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Posts Tagged ‘David Suchet’

This is the second in what appears to be an informal Miller mini-festival. It started with Enemy of the People at the Union Theatre last month and continues with American Clock & All My Sons at the Old Vic and Death of a Salesman across the road at the Young Vic. This fiftieth anniversary production of his 1968 play comes to London from the Theatre Royal Bath. Though I liked the productions I saw 17 and 29 years ago, I’ve never considered it up there with the big four which, with Enemy in the middle, appeared between 1947 & 1955 – Sons, Salesman, The Crucible & A View from the Bridge. On this form, though, I’m beginning to think again.

Victor and his wife Esther are in the attic of Victor’s recently deceased father, waiting for Gregory Solomon, who’s going to value and hopefully make an offer for the contents. Victor has been trying, but has failed, to get hold of his estranged brother Walter, who really should be with him. Esther leaves soon after Solomon arrives and the rest of the first half is mostly a two-hander, an entertaining and often funny discussion which leaves you wondering where its going. When Esther returns and Walter arrives, Solomon takes a back seat while the family history is played out and you realise it’s more about the price we pay for decisions in our lives than it is about the price of the contents of the apartment.

Walter is a hot-shot surgeon and Victor an NYC cop, these destinies determined by their relative responses to their dad growing old. As often with Miller, dad was a victim of the depression. Victor stayed loyal, at the expense of his career, while Warren broke away for his, decisions with had profound effects on their lives. They haven’t seen much of each other since, and there’s a lot that’s unsaid. Walter now tries to reconcile and make amends, but it’s too late, and somewhat disingenuous. Esther is at first frustrated by her husband’s intransigence, but won’t see him lose his pride and dignity. This second act confrontation is the heart of the piece and it’s simply masterly.

Simon Higglett’s brilliant design of the ramshackle apartment piles layers upon layers of family history, but provides an intimate space for the brothers’ exorcism of the past. Brendan Coyle is terrific as Victor, at first accepting the cards he’s played, but eventually showing bitterness and regret at an unfulfilled life. David Suchet is excellent as the worldly wise Solomon, wickedly funny, determined to get a deal, interjecting into the family discussions now and again. Adrian Lukis plays the unsympathetic Walter, the chalk to Coyle’s cheese, though he’s paid his own price too. I loved Sara Stewart’s interpretation of Esther, often critical of her man but ultimately loyal and loving.

The Price came at the midpoint of Miller’s playwriting career, both in terms of years and plays. Whatever you think of it, Jonathan Church’s production provides an opportunity to see this more rarely produced play as well as you’re ever likely to see it staged, and for this Miller fan it made me realise how much I’d underrated it. Until now.

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This is the play that started my obsession with the work of American playwright Eugene O’Neill, more than thirty years ago in a Jonathan Miller production with Jack Lemon as James Tyrone and Kevin Spacey as James Tyrone Jnr. I was the same age as James Jnr. Now I’m the same age as James Snr. Subsequent productions had Timothy West and David Suchet as James Snr. The 2000 West End production had Jessica Lange as Mary Tyrone, with Olivia Coleman as the Irish maid. Now its the turn of Jeremy Irons and Lesley Manville.

It’s O’Neill’s most biographical play, which he insisted wasn’t published until 25 years after his death, and never staged, but his widow didn’t honour this wish. It’s a long play, 3.5 hours in this Richard Eyre production, part of the Bristol Old Vic’s 250th anniversary programme. It takes place over one day and night in one room in the Tyrone home. James is a Shakespearean actor, drinks a lot and is a bit of a bully. His wife became addicted to morphine during her recent illness. Youngest son Edmund is seriously ill. His elder brother has followed his father into acting, more by default than anything else. The only other character is Cathleen, the Irish maid, whose scenes bring some light relief to what is otherwise a rather depressing piece.

Rob Howell’s impressionistic design is beautiful, also lightening the gloom of the play. The performances were a touch tentative at first, but became more natural as the play unfolded. Jeremy Irons’ James is an appropriately charismatic presence as James. The wonderful Lesley Manville navigates Mary’s decline delicately, with carefully controlled emotionality. Rory Keenan plays a spiky James Jnr, under the influence of alcohol most of the time, and Matthew Beard a fragile Edmund, both excellent. I very much liked Jessica Regan’s cameo as Cathleen.

This is a high quality revival and its good to see another Bristol Old Vic production in the West End, but it didn’t engage me emotionally or maintain my attention as it should, probably more to do with me and the night I went. Don’t let me put you off.

