Saturday, 16 October 2010


11/10/10, Donmar

This is the production where a leading actor had to be hospitalised after one of the pistols used in the duelling scene and loaded with blanks shot something into his eye.

We've seen this before, at the Bridewell before it closed: a Stephen Sondheim piece about the corrosive power of unrequited passionate love, featuring his usual witty rhymes, psychologically intriguing lyrics and one tune (though it's a good one, and comes in numerous different versions). I remembered that much, but none of the details. D said she couldn't remember it at all... but then at the very start leant over to me and whispered "I DO remember this!" The first scene features the young lovers in a post-coital moment. In this production they were in fetching deshabille, he in longjohns (I think) she in a white basque-and-negligee affair. But at the Bridewell she, and possibly he, were completely naked. Strangely, I had forgotten this. D observed how hard it is to take someone's performance seriously when the first sight you've had of them is in the nude.

We are among a bunch of Italian soldiers garrisoning some godforsaken outpost. The colonel has brought his cousin (Elena Roger, tiny and fierce and wearing great smudges of dark make-up on her cheekbones -- she is Argentinian, they tell me, and made her name as Evita and as Piaf, which explains the accent) who suffers from "nerves" or some other chronic condition which leaves her bed-ridden. The new young subaltern (David Thaxton), leaving his lover (Scarlett Strallen) in Milan, is conventionally polite to the invalid who mistakes his overtures for those of a lover. The lover back home turns out to be married with a child and thus their love, so apparently all-consuming at the start, is in fact somewhat compromised. A meddling doctor (Allan Corduner -- he was Sullivan in Topsy-Turvy) makes matters worse by suggesting the young man appear to be in love with the invalid in the hopes of making her better. There is a flashback (she was once married to a cad who took all her money and then dumped her), there is the duel when the colonel cottons on to what's been happening; there is the souring of the original love affair when the young woman refuses to leave her husband for her lover because it will mean losing her child.

So far all very satisfactory. The bit I find hard to take because it's psychologically implausible, although I can see how it might have appealed to Sondheim or whoever wrote the original story as a perverse twist, is the fact that the young man really ends up in love with the invalid. Why?

An all-male chorus (it was both sexes, I think, in the Bridewell production) leading to some cross-dressing in the flashback sequence. A surprisingly substantial band tucked away in a little room in a corner of the Donmar balcony (from which the band leader emerges to take his bow).

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