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Posts Tagged ‘Philip Franks’

This is such a perfect pairing of play and venue. Much of the action of Agatha Christie’s 1953 play takes place in an Old Bailey courtroom and the County Hall chamber is a superb stand-in for the real thing. This is not the sort of play I’m usually drawn to, though I went to The Mousetrap (as it was the only theatre I hadn’t been in) and enjoyed it, and I thoroughly enjoyed this. It may not run as long as the other one, but it has HIT written all over it.

It’s the case of the alleged murder of a rich old woman by a charming young man. The prosecution and defence QC’s are arch enemies who love winning their cases. The key witness is a foreigner (not so politically correct today, but it has post-Brexit resonance)! I hadn’t seen the play or film before, so the expertly written twists were genuinely surprising. What more can I say without spoiling it?

Designer William Dudley has a venue which virtually designs itself, but his extra touches are excellent. Chris Davey’s lighting and especially Mic Pool’s ‘soundscape’ add much to create the unique atmosphere. It’s hard to imagine better casting than the triumvirate of Patrick Godfrey as Judge and David Yelland & Philip Franks as the QC’s, all excellent, and Jack McMullen and Catherine Steadman are terrific as the defendant Leonard Vole and his wife Romaine.

It’s a somewhat old-fashioned evening, but Lucy Bailey’s production oozes quality from every pore and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Oh, and the seats must be the comfiest in theatre-land.

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Chichester Festival Theatre will certainly get first prize when it comes to celebrating this Rattigan centenary. There are two revivals, a new play written as a ‘response’ to one of them, a play created from an unproduced screenplay and six rehearsed readings. Well, that puts our national companies to shame!

The Deep Blue Sea

Many consider this his finest play, though after recent revivals of After the Dance and Flare Path, I would question that. The first production I saw at the Almeida with Penelope Wilton was wonderful, but the second, by Edward Hall with Greta Scacchi, was a fusty mannered museum piece.

Unfortunately, I was in the Donmar the night before this, so seeing an intimate play in the vast Chichester main house space it was very hard to get involved, even from the ninth row. I really missed the proximity which the Minerva would have given it; I wasn’t moved.

Hester has left her knighted husband to live with the laddish Freddie. The play starts when she is discovered in front of the gas fire with the evidence of too much asprin at her side. Not knowing the whereabouts of Freddie, a neighbour contacts her ex. who rushes to her aid. Freddie returns and discovers her suicide note and thus begins the breakdown of their relationship. The ex. makes a bid for reunion, but this fails, so Hester is left alone.

It’s well designed and staged and the acting is uniformly good; Amanda Root is a fine Hester, Anthony Calf is very good as the ex. I particularly liked John Hopkin’s passionate Freddie and there is a lovely cameo from Susan Tracy as the landlady. In this space, though, I just couldn’t get involved as much as you need to be moved by this fine play that was way ahead of its time and, somewhat ironically, as radical in its way as the ‘angry young men’ that took Rattigan’s place at the heart of post-war British drama.

Rattigan’s Nijinsky

This late career screenplay about the life of dancer Nijinsky was never produced by the BBC, apparently because of objections from his wife. Unstageable in its written form, Nicholas Wright has created a play both about it and from it.

We’re in Rattigan’s Claridges suite shortly after his arrival from his Bermuda home, here to finalise the production of his screenplay. He gets visits from the man at the BBC and Nijinsky’s wife Romola, but the play is mostly imagined scenes from the screenplay / life of Nijinsky played out in front of us. It was a fascinating life, so it’s a fascinating story. The idea of the structure is better than the result, though, and it felt a bit clumsy – ‘now lets show the audition of Nijinsky as child’, ‘lets move to where he begins hid relationship with Diaghilev’, ‘OK, time for the journey to Buenos Aires’. Interesting story, but a play that ultimately doesn’t work.

Again, the design by Mike Britton and Philip Franks’ staging are fine and it suits the big space better than The Deep Blue Sea. Malcolm Sinclair as Rattigan and Jonathan Hyde as Diaghilev are very good and there’s good support from a large cast, most playing two or three roles. Again, Susan Tracy gives fine cameos as Romola Nijinsky and Rattigan’s mother.

Overall, this pair didn’t live up to expectations, but that doesn’t take away Chichester’s crown as Rattigan’s champion in this centenary year.

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