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The original NT production of Peter Shaffer’s most famous play was before my time in London, but I did see Peter Hall’s 1998 revival (with David Suchet and Michael Sheen), and a subsequent production at Wilton’s Music Hall ten years ago (with Matthew Kelly and Jonathan Broadbent). What makes this Michael Longhurst revival stand out for me is the additional impact of live music by 20 members of Southbank Sinfonia and 6 opera singers. 

Most scholars believe the central premise – that Salieri’s jealousy of Mozart’s talent led him to spike his career, and ultimately poison him – is untrue, and indeed Shaffer never suggested his play was anything other than fiction. It seems to have the Rimsky-Korsakov opera Mozart & Salieri as it’s origin, which the Arcola gave us an opportunity to see this year as part of Grimeborn. This is Shaffer’s rewrite, which begins and ends more than thirty years after Mozart’s death, with Saleiri riddled with guilt and regret. We them flash back to see how their respective careers unfold chronologically. Salieri does his utmost to place obstacles before Mozart whilst posing as his friend and advocate. He is particularly baffled and annoyed that his god has bestowed such talent on someone so uncouth. Two Counts at the court of Joseph II do some of Salieri’s bidding, such as insisting on the removal of the marriage dance from The Marriage of Figaro lest it break Joseph’s rule of no ballets in opera. Mozart becomes increasingly unbalanced as he battles against such restraint and dies writing his Requiem. 

The orchestra aren’t in a pit, but move with the action, as do the singers, playing as they stand and even whilst they move. The two narrators, the Venticelli, become part of them, carrying instruments when they aren’t narrating the story. It’s a brilliant idea, which adds so much to the shape and flow of the piece. Lucien Msamati is magnificent as Salieri, managing to convey his admiration and jealousy, the torture of and triumph over his victim and his guilt and ultimately remorse. I was less convinced by Adam Gillen’s Mozart, which I felt could have been a touch more restrained. The show was still in preview when I saw it and I felt the first half needed tightening, but the second half was terrific.

Great to see it once more on a big stage like the Olivier, with so much added by the integration of live music. 

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This is the second show I’ve caught up with late in its run and what a pleasure it is to see serious work of this quality in the commercial sector. This autobiographical play is probably Eugene O’Neill’s most depressing, featuring the dysfunctional Tyrone family, drugs and an awful lot of alcohol; not the most obvious way to spend a hot and sunny July evening!

James Tyrone is a Shakespearian actor who’s got caught up in more populist but profitable work. His wife is a drug addict and his youngest son is seriously ill. His eldest son has followed him into the profession but spends more time in bars and brothels. It’s extraordinary that this could be staged in the mid-1050’s! O’Neill wrote it 15 years earlier and died leaving instructions that it shouldn’t be published for 25 years after his death and was never to be staged. Neither wish were respected. The play has been cut for this production, though you can’t really see the joins and it doesn’t feel as if it has lost anything as a result. It’s as powerful a family drama and you’ll ever see.

The action takes place in one location, a summer home beautifully designed by Lez Brotherston, on the same August day in 1912 – after breakfast, before & after lunch and late at night. It becomes more tragic and intense as the day progresses. The strength of Anthony Page’s impeccable production lies in four well matched and stunning performances. David Suchet switches between benevolent autocrat and bully with total believability. Laurie Metcalf breaks your heart as the mother lost to addiction. Kyle Soller adds to his recent outstanding performances in The Faith Machine, The Government Inspector and The Glass Menagerie to make it a quartet of beautifully realised characterisations. Trevor White’s sparring with his dad was as real as his protection of his little brother was moving.

This is classy but risky stuff for the West End, so nine gold stars to the nine producers it took to bring it to us!

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My second Arthur Miller revival of the year proves to be much more than the Suchet-Wanamaker show, though they are both at the height of their powers and give terrific performances.

The first star is Bill Dudley’s extraordinary set – a life-size American suburban house and garden surrounded by giant trees have taken over from Jerusalem’s English wood with Airstream caravan! Similar (the same?) as the National ten years ago, from the third row of the stalls you felt like you were peering over the fence into a neighbour’s garden.

The rest of the cast is excellent indeed, including Stephen Campbell Moore’s principled son, Jemima Rooper’s tortured  soul and an angry David Lapaine. Director Howard Davies has indeed assembled a uniformly excellent cast for this revival

The main star, of course, is Millers’ play – a masterpiece of the 20th century which could just as easily be about contemporary families torn apart by profiteering out of the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan. It has so much humanity and so much depth.

It’s great to see ‘House Full’ signs on a Monday for a modern classic, and it proved to be a thrilling evening in the theatre.

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