Posts Tagged ‘Old Vic’

Cooper’s London

June 28, 2012

Stompin’ at the Savoy

During all the razzle-dazzle of the Diamond Jubilee, it seems the Queen was not the only monarch on display at the moment. Several generations of theatre royalty were on view last month at the Strand in London. I was invited by a very generous friend to pay court to them all at the Old Vic’s Annual Fund-Raising Lunch in the Savoy’s grand dining room. There was entertainment before each course that included several brilliant routines that somehow turned into the offering of prizes for which you bid and games for which you put £10 or more into an envelope.

Judi Dench did a brilliant Q and A with Celia Imrie and Peter Eyre that was the hands-down hit of the day. A celeb sat at each and every table. Ours, and the ones next door, included cast members and the director (Jamie Lloyd) from the Old Vic’s current production of The Duchess of Malfi. They were charm itself and told some lovely insider anecdotes about embarrassments behind the scenes. There were standup comics of British TV fame doing the auctions, “roasting” celebrities in the audience, and always making you feel you were part of a really good show.

We got to spend time with Eve Best–the Duchess herself-(see my post of April 23); Andrew Scott (Moriarty in the BBC Sherlock series and, I think, one of the most intensely promising actors of his generation); Tim Pigott-Smith, Mark Rylance, and Stephen Fry, among the familiar faces everywhere. Well-heeled contributors were mixing and mingling, and agents and directors were working the room with gusto. But host and Old Vic director Kevin Spacey was missing in action, filming House of Cards with David Fincher across the pond.

It was definitely the upper echelon event of the week and you literally couldn’t move an inch without seeing A-list faces from TV, film or stage. There were a few celebrated TV presenters and newsreaders in the room, and even some well-known playwrights. The entertainment was first- class, the conversation was scintillating and the food and wine were pretty terrific, too. For a few hours, it seemed almost like the real world. And by the time it was over, two hundred thousand pounds had been raised for Kevin Spacey and his theatre.

What recession??

Cooper’s London

April 23, 2012

Old Vic:
Eve Is the Best Duchess Ever

There are two reasons not to miss the production of John Webster’s Jacobean gore-fest, The Duchess of Malfi. One is the astonishingly sensitive, moving and complex portrayal of the Duchess by Eve Best. She conveys a character whose charm, sensuality, and capacity for loving is so real that you ache for her as you watch her steam-rollered by circumstances and her profoundly evil brothers. After the history of the twentieth century – or even the story of the last few weeks in Syria – this nastiness is far more believable and real than it must have seemed to people in the previous three hundred years – and that is the second reason for seeing this production of a brilliant, poetic and unfortunately prescient drama.

The character of the Duchess of Malfi is the pivot of the story. The crux of the tale, though, revolves around Bosola. He’s just good enough to have some conscience but he’s self-serving; so he colludes with the corrupt tyrants who run things, thus both damning himself spiritually and becoming the agent of their evil purposes. Jamie Lloyd’s production is all the stronger for not dressing everyone up in Nazi or Fascist uniforms, and for making you work out the parallels for yourself. But he does make explicit the bloodiness of the period and its relation to the 21st century. 

I had a couple of quibbles, but the momentary blip of this or that line being a bit off-target could also be the vagaries of live performance. Essentially this is a beautifully worked ensemble piece in which all the actors certainly know what they are doing and whom they are supposed to be. Mark Bonar’s Bosola is a Common Man who never questions the corrupt prevailing views about class and power until it is way too late–like the people who were “just following orders” in all those recent genocidal regimes of recent decades.  Tom Bateman is a slightly Toy Boy object for the Duchess’s affections, but he also has a winning innocenceand great warmth in their love scenes; and he is very appealing towards the end when he simply cannot accept how evil his brother-in-law the Cardinal is, and still hopes for a reconciliation. They choose not to go public with their love, their marriage and their children until they are discovered, but they are also in a kind of denial about the decadence of the society surrounding them.   

The dichotomy between those who have a more normal and moral view of the world and who are seen, at moments of contrast, to even enjoy life – and those who are killers–is starkly presented in the second half of the play when the Duchess becomes almost an icon of probity. Eve Best conveys all the facets of the Duchess’ personality and of her continuously disintegrating situation in a luminous performance. Her sense of pleasure in her new-found love, her pleasure in life and in her children, and her goodness are perfectly in balance against the roiling darkness and evil that surround and eventually overwhelm her. The dignity, strength and refusal of the Duchess to crumble, in the face of the betrayals, torture and humiliations she suffers are unforgettable and grippingly powerful as the play darkens and as her brothers (Harry Lloyd as Ferdinand and Finbar Lynch as the Cardinal, both excellent) become obsessively more mad and vengeful.  Attractively designed and costumed, the evening is a strong  validation of the belief that this play is a masterpiece. 

Eve Best adds another strong interpretation to a gallery of heroines that now includes her Hedda Gabler, Lavinia Mannon in Mourning Becomes Electra, the domineering and vulnerable Josie in A Moon for the Misbegotten, and a brilliant Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing.  Perhaps best known for her role as Eleanor O’Hara MD in Nurse Jackie on television, she proves once again that she is a great stage actress whose live appearances are to be treasured and, if at all possible, are not to be missed. 

