Posts Tagged ‘John Tams’

The National Theatre has a strong track record staging great family shows at Christmas in the Olivier – Wind in the Willows, His Dark Materials, Coram Boy, Was Horse – most of which have returned in subsequent years and one of which will be on 5 stages in 4 countries this Christmas. The last five years or so have seen less rich pickings, and I’m afraid that trend continues.

Many of the ingredients of this production are outstanding. Lizzie Clachan’s design – from the make-up and tattoos of Bill Bones through the punk-gothic costumes to the stage which transforms from inn to port to ship to island – is terrific. There are some great special effects. Jon Tams has provided some lovely songs. The characterisations – particularly the pirates – are excellent. Yet despite this it has no real sense of adventure, which is a bit of a problem for an adventure story! The way the story is told is a bit patronising and somehow at odds with the style. The actors were trying hard, maybe too hard. The fighting is completely lame. It all seemed ever so half-hearted. Byrony Lavery’s adaptation seems to have removed all of the magic from a classic which has captivated children for 130 years and inspired many other successful adaptations.

Director Polly Findlay has decided to cast women as Jim Hawkins and Dr Livesey. I’m not sure why (though the line ‘girls like adventures too’ is a clue) but it didn’t bother me and both performances, by Patsy Ferran and Helena Lymbery, were excellent. Gillian Hanna was delightful as Grandma and Aidan Kelly positively terrifying as Bill Bones. I thought Nick Fletcher’s Squire Trelawney was too much of a caricature and Arthur Darvill just seemed to be going through the motions as a very low energy Long John Silver, almost devoid of swash and buckle.

At the curtain call, they didn’t look like a particularly happy company – Arthur Darvill couldn’t raise a smile (or even a baddie’s sneer), just a ‘get me out of here’ expression. I felt much the same – much admiration for the craftsmanship, but not in the slightest bit captivated by the story.

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I was so looking forward to this. The NT’s Mysteries are one of the high points of my theatre going life. They were also using Tony Harrison’s version and The Globe seemed the sort of space they were made for. I think I was looking forward to it too much…..

At the Cottesloe all those years ago it took all day – The Nativity in the morning, The Passion in the afternoon and Doomsday to send you home on a high! Adam and Eve came out of the sand in which they were buried. Brain Glover’s god made me wish I was a believer. When it came to Judgement Day, I was somewhat appropriately on the wrong side, destined for hell. At the Globe, we race through from creation to passion in 80 minutes, then it took an age (as it were) to get from there to judgement day. The first half is so fast it lacks depth and the second half really does drag.

There are some nice touches and effective scenes – a chilling  massacre of the innocents, a last supper Da Vinci freeze frame, the workman’s thumb injury as he nails Christ to the cross, the same workmen using their mobiles to photograph their finished work and the division of the theatre on judgement day…..but these were small rewards in an overall dull production. A lot of the verse was barely audible and though the lead performances by David Hargreaves as God, William Ash as Jesus, Philip Cumbus as Gabriel & Judas, Paul Hunter as Lucifer and Matthew Pidgeon as Joseph & Pilate were good, the ensemble could have been stronger. There was a touch af AmDram to the design, no doubt intentional but in my view misguided and I didn’t think the style of music worked – but in all fairness John Tams terrific folk score from the NT version is still ringing in my ears 25 years on.

From my perspective, a disappointment and a lost opportunity I’m afraid.

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