Saturday, 25 May 2019

The Duck Variations & The Bay at Nice, Theatr Clwyd

@Theatr Clwyd

It was America versus Russia in this double bill of one act plays from Suitcase Theatre, but not the usual East meet West showcase that David Hare created!

The Duck Variations by David Mamet (Glengarry Glen Ross, American Buffalo) might sound on paper to be rather dull. Two old men, sat on a park bench, converse about the world, using ducks as an analogy for everything that’s going on around them. George is opinionated, and prone to believing everything he reads in the newspapers, so he is often prone to disseminating misinformation to the more poetical Emil. Where George talks, Emil listens, although when Emil does speak it is with the wonderment that often only still exists in small children.

This is typical early Mamet territory, contemplative characters, speaking in short snatches in the naturalistic way people do. The conversation meandering off course and back again, bits are repeated, bits overlap, there are bits where you think “what are they talking about?” And of course, there are those moments of silence as a conversation starts to fall flat. This naturalistic way of talking on stage is actually hard to do in a convincing manner, but both male leads managed the stop start exchanges effortlessly. As a member of the audience, you felt you had sat on a park bench across the way and were watching a slice of real life in front of you.

“You know, for centuries prior to this time man has watched birds.”

Just as Chekhov elicits pathos, Mamet’s 14 variations on the theme of ducks awakens something inside. Watching these two men philosophising about the world and relating it to the life of a duck was both bizarre and cleverly intertwined. Watching the birds flying in formation, their talk leads them to discuss the fact that the lead duck will at some point fall behind, they won’t be the leader anymore, they’ll go to the back of the pack and at some point they will inevitably die, whilst some younger bird will become leader, and the cycle will happen again. Then there is the tale of the ongoing fight between the duck and its arch enemy the blue heron. As George regales these pieces of information he has read, Emil relates back his opinion, because everything must have meaning, everything has to have some purpose…even the bench they are sitting on has a purpose.

"Oil-bearing ducks floating up dead on the beaches. Beaches closing. No place to swim. The surface of the sea is solid dying wildlife."

With countries all over the world suddenly declaring a Climate Crisis, it’s interesting to hear a play written in 1972 discussing environmental issues. There’s gook in the stratosphere choking everything, “the air is more a part of our world than we would like to admit.” Even Emil’s description of oil-covered ducks washed up on beaches sounds terribly current, a sobering thought when I think that this play and I are about the same age…in my lifetime, issues that were being addressed are still occurring and we’ve done nothing to make things better, some might say they’ve become even worse.

This play worked well because of the contrast in the characters, and the confidence that both actors brought to the stage. George, opinionated, slightly arrogant, superior, works well against the foil of Emil. George will never change, he visits the park and goes back home, whereas Emil has taken to the streets; he sleeps on the park bench which is surrounded by his few bits and pieces that he collects, hoping to sell to make enough money to keep himself fed. Two people with very different outlooks on life, two people who could be friends, or more likely, two folk who just stumbled across each other and started talking. As each part of the conversation comes to an end the lights go down, and then as they come back up, they continue their spasmodic chat, always referencing the ducks they can see bobbing on the lake in front of them. 

The conversations might sound a little misguided, but watching the two characters muse about the environment, the lifecycle of things, the purpose behind everything, the needs of the world before and after them, gives out a little hope…that something as small as duck, can make people think about so many global issues on such an epic scale!


The Bay at Nice by David Hare left me feeling rather colder…and not just because it was set in Russia! It actually forms part of a double bill with another play of David Hare’s called Wrecked Eggs, which shows the freedom of America against the constraints of the Soviet regime. It was therefore interesting that Suitcase Theatre had chosen a different American play to offset against it.

The Bay at Nice - Henri Matisse, 1918
Valentina is an expert on the paintings of Henri Matisse, having once studied under the master himself in Paris. She has been summoned to The Hermitage, Leningrad, to see if she can authenticate a painting that they have recently acquired (hence the name of the play which is the title of one of Matisse’s paintings.) Whilst being pressed to authentic the painting, she is visited by her adult daughter who requires money from her mother so that she can afford to divorce her boring husband and marry an older, more interesting man.

The play is essentially an argument between doing what you want and doing what you should. Valentina had been living a life of freedom in Paris in the 1920s, lying in studios with various men, smoking too much, doing what she wanted with free abandon, until she got pregnant. She decided she had to keep the baby, abandoning her life, her career, her art, in order to move back to Russia so that her child would be Russian. But you realise when she is in conversation with her daughter, that she holds her daughter as the reason she no longer paints, that coming back to Russia did not allow her to have the freewill she had in France and that she has lived her life through duty and sacrifice. She is angry that her daughter can now stand in front of her to say she wants a life of her own, that she is not duty bound to stay with her husband, that she can take their children and live a free life with an older man, a man who is a sanitation engineer, and this fills Valentina with horror and despair.

