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Posts Tagged ‘The Visitors’

I’ve become very fond of Barney Norris’ plays. This is my 5th. They occupy a space all of their own. Concerned with the human condition. Gentle, charming, wistful, poetic. When so much theatre is angry, opinionated & shouty, they are a breath of fresh air.

This one starts slowly as we meet concert pianist David and his wife Fiona, a singer, who’ve just put their young children to bed. David’s elderly parents are coming to the end of a visit. He seems somewhat intolerant of his dad, His wife is fond of both of them. From here we move forward in their lives, through breakups, new relationships, new careers and new homes. Fiona connects with a former colleague and they have a daughter. The (unseen) children grow. The grandparents Bert & Peggy see to be the only constant.

This is a character driven piece, and it wasn’t long before I realised how autobiographical it was; the characters being the playwright’s parents and grandparents. He’s the eldest child. It’s all about growing old, growing apart, growing up, growing close, a very personal presentation of almost thirty years of one family, where music connects the parents generation.

Naomi Petersen is excellent as Fiona, whose journey is the most emotional, and she sings beautifully. It’s a tough call for David Ricardo-Pearce playing his somewhat unsympathetic namesake, but he does it well, with great piano playing too. It’s lovely to see Barbara Flynn and Robin Soans (who was also in Barney Norris’ first play The visitors in the same theatre’s smaller studio) growing old gracefully in lovely roles as grandparents Bert, looking back, and Peggy, looking forward. George Taylor completes the picture as Fiona’s second husband who has to navigate his way into the family.

The inclusion of live music is a great contribution. Norris himself directs, which doesn’t seem to have stopped him telling his family story, warts and all. Don’t expect high drama, but it is a perceptive and moving play which left me thoughtful and reflective; a satisfying study of three generations of a family, which was less fiction and more reality than I was expecting.

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Best New Play(s) – The James Plays

First up its plays, new ones, and when I counted I was surprised to find I’d seen 75 of them, including a pleasing half-dozen at the NT. My long list only brought that down to 31 so I had to be real hard to get to the Top Ten short-list of Versailles at the Donmar, Good People & Wonderland at Hampstead, Wet House at Soho, The Visitors at the Arcola (now at the Bush), 1927’s Golem at the Young Vic and 3 Winters & The James Plays from the National Theatre of Scotland at the NT – a three-play feast which pipped the others at the post.

Best Revival (Play) – shared by Accolade and My Night With Reg

I saw fewer revivals – a mere 44! – but 18 were there at the final cut. The Young Vic had a stonking year with Happy Days, A Streetcar Named Desire & A View From a Bridge, the latter two getting into my top ten with the Old Vic’s The Crucible, the Open Air’s All My Sons (that’s no less than 3 Millers) the NT’s Medea, Fathers & Sons at the Donmar, True West at the Tricycle and the Trafalgar Transformed Richard III. In the end I copped out, unable to choose between My Night with Reg at the Donmar and Accolade at the St James.

Best New Musical – Made in Dagenham

I was a bit taken aback at the total of 25 new musicals, 10 of which got through the first round, including the ill-fated I Can’t Sing, Superman in Walthamstow (coming soon to Leicester Square Theatre) , In the Heights at Southwark and London Theatre Workshop’s Apartment 40C. I struggled to get to one from the six remaining, which included the NT’s Here Lies Love and five I saw twice – Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Dogfight at Southwark, Hampstead’s Kinkfest Sunny Afternoon and Dessa Rose at Trafalgar Studio Two – but eventually I settled on a great new British musical Made in Dagenham.

Best Revival (Musical) – Sweeney Todd in Harrington’s Pie Shop, Tooting

An extraordinary year for musical revivals with 38 to choose from and 22 serious contenders including 7 outside London (two of which I short-listed – Hairspray in Leicester and Gypsy in Chichester) and not one but two Sweeney Tood’s! Difficult not to choose Damn Yankees at the Landor, a lovely Love Story at the Union, more Goodall with the NYMT’s The Hired Man at St James Theatre, Blues in the Night at Hackney, Sweeney Todd at the ill-fated Twickenham Theatre and Assassins at the Menier, plus the Arcola’s Carousel which was so good I went twice in its short run. In the end though, expecting and accepting accusations of bias, I have to go for the other Sweeney Todd in Harrington”s Pie Shop here in Tooting – funnier & scarier, beautifully sung & played and in the perfect location, bringing Sondheim to Tooting – in person too!

Best Out of Town – National Theatre Wales’ Mametz

I have to recognise my out-of-town theatregoing, where great theatre happens too, and some things start out (or end up!). The best this year included a superb revival of a recent Broadway / West End show, Hairspray at Leicester Curve, and one on the way in from Chichester, Gypsy, which I will have to see again when it arrives……. but my winner was National Theatre of Wales’ extraordinary Mametz, taking us back to a World War I battle, in the woods near Usk, in this centenary year.

Best Site Specific Theatre – Symphony of a Missing Room (LIFT 2014)

Finally, a site specific theatre award – just because I love them and because it’s my list, so I can invent any categories I like! Two of the foregoing winners – Sweeney Todd and Mametz – fall into this category but are  now ineligible. The two other finalists were I Do, a wedding in the Hilton Docklands, and Symphony of a Missing Room, a blindfolded walk through the Royal Academy buildings as part of LIFT, which piped the other at the post.

With some multiple visits, 2014 saw around 200 visits to the theatre, which no other city in the world could offer. As my theatrical man of the year Stephen Sondheim put it in the musical revival of the year – There’s No Place Like London.

 

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