29 September 2013

About 2/3 of A Midsummer Night's Dream - Noel Coward Theatre, Wednesday 24th September 2013

Theseus/Oberon - Padraic Delaney
Hippolyta/Titania - Sheridan Smith
Egeus - Leo Wringer
Hermia - Susannah Fielding
Demetrius - Stefano Braschi
Lysander - Sam Swainsbury
Helena - Katherine Kingsley
Peter Quince/Moth - Richard Dempsey
Bottom - David Walliams
Francis Flute/Mustardseed - Alex Large
Tom Snout/Peaseblossom - Henry Everett
Snug the Joiner - Craig Vye
Puck - Gavin Fowler
Robin Starveling/Cobweb - Stefan Adegbola

Creative Team:
Director - Michael Grandage
Set and Costumes - Christopher Oram (aka Mrs. Grandage0
Lighting (Paule Constable)

Lordy, this is a lazy production.  Lazy in that the text has been slashed to ribbons (presumably so that the plebs who are flocking to see David Walliams are introduced gently to the concept of Shakespeare; its less than 2 1/2 hours long including the interval) which is surprising because, as someone pointed out to me recently, the Dream is one of the few Shakespeare plays where you don't mind sitting and listening to it all).  Lazy in that the text that does remain is gabbled through at such a pace that you can't hear that much of it anyway - its almost as if the cast are either doing a "speed read" rehearsal or competing among themselves as to who can spit their lines out the fastest, or that someone has their eye on a particular train home and is racing for it.  Lazy in the fact that there are several people in the cast (some in major roles) who have never done any Shakespeare before in their entire lives) - if Mr. Grandage knew that people would be flocking to see someone in particular why did he not bother to give a bit more to his audience by surrounding them with the best actors he could find?  Lazy in the fact that a couple of people in the cast have already appeared in other plays in this season and Mr. Grandage obviously thought it would be easier and cheaper to keep them in the company despite being woefully inadequate for their role in Dream.  Lazy in that there is only one permanent set so there is no sense of "meanwhile, in another part of the forest". Lazy in that all the named fairy parts are doubled by those playing the Mechanicals.   Lazy in that there is absolutely no exploration of the play's darker themes.  Lazy in that although this is being trumpeted as "tickets for a tenner" none of the publicity mentions that in the £10 seats you can only see 2/3 of the stage - when characters stand on the "wild bank" at the rear, all you can see is their feet, and at no point can you see any of the backdrop whatsoever.   Lazy in that Mr. Walliams does nothing - nothing - with the pivotal role of Bottom other than exactly the same as he has always done before.  And lazy in that what comedy there is here mainly consists of cheap laughs rather than any real humour. 
Sheridan Smith is probably the best thing in this, and that isn't saying much.  At least she has a fair stab at Shakespeare's poetic Queen of the Fairies, but she looks and sounds like a superannuated character from Cats. There's nothing of the anger or the darkness of the role on show. She purrs and vamps her way though the part, completely ignoring the brittle yet otherworldy nature of Titania.  She is given no help whatsoever by Padraic Delaney, who is the worst Oberon I have ever seen (and I have seen Dream more times than I care to remember).  He has no gravitas, no mystery, no depth and no authority whatsoever, but giggles and simpers through the part and is seemingly channelling Ed Byrne.  His Theseus is a walking disaster.  The four lovers are anodyne and without a shred of character between them (and between all four can only boast minimal Shakespearean experience).  It would seem that Messrs Swainsbury and Braschi - Lysander and Demetrius respectively - were cast for their rippling torsos and pert buttocks rather than any kind of acting ability.  I suspect that Mr. Grandage fancied a bit of semi-naked eye candy to direct; all four lovers gradually (or not so gradually) lose items of clothing until they are running around the Athenian wood in their scanties.  Obviously not a very muddy wood (even though Titania observes that "the nine men's morris is filled with mud" as a result of the weather being completely out of synch with the season) because all remains pristine; perhaps Proctor and Gamble have put money into the production?  All four of them gabble at such a rate that their scenes become incomprehensible; if I didn't already know the plot backwards then I would have been completely and totally lost as to what was going on.  David Walliams is David Walliams and that is really all that can be said for his "performance".  Its a lazy retread of his various roles in Little Britain and shows us nothing new, nothing of his supposed "range".  I don't think he actually has one;  this is probably all that he can do.  And yet people were practically falling about in the aisles.  I have no idea why.  In retrospect it was fortunate that there were no solo curtain calls because I would have booed very, very loudly.