“Great art cannot be produced by obeisance to classical rules or willpower.”

The play gives plenty of food for thought, and makes you question your own actions as to whether you should do things for your own happiness, or whether you should follow social conventions of what others believe. Valentina is aghast that her daughter Sophia would want to leave a man with a reputable job for that of a sanitation engineer, but as Sophia passionately defends this work, you see elements of Hare’s better play, Skylight, surfacing, whereby those doing the mundane jobs are the people who effect society the most and are therefore the most important.

The play rests very much on the relationship with Valentina and her daughter, and I just didn’t feel any connection between the two leads. These are two confident women who believe in themselves and in their passioned arguments, but the performances were a little timid. Valentina has a number of withering put downs in the cleverly written text, but these were sadly lost in delivery. Both actors seemed to be unsure of what they were saying, so it sounded more like remembering a text rather than impassioned pleas for one to listen to the other. Things did improve however, when Valentina sat reminiscing about her past and she relaxed into reliving her time spent with Matisse.

The play hints at several themes which Hare could have written into a much better bodied play including the obvious animosity between mother and daughter which is never fully explained. You can presume that much of this is because Valentina chose to have her daughter and gave her life away in doing so, but this is merely hinted at. We also know that Sophia is not only running away from her husband, but she is fearful that if she stays any longer she will be asked to become a member of the “party” something that she is averse to, but we don’t know the details of why.

Whilst The Duck Variations ebbs and flows into a conversation of ideas which you can feel a part of, The Bay at Nice is a clumsy play that feels more like a notebook of ideas that Hare never really got to grips with. It is a play more about words than acting, and this showed on stage, as no-one really had anything to do other than stand about, arms folded, looking despairingly at one another. It was however an entertaining evening, so it was a great shame that the audience only amounted to about twenty people, and some of them were theatre staff.

The Duck Variations/The Bay at Nice double bill runs at Theatr Clwyd until 25th May 2019.

Monday, 20 May 2019

Strangers on a Train Set - The Lowry, Salford

I don’t think I was the little girl my mother had longed for. Ideas of wearing pretty dresses and playing with dolls were thrown out of the window very early on. I would proudly push my pram down the road with her, but it didn’t contain a doll; that had been defaced and beheaded long ago…no, my pram was full of cuddly toy animals. If I wasn’t playing with them, I would be playing with my train set. Yes, a train set, a clockwork locomotive designed to keep me away from my older brothers’ electric train set. My train was really boring….it just went around in a little circle. Now my brothers’, well they had a huge trestle table with a hole in the middle, and lots of tracks with points and signals…countryside painted on the walls surrounding it, endless amounts of Modroc used to create hills and valleys, freight trains, steam trains that puffed little clouds of vapour, diesel trains…it was great fun, even when I was shouted at to keep my little sticky fingers at bay!!

Neither of my parents drove so the train was the preferred mode of transport. British Rail weren’t too good at being on time so connections were always missed, and so to pass the time, me dad and I would go train spotting. I’d scribble numbers in my notebook whilst dad shouted them out to me, and then at the end of the day we would cross them off in a special book we’d buy from John Menzies (yes I am that old) at Chester railway station. At the end of the year you would see how many numbers you had crossed off in the book before starting again the next year!

I don’t train spot anymore, but the sight of a steam train always brings great joy and when a diesel locomotive roars past me if I’m sat at a station, I test myself to see if I can still remember what class of engine it is. Suffice to say, a heady mix of trains, theatre and crime novels was too good to miss; I figured this would be a fun-filled way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

LipService Theatre (Maggie Fox and Sue Ryding) have been described as the Laurel & Hardy of literary deconstruction. Having watched Mr Darcy Loses the Plot a couple of years ago, I can see why. Their knowledge and ability to turn the mundane into something hilarious is one to be appreciated; part stand-up, part live acting and part film projection, it is a perfect heady mix of virtuosity and jubilation.

Strangers On A Train Set pulled into The Lowry, Salford Friday 17th May 2019 and departed on the 19th May 2019 to resume its tour around the country. For those of you who have never seen LipService, then be warned, it has developed a bit of a cult following around various venues, so grab your tickets quickly when you see them heading your way or you’ll miss out on a treat.

