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Posts Tagged ‘Michael Esper’

This much lauded revival of Tennessee Williams’ autobiographical first hit has travelled from Harvard to Broadway & the Edinburgh Festival en route to the West End, with two of its original cast staying with it. The Director and Designer are our own John Tiffany and Bob Crowley. It’s my fourth production in just over twenty years and that may be why I’m less euphoric than most.

The Wingfield family have fallen on hard times since Mr Wingfield deserted them. They live in an apartment in St Louis. Mother Amanda is a southern belle, a former debutante, who forever reminisces about her past. Her children are both her whole life and a disappointment to her. Son Tom works in a warehouse and escapes regularly from the confines of his stifling home life to ‘the movies’. His sister Laura has a small disability, though she’s referred to as ‘a cripple’, and seems to be somewhat unstable. She dropped out of high school and college and now sits at home tending and playing with her collection of glass animals. Amanda is obsessed with marrying off Laura and is thrilled when Tom brings hime a ‘a gentleman caller’, his more successful colleague Jim. At first Laura is too shy and withdrawn to engage with them and join in the dinner, but Jim turns out to be an obsession from her past and things begin to go a lot better – until Jim drops a bombshell and upsets both Laura and Amanda and provokes Tom’s planned departure for pastures new.

Bob Crowley’s beautiful impressionistic set, gorgeously lit by Natasha Katz,  has a fire escape rising to the heavens with stairs down beneath the stage emphasising the location, though from the front stalls I didn’t fully appreciate his design coup until I walked to the front of the stage at the end. John Tiffany’s staging, with ‘movement’ from regular collaborator Steven Hoggett, has a light touch with the pivotal second half scene between Laura and Jim masterly, but I didn’t engage with it emotionally. Cherry Jones as Amanda and Brian J Smith as Jim are hugely impressive, perhaps because they are the two stayers. Though we only see him in the second half, I thought Smith lifted the production. Michael Esper, fresh from his star turn in Lazarus, didn’t quite do it for me and Kate O’Flynn’s Laura was sometimes too squeaky and overly fey.

It’s a better production than the misguided one at the Young Vic six or seven years ago and as good as the last West End outing directed by Rupert Goold’s and starring Jessica Lange a few years before that, but it doesn’t live up to Sam Mendes Donmar production (will anything ever?) just over twenty years ago and it looks like that’s my curse; it stops me joining in the euphoria, even though I much admired it. Still, I’m glad I caught it and would certainly recommend it.

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A collaboration between a musical hero for 45 years and a favourite theatre director. What could possibly go wrong? Well, an awful lot it turns out, starting with Enda Walsh’s obtuse and incoherent book.

Apparently it was all David Bowie’s idea. Producer Robert Fox came on board first, and he introduced playwright Enda Walsh, to whom Bowie gave four pages of notes and a selection of music to choose from. Director Ivo van Hove came on board last. What further involvement Bowie had is unclear. It would be impossible to stage The Man Who Fell to Earth, in which Bowie made his screen debut, but the idea was to take his character Newton and sort of pick up where the film left off.

It takes place entirely in a Manhattan apartment (uncannily like the one designer Jan Versweyveld built last year in the Young Vic for Song from Far Away).The band is on the other side of the apartment windows, with screens and curtains sometimes putting them out of our view. There are video projections on a central screen, and also on the apartment walls and ceiling, and even behind the band; they are very effective.

Newton is an alien who came to earth to find water and a way of transporting it home. He made a fortune patenting technological ideas from his more advanced planet. Now he’s stuck on Earth drinking gin and watching endless TV, and we’re watching him as he interacts with three new characters – some sort of mass murderer, his assistant Elly and a girl. There are a handful of others. Exactly who they all are or whether they’re even real is unclear. In fact, it’s a complete lack of clarity and coherence that’s the show’s problem. Apparently, during gestation, Bowie’s assistant said ‘yeah, but what happens?’. I couldn’t have put it better myself. The narrative is a bit of a mess and the show is ever so dull.

The score is a mixture of old and new, from 1969’s The Man Who Sold the World through to the wonderful Where Are We Now? from The Next Day. The trouble is they all sound so cold, clinical and bland, devoid of energy and emotion, as if they’ve had the very life squeezed out of them, and the sound doesn’t help. When a club scene turned up accompanied by that Glam Rock anthem All the Young Dudes, I went from disappointment to despair.

You can’t fault Michael C Hall as Newton, sounding uncannily and spookily like Bowie, or Michael Esper as Valentine, the scary ‘mass murderer’. Sophie Anne Caruso as ‘girl’ and our own Amy Lennox as Newton’s assistant Elly are good too, but a fine young musical theatre talent like Jamie Muscato is wasted, I’m afraid. I bet he wished he was back in Bend it Like Beckham or Dogfight.

Whatever the quality of the creative inputs, it’s the material that kills it. It was a long unbroken 110 minutes. A huge disappointment.

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