There was very little magic in this production.  The fairies are 60s hippies, spliffed out and dancing to tracks from the Carpenters and the Beach Boys.  This puts them firmly in the human realm when they should inhabit a parallel, dark world of Faerie. A dangerous world which may mirror the human one but is a fractured, enchanted ones.   At least give the poor buggers some wings, because otherwise it looks like they are just a load of dropouts passing through Athens.  OK, if they are on drugs and tripping out, at least make it look and sound and feel like they are spliffed out.  The magic flower that Oberon uses to enchant the eyes of Titania and the lovers was here a tab of acid - but there was no triply lighting effect, no sense of looking at the world and seeing it changed or somehow beyond your control.  To steal an idea from the FT review below, this entire production takes a puff on a joint but doesn't inhale.  And to steal another idea from the Telegraph, in Shakespeare the "wood" is both inside and outside - its inside your head (a place where you can escape and dream) and outside the city, away from the constraints of being who others expect you to be.  Its a place where you can literally cut loose.  But the production doesn't. 
Its so frustrating when you see a production like this.  All the potential for a really popular "bums on seats" production because of the "big name draw" was wasted.  One cannot blame the cast, merely Mr. Grandage for being so effing lazy.


23 September 2013

Storm in a Flower Vase - Arts Theatre, Friday 20th September 2013


Iconic floral designer and cookery writer Constance Spry remains a household name to this day. A pioneer for working women, she ran a successful business as the florist of choice for the highest of high society, designing floral displays for royal weddings and for the Queen’s coronation as well as creating the iconic dish Coronation Chicken.  But behind the image of this highly respected businesswoman lay a very different story  of marital discord, affairs and heartache….

Constance Spry – Penny Downie
Henry Spry – Christopher Ravenscroft
Val Pirie – Sally George
Rosemary Hume – Sheila Ruskin
Hannah Gluckstein – Carolyn Backhouse
Syrie Maugham – Carol Royle

Creative Team:
Writer – Anton Burge
Director – Alan Strachan
Design – Morgan Large
Lighting – James Whiteside


When making a flower arrangement, it is important not to try and cram in too much material, otherwise you may overwhelm the design.  The stems of this play are far too long and need a good trim down.  Even the hardier blooms in the audience on Friday began to wilt as the play ticked towards 2 ¾ hours.  I began to need an aspirin dissolved in the water.  Some of the material in the arrangement needs cutting back, and some elements are too showy and threaten to unbalance the layout in their favour.  Conversely, some parts resemble foliage stuck in to bulk out the design.  Never, ever, over-vase your flowers.   

This is an old-fashioned arrangement of a kind that will appeal to a certain audience.  It will find favour among middle aged, middle class ladies who belong to the WI and who consider themselves too old to go out on the lash before screaming obscenities from the rear stalls at The Bodyguard.  There will be coach parties coming up from the Home Counties, armed with OASIS, pin holders and crumpled chicken wire. 

Penny Downie “Constance Spry”  is a hardy perennial and is shown off to good effect in this particular vase, working particularly well in this arrangement.  The creeping bindweed in the plot is the role of Hannah Gluckstein, scrambling all over several long scenes and in need of cutting back.  It is an unsympathetic, stereotypical part, badly written and, like Ruta graveolens (rue),  irritating after a while and frankly somewhat embarrassing.   The appalling wig a la Glenda Jackson on a particularly bad hair day doesn’t help.  Conversely Carol Royle “Syrie Maugham” appears in two scenes and blooms gaudily all over them, pulling focus from the other parts and threatening to overbalance the arrangement.  Always strive for harmony in your arrangements, ladies.  Each specimen must support but not outshine the others.   Fortunately, good support is offered by Christopher Ravenscroft as a dry old stick propping up some of the foliage. 