Derek and Geoff (Fox and Ryding) are two model train enthusiasts who have been invited to Salford to showcase their 00 gauge model railway, and recreate some classic railway journeys via steam locomotive or Geoff’s favourite, his modern Virgin Pendolino. 

When it comes to their trains, no detail goes unnoticed. For authenticity, Geoff has lovingly scuffed his Pendolino with cat litter, to give it that authentic worn look, as though it really has clattered mile upon mile along the West Coast route from Manchester to London Euston. Although they have paid great detail to their trains, the tiny figurines that adorn their railway set have been paid less attention, which is why we end up with the unlikely scenario of a 21st century youth being shouted at by a 1930’s amateur sleuth on the said Pendolino! We meet equally bizarre characters along the railway journey through various train-based books and films, some of which are easy to spot, whilst others morph into generalisations of many classic scenes we’ve read or watched!

“Take our love to daddy!!!!”

LipService might only consist of two actors, but they use ingenious touches to move between the real world of Derek and Geoff and the fictional world of what is happening within the train set. Video projections show Derek and Geoff playing with the train set, whilst on stage, the little plastic characters become real, moving, talking humans! The actors know that despite this clever use of flipping between stage and screen to give time for costume changes etc, there are still some limitations as to what they can do, so they incorporate jokes about the fact you can’t have three people in a particular scene, or the need for using a doll to stand in for a third of the Railway Children, as there are only two actors!  

I am not a fan or player of computer games, and the first parody left me a bit dazed and confused, although a number of people around me obviously understood what was going on as they were heartily laughing around me, but fortunately, unlike the old British Rail Timetable, that sketch departed and a new sketch that had me on more familiar ground pulled onto the stage. Their pastiche of Brief Encounter (Briefs on the Counter) had me holding my sides with laughter. It is one of my favourite films, so to see Maggie Fox’s hilarious take on the terribly, terribly well clipped tones of Celia Johnson was truly brilliant. All my favourite moments from the film were there…the innocence of returning a library book, the “oh, I appear to have something in my eye” all the way to the repression that only a “fresh this morning” bath bun could convey, was squashed into a few hysterical minutes that could run and run….and run and run!

You couldn’t have a play about crime novels and trains without playing homage to Agatha Christie. From super sleuth Miss Sparrow, sitting knitting and taken immediate dislike to the youth with the loud music emanating from his mobile phone, to the locally renamed 4:50 from Piccadilly (Expected arrival time 4:57…58…59??!!!) this production sped along just like the Murder on the Trans Pennine Express!

At times the production shunts back and forth, so just as you think you are in the middle of a Miss Marple sketch, it suddenly switches tracks to The Railway Children which leads to some elements of confusion, but that doesn’t matter, as the name of the game here is to depart your theatre destination far happier than when you arrived. What is truly enjoyable is watching how well Fox and Ryding work together. If one makes a slight slip the other is there to quickly transform it into a gag, as though it is just another part of the show. This is the genius of great comedy partnerships, and just like the legends of Tommy Cooper and Eric Morecambe before them, Fox can stand on stage saying nothing, but just one look and you can’t stop laughing.

Whether you are a train enthusiast or not, this clever and hugely enjoyable show is just the ticket to letting off steam in today’s all too serious world! If you see it running near you, flag it down and go see it! I’m off to the refreshment car in Coach C to see if Denise still has that egg & cress butty she announced half an hour ago…I bet her card machine won’t be working…

Tour dates…

25th May 2019 - Nailsworth Festival
28th May 2019 to 29th May 2019 -  Chipping Norton Theatre, Chipping Norton
30th May 2019 - Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds
1st June 2019 - Middlesbrough Theatre, Middlesbrough
6th June 2019 - Meres Guildhall Arts Centre, Grantham
5th September 2019 - Blackpool Grand

Friday, 10 May 2019

Stones in his Pockets – by Marie Jones (Theatr Clwyd)

In a small rural town in County Kerry, Ireland, a Hollywood film crew descends and monopolises the town. The locals are thrilled, they might only be earning £40 a day as a film extra, but this place has now become the land of opportunity, dreams of becoming a famous actor could now become a reality.

The play centres around two characters, Charlie Conlon and Jake Quinn. Charlie had been running a small business renting our movies, but then a blockbuster chain moved in, with more choice and more copies of films. After going bankrupt, Charlie grabbed his tent and started wandering around Ireland and now here he is, an extra on an American film, with the opportunity of submitting a film script to someone big in Hollywood.

