Friday, 25 May 2012

‘Antigone’ Preview - National Olivier Theatre - Wednesday 23rd May 2012

(Rated 3/5 )

I absolutely longed to give this production a higher score. I do wonder if I went in with massively high expectations, which simply could not be satisfied. Why so much expectation? Well the play itself is a classic – probably one of the most famous of the Ancient Greek Tragedies – the power and impact of which is enduring as it addresses issues that remain with us today: Conflicts between the state and the individual, dictatorships, authority full of perhaps high IQ but controlling rigidity that will not allow any emotional intelligence through - leading to battles between legal laws and laws of the heart, law in dispute with morality, familial love set against a father or uncle’s need to dominate, male versus female in a society in which the former merits more than the latter… the head versus the heart. And in this particular production one of my favourite actors, whom I have longed to see on stage more – and so has he longed to be ;) – following his many wonderfully powerful screen performances, Christopher Eccleston. I think I have been spoiled by seeing many superb productions in recent times so I have become quite demanding! Or perhaps Ancient Greek Tragedy does not work for me ;).

The plot surrounds an issue of burial. Brothers Eteocles and Polynices, sons of Oedipus and his mother/wife Jocasta, have killed each other in battle. The new King Creon has decreed that Eteocles be respected as a hero, but Polynices condemned as a traitor. This means that the latter cannot be buried. Antigone, sister to both, wishes to bury Polynices. If she does so and is discovered her punishment will be death.

Polly Findlay's production of the play is set in our contemporary time. The male characters are dressed in the main in suits – I was hoping for togas – and Antigone - played by Jodie Whittaker - and sister Ismene – Annabel Scholey – in dresses. The set is a cold/stark/dark room full of offices in which are a multitude of desks, office chairs and numerous staff. It swivels round to reveal an outside wall.

Don Taylor’s play script, adapted from the original by Sophocles, contains numerous orations from both sides of the argument, which to me felt somehow disconnected. I wonder, however, if that was how plays were produced at the time – each actor going to the front of the stage and delivering his part as though in monologue, and then the next had a turn. I don’t mean that the arguments themselves were disengaged or did not follow on from each other, but I felt a lack of connection between the actors. And I honestly can’t put my finger on what wasn’t working for me. Jodie Whittaker did come from the heart. And Christopher Eccleston strongly from the power-crazed Creon – he was believable as a harsh, willful dictator. And I suppose these characters are not supposed to connect so that would make sense. However, I think what was lacking for me is I didn’t feel them really challenging each other. I wanted more! It was as though they were committed to their own sides of the argument, but not to convincing the other person. More pressure and battering needed J. This was a preview – in fact the very first night of previews – so I am sure that will develop. Perhaps on a first night actors are a little careful. I would also say there were a few structural problems in the play itself – again may come from the original author. Numerous supporting cast whom we don’t really get to know – I imagine these are the chorus of Ancient Greek Tragedy. But Creon’s son’s mother is introduced so late in the piece and has only one scene effectively. I missed seeing her relationship with Creon and son. There again, how important was a woman in those days? Antigone herself in fact has a relatively small part considering she is the title role. The main character is Creon and the story is his process and possible transformation. And does he transform? I won’t give the game away. In fact the game wasn’t given away to me either – I was unfortunately in a seat to which Christopher’s back was turned in a crucial scene towards the end so missed the emotion.

There is so much potential in this and I am sure it will be realised as they progress towards the end of the run. I look forward to that J.

Antigone – Review by TheRestrictedReviewer © 2012

Twitter: @RestrictReview

‘Being Friends’, ‘Lost’ and ‘Making Noise Quietly’ - Donmar Warehouse - Thursday 17th May 2012

(Rated 3/5 )

Billed as three short plays by Robert Holman, these still felt long. Linked by war in that different wars served as backdrops or backstories for the characters, they each dealt with numerous issues around connection between people, families, trauma, loss, truth and lies, secrets, youth and age and so much more. The dialogue rang true and was full of subtext for the actors to work with… and the acting was good mostly, but the production felt slow and stagnant. The Donmar stage is small but I have seen much more movement and pace in other productions so it is not the space that is a problem.

Matthew Tennyson and Jordan Dawes start with Being Friends, the story of a young farmer and young artist meeting, becoming friends and then maybe more. Matthew Tennyson impressed whilst Jordan Dawes seemed to hold back feeling from his lines a little. It would have all been in the subtext. I maybe had trouble feeling that due to the smoke from the stage making its way up to the circle and starting my nose running. Then I started to steam as both young men undressed to full frontal nudity. Ahem! That was the most exciting part of that particular play.

I don’t think I had recovered from Being Friends before Lost got underway. In fact it took me longer than that – I must get out or stay in with my guy more ;). Lost really suffered from lack of movement. Once, or maybe twice, the two characters swapped their polar locations on the stage and sat when they’d been standing before. There was such an undercurrent of potential emotional action though yet this lack in motion was not enough to move me and my companion. Perhaps it was expected that the undercurrents would but sadly they didn’t come through for us. May Appleton (played by Susan Brown), is being told that her son has been lost in war by officer Geoffrey Church (John Hollingworth), as they both work through difficult issues around family ties that bind or do not.

And finally, and perhaps most moving, Making Noise Quietly brings together three highly traumatised disparate individuals; a boy who won’t speak (Jack Boulter), a holocaust survivor now artist (Sara Kestelman) and the war-induced PTSD-suffering ‘step-father’ (Ben Batt) of the boy. Can they break through the noise of the unsaid, understand and help each other?

The best parts though were the transitions between scenes – the entire cast on stage showing us how their characters were feeling and being in their lives - providing most activity on stage. Though silent it was the noisiest part – making noise quietly!

Making Noise Quietly – Review by TheRestrictedReviewer © 2012

Twitter: @RestrictReview

‘Travelling Light’ - National Lyttelton Theatre - Thursday 26th April 2012

(Rated 3.5/5 )

This is a delightful little play by Nicholas Wright about the discovery of movies and what makes them work. It is set in a Jewish shtetl (small town) and, though the characters are in fact fictional, based on the stories of many of the real life pioneers of the motion picture business in America, who came from such communities in Poland, Russia, Hungary…, we feel the magical emotion of the underlying real life stories, experiences and insights set before our eyes as though happening in the moment.

The entire cast are good, but Sir Anthony Sher puts them all to shame as timber-merchant Jacob Bindel. His performance is truly phenomenal in warmth, humour, drama, poignancy and sensitivity. He totally convinces as a Jew of the time – to those of us maybe who were/are not! His character was not to become the successful movie mogul in Hollywood – that honour went to Motl Mendl (Damien Molony) who was to become Maurice Montgomery (Paul Jesson) – but, as many of the time and also now, he was the one with the big ideas to never get the credit. He understood how to convey emotion (without words) on film and what would make a great story. And it was Motl’s love interest, Anna Mazowiecka (Lauren O’Neil), who inspired the close-up and came up with the idea of cutting pieces of film to make the story.

The set was lovely and seemed authentic, as were the costumes. The snippets of black and white film conveyed both the films made by the characters, but also gave such a beautiful sense and atmosphere to the whole production.

I said this was a little play even though in fact it had so much in it! It felt little in that it was a story of everyday people of the time, in a little village far away from where main events were happening and where cinema would be born. But this little story was the conception of something massive.

Travelling Light – Review by TheRestrictedReviewer © 2012 

Twitter: @RestrictReview