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Posts Tagged ‘The Deep Blue Sea’

The resurgence of interest in Terence Rattigan’s plays seems to have focused more on the intense dramas, like The Deep Blue Sea. The Orange Tree Theatre now gives us the second of the rarer comedies, following French Without Tears four years ago. I thought that earlier play hadn’t aged well, but this one comes up sparkling and fresh.

It’s set in the London home of The Earl of Harpenden, a man without a family who’s about to marry the daughter of The Duke of Ayr & Stirling. The Earl likes a good time and befriends an American Lieutenant at one of his drinking sessions and invites him to stay. His partying friend Mabel, a bit of a vamp, also turns up. His fiancee Elizabeth visits with someone she’s befriended, a French Lieutenant. Both fall for Elizabeth, which sends the play along a sophisticated, hysterical, delightful path to its happy conclusion.

The Orange Tree is the perfect space to give the comedy intimacy and pace. All you need is a few bits of furniture, and in this case a superb ceiling feature, to create this bachelor apartment; well, Horton the butler as well, obviously. All seven performances in Paul Miller’s pitch perfect production shine. Notwithstanding the period it’s still set in, this seventy-six-year-old play feels so fresh. What must have been a tonic in war-time London, proves to be a tonic still.

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Over 150 shows were candidates for my four award-less awards, with Best New Play the difficult category this year, so lets start with that.

BEST NEW PLAY – LOVE – National Theatre

Over a third of the sixty-five candidates were worthy of consideration, which makes 2016 both prolific and high quality in terms of new plays. Hampstead had a particularly good year with Rabbit Hole, Lawrence After Arabia, Labyrinth and the epic iHo all in contention. The Almeida gave us three, with Boy leading the trio that included They Drink It In The Congo and Oil because of its importance and impact. The Globe’s two Kneehigh shows – 946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips on the main stage & The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse – both delighted. Two more Florian Zeller plays, The Mother and The Truth, followed The Father and proved he’s a real talent to watch. The visit of Isango again, this time with play with songs A Man of Good Hope was a treat.

The Arcola gave us Kenny Morgan, which showed us the inspiration for Terence Rattigan’s The Deep Blue Sea, the Donmar a fascinating One Night in Miami, the Orange Tree hosted the superbly written The Rolling Stone and Dante or Die’s site-specific Handle With Care had an epic sweep in its self storage unit setting. Two comedies shone above all others – James Graham’s Monster Raving Loony and Mischief Theatre’s The Comedy About A Bank Robbery, the only West End non-subsidised contender! The Royal Court provided the visceral Yen and The Children, my runner-up, another fine play by Lucy Kirkwood whose Chimerica was my 2013 winner. Of the National’s three, The Flick and Sunset at the Villa Thalia came earlier in the year, but it was LOVE at the end which made me sad and angry but blew me away with more emotional power than any other. Important theatre which I desperately hope many more people will see.

BEST REVIVAL / ADAPTATION of a play – The Young Vic’s YERMA & the National’s LES BLANCS

I’ve added ‘adaptation’ as a few steered a long way from their source, and Les Blancs could be considered a new play, but it’s just new to us.

Though I saw forty-four in this category, less than a quarter made the short-list. The best Shakespeare revival was undoubtedly A Winter’s Tale at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. As well as Les Blancs, the National staged excellent revivals of The Deep Blue Sea and Amadeus, the Donmar chipped in with the thoroughly entertaining comedy Welcome Home, Captain Fox and in Kingston The Rose revived Arthur Miller’s All My Sons, probably the best use ever of this difficult space. Beyond that I was struggling, except to choose between the two winners, which I found I couldn’t and shouldn’t do.

BEST NEW MUSICAL – GROUNDHOG DAY – Old Vic Theatre

Has a shortlist ever been so short? Only twenty contenders but only three in contention. The Toxic Avenger at Southwark Playhouse was great fun and the NYMT’s Brass visiting Hackney Empire hugely impressive, but it was achieving the seemingly impossible by turning Groundhog Day into a hugely successful musical than won the day, though it was sad to see it head stateside, presumably in pursuit of greater commercial gain, after such a short run. I know it will be back, but that doesn’t make me feel any better about a British theatrical institution and a whole load of British talent being used as a Broadway try-out. 

BEST MUSICAL REVIVAL – HALF A SIXPENCE – Chichester Festival Theatre / Novello Theatre

Fifty percent more revivals (twenty-nine) than new musicals is a lower proportion than usual, but a winner has never been clearer. 

The Menier gave us a transatlantic transfer of a great Into the Woods and what may prove to be the definitive She Loves Me, but both the Union and Walthamstow’s Rose & Crown provided twice as many quality revivals, with the latter successfully climbing higher peaks with more challenging shows for a small space – Bernstein’s Wonderful Town, Out of This World, Babes in Arms and Howard Goodall’s The Kissing Dance. The Union’s contributions included The Fix and Children of Eden and a trio of cheeky, fun nights with Bad Girls, Moby Dick and Soho Cinders. The Southerland-Tarento partnership provided a brilliant revival of Ragtime and the welcome European premiere, and superb production of, Rogers & Hammerstein’s Allegro (which was also too old for me to categorise as ‘New’). A little gem came and went ever so quickly when the Finborough revived Alan Price’s lovely Andy Capp in it’s Sun-Tue slot on the set of another play. BRING IT BACK! Despite all this fringe and off west end quality, it was the Chichester transfer of an old warhorse with a new book, new songs, thrilling staging, stunning choreography, gorgeous design and terrific ensemble which propelled itself to the top of this category.

That’s it for another year, then. Homelessness, childlessness, timelessness, colonialism and love amongst the working class. There’s a theme there somewhere…..

 

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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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