Thursday, 15 March 2012

MARCH 2012

On 3/3/12 we saw In Basildon at the Royal Court. A tricked-up version of a conventional "after the funeral" family drama which sympathetically portrayed the white working class folk of Basildon but was overburdened by plot and ended with an unsatisfactory coda which purported to explain the cause of the rift between the two sisters, Maureen and Doreen (or Mor and Dor). By David Eldridge, whose Knot of the Heart we walked out of at the Almeida last year and who wrote the powerful stage adaptation of Festen. In the first scene Lennie lay dying, comatose, centre stage, attended by sister Maureen, who lived with him, by her son, by a mousy neighbour who kept offering everyone tea and by a jovial old friend, a widower and retired plumber. Doreen arrives: the two sisters communicate only through third parties. Her daughter turns up, a schoolteacher, with her posh banker's son boyfriend, also a teacher. The son's grasping wife arrives, very fat: they're trying unsuccessfully for a baby; they live in a council flat and plan their lives once they've moved into Lennie's house, the family's only asset. In the second scene Lennie is dead; a drunken vicar comes round to help plan the funeral, and at the end of the scene falls off his chair in a pratfall that belonged in a completely different play. Scene three is the nub of things: after the funeral the will is read out by the jovial friend, with the usual surprises and to general consternation (I forget the details). The posh boyfriend gets drunk and makes a tit of himself. Most of the others reveal their true colours. In the final scene we go back in time to see the younger Lennie, with a good job at Ford, dreaming of escape (a job with the firm in Belgium) and making promises to his sisters (again, I forget the details). It was strong and convincing on the family dynamics, on the power of attachment to place, on the attitudes of Basildon Man and on the contrast between those (the sisters) for whom life is always half-empty and those (the jovial friend) for whom it is always half-full. For reasons not entirely clear, Dominic Cooke for the Court had chosen to mount the piece as a traverse production with a naturalistic set: the stage was built out over the stalls and extra seating installed at the back. Not sure what the point was: some of the dialogue got lost, the actors were inevitably playing part of the time with their backs to the spectators. Linda Bassett was Doreen, Phil Cornwell (better known as an impressionist in Dead Ringers and Stella Street) was Lennie, Debbie Chazen was the daughter-in-law, Peter Wight (an actor new to me) was very strong as Ken, the jovial neighbour.

On 8/3/12 we saw Edward Bond's Bingo with Patrick Stewart at the Young Vic. A period piece that has lasted less well than Saved, which we saw last year. Shakespeare is living in retirement in Stratford, old and ill and "written out". His life has no savour. His wealth means he sides with the local bigwigs, represented by a particularly unsympathetic Justice of the Peace with a plan to enclose the local common land for the benefit of the big proprietors, turfing the smallholders off their land (it will, he says, increase food production through more efficient farming). There is a plot: the peasantry rebel, led by the sanctimonious Puritan son of Shakespeare's gardener, a simpleton with a long-suffering wife (she's the most sympathetic character) who lost his wits in the wars; there are night time alarums and excursions and arson. There is a young girl, a vagrant from outside the parish, who ends up hanged at the back of the stage for much of the first act: Shakespeare's humanity seems to have deserted him when it comes to protecting her, for that would involve clashing with the JP. Meanwhile Shakespeare's daughter is exasperated with her father's unwillingness or inability to engage and with his treatment of his wife, deserted for much of her married life, an offstage presence who seems to have taken to her bed and who we never see (though we do at one point hear her). It's a difficult play because the politics now seems dated (very 1960s Marxist), and because the central character does so little and even an actor of Stewart's calibre can't do much with the part: "Patrick Stewart as William Shakespeare," says the flyer, but this isn't a version of Shakespeare that's remotely rewarding to watch. There are two highlights. Act two starts with a meeting in the local pub with Ben Jonson, essentially a wonderful bravura monologue delivered by Shakespeare's greatest rival, impecunious, drunken, cynical: Richard McCabe seizes his chance with relish. The other is the ending: Shakespeare is now in bed, his door locked against his wife and daughter demanding entry, hysterically, violently; when the door is finally opened we see the varnish has been scratched off in the fury of the wife's rage. We sat upstairs; Dr T and S sat downstairs in the front row opposite and S dozed quietly through much of the proceedings.

Some reviews here. I'm with Charles Spencer:

On 10/3/12 we saw Purge at the Arcola. An adaptation of a book by a Finnish-Estonian novelist, Sofi Aksonen. Half the audience were Finnish (or Estonian). An old woman living alone c 1991 in the country is visited by a young girl on the run from a pair of brutal pimps (she's murdered their boss/her lover). The old woman hides her in the same cellar as she hid her brother-in-law for many years after World War Two, an Estonian partisan in the early years of Soviet control. His wife/her sister and their daughter has been shipped off to the gulag. We see all this in flashbacks, the old woman sitting mutely watching the story unfold. It transpires in due course that the old woman betrayed her sister, married the local communist party boss and eventually murdered the brother-in-law, for whom she'd nursed an unrequited passion. The young girl turns out to be sister's granddaughter, which is why (though hailing from Vladivostock) she can speak Estonian. Well-enough staged on a cramped, crammed set in the Arcola's studio, but probably a bit too ambitious: certainly a lot of plot in 2.5 hours. Illona Linthwaite played the old woman, on stage almost throughout, a luminous presence who becomes less synmpathetic the more we learn about her. It started with a video of a hooded woman being terrorised and tortued in "the town hall basement". Included a full-front male bath scene, a gunshot (when the more sympathetic of the two pimps, ex-KGB, shoots the less sympathetic one and runs off the with the young girl in a rather unconvincing twist) and smoking. Harrowing and thought-provoking stuff about nationalism, betrayal, sibling rivalry, police states, and the chaos that followed the collapse of communism.

Here's Dominic Cavendish's admiring review in the Telegraph:

On 11/3/12 we saw the annual Covent Garden Young Artists concert with Robert Lloyd at Channing in aid of Highgate Literary and Scientific Institute.

On 13/3/12 we saw Snookered at the Bush.

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