An opportunity was lost here to create drama.  Spry’s arrangements were always dramatic but, like a branch of Corkscrew Hazel, this representation weaves about all over the place and doesn’t really come to any definable conclusion.  Rather like the one floral arrangement at the local flower show that fails to win any prizes, it is pleasant enough but there’s no real drama.  The end of the first act is a bit of a fudge – everyone leaves the stage and the lights dim, and therefore the audience thinks its time to clap, but then the lights go up again to reveal a solitary painting hung in an art gallery.  The applause dies out – and then the lights go down again and everyone has to start clapping again.  We may possibly have been mislead into clapping as Carole Royle’s mother was obviously in the audience and applauded on her exit.  When this happened again after Ms. Royle’s one scene in the second half, nobody was fooled and the auditorium rang out with the sound of one person clapping.  They soon stopped when they realised nobody else followed suit. 

There are an awful lot of plastic flowers in this show.  Unfortunately Monkshood (aconitum napellus) is referred to as being in the first bunch you see but there isn’t any in it.  There is also a red Anemone “De Caen” in a scene that takes place in January, which is wrong, because Anemone “De Caen” blossoms in April.  At one point a painting is made of a floral arrangement.  The painting contains a single bloom of Anthurium but the floral arrangement it depicts does not – there are white tulips, calla lilies, narcissus and sprays of some kind of daisy-type “filler” flower but no Anthuriums.   One of the characters in the play is based on Syrie Maugham but this is spelt as “Maughan” in the programme.  The back of the programme carries an advert for what I assume is a hideously expensive Covent Garden florist.  The photograph in this advert is of appalling quality.  The photograph includes a large arrangement of deep red flowers (possibly roses, but the picture is of too poor a quality to be sure).  The picture is in black and white.  Red flowers do not show up well  in black and white images and you would have thought that a) a professional photographer would have known this and b) the firm it advertises would have commissioned a better picture both in terms of quality and presentation of their products.  There is a facebook tag on the back of the flyer with the facebook “F” followed by “artstheatrewestend”.  Unfortunately this makes it read as Fartstheatrewestend. 

Personally, I think “Storm in a Flower Vase” is a really, really naff title and smacks of desperation because the author couldn’t think of a better alternative.  The root phrase “storm in a teacup describes something which is wildly overblown but really adds up to nothing very much, a bit like this play.  Inoffensive, pleasant enough, slightly old fashioned and over-vased.  

21 September 2013

Sincerely, Mr. Toad - Greenwich Theatre, Friday 13th September 2013


Kenneth Grahame makes the lives of his family unbearable while writing The Wind in the Willows and then his son kills himself.  It takes 2 and a half hours to get to this point, by which time nobody cares.

Kenneth Grahame – Adam Venus
Mouse – Keith Jack
Elspeth Grahame – Sarah Borges
Beth Thorpe – Kirsty Anne Myers
Ensemble – Luke Foster, Jamie Jukes, Gareth Healey, Gracie Hughes, Kayleigh Smith, Emma Salvo, Julia Cave

Creative Team:
Music – David Andrew Wilson
Book – David Hutchinson
Lyrics – Katie McIvor
Director – Phillip Rowntree

If I had known this was by the Sell a Door Theatre Company then I would have run a mile from it.  I’ve suffered at their hands before.  And in the process of expressing my opinion, found myself on the receiving end of abuse from members of the company.  Well, I had better dig out my tin hat and flak jacket because I am probably going to get some more 

