1st December, 2001
JOANNA NAMED AS NEW ELIZA
LOTS OF NEWS ON ‘CHITTY’
The production is reported to be £5 million pound affair and includes a complete flying car, which is costing hundreds of thousands to build. Ticket prices for the show are higher than the usual (and already terribly costly), £37.50 for a top seat in the West End. ‘Chitty’ has notched this up to £40. Personally, I think it is an obscene amount to expect people to fork out and only reinforces the argument that the theatre is specifically aimed at those with a very full wallet. I’m sure there are plenty of parents of children who will keep the show going, but even so it will be interesting to see whether ‘Chitty’ can last a fair stretch of time when it has such big production costs.
‘BUDDY’ TO CLOSE
‘GRADUATE’ TO CLOSE FOR ‘HUMBLE BOY’
‘Humble Boy’ is set to transfer with Simon Russell Beale and Denis Quilley continuing in their current roles but Diana Rigg will be replaced by Felicity Kendal for the London run.
SAM MENDES TO LEAVE THE DONMAR
‘KISS ME, KATE’ IS A TRUE HIT
‘ROYAL FAMILY’ AND ‘DANGEROUS CORNER’ GET MIXED RECEPTION
J B Priestley’s ‘Dangerous Corner’ recently opened to a mixed bag of notices from the press. The play’s setting has been brought forward to modern day which some of the critics felt sat uncomfortably with such an old fashioned and melodramatic thriller. Word of mouth is strangely divided. It seems to be production you either love or hate, so really the only way to find out is to go yourself.
‘THE PLAY WHAT I WROTE’ – THE BEST COMEDY OF THE YEAR?
REVIEWS – ONE GOOD, ONE GREAT AT THE NATIONAL
THE RELAPSE- Olivier Theatre at the National
John Vanbrugh’s restoration comedy is given a good dusting off in Trevor Nunn’s impressive production. I doubt ‘The Relapse’ has ever had so glamorous an outing and probably won’t for a long time after. As with most things at the National, the play gets given the works: beautiful costumes, clever sets, effective lighting and fine actors. As a production, overall it is excellent. As a play, it is a rather boring way to spend an evening.
I don’t even want to begin to try and explain Vanbrugh’s plot, which has so many twists and turns I got completely lost. The play’s alternative title ‘Virtue In Danger’, is perhaps the simplest way of summing up the events that take place, in a period where appearance and status were right at the top of people’s priority list. This is best displayed in the central role of Lord Foppington, elegantly played by Alex Jennings made up with a powdered face, wearing extremely large wigs. It’s an outrageous performance of an outrageous part, and one that disappointingly has little substance. The script relies too heavily on Foppington’s catch phrase “Stab me vitals” which amuses greatly the first three or four times, but then proves to be somewhat annoying.
Imogen Stubbs and Claire Price in the female leads of Amanda and Berinthia made a pleasing duo. Miss Price was especially good, outstanding in fact. She had that certain something which kept your attention throughout. Her delivery was always clear and easy to understand, and she did wonderful gestures during her scripted asides.
In the smaller roles Paul Bradley as Dr. Bull and Maxine Peake as the flirtatious Hoyden stood out, whilst there was also a truly awful performance from Brian Blessed as Sir Tunbelly Clumsey. I could not understand a single word he said. He mumbled his way through the evening, having these peculiar outbursts of laughter whilst stamping his feet on the floor. It was immensely irritating and so bad that just the thought of it angers me. Worse, Mr. Blessed also chose to improvise at one point in the hope of gaining an extra laugh from the audience. In doing so he made himself corpse. I consider this to be highly unprofessional and it is the second time I have been to a show with Mr. Blessed when he has done this. It’s disgracefully amateur and should not happen.
There was good support from the rest of the company, dressed in Sue Blane’s stunning costumes. Her set was also excellent, transforming the Olivier stage into a theatre of that era. On the whole it was well done but I found the play rather bland and Trevor Nunn’s decision to perform the entire text meant that the evening ran on for far too long. Though I praise the efforts of all involved (except the aforementioned Mr. Blessed), I’m afraid it didn’t do anything for me and therefore I wouldn’t really recommend it to anyone other than the most ardent fans of restoration theatre.
FOOTNOTE – Alex Jennings has been awarded the Evening Standard Award for Best Actor for his performances in ‘The Relapse’ and ‘The Winter’s Tale’, both at the National Theatre.
JITNEY - Lyttleton Theatre at the National
In the last year, I have been privileged to see two great, great plays at the National. ‘Cloudsteet’ was the first, ‘Jitney’ the second.
Set in a Pittsburg cab firm, ‘Jitney’ charts the lives of the drivers who work there, their difficulties with working in tough times and their difficulties coping with each other. The latter situations are especially poignant and so true to life. The play reaches its pinnacle of brilliance in one such moment towards the end of the first half, where Roger Robinson’s Becker confronts his murderer son Booster (recently released from jail), on the effect his crime had on his mother. I haven’t heard a more powerful exchange on stage in any play or one so beautifully written. It’s a triumph of writing and acting.
However, this scene is not the only great part of the play. August Wilson’s script is sensational throughout. It is full of character and shifts mood so subtly you barely notice it. It manages to tug at all your emotions; one minute you are laughing, the next you are in shock. It has such an impact and I found it fascinating to hear the audience’s response. There were times when you could have heard a pin drop in the Lyttleton auditorium. I haven’t experienced that kind of power in the theatre for a long, long time.
I really am lost for words when it comes to the cast, who together produced an outstanding piece of ensemble acting and did Wilson’s beautiful play justice. Seldom do I call an evening perfect, but ‘Jitney’ was just that.
Tim Connor, London
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