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Posts Tagged ‘Dominic West’

Why on earth has it taken 30 years for us to see Christopher Hampton’s masterpiece in London again? I’d almost forgotten how good it is. This thrilling revival is a brilliant reminder.

Based on Lacos’ late eighteenth century novel, racy by 20th century standards, let alone 18th (well, in a no doubt pruder Britain, at least), it’s a steamy tale of sexual intrigue and manipulation. The novel was written as a series of letters, but Hampton’s adaptation takes a more traditional dramatic form, beautifully structured with sparkling dialogue. It centres around the Machiavellian games played by friends and former lovers Le Vicomte de Valmont and La Marquise de Merteuil on young Cecile Volanges, Le Chevalier Danceny, who is in love with her, and Madame de Tourvel, a seemingly inaccessible married guest of Le Vicomte’s aunt. The stakes are much higher than either of the cynical game-players imagine and its conclusion is tragic.

Josie Rourke’s impeccable staging takes place in a fading period stately home designed by Tom Scutt, lit mostly by candlelight. It looks gorgeous. The original cast of Alan Rickman, Lesley Duncan, Juliet Stevenson and a young Lesley Manville is hard to follow, but Dominic West, Janet McTeer, Elaine Cassidy and Morfydd Clark are all superb, and make the roles their own. Edward Holcroft, who made a big impression on TV recently in London Spy, is just as impressive here as Danceny, and there are lovely cameos from Una Stubbs as Valmonte’s aunt Madame de Rosemonde and Theo Barklem-Biggs as his servant Azolan. The musical scene changes are a delight, thanks largely to the singing of Alison Arnopp’s servant Julie. 

A very fine and long overdue revival, surely destined for a transfer, but particularly brilliant in the intimacy of the Donmar.

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The Royal Court has taken a lot of risks with its decisions surrounding this play, including the risk that they generate so much hype they are setting the audience up for a disappointment (more risk evaluation later!). After giving us Jerusalem, in my view one of the greatest plays in decades, playwright Jez Butterworth is a hot property. Though at least four good plays preceded Jerusalem, this was inevitably going to be the theatrical equivalent of ‘the difficult second album’.

Whether he set out to produce the antidote or not I don’t know, but he has. Where Jerusalem was epic, this is intimate. Where Jerusalem was in your face, brash and loud; this is subtle, gentle and almost trance-like. The reason for staging it in a space so small that only just over 3000 people will see it was apparently ‘artistic reasons’. Though it does clearly benefit from the intimacy, I’m not convinced it benefits so much as to deprive another 10,000 from seeing it (the number it would have played to with the same length of run in the main house).

Designer Ultz has delivered one of his extraordinarily immersive sets which put you right there in the situation at the moment; this time a cabin by a river. Our nameless main character, obsessed with fishing, is there at his favourite time – the one night of the year with no moon. There is a woman with him and as the play unfolds we have more than one woman. He appears to be giving different women the same experience at different times. Or is he? If the script hadn’t specified ‘The Other Woman’ I might have thought it was the same woman at different times or different outcomes with the same woman or….. It’s a bit obtuse.

Director Ian Rickson has taken this material and created something highly atmospheric and mysterious. It’s hypnotic and compelling, I don’t really understand it, but I enjoyed the ride. Amongst many such moments, The Man preparing a fish for dinner was mesmerizing. Moments later, you could smell it as it came out of the oven and onto the dinner table. There are outstanding performances from Dominic West, Miranda Raison and Laura Donnelly and Charles Balfour’s lighting and Ian Dickinson’s sound contribute much to casting the spell.

The risk of over-hype may have paid off, but I don’t think the risk of day-seats-only has. The Royal Court is a publicly funded theatre and you can’t expect the taxpayers that fund it to block out a month in their diaries just in case they win the lottery that getting a ticket was. You either queued outside (if you’re nearby and don’t have work to do to pay the tax that funds the theatre) or participated in an online game of who-clicks-first at precisely 9am. This is no way to distribute tickets to a publicly funded show. It’s unfair on people who work and who don’t live nearby and it has brought the touts to Sloane Square. It has pissed off loyal ‘Friends’ like me and if it transfers to the West End with tickets at 2.5 times the price and fat royalty cheques to the writer and director, don’t go anywhere near the fan! Dominic Cooke has hardly put a foot wrong in his all-too-short tenure as AD of the Court, but this is one big mistake.

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Gosh, what a dull and frustrating evening this is.

Simon Gray’s 40-year old play really has only one character; the rest are mere foils. The trouble is, this character has few redeeming features. He’s self-obsessed, misogynistic and contemptuous of all around him. He’s sexist, homophobic and just a little bit racist. Given that he is a university lecturer, written by Gray at the time he was also a university lecturer, some think it’s autobiographical – if that’s true, Gray must really have hated himself.

In one day, Butley learnes that his wife is leaving him for another man, his protege / colleague / flatmate is moving out of both office and home and his alleged ‘poaching’ of a student whilst drunk has caused a rift with another colleague. He smokes, drinks and snipes at everyone and everything. It’s clear why this is all happening to him – who’d want to be married to / live with / work with this man? – and you have no sympathy, just loathing. 2.5 hours in this man’s company seems like a sentence.

Dominic West is an excellent actor and he gives the role his all. The talents of other excellent actors like Paul McGann, Penny Downie and Amanda Drew are wasted on paper thin supporting roles. Peter McKintosh has created a realisitc university office with the wall of books on Butley’s side of the office looking like it will collapse any minute. There’s really nothing wrong with the production except that everyone’s talents are wasted on a terrible play. The only reason I can think of for going to see it is to see how much we’ve moved on in 40 years – but you can do that by watching one episode of Ashes to Ashes.

Avoid!

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