This has got FAILURE written all over it.  To start with, the subject matter is tired, and I can’t say that its one I really care for anyway.  Essentially, the story is about how dreadful Kenneth Grahame’s life was and how he got so obsessed with writing The Wind in the Willows that he made everyone else’s life awful as well, ignoring his wife and eventually leading to the suicide of his son, Mouse.  This kind of thing – digging about in the psyche of authors of famous children’s authors and uncovering darkness – has been done before  and it didn’t work then.  To set this kind of depressing story to music just isn’t going to work full stop.  Particularly when the story is set in a specific period and the music doesn’t reflect this at all. In fact, the score of this musical is so wildly inappropriate to its subject that I began to think that Mole, Ratty, Badger and Toad might soon be waving flags on the barricades as Paris burnt down around them.  Its all very sub-Andrew Lloyd Webber.  Even though His Lordship was actually in the audience , where were Mole, Ratty, Badger and Toad all night?  You would have thought that, given the entire story is about the man who created them from his imagination, it might have been appropriate to have incorporated them as characters?  Only once did we get a glimpse into Grahame’s fantasy world of animals and you have to wait for the opening of act 2 to get it – by which time we had nearly given up.  In fact, Him Indoors turned to me in the interval and said “Do you want to stay for the second half?”, which in retrospect I now recognise as a thinly-disguised request to go home.    Grahame’s story is dreary, without sparkle and so portentous that you can tell after the first 20 minutes that you ain’t going to get a happy ending .  Knowing that its all going to go tits up is depressing, and you can feel the doom reaching out to you and dragging you down.  Its over-long by at least half an hour, mainly because the subject is so depressing.  I am sure that everyone went home wondering whether to feel miserable (Mouse commits suicide in some undefined way at the end – possibly there is a train involved but this is unclear) or elated  because they didn’t  have to sit through any more of it. 

Production values were so thin as to be see-through. On a budget this might have been, but this looked cheap and nasty.  Someone’s old bedsheets made makeshift drapes to “decorate” the stage (serving only to emphasise the bleakness rather than hide it) and there was a tiny plywood desk on wonky castors with old books nailed all over it.  Two sets of steps disguised as stacks of books must have taken up a goodly chunk of the production budget and, to be frank, I think it could have better been spent elsewhere.   Better costumes, certainly.    At least, I think they were meant to be books.   Given a decent budget, it might be possible to turn this show into something worth watching, but its going to need some far superior choreography to that which it has at the moment , a major rewrite and a complete change of director. 

Whoever was working on the Sound Desk needs retraining or sacking.  It was all so over-amplified that for a long time I couldn’t hear anything that was being said or sung.  

Given the dreariness of the material, everyone tried hard.  Mouse is a character without any redeeming qualities whatsoever and it is impossible to feel empathy with him, so it is lucky that Keith Jacks didn’t even seem to be trying.  Winsome will only get you so far, love.  Sarah Borges as Mrs. Grahame hid her light under a bushel until almost the very end, taking on a solo of such musical complexity and requiring an incredible vocal range so she can be excused for finding the upper and lower reaches slightly difficult.  Move the song away from the end of Act 2, direct it more sympathetically and it has the potential to be a showstopper.   Nobody else really made an impression.

A real stinker. 

19 September 2013

Titanic - Southwark Playhouse, Saturday 27th July 2013


Big ship hits iceberg. Lots of people drown.

Barrett, the Stoker – James Austen Murray
Lightoller – Dominic Brewer
Kate Mullins – Scarlett Courtney
Bride, the Radio Operator – Matthew Crowe
Kate Murphy – Grace Eccle
Alice Beane – Celia Graham
Edgar Beane – Oliver Hemborough
Ismay – Simon Green
Mr Etches – James Hume
Caroline Neville – Clare Marlowe
Jim Farrell – Shane McDaid
Captain Smith – Philip Rham
Kate McGowan – Victoria Serra

Creative Team:
Book – Peter Stone
Music and lyrics – Maury Yeston
Director – Thom Sutherland
MD – Mark Aspinall
Set and Costumes – David Woodhead
Lighting – Howard Hudson