Jake has recently returned to Ireland following some time in New York and he is mesmerised by the star of the movie, Caroline Giovanni. Caroline swans in, the glamourous girl from Hollywood, and despite proclaiming that she wants to perfect the Irish account and give a realistic portrayal on screen, she and the rest of the American crew are only concerned about finishing the movie on time.

At the start, the community is excited to have such famous people in their midst, but soon the novelty starts to wear off and they start to feel used and abused. Jobs in this part of the world are scarce, so the crew know that £40 a day is a lot to some of the folk, so they can treat them anyway they want.
One evening in the local pub, a teenager, Sean Harkin, who is completely in awe of Caroline tries to speak with her. Caroline, who has gone the pub to “get an authentic feel for the locals” cannot help but be the Hollywood diva she is, makes a scene and gets her minder to throw Sean out of the pub. Sean is both devasted and humiliated. This is a small community, and everyone would know that he, Sean Harkin, had been thrown out of the local boozer by Caroline Giovanni’s security man, Jock Campbell.

The first act of the play ends when Sean commits suicide by putting stones in his pockets to weigh him down when he walks into the local river. The second act continues as the locals try to come to terms with Sean’s death and unite for his funeral, but there is conflict with the film crew as they try to keep to their tight schedule. There isn’t enough time for the whole town to go to Sean’s funeral and his wake, and on no account should anyone be back on set having had a drink! The crew have no concern about the people they are employing as extra’s, and they have no feelings of remorse that they unwittingly contributed to this poor boy’s death.

Jake feels it is his fault that his cousin Sean committed suicide and reminisces about when they were children and their dreams and aspirations when they grew up. He felt he should have been there for Sean, but Charlie is able to console him and say it wasn’t his fault, but that there was one way they could remember and honour their friend…rewrite Charlies script and make the story about Sean instead. They present the story to the American director who dismisses it as not commercially viable…yet their story is the one we’ve just sat and watched!!

I must admit, that when I first started watching the play I was thoroughly confused. Here was a tale with a plethora of characters, and only two actors on stage. After about ten minutes though, I had settled into this unusual performance and I was mesmerised by the performance of two very talented actors, Owen Sharpe (Jake) and Kevin Trainor (Charlie). They take on the role of all of the characters in the story, and rather than be reliant on costume changes (there is the odd change of waistcoat for jumper as their shift as an extra ends) they just switch accents, facial movements and body mannerisms for each character. Once you knew the mannerisms associated with each character, as a viewer you were able to switch and follow the storyline with them. This was certainly a masterclass in character acting and an amazing show to see. It was full of typical Irish banter, so despite the dark nature of the storyline is was a humorous play and a great night out.

Whilst the play was a joyful celebration of Irish life, local communities, and good friendships, there was also the poignant reminders that the extras on films (who really are important in creating the right feel for a film) can be treated as second class citizens to the stars of the show. They work long, anti-social hours with very little to do, and can sit around all day without being required to do anything. It might sound great, but on a cold damp day I’m sure it’s far from ideal. Often, they are not even entitled to the on-location catering, they will have their own set up, and written into their contracts the lines that it is forbidden to speak to the stars. All of this, and yet many extras have been hurt on set, some even paying the ultimate sacrifice, and for what? They don’t even have their names listed on the end credits.

And then there is Sean Harkin. A young man who only wanted to say hello and ended up being so humiliated that he committed suicide. I remember being about the age of Sean when some filming took place in Frodsham and all the actors were using my school as dressing rooms etc. I didn’t know who Uma Thurman, Patrik Bergin, David Morrisey or Edward Fox were at the time. I did recognise Owen Teale though, he was on a TV advert at the time for Coffee mate, so I said hello to him when the cast were taking a break in the local pub. Fortunately he was very gracious with his time and kindly gave me his autograph…a minute of his time, no humiliation for me and I was as pleased as Punch! Makes me think how just 60 seconds of Caroline Giovanni’s work-time, and a small gesture of kindness, could have made Sean Harkin’s story so different.

Stones in his Pockets is still on tour and can be seen at the following venues:

Mon, 13th May 2019 to Sat, 18th May 2019
  Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne
Mon, 24th June 2019 to Sat, 29th June 2019
  Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford
Mon, 15th July 2019 to Sat, 20th July 2019
  Darlington Hippodrome (formerly Civic Theatre), Darlington
Mon, 22nd July 2019 to Sat, 27th July 2019
  Theatre Royal, Nottingham
Mon, 29th July 2019 to Sat, 3rd August 2019

  Theatre Royal, Brighton

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Rosmersholm - Duke of York's Theatre, London (Henrik Ibsen)

Edvard Munch – Love and Angst

Well it's been a very busy few days, but let’s face it, you don’t really care about days 1-3 of my little jaunt to London, you’re here to find out about Tom’s new play aren’t you?!

