Posts Tagged ‘Luigi Pirandello’

This is based on one of two unfinished works by Jane Austen. Coincidentally, the TV adaptation of the other, Sanditon, is currently on our screens. There have been other attempts to complete The Watsons, though not as a play it seems. Laura Wade takes this as her starting point, but it goes way beyond that in a brilliant Pirandellian concoction.

As soon as you walk into the Menier the stage and the two actors on it scream Austen. Dad is in his sick bed, with his daughter Elizabeth looking on. We soon meet her sister, eighteen-year-old Emma, who has been living with her aunt since she was five, other sister Margaret and brother Robert and his wife. They are all rather preoccupied with getting the sisters married.

We move to a society ball where Lord Osborne takes a fancy to Emma, she takes a fancy to Mr Howard the clergyman and local gentleman Tom Musgrave takes a fancy to any woman in sight. Despite hardly engaging with her at the ball, Osborne visits Emma at home and surprises everyone by proposing. When he leaves, she discusses her intentions, at which point she is interrupted by a maid questioning her choice.

We soon realise this is Laura the writer who has had to intervene as her character appears to have taken over her story. From here, it’s meta theatre all the way as the characters mutiny and we discuss Austen’s intentions, enact the characters wishes and explore the process of writing in an anarchic, hilarious romp. Laura even takes a call from her producer David, who asks how the writing is going! It’s hugely entertaining, but you do delve into the mind of Austen, her period and the reasons why she may have abandoned the piece.

Sam West has staged it expertly and Ben Stones has created an authentic period design. It’s a big cast for a play and they seem to be having a ball. Grace Molony is lovely as Emma and Louise Ford delightful as Laura the writer. In a uniformly excellent supporting ensemble, Joe Bannister is superb as the timid Osborne, Jane Booker superb as his officious mother, Sophie Duval a treat as bossy Mrs Robert and there’s a very assured performance from Isaac Forward as the ten-year-old Charles.

A real fun evening. Don’t miss.

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You’ll be forgiven for not being interested in my opinion of this late viewing (it closes today, and my originally scheduled visit was three months ago), but I will give it anyway.

It’s set in Italy in the early 20th century, but director Richard Eyre has populated it with Irish actors speaking in their native accents. I did speculate that the NT may have received a grant from the Irish government (who’ve got form influencing corporate decisions), but in the end accepted that it’s intention is to provide an early 21st century surrogate we can identify with – though the period, character names and location haven’t changed.

I’m fond of the work of Luigi Pirandello, albeit based on just five plays, the most famous (and fascinating) of which is Six Characters in Search of an Author, which was way ahead of its time. He may have been the first playwright to play with form, though this early play (in a new version by Tanya Ronder, wife of NT director designate Rufus Norris) seems very conventional and, frankly, a bit dull.

Liola is one of two adult male characters whose significance doesn’t seem to justify being the title of the play. He has fathered (at least) three children by three different women, but has taken responsibility for raising them (well, his mother Ninfa has) so he’s a sympathetic character rather than a rake. The other man is Simone, a 65-year old landowner desperate to father a child by his second, much younger, wife Mita. There’s much talk about this, plus speculation about the father of pregnant local girl Tuzza’s child, with fingers pointed at the man who has form. That’s about it really. Women gossiping.

To hammer home the charming, wistful surrogate environment, we have lots of music (Orlando Gough) and a fair bit of dancing, though the whitewashed walls and olive tree of the village square of Anthony Ward’s set belong in Italy. Three young boys (Liola’s sons) spend a lot of time climbing and sitting in the tree which I found a bit distracting in a rare concern for the health & safety of young actors.

The performances are uniformly good, particularly from James Hayes and Rosaleen Linehan. I didn’t dislike it, but it didn’t have me skipping back to Waterloo station; much of a muchness.

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Though it’s great to see fringe venues like The Bush, The Finborough and The Cock Tavern sold out, it does mean you have to plan ahead a bit more. Fresh from their giant-killing Olivier award for Best Opera Production, the enterprising Cock Tavern has a pair of Tennessee Williams world premieres, of which this is the first.

It has a surreal quality also found in Camino Real. It’s a play-within-a-play and even though I knew this, I was still surprised when ‘the director’ got up from his seat to my left and ‘the writer’ joined in from the back. The play within concerns a couple in a New Orleans apartment; he an over-sexed philanderer employed by gangsters and her a sometime fashion designer and serial victim. The play is stopped by the actors questioning dialogue and action which is when the writer, director and stage manager get involved.

I’m not really sure what TW was getting at in this short 70-minute one-acter, but it was intriguing and watchable. It’s all very Pirandellian (the Italian playwright is even referenced by TW in the play). The situation and dialogue were more explicit and racier than his norm, showing how he might have developed had he been writing beyond this late piece from the early 70’s. In many ways, it provides a missing link in the line of American drama from TW to Shepherd and Mamet.

Physically semi-naked and emotionally naked, Lewis Hayes and Shelley Lang do very well in making the play within’s characters believable in the intimacy of this tiny theatre. Hamish MacDougall’s direction makes excellent use of the space and manages to balance the real with the surreal and the plays within and without.

Well worth a trip to Kilburn, but it’s probably now sold out!

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