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Posts Tagged ‘James Macnamara’

Peter Nichols’ playwriting career is a real puzzle to me. Between 1969 and 1982 London saw almost a play each year. He was one of the freshest, most inventive and funny writers around. In the last 28 years we’ve had no new plays and a handful of revivals, two at the Donmar and one elsewhere in the West End. Apparently he has a drawer full of unproduced work and I understand his take on it is that he’s been deserted by institutions like the NT and RSC who had earlier championed his work. So I jumped at the chance to see this new Nichols play at the tiny Finborough; the stellar cast was a bonus.

Set in a language school on post-war Florence, it explores the lives of its Italian administrator and expatriate teachers; the students are just off-stage voices. The central character is new boy Steven (passionately played by Chris New) who may be autobiographical (in which case Nichols has written himself as a bit of a shit!). He is stalked by infatuated Peggy (Charlotte Randle no less) but beds holocaust-denying Heidi (well-played by Natalie Walter) who had the attentions of administrator Gennaro (an excellent performance from Enzo Cilenti, whose name suggests he’s well qualified to play it!) before an anti-semitic rant. Add to the cocktail Abigail McKern’s terrifically plain speaking Aussie, Ian Gelder’s very English Italophile (who makes no compromises for living in Italy) and Rula Lenska, perfectly cast as an elegant smokey-voiced Russian, and you have a fascinating cast of characters.

The play is an interesting look at sensibilities in post-war Europe, but the narrative doesn’t  really live up to the excellent characterisation. The dramatic flow is damaged by a profusion of very short scenes and monologues and the play doesn’t really go anywhere, though it’s an interesting slice-of-life set in a period few have dramatised. Designer James Macnamara has worked wonders with  four shutters and some projections and director Michael Gieleta uses the tiny space well, with a ‘sound scape’ for the city and the students.

Still, I’d rather be in the sweaty Finborough watching a cast any West End producer would be proud of put on a play that’s better than any new play the National have done recently whilst they (and the Donmar) are pre-occupied with pointless revivals of 19th century German mediocrity. On this form, I think I’m inclined to side with Mr Nichols.

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