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Posts Tagged ‘theatre royal haymarket’

Samuel Foote, an eighteenth century actor, the subject of Ian Kelly’s play, may well be the most fascinating person you’ve never heard of – well, I hadn’t. He was a friend of David Garrick and Peg Woffington, the most famous actors of their day, Samuel Johnson, Benjamin Franklin and King George III. He appears to have invented a new form of theatre – improv! – getting around the stringent restrictions of the day by having no script to be approved and charging for the tea rather than the entertainment. The play is as enthralling as it is entertaining.

We meet Foote as a well-established member of London society. He’s moved on from acting to semi-improvised prologues and epilogues and on again to create comic and satirical one-man ‘entertainments’ and impersonations of infamous brothel madam ‘Mrs Cole’. He runs the second largest theatre company in the land, but after a riding accident he has to have his leg amputated, which of course impacts his career (and may have affected his mental condition). He does get a prosthetic leg, something that was being pioneered by John Hunter, the father of modern surgery, at that time, but he never really recovers. The sympathetic George III grants him a Theatre Royal license for the Haymarket Theatre, but his fortunes begin to decline when he satirises a Duchess who responds with accusations of sodomy which ultimately bring him down. Why have I never heard of this man or his plays!

Richard Eyre’s production is uproariously funny, though it does get darker as it progresses. Tim Hatley seems to have designed an intentionally small set which is both faithful to the period and rather intimate. Simon Russell Beale’s towering performance is amongst his best, showcasing his brilliant comic timing and ability to raise a laugh without speaking a word. He is as extraordinary as a large eighteenth century society lady as he was as a Carmen Miranda impersonator in Privates on Parade. He’s surrounded by a host of other lovely performances, with Joseph Millson as Garrick and Dervla Kirwan as Woffington and the writer himself as Prince / King George. I was hugely impressed by Micah Balfour as his ‘blackamoor’ servant and Jenny Galloway was a delight as his other help, Mrs Garner.

It was another co-incidence that this play about 18th century theatre folk followed the previous day’s play about 17th century theatre folk, and I thoroughly enjoyed both. It is unthinkable that this doesn’t transfer, and it would be particularly wonderful if it were to be to the Theatre Royal Haymarket which he took over 250 years ago next year!

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When Bernard Pomerance’s play premiered in the late 70’s, the minimalist staging and acting without prosthetics were groundbreaking. Today, we’re more used to the less naturalistic, more used to using our imagination perhaps. Thirty-five years on the play seems lacking in depth and the production more than a little bit average.

In the late nineteenth century John Merrick, ‘The Elephant Man’, has to participate in freak shows to survive, exploited by his ‘manager’ Ross, the public paying to be repulsed by his appearance. A chance meeting with up-and-coming doctor Treves changes everything as he at first becomes the subject of medical study and is subsequently adopted by society figures, nobility and royalty, who seem to get satisfaction from showering him with sympathy, hospitality and gifts. Public donations secure his future as well as contributing to the London Hospital where he is housed. He proves himself an intelligent, humorous man who is good company and who becomes a good friend of Treves and actress Miss Kendall, one of the first to befriend him.

It seemed very perfunctory last night and at only 90 minutes playing time (with a wholly unnecessary interval to contribute to the profits) appeared to skim the surface of an interesting story. Bradley Cooper, hot on the heels of his three consecutive Oscar nominations (the last for American Sniper, a film which still leaves a bad taste in my mouth), had a lot to live up to for me as I saw the man who took over the role in the original production on Broadway in 1980 – an excellent David Bowie, no less – but I thought he was very good, conveying the deformity with contortions, with a decent accent (others were all over the place). I thought Alessandro Nivola and Patricia Clarkson as Treves and Miss Kendal were good too, though the latter’s accent was one of the culprits mentioned above. I can’t credit anyone else as I refused to pay £10 for a brochure and there were no programmes or cast lists available.

The play hasn’t really stood up to the test of time, so it does prove to be just a star vehicle after all. Cooper is good rather than great, so the evening doesn’t really live up to the hype. It’s a lot of money to pay to see something as good as we see on a regular basis in London in the subsidised sector and on the fringe, though I suspect most of the audience don’t frequent such places and left the theatre happier than me, able to tick off another celebrity on their list which, as others have said, isn’t that different from the Victorian’s paying to see the Elephant Man!

 

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Well, it isn’t going to be a fun-filled theatrical week, that’s for sure. On Monday, it was a chemotherapy clinic, later today it’s the man who invented the bomb, tomorrow it’s Les Miserables (schools edition!), Saturday it’s Greek tragedy (in Dutch) and this one concerns the Nazi horrors of the 1930’s! Playwright Mark Hayhurst is not content with making both a TV drama and a TV documentary on the same subject, he wrote a play too, and a playwriting debut to boot, now transferred from Chichester to the West End. It’s the little known story of Hans Litten, a young lawyer who put Hitler in the dock in 1931 and cross-examined him and its rather good.