Theatre programme for Ibsen's Rosmersholm, 1893 by Edouard Vuillard
Well, first of all, there's a small, but interesting diversion, as Monday started with a trip to the British Museum to see the work of another Norwegian, the artist Edvard Munch.
When I cruised around Norway a few years ago, his most famous painting The Scream seemed to be everywhere. It has become a universal symbol for anxiety, and this collection of prints in a collection entitled “Love and Angst” showed Munch’s exploration of his personal experiences of death and suffering throughout his life. It seemed the perfect introduction to get into the mindset of the evening’s play, which was to be a Norwegian writer’s exploration of human suffering.

Munch found his native homeland restrictive to his liberal ideas. He moved throughout Europe, just like Ibsen, and in fact he developed a friendship with both the playwrights Ibsen and Strindberg, which gave him an interest in the theatre. Hypnosis and the power of suggestion was becoming increasingly looked into in the 1880’s this can be seen in another play that Tom Burke has been in, August Strindbergs Creditors, which again explored how easily a man can be manipulated by a woman. 

Whilst Munch fell out with Strindberg, he developed a particular interest in Ibsen’s plays, his dark art shocked society, and Ibsen’s plays which focused on dark subject matters such as immorality, adultery and hypocrisy made them an ideal working partnership when it came to stage set and theatre programme designs. 

Henrik Ibsen 1902
Following Ibsen’s death in 1906, the German director Max Reinhardt asked Munch to design the sets for Ghosts, one of Ibsen’s earlier plays. Munch felt a close bond with the character Osvald who had inherited syphilis from his profligate father. Having watched his sister die, and as a family dealing with grief, Munch was able to transfer his own feelings of tragedy onto Ibsen’s characters. When he met the elderly Ibsen in 1893, he was told “Believe me – you will have the same fate as I – the more enemies, the more friends.” And in the 21st century that is to be believed, both Ibsen and Munch still have a huge following, and in today’s confused and troubled times, they seem more popular than ever.

Rosmersholm – Henrik Ibsen - 1886

“I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest.”

“I looked and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him.”

I studied Rosmersholm back in the 90s and thought it was one of the most striking plays I had ever read. I have always been obsessed with horses, and I was fascinated by the idea of white horses being the ghosts of the house of Rosmersholm, whether they be the ghosts of past, present or future, that fear of seeing this mythical beast resonated with me. That sense of foreboding is nothing new, think of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (The white horse, the red horse, the black horse, the pale horse.)

These ghosts of foreboding are not just held in the Book of Revelation, think about the foamy, white breaking waves on rough seas…the White Horses. They can lay claim to a person, like the trolls of Norwegian folklore, which cling to vessels to steer them on a different path…as Rebecca West described herself in Ibsen’s original text, she was the lady from the sea (coincidentally the title of Ibsen’s next play.) I found this mixture of folklore and the acts of politics and the press controlling a person rather fascinating. Rosmersholm was Ibsen’s most pivotal play, it spoke to me on so many levels, yet it wasn’t a popular play to be performed on stage. You can probably imagine my delight at not only seeing the pages of this play finally brought to life on a West End stage, but the added bonus of Tom Burke cast as Rosmer was just beyond belief.

I have often wondered why this play has not been more popular, past performances have rarely been well received. I spoke to Tom after the show and asked him if his father had said anything about the 1973 performance at the Greenwich Theatre whereby Jeremy Brett (who was to be Sherlock Holmes to Tom's dad's Watson!) took on the role of John Rosmer. Tom said he'd have to ask his dad about that...he asked if it had Claire Bloom in it...I couldn't remember but having checked my old textbook (dear God how sad do I sound) Joan Plowright took the role of Rebecca West. (I know I’ll forget to tell Tom if I see him again, but someone can always enlighten him if they feel the need.) I suspect it was probably not something that ever came up in conversation between Brett and Burke Snr though…who would bother to talk about appearing in Rosmersholm?!

Now I mentioned earlier that this was a pivotal play in Ibsen’s career. Whilst politics and the state of the country remained a large theme of the play, Ibsen had started to concentrate on the effects that power and influence had over individuals rather than just political power. The Press were powerful in manipulating public thought and swaying their judgement about people; whether they disclosed the whole truth was another matter. Bearing in mind this play was written in 1886, if we look at today’s tabloids very little has changed…although I suspect the vile and immoral actions of our media has actually got worse. You only need to look at the recent headlines surrounding the Royal Family to see how much they try to sway public opinion, how they hound people and publicly shame them.

