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Posts Tagged ‘George Taylor’

I’ve become very fond of Barney Norris’ plays. This is my 5th. They occupy a space all of their own. Concerned with the human condition. Gentle, charming, wistful, poetic. When so much theatre is angry, opinionated & shouty, they are a breath of fresh air.

This one starts slowly as we meet concert pianist David and his wife Fiona, a singer, who’ve just put their young children to bed. David’s elderly parents are coming to the end of a visit. He seems somewhat intolerant of his dad, His wife is fond of both of them. From here we move forward in their lives, through breakups, new relationships, new careers and new homes. Fiona connects with a former colleague and they have a daughter. The (unseen) children grow. The grandparents Bert & Peggy see to be the only constant.

This is a character driven piece, and it wasn’t long before I realised how autobiographical it was; the characters being the playwright’s parents and grandparents. He’s the eldest child. It’s all about growing old, growing apart, growing up, growing close, a very personal presentation of almost thirty years of one family, where music connects the parents generation.

Naomi Petersen is excellent as Fiona, whose journey is the most emotional, and she sings beautifully. It’s a tough call for David Ricardo-Pearce playing his somewhat unsympathetic namesake, but he does it well, with great piano playing too. It’s lovely to see Barbara Flynn and Robin Soans (who was also in Barney Norris’ first play The visitors in the same theatre’s smaller studio) growing old gracefully in lovely roles as grandparents Bert, looking back, and Peggy, looking forward. George Taylor completes the picture as Fiona’s second husband who has to navigate his way into the family.

The inclusion of live music is a great contribution. Norris himself directs, which doesn’t seem to have stopped him telling his family story, warts and all. Don’t expect high drama, but it is a perceptive and moving play which left me thoughtful and reflective; a satisfying study of three generations of a family, which was less fiction and more reality than I was expecting.

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David Hare’s new play is about an art form I love and institution I loathe. The birth of Glyndeborne. It does come after a 26 day theatrical famine and a 36 day absence from London theatre, so perhaps that helped me enjoy it despite that – oh, and a brilliant performance from Roger Allam.

John Christie was clearly a true British eccentric. His plan for a 300-seat opera house on his Sussex country estate was more than a bit bonkers. When you add that he wanted it to stage Wagner, apparently with a full cast but only a string quartet and organ, even more insane. He persuaded two German pre-war exiles (though one was actually of Irish and Polish descent) and an Austrian to fulfil his ambition, though they persuaded him to start more modestly and appropriately with Mozart and to hand over much control (on condition his wife Audrey, the moderate soprano of the title, played Susanna in Figaro). Audrey was very much his muse, his visionary partner and his moderator.

It’s good subject matter, but Hare has focused so much on the role of Christie, who has all the best lines, that it comes out imbalanced, with other characters much less well developed. In the middle of a series of short scenes over just 100 minutes, there is a much longer central scene where the German’s provide background to their exile. Despite the importance of this background, it’s overlong relative to the rest of the piece. The time-hopping away from the core period wasn’t always clear enough too. There’s much to enjoy in the play, particularly it’s humour and its central character, but it is flawed and I was left feeling it could be developed into a better one.

What makes it unmissable is the central performance of Roger Allam as Christie, a very likeable character whose eccentricity charms the socks off you in Alam’s characterisation. I thought Paul Jesson was excellent too as the imported Musical Director Fritz Busch, but the part of Christie’s wife Audrey was underwritten so even an actress as good as Nancy Carroll had too little to work with. The same applies to Nick Sampson’s Carl Ebert and George Taylor’s Rudolf Bing (who went on to run The Met), both doing very well with what they had.

As much as I enjoyed it, and Jeremy Herrin’s staging and Rae Smith’s design both serve it well, it felt more like work-in-progress than the finished article. I also felt it might make a better TV play than a stage one. Worth a visit nonetheless.

 

 

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