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Posts Tagged ‘Stephen Dillane’

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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