Posts Tagged ‘Ruari Murchison’

This was only Rodney Ackland’s third play, written when he was just 23 and first staged in 1932, directed by John Gielgud. Like the other plays of his I’ve seen – After October, Before the Party & Absolute Hell – it’s a character-driven piece. It’s good to catch it in LAMDA’s summer season and add it to my small collection of this underrated playwright’s work.

Divorcee Vera lives in a big London house with her three adult children, sisters Esther & Jenny and their half-brother Gordon. She takes in lodgers, some of whom she treats with more than a little disdain, particularly vacuous toff George and flighty film actress Freda, two of her current crop, alongside writer Val and couple Laura & Jimmie. Val is in love with Esther, but it doesn’t seem to be reciprocated (but her mother worships him). George brings his friend Sylvia to a party and she falls for Gordon. Jenny invites artist Peter into the home, who isn’t who he says he is and appears to be attracted to Freda too. Jenny is going blind.

Though characters have their stories, there isn’t enough time to develop them all, so like the other plays, it comes over as a slice-of-life, in this case young arty middle-class people in the pre-war 30’s. Only Jenny Wall has to act outside her age range as Vera, and she does so very well. I thought Georgina Duncan managed Jenny’s difficult journey extremely well. It’s a fine cast, who are particularly good at creating the behaviour, mannerisms and speech of the period. Ruari Murchison’s terrific set has people coming and going through one external and four internal doors and stairs, which contributes significantly to the animation of Ackland’s play, which is finely staged by Philip Watson.

I saw these eleven players (one wearing a waistcoat) on the evening another eleven were occupied elsewhere, so it was small audience, but I suspect we had a more relaxed and satisfying evening! The play may not be up to the others, but it gets a very good production and was a great opportunity to catch another Ackland. Only 12 to go!

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More a pair of linked monologues than a play, this piece is set in the dressing rooms of Bette Davies and Joan Crawford in 1962 as they are both seeking to breathe new life into their careers by starring together in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

There is a little interaction between the two characters; most of the play alternates between the two in their adjoining rooms on a Hollywood B movie back lot. We learn a surprising amount about their lives, relationships and motivation (I can only assume it’s all true as I had no prior knowledge) but the lack of interaction is the play’s fundamental flaw. That said, Anton Burge’s dialogue often crackles and is very bitchy, occasionally vitriolic and often funny. The first half is meatier and it does lag a little early in the second, but it does recover.

Greta Scacchi and Anita Dobson are both excellent; they clearly relish the sharp dialogue and squeeze every ounce of humour from their lines. The price they have to pay for such good dialogue is that they often have to appear in unflattering poses and clothes (which their subjects never would have done) and it is to their great credit as actors that they don’t flinch from this.

It’s good to see the great Bill Alexander back in the director’s saddle in London. Ruari Murchison’s design conveys the ignominy of demotion to B movie dressing rooms. Mr Anita Dobson, better known as Queen’s Brain May, gets a prominent credit as ‘musical supervisor’ for choosing a couple of records to play at opening and closing moments!

Go for the dialogue and performances and you’ll have a lot of fun – even more if you partake in the Sweet Baby Jane themed cocktail which the Arts Theatre bar so enterprisingly offers!

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