As a society we never seem to learn. We seem to have lost our independent voice, we allow ourselves to be manipulated by those in charge of us, and the media is in charge of us. It sways our thoughts; most of us being too bone idle to seek out the truth for ourselves. We only need to look at complaints about Brexit that have formulated over the last few years…people whining “we weren’t told this” “we never expected that” and you realise that all around you, folk have been far too content to lap up whatever tripe has been written in the Daily Mail and other equally odious publications to just go with the flow. Folk forget that the media has become the puppet master whilst both the public and politicians have become their play things.

Interestingly it has always been the character of Rebecca who has been described as the manipulator, her powers of persuasion encouraging the pastor to lose faith and change political ideals. What it is important to note is that Rebecca is not this grand femme fatale, she does not tell lies to gain what she wants, she merely deviates from the truth for a large part of Ibsen’s play! But what is noticeable in Duncan Macmillan’s adaptation is that Rebecca has a voice, she has strong beliefs and she is not going to be silenced, not by the church, the papers or the people around her. She is Ibsen’s great heroine, a free thinker who believes in herself, a woman with a voice who is prepared to use it to set other women free.

Photo via @RosmersholmPlay - Twitter
In understanding Rosmersholm, it is worth noting a brief chronology of Ibsen’s life. He was born in Norway in 1828. In 1850 he moved to Oslo and wrote his second play, The Warrior’s Barrow, moving a year later to Bergen to work at the newly created National Theatre. Following a series of dramatic failures in Bergen, Ibsen faced many years of poverty and lost confidence in his writing. In 1864 he finally found success with the historical tragedy The Pretenders and moved to live in Rome for 27 years. He moved to Germany in 1868 and returned briefly to Norway in 1874 but went back to Germany in 1875 and wrote the first of what is considered his twelve great dramas.

He resettled in Italy in 1880 paying a visit back to his homeland in 1885 before moving back to Munich in 1886 where he wrote Rosmersholm. The trip back to his homeland in 1885 caused him much anguish. He remarked how he had felt like a foreigner in his own home. There had been large scale political battles before his arrival, leaving what amounted to bitterness and fanaticism. He was affected by seeing people refusing to partake in rational discussions, preferring instead to throw close friendships aside in favour of keeping up their principles. People who had been close friends and allies were now bitter enemies such was their overwhelming difference of political opinion. And so back in Norway, the seeds of Rosmersholm were sown.

In a speech Ibsen delivered in Trondeim, Norway, he declared:

“There is still much to be done in this country before we can be said to have achieved full freedom. But our present democracy scarcely has the power to accomplish that task. An element of nobility must enter into our political life, our government, our members of parliament and our press. I am of course not thinking of nobility of wealth, of learning, or even of ability or talent. I am thinking of nobility of character, of mind and of will. That alone can make us free. And this nobility, which I hope may be granted to our people, will come to us from two sources, the only two sections of society which have not as yet been corrupted by party pressure. It will come to us from our women and our working men. “

The first draft of Ibsen’s play was entitled White Horses, in his notes he described the play thus:

He, the refined, aristocratic character, who has changed to a liberal viewpoint and has been ostracised by all his former friends and acquaintances. A widower: has been unhappily married to a half-mad melancholic, who ended by drowning herself.

She, the governess of his two daughters, emancipated, hot-blooded, somewhat ruthless beneath a refined exterior is regarded by their acquaintances as the evil spirit of the house; an object of suspicion and gossip.

Eldest daughter; is in danger of succumbing to inactivity and loneliness. She has rich talents which are lying unused.

Younger daughter; sharply observant; passions beginning to dawn.

The journalist; genius, tramp.

In June 1886, Ibsen scrapped his previous drafts, renamed his play Rosmersholm and wrote the version we essentially know and read today. He made some interesting changes, Rebecca arrived from the district of Finnmark, a place in the north of Norway renowned for its sea trolls and magic. Indeed, Rebecca refers to herself as a sea troll, but rather than clinging onto a boat and hindering its voyage, she clings to Rosmer, helping to sway his thoughts to such an extent that their potentially happy future is destroyed by the powerful events of their past lives.

Photo via @RosmersholmPlay - Twitter
This play relies so heavily on the principal actors playing Rosmer and Rebecca to succeed and in casting Hayley Atwell and Tom Burke as Rebecca and Rosmer this production hits the nail on the head. If the audience doesn’t believe that Rebecca is a truly passionate woman, or that Rosmer is not a passionate man, then the ending makes no sense whatsoever. We shouldn’t only focus on whether Rebecca is manipulative, or that Rosmer is indecisive of both his religious and political feelings, we need to focus on their human nature.

