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Posts Tagged ‘Peter Egan’

I wasn’t planning on seeing this, but it’s got Clare Higgins in it and I have no willpower, so off to the Old Vic in-the-round we go. It’s their second season reconfigured and it really is a much better space, but the play proves a bit static.

Set on Christmas Eve in Palm Springs a few years after 9/11, the Wyeth family – mother, father, son, daughter and sister / sister-in-law / aunt – have assembled for the festive season. Lyman is a retired actor turned republican politician and his wife Polly a friend of Nancy Reagan. Son Trip – a TV producer – and daughter Brooke – a writer – vere to the left. Polly’s sister Silda is out of rehab, again. This game of happy families is upset when Brooke reveals the biographical nature of her next book, which triggers a real life game of truth or lie.

Jon Robin Baitz’s play examines post-9/11 American politics and sensibilities through this one family’s recent history. It’s a perfectly believable scenario and the story and writing is good, but I didn’t really like any of the self-obsessed characters and didn’t warm to the play. I admired Lindsay Posner’s staging, though, and the performances are all good. Dame Clare does her best with an underwritten role, Sinead Cusack is initially unrecognisable as Polly, all big hair and power dressing, and Peter Egan looks ever inch the actor-poitician. Daniel Lapaine and Martha Plimpton feel like real siblings; Plimpton’s role carries the play and she’s very impressive.

Though I’m glad I saw it, I’m not sure it’s worthy of such a high profile West End production. If I’d seen it Off-West End or on the fringe, I think my expectations would have been better met. The Old Vic doesn’t have a good track record with new plays, so I’m looking forward to the next pair of revivals in this great reinvented space.

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I left the theatre last night with two theories – that Alan Bennett decided he wanted to see how many issues he could cover in two hours (more Ackybourn than Bennett!) or that he was downloading everything he wanted to say about everything while he still has a chance. If any play has ever thrown in the kitchen sink, without a kitchen sink, this is it.

I’ve already lost track of how many issues he covers and my brain hurts even trying to recall them. At its heart it’s the heritage industry in general and the National Trust in particular. Within that there’s the sub-issues of conserving & preserving versus access & exploitation, the roles of the ‘volunteers’, the industrial ‘colonialists’ and their victims, the morals of the Church of England, business and pornography……

Buried in all this is a fascinating debate (or three), some great satire and some very funny lines – but he tries to do too much and in so doing turns the characters into caricatures & stereotypes and the situations into farce (particularly in the second half). Even lovely central performances from Francis de la Tour, Linda Bassett and Selina Cadell get a bit buried and delightful cameos from Miles Jupp, Nicholas le Provost and Peter Egan likewise. This all takes place on a stunning set of a run down ‘stately’ home in South Yorkshire by Bob Crowley which transforms spectacularly towards the end.

It’s by no means vintage Bennett and seemed to me like it was something he hadn’t yet finished. I was surprised that director Nicholas Hytner hadn’t reigned it in and given it more focus. What could have been as fascinating a debate about heritage as The History Boys was about education has turned into a fairly pedestrian comedy which raises a lot of issues but doesn’t really explore any in depth.

I can’t say I didn’t enjoy myself, but compared with all the other NT Bennett’s – Single Spies, The Madness of George III, The History Boys and The Habit of Art – this just isn’t in the same league.

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