It’s told from the perspective of his mother, who talks direct to the audience as well as appearing in scenes with other characters, all male, and there’s nothing like a mother to tell her son’s story with passion. We follow Hans from arrest through three concentration camps to his death whilst his mother works tirelessly for better treatment or even release for her son, confronting Gestapo officers head on. Penelope Wilton combines steely determination with defiance and dignity in a superb performance as Irmgard Litten. The scenes of imprisonment and torture are harrowing, but the story could not be told properly if they weren’t. We only see the cross-examination which unleashes the Nazi wrath towards the end, in flashback.

In addition to Dame Penelope, there are fine, sensitive performances from Martin Hutson as Hans and Pip Donaghy and Mike Grady as fellow prisoners Erich Muhsam and Carl von Ossietzky (who won a Nobel Prize for peace whilst captivated), John Light as Nazi Dr Conrad and David Yelland as a British peer who seeks to help Irmgard. Robert Jones’ design has a suitably claustrophobic ‘corridor’ at the rear where prison scenes are enacted and the stage is thrust forward into the stalls, bringing a real engagement with Irmgard’s story. It’s beautifully staged by Jonathan Church. Not an easy ride, but one worth making.

 

 

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There’s no point in having two national treasures, five fine young (recently graduated) actors and an elegant period set if your material is dull….and I mean dull.

Set in 1183 at the court of Henry II and Eleanor, James Goldman’s play takes an interesting slice of history, adds in some anachronistic modern dialogue (which doesn’t offend and sometimes raises a smile) and somehow makes it all deeply uninteresting. Eleanor has offended Henry so she’s imprisoned (today, we call it ‘under house arrest’) whilst his three sons are vying for the succession. The young King of France gets involved; apparently he’s a former lover of son Richard – can’t remember that in the history books! The favours of the queen (Eleanor!) and both kings change as they are courted and secrets are revealed, many whilst other characters are behind the curtains!

It’s all very clunky and hardly engages at all. You’re far more interested in the set and the performances than the play and spend quite a bit of the time wondering why on earth anyone thought it was worthy of revival. Of course, if I was cynical, I’d say ‘star casting means money’. Well, surely Trevor Nunn, Robert Lindsay and Joanna Lumley wouldn’t be part of that?  Anyway, star casting no longer means money; they’re papering the house mercilessly (I didn’t pay).

Though I missed The Tempest, this has been a disappointing quartet from Nunn at the Theatre Royal Haymarket this year. Other than Flare Path, poor choices leading to mediocrity. I see they’re transferring One Man, Two Guvnors here – that should pay off the overdraft.

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I studied this play for something that used to be called ‘O’ level. At the time, all I got to see was an amateur production. It was 15 years before I saw a professional one, but it was an extraordinary one; John Gunter seemed to have actually built part of Bath’s Royal Crescent on the Olivier stage (the life-size houses could be turned around and opened out to reveal their interiors) and Michael Hordern turned eating a boiled egg into a comic masterclass.

There’s a lot going on in Sheridan’s restoration comedy and it’s fun – preposterous fun, but fun all the same. The character names are particularly delicious and there are lots of parts, big and small, which actors relish. It’s impossible to dislike, but it doesn’t change your life.

This Peter Hall production comes off the Theatre Royal Bath quality-classics-staged-for-a-song production line. It fits the Theatre Royal Haymarket like a glove. Simon Higlett’s set isn’t as grand as Gunter’s but it does the job perfectly well. The cast is uniformly good, with Penelope Keith an imposing enough Mrs Malaprop and Peter Bowles a fine Sir Jack Absolute. There are great comic turns from Gerard Murphy as Sir Lucius and Keiron Self as Bob Acres and a lovely cameo from Ian Connington as Fag.

As much as I enjoyed seeing it again, it didn’t sparkle that much though and I’m afraid it falls into the category of ‘another Rivals’. Still, there are worse nights out to be had.

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A musical opening soon after Gone With The Wind could consider itself lucky, but this one doesn’t really need the luck.

 

It’s a chamber piece, rather than the epic of Les Miserables or Miss Saigon by the same writers. The latter was based on Madam Butterfly and this is a modern La Traviata.

 

It’s a great story, cleverly relocated to the Second World War, with gorgeous music, terrific lyrics and a small but highly talented ensemble and a small but lush orchestra. The show really suits the TR Haymarket (pity about the obscene programme and drink prices though!), the staging is impeccable and the excellent sound (for once not over-amplified) ensures you hear every word.

 

Ruthie Henshall is perfect casting and rises to the challenge of the part (though she was thrown around so much I was wincing!). I know Julian Ovenden’s work less, but this is a star turn. There’s a certain frisson seeing Alexander Hanson’s menacing Nazi general soon after his Nazi-hating Von Trapp in The Sound of Music and it’s another fine interpretation. I was immensely impressed by Matt Cross in Days of Hope at the Kings Head last year so its great to see him deliver another excellent performance as Pierrot, alongside equally excellent performances from Simon Thomas and Annalene Beechey In these important supporting roles.

 

This show comes in at just under half the length of GWTW but packs twice the emotional punch. I loved it – but will the critics?…..whose indifference to Les Mis sits alongside Decca’s rejection of the Beatles as one of history’s great errors!

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