“Rebecca’s manner must on no account carry any hint of imperiousness or masculinity. She does not force Rosmer forward. She lures him. A controlled power, a quiet determination, are of the essence of her character.” “No declamation. No theatricalities. No grand mannerisms! Express every mood in a manner that will seem credible and natural…Observe the life that is going on around you, and present a real and living human being.” Henrik Ibsen

From the opening scene, we can already see the fresh approach that Duncan Macmillan has applied to this play. Rebecca throws open the windows of this dark, brooding mansion to let light back into a house that has been shrouded in despair and misery. This is not the Rebecca of the book, sitting quietly crocheting in her chair until the master arrives home, this is a masterly Rebecca, and one which I believe Ibsen would be proud of.

Duncan Macmillan’s adaptation feels like he’s taken Ibsen and sprinkled him in fairy dust!

Thankfully I am not a devout purist when it comes to plays, I’m too open-minded for that! I’ve seen re-imaginings of Shakespeare and Chekhov that have been far better than the originals. I don’t want to sit in a theatre with a scholastic head on…I can sit and pull it apart later if I feel I need to. I like my plays to speak to me, I want to be enthralled, I want to be there sharing the feelings of the audience and the actors on stage. This production does that; it far usurps the play text I read all those years ago.

Duncan Macmillan has taken Ibsen and sprinkled it in fairy dust to come up with a far more energised and enthralling play. The characters talk over each other as in real life, and due to the artistry of the set and lighting, it felt like I was watching Ibsen, just so much better! Rebecca is not the lady of the house, she is not married or intimate with Rosmer, yet she feels comfortable enough to command that the dining hall should be used once more. The shutters should come down, the covers from the paintings removed…life should be restored to this once grand house. This is a woman of substance, a woman of independent mind who is not scared to use her voice, or her power of influence. Back in Ibsen’s time this would be frowned upon, but these clever tweaks to the text have made this play, written in 1886 seem so fresh and part of the 21st century.

Photo via @RosmersholmPlay - Twitter
Rebecca is a complex character and Hayley Atwell personifies her beautifully, it was as if the role had been written for her! Her impassioned speech at the end both shows she realised the importance of Ulrik Brendel, and how she hadn’t wanted to manipulate Rosmer, but wanted to awaken his own thoughts and ideas and give them life.

Tom Burke, who played Athos in BBC’s The Musketeers, another character famous for losing his faith, who “smiles but never laughs” and a man conflicted by his feelings over a woman, was the perfect casting for John Rosmer, a former pastor who has lost his faith, living in a house devoid of all emotion, with conflicted feelings for a woman! I’m not wishing to typecast him, but he is incredibly adept at getting into the soul of a damaged person and bringing it forth to his audience. He presents a real, living human being to the stage, one wracked with confusion and doubt, who can sympathise with the world at large, yet not sure how he can help it.

Children never cry at Rosmersholm yet when they grow up they never laugh. It’s like a plague stretching throughout the community.  

Photo via @RosmersholmPlay - Twitter
My heart broke for Rosmer towards the end of the play as Tom stood and plaintively cried “I want my God back.” “I have nothing. You’ve taken everything from me.” He had not only lost his identity but his faith in everything, and how can you live without faith in something, whether that be religion, politics, society or general human nature…you need to put your faith in something, if not chaos and despair surrounds you.

Within the play, there is an election looming and the country is on the brink. This play could not come at a more appropriate time! Divisions over Brexit, divisions within political parties, divisions within families over whether they are “in” or “out” we as a nation are asking the same questions now as Ibsen was asking in 1886! In some respects, it’s demoralising that we still don’t have the answers, but it’s interesting that we are still trying to find a way through the maze of complicated questions to secure our futures.

Krull has not seen his brother-in-law for a year, and he now arrives at the grand house, a house full of heritage, where the portraits of the dead and influential hang from the walls, and he finds the master of the house having a crisis of confidence, of his faith, his politics, his ideological view on everything; he is a different person completely to the man Krull knew as the husband of his late sister. Krull wants to bring him back to his senses and away from the sweeping radical nature of the country and back to his heritage and the family name.    