It was the day when the heatwave finally broke, after a week of muggy, vile, humid weather.  It was a horrendously sticky evening and a desultory rainstorm wetted the pavements but did nothing to clear the air.  It was like walking through soup.  And the air conditioning in the theatre had broken down completely.  Consequently sitting there waiting for the show to start was like sitting fully clothed in a Turkish bath.  Every programme was being pressed into service as a fan and every other scrap of paper in the theatre had been scavenged by those without them.  People began wondering aloud whether on payment of a suitable sum the Producer might actually allow the iceberg to make an earlier than scheduled appearance just to lower the temperature in the auditorium, or whether the journey to New York might not actually be in peril if the iceberg had, indeed, already melted.  The show started, foreheads glistened, stage makeup began to slide off faces and everyone silently sympathised with men wearing heavy period overcoats.   Lines about how unusually cold it was for April were met with rueful laughter.  Two-thirds of the way through the first half, the show juddered to a sudden halt.  The Director announced that we had hit an iceberg labelled “Health and Safety” and that The Show Could Not Go On  because of the temperature in the auditorium; Voyage Suspended until something had been done about it.  The audience piled into the lifeboats and waited, bobbing about in the swell.  I wondered whether we would ever get to New York at this rate.  Some 30 minutes later, the engines restarted, the audience climbed back on board and we were off again . The Band Played On  -  sans violinist and sans viola who had been unable to keep their instruments in tune as the humidity in the auditorium was making their catgut go all limp and drippy.  The cast wrung out their costumes and prepared to hit the iceberg.  By the time the Carpathia had delivered the survivors to New York it was gone 11pm, the cast were completely knackered (having already done a matinee that afternoon) and in the audience, T shirts and underwear were clinging to backs and bums like passengers to a lifebelt.  Still, we all stood up and applauded like there was no tomorrow – mostly out of sheer relief but also because the cast had stayed at their posts and given the performance with considerable welly right to the bitter end, probably for Equity Minimum.   I dread to think what the dressing rooms smelt like the next day. 

This is a difficult show to do with a small cast – there are 22 singing roles, as well as a slew of small named speaking roles (many of whom make an appearance in the embarkation scene and then essentially disappear), so there was a lot of doubling up going on, sometimes to the detriment of coherence.  Still, they managed, and on the whole managed well.  This is also a difficult show to do when your performance area is a “black box” and you have to have audience on three sides.  Still, they managed, and managed well.  A back wall of black metal panels gave some idea of the scale of the ship (and the enterprise being undertaken) and there was a clever gantry, accessed by tall sets of metal steps on wheels which gave additional performing space and some sense of perspective.  A nice directoral touch was to have the names of all those lost in the disaster scroll across the floor  in an illuminated “role of honour”

There were some excellent performances.  James Austen-Murray made a fine and believable Barrett (the Head Stoker), sporting a pair of shoulders that I would kill for.  His duet with Bride, the Radio Operator (Matthew Crowe) was nicely handled direction-wise and was, I thought, underscored with a slight sexual frisson – did the socially maladjusted Bride, happier communicating by morse code than with real people, think that all his all his dreams had come true when a sweaty, beefy stoker wandered into the Telegraph Cabin?  Celia Graham handled the role of the irritating Alice Beane and her ferociously difficult solo number with considerable aplomb and James Hume played Mr Etches, the First Class Steward in the style of a slightly affronted heron, exactly how the character should be portrayed.  I was less impressed with Dudley Rogers and Judith Street’s performances as Isidor and Ida Strauss and I really, really did not like the direction of their final number.  Street was hampered in her performance of what should be a heart-rending duet by trying to clamber into a somewhat unflattering costume while singing it.  The role of Mr. Andrews, the architect of Titanic, was watered down almost to the point of invisibility by giving the opening song to Ismay, the owner of the WhIte Star Line.  Doing so kept Andrews out of the audience’s field of vision until it was too late for the character to really register.  Simon Green was the perfect casting for Ismay – Green does the “conceited tosser” far too well for it to be anything other than who he really is. 

The show itself is flawed – its top heavy and there is at least one number (“Doing the latest rag”) that seems superfluous.  With its cast of millions it runs the risk of over-egging the pudding and trying to cram too many stories into the mix.  It cannot be denied that the problems with this particular performance made the show seem a lot longer than it appears.  But I cannot fault the dedication of the cast who gave a sterling performance under extremely trying and difficult conditions.  During the lifeboat scenes towards the end there were a couple of individuals on stage who were so “in” their performances that I found it quite distressing to watch them – Scarlett Courtney in her uncredited role of Lady Duff Gordon seemed to be living the part to such an extent that I do wonder how she managed to sleep that night. 

A round of applause to all involved for soldering on under incredibly difficult circumstances. 

What the critics thought:

18 September 2013

The Ladykillers - Vaudeville Theatre, Saturday 20th July 2013


Posing as amateur musicians, Professor Marcus and his gang rent rooms in the lopsided house of sweet but eccentric Mrs Wilberforce. The villains plot to involve her unwittingly in Marcus’ brilliantly conceived heist job. The police are left stumped but Mrs Wilberforce becomes wise to their ruse and Marcus concludes that there is only one way to keep the old lady quiet. With only her parrot, General Gordon, to help her, Mrs W. is alone with five desperate men.

