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Posts Tagged ‘Joanna Lumley’

There’s no point in having two national treasures, five fine young (recently graduated) actors and an elegant period set if your material is dull….and I mean dull.

Set in 1183 at the court of Henry II and Eleanor, James Goldman’s play takes an interesting slice of history, adds in some anachronistic modern dialogue (which doesn’t offend and sometimes raises a smile) and somehow makes it all deeply uninteresting. Eleanor has offended Henry so she’s imprisoned (today, we call it ‘under house arrest’) whilst his three sons are vying for the succession. The young King of France gets involved; apparently he’s a former lover of son Richard – can’t remember that in the history books! The favours of the queen (Eleanor!) and both kings change as they are courted and secrets are revealed, many whilst other characters are behind the curtains!

It’s all very clunky and hardly engages at all. You’re far more interested in the set and the performances than the play and spend quite a bit of the time wondering why on earth anyone thought it was worthy of revival. Of course, if I was cynical, I’d say ‘star casting means money’. Well, surely Trevor Nunn, Robert Lindsay and Joanna Lumley wouldn’t be part of that?  Anyway, star casting no longer means money; they’re papering the house mercilessly (I didn’t pay).

Though I missed The Tempest, this has been a disappointing quartet from Nunn at the Theatre Royal Haymarket this year. Other than Flare Path, poor choices leading to mediocrity. I see they’re transferring One Man, Two Guvnors here – that should pay off the overdraft.

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Producer Sonia Friedman must still be pinching herself to check she’s not dreaming putting together a show with a national treasure (Joanna Lumley), a major US TV star (Frasier’s Niles – David Hyde Pierce) and the hottest stage actor of the moment (Mark Rylance). Add in a young director who can (almost) do no wrong, Matthew Warchus,  and a great designer like Mark Thompson and you’re guaranteed to sell out 10 weeks in London followed by the same in New York, whatever the reviews.

Not very prolific playwright David Hirson must think he’s in the middle of a lifetime of Christmases with a guaranteed commercial success for his mediocre verse play which won awards but made no money 18 years ago.

Such is the world of theatre.

This is not a great play, it’s an OK play which is often funny but very uneven and often too glib for its own good. When it sparkles, it SPARKLES but there are many moments when it doesn’t. The unevenness comes from one role which overpowers all others and dialogue which goes from hysterical to dull and back many times during the uninterrupted 100 minutes.

So you’re thinking  ‘he hated it then’  – well, no, I enjoyed myself! Anthony Ward’s extraordinary library has three walls of books that go much higher than most of the audience can see – trust me, I was in the front row and I saw how high it goes (I also saw where the wigs met the foreheads and Mark Rylance’s very knobbly knees!). Rylance is again astonishing, squeezing many many more laughs out of the dialogue than you’d get if you read it. He eats, drinks, farts, dances, falls…..it’s another very physical creation that you know no-one else could pull off. Playing ‘straight man’ to this must be really tough, but David Hyde Pierce pulls that off too, as does the other ‘straight man’ Stephen Ouimette. Joanna Lumley’s role is important but small, but her verse speaking is impeccable, she looks regal and hey, it’s just great to see her on stage again. You have to feel sorry for the remaining six actors who will have to watch this masterclass eight times a week for 20 weeks, spending most of the time in the wings with their knitting and suduko, but they shared the cheers in the very unstarry curtain call.

It won’t change your life, and the world won’t end if you don’t go, but there’s much to enjoy and its 100 minutes of fun with wigs and books.

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