Saturday, 7 April 2012

‘Master Class’ - Vaudeville Theatre - Thursday 5th April 2012 - And - A Master Class - Theatre Royal - Tuesday 3rd April 2012

(Rated 4/5 and 7/5 )

Tyne Daly as Maria Callas rates a few points less for me than Tyne as her real self. And yet in playing Maria Callas, as in her other parts, Tyne put ever so much of herself into the role and emoted from her heart. Having seen the brilliance of Tyne as herself two days before – giving a master class to help young actors to far greater depths of truth and emotional expression in their work – and been extremely moved by her, I must confess to feeling disappointed that she was covered up with make-up, a wig, a costume that didn’t seem to suit, and someone else’s voice. I felt a twinge of joy when her Callas accent slipped once; just a little and there was the recognisable Tyne Daly voice – music to my ears. That is not at all to say she wasn’t a convincing Maria Callas. From the little I know, and what I have read since she really did look and effectively portray the Opera Diva.
Greek American Maria Callas made a huge impact on the world of Opera - becoming famous for her revolutionary vocal techniques and for emoting her roles - and on writer of Master Class, Terrence McNally. Having given a master class of his own, which had not been that successful, Terrence was inspired to write a play based around the master class given by Maria in 1971 at the Juilliard School in New York - some years after her light had stopped shining bright lost in love for a man, Aristotle Onassis, who then broke her heart. Her devotion to him, and possible also overuse in her singing, broke her voice also. The play shows us Maria in action with the students who dared to engage in her classes, and through her teaching and responses to them, we learn much about how she was as a person, a teacher, and in clever monologue flashbacks the relationships and experiences in her life that impacted on her emotional psyche. It is a play about art and artists, truth and psychology, music and performance, but above all about being rather than using techniques. Maria taught her students they must feel the music rather than just sing. She was tough and Diva-ish, bitter and passionate, brutally honest but acknowledged true talent.
Tyne’s supporting cast all held their own. Particularly impressive from a vocal point of view were Naomi O’Connell and Garrett Sorenson as students Sharon Graham and Anthony Candolino. Jeremy Cohen, playing the accompanying pianist Emmanuel Weinstock was great fun in banter with Tyne’s Maria. The skirmishes between Maria and each student were more obviously effective than the flashback monologues. The former were both dramatic and highly humorous. The latter, in which Maria recalls conversations with the men in her life, were a little hard to follow at times. However I thought them an ingenious strategy to use a kind of music therapy to trigger Maria back to those huge events in her life by the singing of her students of roles she made great; such as Tosca and Lady Macbeth. The audience are also very directly involved – be prepared to engage and be critiqued.

Tyne at her own master class confessed this was only the second one she had given and the first was not a success. In life there are no second chances but in acting there are. She said she’d observe the students and see what she could do to help. (I won’t go into details of the students’ work – after all Tyne was creating a safe environment for them to experiment, and as she commented a few times they were not performing for the audience this time. In fact she told them to forget us. That said, as an observer, I felt so privileged to be allowed to witness their beautiful processes.) Like Maria, Tyne was challenging but much warmer and more supportive whilst still being very honest. Nothing came out as direct criticism but rather as suggestions. She was solid and holding, fun and witty. For me there was added beauty in the uncovered age-lines on her face and her grey hair. She also seemed to be very careful in the way she walked in contrast to the surety of her walk as Maria. Tyne trained in Method acting and spoke several times about the use of yourself in a character. She comes across as very real. For her what is important is to find the truth and deepen the experience for the audience. An actor serves the audience rather than glorifying themselves. An actor cannot inspire unless they remember to breathe. She quoted her mother, Hope Daly’s critique of one of her performances: “Deeper, richer, fuller becomes better.” Then quoting Louise Brookes: “Styles change but the truth does not”, she advised us to find the deepest truth from our own experience and history and use whatever works to do so. She enabled each of her students to more powerfully emotive performances and thus was truly inspiring.

I have now met Tyne three times and experienced her in slightly different moods each time. Always honest and so always safe and reassuring – you know where you are with her. The first time she was in pain and under stress – arm in a sling and a vast number of autographs to sign – she asked me my name and quickly dedicated my Cagney and Lacey 30th anniversary information sheet to me. The second time she was “late for work” on her way in to the Vauderville via the stage door, and not fully present – quick signatures and though our eyes met, not quite taking in what I said. My attempt to tell her how brilliant I found her master class seemed mistaken for me having seen the show and finding that brilliant. The third time, after the show the same night, she recognised me; “Hello again” and a witty, though incorrect, “You must know the show off by heart now” confirmed that I’d confused her somehow, or that she recognised me and thought I was someone else. In the moment I fully enjoyed her cheeky grin, playing with me, and I smiled back and replied “Not quite”. After a photo opportunity I thanked her very much and she told me I was welcome and shook my hand.

A very special woman, master of her art and a class act.

Master Class – Review by TheRestrictedReviewer © 2012

Twitter: @RestrictReview