The criminals argue among themselves and, one by one, they start to plot against each other, each ultimately meeting their deaths at the hands of one of their former colleagues and their bodies being dumped into departing trains. Mrs. Wilberforce tries to convince the local police that she has foiled the robbery plot and tries to return the money but isn't believed, instead being told to keep the money.  She uses the money to take General Gordon on a cruise in order to seek the cure for the illness that has caused all his feathers to drop out.  

Constable MacDonald - Blair Plant
Mrs. Wilberforce - Angela Thorne
Professor Marcus - John Gordon Sinclair
Major Courtney - Simon Day
Harry Robinson - Ralf Little
One-Round - Chris McCalphy
Louis - Con O'Neill
Mrs. Tromleyton - Carole Dance

Creative Team:
Written by – Graham Lineham, based on the screenplay by William Rose
Director – Sean Foley
Set and costumes – Michael Taylor
Lighting – James Farncombe

I was looking forward to this to cheer me up.  Unfortunately the first half was completely and totally ruined by the bad behaviour and appalling manners of the middle-aged couple sitting directly behind me.   THREE times (yes, three!) I had to turn round and ask them to be quiet.  And then, in the interval, they started having  a “conversation” which was clearly directed at me so I eventually had to turn round and tell them that I thought people of their generation had better manners.  Things got rather tense so I had to move to another seat – but by this time the show was ruined for me, which was a shame because my bad experience (and subsequent bad mood) will have a knock on effect on how I review it.  I missed a lot of the dialogue in act one because of the constant stream of dialogue coming from the seats behind me.  The rest of the audience seemed to be having a good time though.

The set is marvellous – the interior of a creaky old house, rapidly being shaken to pieces by the rumble of the steam trains coming and going from King’s Cross .  Some of the scenes which take place outside the house are cleverly incorporated into the fabric of the house itself, although the heist scene, which is played out with model cars and trucks moving round on the vertical surface of the house’s exterior wall doesn’t really work terribly well.  It’s a clever idea but not done slickly enough.   There were a couple of scenes during the second act when it seemed as if something hadn’t gone according to plan – perhaps a fluffed line or a missed cue.  Particularly clunky was the scene where the two robbers attempt to throw each other off the roof.  Something got bungled somewhere and Simon Day ended up throwing himself off the roof. 

The cast do the best they can within the limited stereotypes dictated by the script.  Angela Thorne does a marvellous job of the physical aspects of being a doddery old lady (compare her walkdown and bow at the curtain when she seems positively spritely by comparison) and is genuinely touching in some of her scenes - particularly when she descends the staircase arrayed in her lovingly preserved party dress. John Gordon Sinclair manages well with the unforgiving role of Professor Marcus, haunted as he is by the ghost of Alec Guinness, but isn’t nearly “odd” enough.  But Ralf Little’s tics and twitches are overdone and get irritating very quickly.   Con O’Neill’s Louis is inaudible for most of the time because of his appalling accent. 

The script works well, sticking closely enough to that of the film to honour the source but different enough to be fresh.  Unfortunately most of the action takes place in act two so it feels uneven. There is so much going on and so many people to be bumped off that it feels over-crammed yet still rushed. 

The show deserves a better review than I’ve given it.  I was deeply, deeply pissed off with the rude people behind me and spent the second half in a black sulk at the back.  Stupid, I know, allowing other people to spoil an afternoon at the theatre – but sometimes other people can be so bloody inconsiderate.  

forced to face the music?

16 September 2013

Passion Play - Duke of York's Theatre, Saturday 29th June 2013

Eleanor is  a chorister whose marriage disintegrates when her husband James embarks on an affair with someone she had considered as a friend and confidante.  James, a leading restorer of paintings, agrees to a clandestine meeting with the couple's sultry young friend Kate, the widow of a former colleague. An affluent photographer, Kate ostensibly needs James' professional input for a book she plans to write; but her real motive for meeting Eleanor's husband is to convince him to take her as his lover.
James needs little convincing, and slowly the lies mount up. The revelation that her husband of twenty-five years is being unfaithful comes as a tremendous shock to Eleanor, who feels compelled to reveal secrets of her own. With the marriage at crisis point, both she and James develop alter-egos  who give voice to the troubled spouses' innermost thoughts.