The Duchess of Malfi plays at the Old Vic, London, until 9 June 2012.

Cooper’s London

September 29, 2011

Autumn Picks in London


There’s still time to catch Greg Doran’s extraordinary recreation of a lost Shakespeare play, Cardenio, at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford (in rep until 6 October) which, along with The City Madam (in rep until 4 October) was my best and most rewarding experience at Stratford this summer. Coming up at the RSC in November is an interesting-looking new play by David Edgar about the creation of the King James Bible called Written on the Heart. Since Doran is directing this as well, and Edgar has a fine track record of new plays for the RSC, I would place a bet on it–as well as on the Measure for Measure that will be directed by Roxana Silbert, definitely a talent to watch grow. Meantime, if you’re in London with children for the holidays or before, the RSC is transferring last year’s Christmas hit at Stratford, the musical of Roald Dahl’s Matilda, from 18 October for a season. It is utterly charming,some of the music is quite memorable; and the nasty headmistress of the school is done as a traditional panto dame.

In London, the hottest ticket is without a doubt the atmospheric and touching production of Eugene O’Neill’s Anna Christie at the Donmar Warehouse, with Ruth Wilson, Jude Law and David Hayman. It’s a compelling look at the play, but tickets are hard to come by and you will probably have to queue on the day you go to get standbys and returns. But it’s worth it! Or pray that it’s transferred to the West End for a longer run? Even if Jude Law were to leave to make a movie, this is such a strong production that there’s no reason to kill it – much better to keep it going with some recasting.

Looking ahead, the Young Vic is reviving its sell-out production of Kurt Weill’s Street Scene briefly for the second half of September. More compellingly, book now for their Hamlet (28 October through 21 January). It will be directed by the hugely talented Ian Rickson and star Michael Sheen as the troubled prince. Meantime, down the street at the Old Vic in the Cut, you can see a promising new production of The Playboy of the Western World. John Crowley directs J. M. Synge’s sometimes provocative and always irreverent masterpiece, with Niamh Cusack, Ruth Negga and Robert Sheehan in the main roles. The National Theatre’s War Horse continues in the West End, trailing its Broadway awards. And The Pitman Painters, an even more interesting play, returns to the West End in October. Meantime, at the National itself you might want to look out for Jonathan Miller’s staging of the St Matthew Passion; then A New Play by Mike Leigh from mid-September; and also Juno and the Paycock coming in mid-November. Add these to the news that the inestimable David Suchet will be playing James Tyrone in a new production of Long Day’s Journey Into Night in the West End from April 2012, I am feeling quite Irish this season. To which you can add a play by St. John Ervine called Mixed Marriage, set during the Troubles in Ireland, before partition. This is the first production of the play in London in about 90 years. It will be at the Finsborough Theatre, one of London’s smaller but more adventurous off-West End venues, a place that has recently been exploring neglected masterpieces of the early part of the 20th century. The production is to be directed by Sam Yates.

At the end of September, Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones bring their successful Broadway production of Driving Miss Daisy to Wyndhams Theatre. You might also want to consider taking a look at a new production of The Killing of Sister George with Meera Sayal at the Arts Theatre from 5 – 29 October. And if you have children with you, you should try to see the adaptation of The Railway Children that re-opens on 2 October, runs through Christmas, and is being performed in the former Eurostar Terminal at Waterloo. Those steam engines are the real thing!

Music: High and Low

Many of the musicals remain as before, so there is no need to tell you to check out Les Miserables or Legally Blonde or The Lion King, or even Chicago with a new cast and transferred to the Garrick Theatre from early October. But one that you might not know about is the transfer – from this summer’s festival at the Regent’s Park Theatre – of the George Gershwin pastiche Crazy for You. It’s preposterously cheerful and delightful and will be at the Novello Theatre from 8 October.

Meantime, for music theatre you might also want to try the English National Opera, where Jonathan Miller’s inventive and charming and spot-on production of Donizetti’s Elixir of Love is opening the season. Weinberg’s The Passenger receives a London premiere in a production by David Pountney that is preceded by much praise. But my vote for top spot in the Autumn season is a new production of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin directed by Deborah Warner and, more importantly, conducted by Edward Gardener. Gardener always gets into the musical soul of the piece; you may have seen him conduct closing night of the BBC Proms this year.

Great early-in-the-season excitement at the Royal Opera House is being generated by their production of Puccini’s Trittico directed by Richard Jones, and a revival, with Gheorghiu and Hvorostovsky, of Gounod’s Faust. My top choice for this Autumn, however, is the revival of Graham Vick’s entrancing, wise and moving production of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. It’s got a strong cast and Pappano is conducting; in truth, there’s rarely been such an evocative production of this opera, detailed and nuanced and utterly captivating. Mind you, as a person with a taste for bel canto, I am going to try not to miss La Sonnambula either, conducted by the inestimable Daniel Oren.

%d bloggers like this: