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Posts Tagged ‘Tom Littler’

Whilst other students were doing what students do – getting pissed and getting laid (assuming it was the same in 1934) – the undergraduate Terence Rattigan, with help from his friend Philip Heimann, was writing his first play. In no time at all, it was causing controversy in the West End & on Broadway and Rattigan had given up his studies. It’s taken 80 years for it to get its second London outing, thanks to the enterprising and indispensable Primavera Productions.

Rattigan was writing from experience, setting his play in college lodgings with four student sharers. Tony is to play the leading role in the University drama society production of Anthony & Cleopatra and professional actress Margot has been invited to play alongside him (apparently this was not unusual at Oxford, with people like Peggy Ashcroft returning to OUDS). They fall in love, despite the fact she’s twice his age, and Tony’s ex Joan moves on to his friend David (before ending up with another friend, Bertie!). There is a thinly veiled suggestion that Tony & David are more than friends and the play primarily explores this unorthodox love triangle.

The first half was a bit light, dull and insubstantial for me (and not ‘uproariously funny’ as it has been billed) and if you didn’t know who wrote it, you might guess Noel Coward, but it transformed itself after the interval and became a much better play and very obviously Rattigan. The three short acts of this second half really were brilliant and it was fascinating to see the first work of this 20th century master.

Tom Littler has given it a fine production, and assembled an excellent cast. Neil Irish makes great use of the tiny Jermyn Street stage (floor), creating an evocative period living room which transforms effectively to a pub bedroom for one of the five acts. Caroline Langrishe is a superb Margot, drawn to the younger man and jealous of his other relationship. Philip Labey plays ice cold, somewhat manipulative David brilliantly and Gavin Fowler comes into his own in the second half when his role becomes more complex. It also features the impressive professional stage debut of Molly Hanson, the daughter of Alexander Hanson & Samantha Bond, as Joan.

At the interval I thought it was a mere collectors piece, but by the end I was very pleased to have had the opportunity to see the beginnings of Rattigan’s great and unique talent. The programme-script has an excellent essay by Dan Rebellato, who has pieced together this performing edition from the six versions extant, which added much to the experience. Gold stars to him, Primavera and Jermyn Street Theatre, whose new seating has greatly improved the comfort and sight-lines.

 

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Though I saw this 1922 Jean-Jacques Bernard play (in the same John Fowles adaptation) at the NT in 1985, I can’t remember a thing about it, so I came to this first revival at the Finborough as if it were the first time. The small space, with audience on three sides, and a quintet of fine performances made it a most intimate and intense experience.

Martine and Julien meet by accident as the latter is walking by. They begin a doomed one-sided relationship, though we never know whether Julien breaks Martine’s heart because he wasn’t really in love or whether class and social conventions get in the way. Martine has to keep the secret with her broken heart, as Julien goes off with his fiancé Jeanne.

It’s a delicate and beautiful story but it doesn’t really sustain it’s 105 minute (unbroken) length and the sadness is completely overwhelming. I left the theatre even more exhausted than when I entered it, a weight of unbearable melancholy bearing down upon me that I struggled to shake off. Though this is in some ways a tribute to the quality of the production, it didn’t make for much enjoyment!

Tom Littler’s delicate production is faultless and Hannah Murray and Barnaby Sax are superb as Martine and Julien. There’s also excellent support from Susan Penhaligon, Chris Porter and Leila Crerar. I’m not sure the play is a match for their talents, though it may be that I didn’t have the coping skills to make it as rewarding an experience as others appear to have found it.

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Sondheim does Brecht & Weill !

This early (36-year old) Sondheim show was only his third. It would be another six years before he’d produce his first great musical, Company (though the earlier A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum was fun, I wouldn’t call it great).

He seemed to be finding his way, trying out things which would later become part of his unique style. It is clearly derivative of Brecht & Weill’s ‘political’  musicals with what seems to be tongue-in-cheek sniping at the then generic Broadway style.

It’s the story of a town mayor who ‘creates’ a miracle in an attempt to breathe life into the local economy. What follows is exploitation, corruption and oppression. There is a charming naivety to it, but in terms of plotting and story-telling, it’s all a bit clumsy. There’s little of the lyrical inventiveness or musical originality which Sondheim was soon to deliver.

Tom Littler’s production makes the best of the material and the cast of 14 double up as musicians in the John Doyle way. I was particularly impressed by Roslaie Craig as the nurse, but felt that Issy van Randwyck was too doll-like as the Mayoress.

It’s an excellent contribution to Sondheim’s 80th year, as a rare opportunity for fans / completists / collectors like me to see the development of someone who was to become the greatest writer of musicals, rather than as a great musical itself.

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