Eleanor -   ZoĆ« Wanamaker
James ... Owen Teale
Eleanor's alter-ego  ... Samantha Bond
James' alter-ego  ... Oliver Cotton
Kate ... Annabel Scholey
Agnes ... Sian Thomas

Creative Team:

Director: David Leveaux
Producer: Tali Pelman
Set Designer: Hildegard Bechtler
Lighting Designer: Mark Henderson
Sound Designer: Fergus O'Hare
Costume Designer: Laura Hopkins

With apologies for the delayed posting - Passion Play will have already closed by the time you read this.  Things have been a little hairy on the domestic front at RTR Towers (to say nothing of the slightly gammy leg still which is driving me up the wall). In fact, I did wonder whether we would ever make it home after the performance, seeing as how some bright spark at Westminster Council had given permission for the EDL to march through central London on the same day as Gay Pride.  Now there's a riot in potentia. Still, at least things have not been so hairy as they were for Eleanor and James, the main characters in this play. 

It wasn't selling well, and its easy to see why.  This was not a pleasant evening out at the theatre.  I found it quite distressing at times, and I wonder about the psychological effect it would have on an actor to be playing it 8 times a week.  I wouldn't have recommended going to see this to anyone who was in any way depressed - and certainly not to anyone struggling with the effects of marital infidelity.  In fact, I was chatting away to the woman in the seat next to me who was on her own and obviously desperate for someone to talk to during the interval and we both agreed that, amusing though aspects of the play were, both of us would probably go home and slit our wrists with a razor blade if it got any darker. 

You do have to pay close attention because, with four people on stage but only two characters (both main characters have an "alter ego" who speaks their thoughts) it can get fairly confusing.  It could, of course, have got even more confusing - the chap in front wondered whether Zoe/Samantha and Owen/Oliver would swap roles after the interval and I thought "if that happens I'm totally lost".  What kept me relatively sane during Act 1 was that the alter egos didn't actually speak directly to anyone else on stage.  And then, during Act 2, the prediction from the row in front was more or less fulfilled and the alter egos not only started interacting with other characters on stage but also with each other and I thought my head was going to go off pop.  It wasn't too bad with the men, because despite being a character and his alter ego, Owen Teale and Oliver Cotton don't really look that much like each other.  Oliver Cotton, for example, has a lot more hair.  But with Zoe Wannamaker and Samantha Bond looking like the pair of slightly demented twins in Gormenghast, with the wigmaker's art having been pushed to its limit, the only way I could easily tell them apart was becuase Wannamaker has a retrousse nose (if anyone knows how to type an accented e in Blogger, I would be grateful for the tip) and Bond was wearing a necklace and slightly different coloured trousers. 

It did, of course, feel like there was somebody missing from the stage, and that was Kate's alter-ego.  Mind you, there probably wouldn't have been much room for it - her personality is (perhaps deliberately) rendered as so manipulative and horrible that any other point of view would probably have got in the way.  You are left in no uncertain terms as to who is the villain of the piece and that James is simply a middle-aged fool flattered into destroying his marriage.  It becomes less and less easy to sympathise with either Kate or James, who seem to act without any thought of the possible consequences.  

The entire play does feel a little dated with its references to records, letters (remember those?) and telephone boxes. Apart from those references, it could be anywhere, anytime, and the spare, pared back set did a good job of being nicely non-specific.  It does all get terribly, terribly confusing (particularly when one is a Bear of Very Little Brain) in the second half when the alter-egos start interacting with the "real people" - a real acting challenge I should imagine to spend half the play saying lines directed at nobody and to whom nobody reacts, and then to spend the second half interacting normally, and it does all get terribly, terribly bleak as things spiral out of control.  Not a play I would recommend to anyone feeling emotionally fragile in any way, or indeed anyone who has ever been in a relationship breaking down because of someone's infidelity.

What the critics thought: