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Posts Tagged ‘Stephen Dillane’

This was my first visit to the late 19th century Coronet Theatre in Notting Hill since it was returned to its original use as a theatre, a brilliant restoration creating a very cool Off West End venue with foyer, bar and corridors filled with period furniture and objet d’art. For this production, the auditorium is made up of part of the stalls and the proscenium stage and the performing area is covered with carpets and traditional gamelan instruments.

The stage adaptation of the middle part of Samuel Beckett’s novel starts with the Irish Gamelan Orchestra, with the Indonesian percussion instruments supplemented by woodwind, violin and beautiful vocals. They leave the stage one by one, as they had arrived, and we encounter Pim, one of the two characters who in Part 1 had been buried in mud surrounded by cans and a can opener. His monologue is followed by one from the novel’s other character. At this point I was congratulating myself on my decision to come, and regretting missing Part 1 in 2018.

As with other Beckett works, it’s the poetry and music of the words more than their literal meaning, so it’s repetitive and obtuse but compelling. Unlike other Beckett works, this one goes on, and on, and on…..for 2h 30m with just three short contributions from the musicians making up 20% of that time. It outstayed its welcome by a long margin I’m afraid, and I was left wondering why you would stage a novel while there are a lot of plays, all more succinct and intended by Beckett for the stage.

Quite how Stephen Dillane and Connor Lovett remember it all is beyond me, though if they misremembered I’m not sure anyone would notice. Judy Hegarty Lovett directs and designs for Gare St. Lazare Ireland, using the space well. Mel Mercer’s music is one of the best things about it. Sadly, it was a case of more is less, and my initial enthusiasm waned and I left the theatre disappointed. If it lost a Beckett fan like me, it’s likely to deter a Beckett virgin or novice for life.

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I’ve long had a problem with staged monologues; I like to see characters interacting in my plays. I thought I might have melted after all those streamed performances, having enjoyed Sea Wall & Three Kings with Andrew Scott in particular. This 1979 play by Brian Friel consists of four monologues by three characters, but I’m afraid at 2.5 unbroken hours it did’t hold my attention, as it hadn’t on stage.

Frank Hardy is a faith healer who tours Scotland and Wales, and latterly his home country of Ireland. The other characters are his wife Grace and manager Teddy. We hear from them in that order, with Hardy returning to conclude the piece. In addition to their experiences on the road, events like Hardy’s return home after twenty years as his mother dies, the loss of Frank and Grace’s child and Grace’s death are also covered, Friel leaving some questions unanswered. Though the prose is appealingly poetic, the narrative didn’t satisfy me, and it certainly doesn’t sustain its length.

Some great actors have been attracted to these roles over the years. The original London Hardy was Patrick Magee, who was followed by Ken Stott & Stephen Dillane, and now Michael Sheen, who it has to be said is mesmerising. Helen Mirren was London’s first Grace and Sinead Cusack, Geraldine James, Gina McKee, and now Indira Varma, who is excellent, have followed in her footsteps. Ron Cook, Iain McDiarmid and Warren Mitchell (on radio) have all played Teddy, with David Threlfall on top form in this production.

I can’t help making comparisons with Alan Bennet’s recently revived Talking Heads. Their economy and brevity contrasts with this play’s verbosity and they are like colour to Faith Healer’s black & white. Sadly more is less, despite a trio of fine performances.

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I was beginning to warm to Ibsen. Good recent productions of Pillars of the Community, A Doll’s House, Hedda Gabler and John Gabriel Borkman were beginning to turn one of my problem playwrights into an interesting and intriguing one. Then along comes this very obtuse play in a very stylish but dull production…..

To be honest, I still don’t really know what it was all about or what’s his point. Solness, the master builder, has learned his craft from someone who now wants him to help his son who he’s been training. Not only is he reluctant to do so, he also appears to have a relationship with the son’s girlfriend. There’s stuff about his wife’s home being destroyed and rebuilt, bedrooms for non-existent children & fear of heights. Then a young girl turns up to confuse you even further!

The Almeida stages this on what looks like soil with the bare walls of the theatre as a backdrop. There’s a big staircase but next to no props. I found Stephen Dillane too mannered and actorly as Solness, but I was very impressed by Gemma Arterton and there were good supporting performances from Anastasia Hille, Jack Shepherd, John Light and Patrick Godfrey.

It did hold my attention for 110 unbroken minutes, but I left the theatre thinking of all the other things I could have done. There have been a few evenings like this at the Almeida of late; are they losing the plot? Artistic-Director-staying-too-long syndrome?

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Based on his plays that preceded this one, which I first saw 28 years ago, I always thought Tom Stoppard was too glib for his own good – he always seemed to be showing off, clever clever and knowing in a way that frankly irritated me. This was the first of his plays where he seemed to be portraying real people, relationships and indeed love! I don’t know whether it is, but it did seem to be autobiographical, then and now.

Playwright Henry leaves his wife for the wife of her colleague / their friend and later finds this new relationship strained by his new wife’s relationship with a younger colleague. It’s cleverly structured with terrific sharp and witty dialogue and the character development is excellent. You really feel you know Henry very well two hours later.

Anna Mackmin’s staging is slick and fast paced, aided by Les Brotherston’s set which moves between four flats with the rise / fall of panels. It’s very well cast, with Toby Stephens a particularly good Henry (I preferred him to Roger Rees in the original production and Stephen Dillane in the Donmar’s revival some time back).

This is the Stoppard play to see even if you don’t like Stoppard, because it’s the least Stoppardian(!) and you’d be hard pressed to find a better revival.

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