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Posts Tagged ‘Richard Beecham’

Jermyn Street Theatre regularly punches above its 70-seat weight. Even in lockdown, it’s productivity and performance (during its own crisis following flooding!) has been exemplary, leading to The Stage’s Fringe Theatre of the Year Award. Amongst its achievements in the last ten years have been three of the best Beckett evenings I’ve had in 40 years of theatre-going in London – this is the third – involving two Dames and a Knight, two directed by the former AD of both the RSC & RNT.

I saw the now infamous production of Footfalls with Fiona Shaw at the Garrick Theatre in 1995, infamous because it only ran 6 days after the Beckett estate took exception to Deborah Warner’s departure from Becket’s sequence of words and stage directions. The independent theatre critic described this as declaring a fatwa on the production! In this short piece, May’s 90-year-old mother is dying. She paces back and forth, 9 steps visually and audibly in each direction outside her room, visibly upset, whilst the ghostly recorded voice of her mother speaks to her, initially responding to questions from May, then direct to the audience, then in the third person about her. Between each a bell rings.

I was lucky enough to see the UK premiere of Rockaby, at the then Cottesloe Theatre in 1982, with Becket’s muse Billie Whitelaw. I think it was only the second Becket play I’d seen, the first ‘miniature’, and it was mesmerising. In this short piece, a woman sits in her rocking chair listening to her own recorded voice, ghostly. It rocks but she doesn’t appear to be creating the movement. When the voice stops, she says ‘more’ and it resumes, until she appears to die.

The whole evening is little more than 40 minutes, but the combination of poetry, atmospheric staging & design and delicate, beautiful performances by Charlotte Emerson and Sian Philips is captivating. It’s been wonderful seeing Sian Phillips’ late career gems – her extraordinary collaboration with physical theatre masters Frantic Assembly in Lovesong, her hypnotic presence in Les Blancs at the NT and a ‘return home’ with Under Milk Wood, also at the NT.

As always with Beckett, lighting and sound are as important as set and costumes and Ben Ormerod and Adrienne Quartly’s inputs combine with Simon Kenny’s monochrome set and costumes to serve both pieces very well. Richard Beecham’s staging of both plays is flawless.

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My fourth Rattigan in his centenary year, but my first visit to the lovely Royal Derngate in Northampton.

Like Cause Celebre, this is late Rattigan – you can tell from the early 70’s dialogue alone – not at all what we’re used to seeing revived. It’s a four-hander about a rather boorish writer and his Estonian wife, their son and family friend. The marriage appears loveless (on the husband’s part), the best friend is in love with the wife and the father-son relationship is somewhat strained.

As the play progresses, particularly in the second half, secrets and lies are revealed as is the true theme of the play – that we express love in many different ways, many of them unseen. The trademark Rattigan emotional repression and restraint are there but, like Cause Celebre, it feels more modern. To say much more would be a spoiler, so I won’t.

Naomi Dawson has created an evocative Islington flat with more books than your average second-hand bookshop (which all seemed real from the third row of the stalls). It’s very realistic but gives the play an intimacy you might not expect in a theatre of this size. Richard Beecham’s direction is subtle, restrained and sensitive allowing the story, characters and dialogue to breath freely.

Jay Villiers is excellent as the overbearing husband / father, a larger-than-life character who dominates all around him. Geraldine Alexander avoids the pitfalls that often make a heavily accented character unreal and gives a very moving portrayal of a long-suffering ex-refugee besotted with both her son and her unfaithful husband. Sean Power’s American pulp fiction writer has to play differently against both and does so very well. Gethin Anthony captured the combination of youthful enthusiasm and rebellion in the son (though I have my suspicions he’s wearing a dodgy wig!).

Delicate music and slow curtains setting the scene and ending each half created a thoughtful atmosphere and the closing moments as father and son sat playing chess in silence spoke volumes.

This is a lovely little play given a pitch perfect production. Well worth a trip up top Northampton and a welcome contribution to the centenary.

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