roles apiece, conjuring up life in a no-hope South African village with the help of a plank, some enamel basins, some kind of giant palm fronds, a few boxes and jerry cans and rudimentary costumes. Performed in English with occasional snatches of Xhosa, and greatly helped by the songs and dancing (though it wasn't a musical).

Thozama is 14. Her mother is dead, she and her siblings are brought up by her grandmother while her feckless father is away working. He returns, having lost his job, and promptly gets drunk. Betting on a televised football match he loses -- and Thozama is sold to pay the debt and promptly raped. Head covered she stands in a basin while the men kick footballs at her: a powerful image...

This is a place where, as one character says, "there are no fathers": they're all dead, absent in reality or impossibly, criminally feckless...

There were elements of magic realism, like the moose, a gift from the Swedish ambassador that has escaped en route to the zoo and which is tracked down, cornered and killed by the townsfolk.

The cast play lots of parts: they're especially good as children (schoolchildren and Thozama's siblings).

It has a kind of happy ending: Thozama escapes with a young white policeman in a broken down truck full of children. The policeman is played by a black actor. Her aunty is the policeman's mother's maid, the pair of them exhibiting a certain female solidarity. The women come out of this a good deal better than the men.

Dr T said it was the most depressing play she'd seen in ages, adding that Thozama and her child and all the rest of them would have Aids. It certainly conveys strongly the sense that South Africa is a broken society and mending it ain't going to be easy.

The play has a post-modern interest in story-telling: the actors step out of character now and again not only to tell the story but to ruminate on what possible kinds of stories there are, and how this one will develop: a bit arch, that, though it didn't spoil it.

Written and directed by a white woman, Lara Foot Newton. Rudimentary props but to me it looked like a convincing portrait of poverty-stricken township life.


And the Telegraph review is, as so often, especially good:


27/6/09, RSC (Courtyard, Stratford)

Written by Penelope
The Winter's Tale is the one with the bear, and the most famous stage instruction of all time: "Exit, pursued by a bear". It's not the easiest scene to pull off: real bears aren't plentiful in Warwickshire these days and men in large brown costumes can look absurd. But the best thing about this RSC production is its design. Designers don't often get a mention, but Jon Bausor has got to the heart of the play with his clever use of both set and costumes. His bear is a kind of large puppet operated by two men which engulfs the unfortunate Antigonus.

The play opens in Leontes' lavish palace where a banquet is starting. The set is gorgeous. The table is laden with food and candles and the room is surrounded by skyscraper-high bookshelves.

I must admit that the key moment in the play is baffling to me. Why does Leontes manage to persuade himself that his loving and hugely pregnant wife, Hermione, is being unfaithful to him because she does exactly as he asks her, and persuades Polixenes to stay in their house longer? His misconception and jealous rage cause much of the subsequent tragedy in which Hermione and their son die, and his daughter is lost to a shepherd. And Shakespeare doesn't help us out very much with an explanation.

The play proceeds with great pace. Greg Hicks as Leontes is by turns affectionate, irrational and repentant, with a good deal of self-pity thrown in. It's a good performance. He's described as a tyrant several times and Hicks achieves this, without you losing all sympathy for him later on when he gets his second chance. Hermione's role isn't huge, but Kelly Hunter pulls off being tragically misunderstood without being a total victim, which can't be easy. For me, one of the strongest performances was Noma Dumezweni as Paulina. She has a strong, clear voice and gives great passion and meaning to the verse. Her honesty and integrity are crucial to Leontes' realisation that he was wrong. Samantha Young as Perdita is both acrobatic and girlish, she portrays the comedy and tragedy of her role with aplomb.

But back to the design. The costumes are beautiful: smart suits, uniforms, rags, dancing sheep, the aforementioned bear and travelling musicians all look great. The first half ends with Leontes' realisation of his mistake and as he says "come and lead me unto these sorrows", the bookshelves collapse around him and every single book lands with a thud on the stage and papers swirl into the stalls. It's really effective and dramatic.

I've been to the Globe but this was my first time seeing a production in Stratford and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Having the audience on three sides, with the musicians above the stage does allow you to see Shakespeare more as he intended than many of the London theatres can achieve.


24/6/09, National (Olivier)

Missed it. Had to work. Dammit. D said was extremely good. So did the Guardian, which called it a "wondrous revival":

I've never seen it, too, which just makes it more aggravating.


22/6/09, Royal Court

Missed it. Had to work. D said it was very disappointing. Not unlike the previous Wallace Shawn at this address (Grasses of a Thousand Colours, 20/5/09). And despite having the estimable Jane Horrocks in it. Horribly self-indulgent and rather smug, apparently. So no more Shawn for us, it seems.