Thursday, 23 December 2010


21/12/10, Theatre Upstairs (Royal Court)

1 hr 15 mins straight through. A bit of a dud, unfortunately, because it was a nice idea. Ten-year old girls at boarding school, swearing themselves blue in the face, emotionally needy, being beastly to each other one moment and clinging the next, discussing "annie" (anorexia), crushes and the like in brittle, staccato dialogue... and played by ten-year old girls. Unfortunately while one of the two main characters spoke well and convincingly and you could hear every word she said, the other was hard to decipher, having that high, apparently clear but actually rather muffled voice that many children have, and much of her dialogue got lost.

There were three girls and three adult actors -- a female teacher, a male governor ("Are you a paedophile?" one girl asked him brightly) and an older brother. The girls' dialogue and their deep-seated unhappiness, which breaks out in pashes and rivalries and jealousies and conspiracies and petty blackmail, was caught accurately. Part of the "plot" revolves around who's playing who in the school production of The Crucible, which of course the girls don't understand. The adults were much less convincing, especially the teacher. Perhaps we were supposed to see them as the girls saw them, but if that were the case the scenes with the teacher alone on the phone to the headmistress simply didn't work.

The set a pair of bunk beds and not much else. Tuck boxes and trunks (one of which is dropped out of a window). Grey school uniforms. Constant noises off: shouts, gossip, laughter, running, the whole place never quiet (and after dark the waving of torches in the corridors).

I'd say the author (E V Crowe) is one to watch.

Afterwards S said her boarding school was never like that and I was inclined to agree: neither was mine. A, being American, said she thought boarding schools barbaric. S and I defended them, saying we'd been happy at ours and well-educated. But afterwards I thought that what sticks in my mind is secondary school: prep school was a different matter and I remember ten year old boys being almost as beastly to some people (including me) as those ten year old girls.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010


14/12/10, RSC (Roundhouse)

Missed it: had to work.

But I'm reliably informed it contained an episode of Superfluous Smoking.


8/12/10, National (Olivier)

3 hrs 30 mins. Superfluous smoking alert.

Time Out's Caroline McGinn reckons Rory Kinnear's Hamlet was the best she's seen. Personally I'd rather be guided by the audience reaction: silence during some of the set-pieces (like the play) but a cannonade of coughing during the soliloquies. That to me suggests a decent production but a leading actor who, while perfectly intelligent and speaking the words in a way that enables one to follow his train of thought with beautiful clarity, lacks the necessary charisma.

A decent production (by Nick Hytner) but derivative: reminded me an awful lot of Greg Doran's similar modern dress production with David Tennant for the RSC last Christmas, especially the idea of surveillance (CCTV cameras in Doran's version, secret service operatives with earpieces in this).

David Calder strong as Polonius and the gravedigger. Ruth Negga the most convincing Ophelia I've ever seen -- I thought she was a genuine teenager but it turns out she's 30 or thereabouts and highly experienced. (She's also half-Irish, half-Ethiopian; Alex Lanipekun who plays Laertes is also mixed race' so presuambly this wasn't colour-blind casting but a suggestion that Polonius's late wife was black.) James Laurenson interesting but underpowered as the Ghost and the Player. Patrick Malahide definitely underpowered as a Machiavellian Claudius: a piece of very effective screen acting totally lost in the Olivier's vast spaces. Clare Higgins tottering about on a pair of very high heels playing Gertrude as a hard-bitten old party who's seen it all. (She was also very clearly miked, which in this theatre is a bonus, though I couldn't spot anyone else who was.)

The smoking? Hamlet lights up twice, the first time on his student-style mattress in a room full of piled up books... and takes no further puffs.


2/12/10, The Hospital, Covent Garden

2 hrs. Preview of the new film about George VI and his Australian speech therapist, Lionel Logue: a fine piece of British heritage film-making and a hot tip for the Oscars. I'd just read the book by Logue's grandson Mark and the Sunday Times journalist Peter Conradi and (perhaps as a result) was slightly disappointed by the movie, despite the great praise it garnered at the London Film Festival.

The central performances (Colin Firth as the Duke of York/King, Geoffrey Rush as Logue) were strong. So too were Helena Bonham-Carter as the Duchess/Queen/Queen Mum and (perhaps surprising this) Guy Pearce as Edward VIII (even though the supposed older brother was played by the younger actor). But I didn't care for Michael Gambon's George V: the bullying was historically apt but he seemed to lack aristocratic polish. Claire Bloom was unrecognisable as Queen Mary. Anthony Andrews looked and moved like a waxwork as Baldwin. Derek Jacobi was implausibly reptilian as the Archbishop. Timothy Spall was frankly embarrassing as Churchill.

At times I drifted and played spot the location. The old Naval College at Greenwich stood in for wartime Whitehall, I think. I'm told Logue's distressed basement consulting room was in a house in Portland Place rented out for events and locations. The Duke's home at 145 Piccadilly was also a house in Portland Place. The Logue family home was in that tenement block behind Kings Cross which is often used for filming... and looked a very far cry from The Boltons where they actually lived in middle class comfort before moving to a rather grand villa in Sydenham.

And some of the compromises with historical truth needed to make a decent film irked me. The timescale is compressed, which is fair enough: everything happens between 1934 and 1939 in the film, whereas in fact Logue first treated the Duke in 1925 or 6. There's a nice scene in Westminster Abbey before the Coronation in which the king (who's been listening to the Archbishop and his scheming Establishment cronies) confronts Logue with his lack of qualifications, which allows Logue to respond with a bit of handy backstory about treating sufferers from World War One shellshock and never claiming to have qualifications because there weren't any for a new discipline he was helping to pioneer. There's another scene in which Logue starts asking the Duke about his childhood -- a primitive type of psychoanalysis, perhaps -- and meets resistance from the Duke which probably reflects reality. And the significance of the Duke's problems is emphasised by supposing that many more of his speeches were broadcast than was really the case and conjuring up a wonderful BBC control room with equipment cabinets carrying brass plates with the names of the countries of the empire to which they transmitted which had a certain bravura splendour.

But Logue is made out to be a failed actor. He calls the Duke "Bertie" whereas in reality he was always "Sir". And the Logues are shown as a good deal poorer than they were in reality. No doubt the aim is to emphasise the contrast between the privileged royals and the "common colonial" Logue, but the changes rather diminish Lionel as an historical figure.

What's more, to make sense of the Abdication crisis Edward VIII's supposed Fascist leanings are frequently referred to (I suspect no-one knew about them at the time and, if they did, those in the know were a good deal more perturbed by the religious question), and at one point a radio in the background carries what sounds like Abdication news when in reality it was all a terrible secret until the deed was agreed.

But looking back at that list I see there are many more positives than negatives (and I could have named several other positives) so no doubt I'm just being picky.