The weather in London during this last week has been quite bonkers! Over seventy Fahrenheit in March? All a bit unsettling, really, especially as the BBC weather department is now threatening snow as we ease into April.
I’ve rigged my telescope to watch the cormorants on the island in the reservoir at the end of my garden; there are big nests up there among the stark bare branches of the trees, and through the lense you can see the urgent, scrawny beaks of chicks demanding to be fed. We’ve all been determined to enjoy the sunshine and the birds and the daffodils as we contemplate the approaching Summer of the London Olympics. Am I alone is feeling a vague sense of dread…?
Anyway, back to the world of the drama, and up to Hampstead Theatre to see an intriguing play, “Farewell to the Theatre” by the prominent American writer Richard Nelson. It’s not a perfect script, but is given a fine production by Roger Michell, and has a cracking cast.
There are excellent performances from Ben Chaplin and Tara Fitzgerald (above), from Jemma Redgrave and Jason Watkins, and indeed from all the company. It’s based on real events at a Massachusetts university during a weekend in 1917, and the central figure is the important British theatre director, writer and actor Harley-Granville Barker. Barker was a major figure – as well as being hugely significant as a director and writer he was also a glamorous star actor – and Ben Chaplin is perfectly cast, with his good looks and strong stage presence. The production is compelling, evoking echoes of Chekov and Shaw with wit, style and elegance.
(I should perhaps add here that, having discussed the show with the party of New York University Tisch students I was with at the performance, not everone was as happy with the show as I was! The students were quite critical of the writing – notwithstanding the nationality of the playwright – and of the production. But then the last show they’d watched was the spectacular Complicité “Master and Margarita” at the Barbican, and this was an extremely different kettle of fish…To an extent I would agree about the writing – I did feel at times as though it were a draft version, with several loose ends – but I stick to my view that it’s well worth a visit.)
And so to the elegance of the Wren and Inigo Jones architecture at Greenwich, gleaming by the river, and the newly-restored masts of the Cutty Sark once more catching the evening sun as they tower above the tourists. It’s a huge relief to know that the Greenwich Theatre has survived. At one time a key producing house, at present it’s being run by the local council as a venue for incoming tours, and has the air of a municipal amenity rather than any sort of dynamic creative resource – but hey, it’s still there, and it’s up to us in the theatre world to make sure it gets restored to former glories. Jonathan Miller ran some remarkable seasons there back in the 70s, and surely with all the talent currently on display in London, another bright director could find some backing from all that corporate cash still swilling about the city? God knows, money’s been found to build a huge scrawl of metal sculpture over the water at the Olympic Park, the East End’s answer to Blackpool Tower…
On Saturday I went with a Greenwich resident, the actor and director Lois Baxter, one of the team of mentors at http://www.teachyourselfacting.com/, to see a touring production of Timberlake Wertenbaker’s “Our Country’s Good”.
This was a hugely successful play at the Royal Court back in 1988, and it stands up well. The production is by the Original Theatre Company, and is very tidy indeed. Clearly working with a limited budget, Alastair Whatley’s direction is simple and uncluttered, and he has assembled a company of very good actors, none of whom are West End or TV “names”, but all of whom give good clear, true performances. There’s strong work from Aden Gillet, Adam Best, Emily Bowker and Emma Gregory. The tour continues on to Llandudno, Eastbourne, Bracknell and Finchley – well worth tracking down.
Wertenbaker’s script is based on a novel by Thomas Keneally, about a real-live production of “The Recruiting Officer” in Australia in the late 18th century, by a group of convicts and their guards. There’s a much-praised version of that play currently at the Donmar Theatre, and I must hasten to try to get tickets.
Meanwhile, this week I’m at last catching up with yet another former RADA student. Does Mr Bertie Carvel truly deserve all the rave notices he’s had for his Miss Trunchbull in “Matilda”? Does this performance really merit its nomination for an Olivier award? Are we wise to feature his picture so prominently on the Home Page of www.teachyourselfacting.com?
Watch this space…
Well the first thing to be said is that’s it’s a BRILLIANT show! The RSC took many months putting it together, and Matthew Warchus’s production deserves every last bit of its success. Bertie of course is amazing – and I’ll write more about his remarkable work in the next entry. But in the meantime if you haven’t seen it – go! It’s wonderful for children if you have any to take, but it’s equally a zonking night out for adults. Advance notice: Bertie’s only in the cast till the end of June, so hurry along!