Photo via @RosmersholmPlay - Twitter
I can’t say I thought much of Professor Kroll in the text I read. He seemed rather bullish and I didn’t warm to him at all, however, Giles Terera has given this character a complete overhaul. Kroll is now a powerful figure full of morals who is openly struggling to comprehend the changing political climate. His wife and children oppose him, and now it seems his friend and brother-in-law Rosmer is feeling the same as them. You can see the intensity of his struggle to reconcile his friendship with Rosmer, something I felt that Ibsen didn’t quite manage to capture in his text.

“Live quietly and die with secrets” Krull

It seems a difficult thing to comprehend in modern society, when people for whatever reason feel the need to impart every moment of their lives on social media. “I’ve had a yoghurt for breakfast,” “I’m in MacDonald’s,” “I’ve just been to the toilet!” Hmmm, yeah that’s probably one Tweet too many!!

I think as each day passes, I’m more inclined to follow Kroll’s approach to life. Yes, I know I’m on social media, I write this blog because I like to share experiences of theatre visits, good books, the best tea to drink…I like sharing stuff that I think will be of interest to people, but there are plenty of things I will take to my grave which I deem to be my business and no-one else’s. I think that is something a lot of generations need to start considering whilst living in this greenhouse of a world…a world where everyone aspires to be a celebrity, rather than being content with just being themselves. These days we have far more platforms to allow our voices to be heard than in Rebecca West’s day…we should use these opportunities for the common good, use our voices for those who do not have a voice or cannot be heard…and for the rest of the time, take Krull’s advice!

This is an unmissable production. I want to watch it night after night…

I absolutely loved watching this play, so much so I want to watch it night after night, however, if I was able to do that, I feel the play would lose its magic. Every twist and turn would become expected. Every nuanced reply would become just another line; and that would be such a disservice to the characters and the actors bringing them to life. And the ending?! Well the magic and drama of the ending would just be washed away if you watched it time and time again...and as it was so shocking and atmospheric and such a talking point afterwards, you would never be able to replicate that feeling.

That said, if I give it a few weeks, I’m sure I could happily enjoy a second helping!!

Despite its serious themes, this is a joyful play filled with subtle humour and warmth. It has a very strong cast who illuminate their characters and the play has been adapted with such care and compassion to Ibsen’s original text that it is a shame the play is limited viewing to only those who can make it to London. There is nothing like the feeling of live theatre, but when I see some of the plays that NT Live have screened, I think it is a lost opportunity not screening this one…unless of course there is the opportunity to take in on tour overseas for the non-UK based fans!

I don't normally give out star ratings as I see myself as a keen theatre goer rather than formal reviewer...but on this occassion Rosmersholm has to be given ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️(with just maybe an extra ⭐️ or 2 for Tom! 😉)

Rosmersholm runs at The Duke of York's Theatre, London, 24th April to 20th July 2019.

Sunday, 5 May 2019

All My Sons – Arthur Miller (The Old Vic, London)

If you’ve read The Crucible blog, you’ll know I was really excited to see All My Sons. As I’ve said previously, I’m not very familiar with Arthur Miller’s work, so in preparation I made the mistake of watching a previous version of the play (available online) starring David Suchet and Zoe Wanamaker. It was fabulous!

Based upon a true story that Miller’s mother-in-law had seen in an Ohio newspaper, Miller wrote All My Sons in a vain bid to write a commercially successful play. All My Sons appears to be heavily influenced by Henrik Ibsen’s The Wild Duck, a play whereby a family has various skeletons in the closet which have to come out! In Miller’s story, two American business men conspired with army inspection officers to approve defective aircraft engines built for military use.

Money talks in this play… Joe Keller (Bill Pullman) has been exonerated of knowingly shipping damaged cylinder heads to the American air force, which have contributed to the deaths of 21 pilots during World War II. Instead, he blames his partner and former neighbour Steve Deever of being solely to blame for the tragic events. His wife, Kate, played by Sally Field, lives in denial. She knows that in reality Joe is to blame, but she can’t admit it, neither can she admit that one of her sons, Larry, who has been missing in action for three years, is dead.

Their other son, Chris, returned home from the war a couple of years before the play begins, has asked his former neighbour Ann Deever to visit him with a view to proposing marriage. This is made difficult by his mother’s interfering and insistence that Larry is not dead, and that Ann was, and always will be Larry’s girl. The “pretty, beautiful Annie” does arrive. She has washed her hands of her imprisoned father, and whilst she arrives to marry Chris, she also comes with the added baggage of knowing the truth about how complicit Joe was in the shipping of the cylinder heads.

In a time when we are all bombarded with lies masquerading as truth, whether it be social media, news, governments etc, it seems like a timely reminder that our moral codes have slipped and that maybe we should take a step back and take a good look at ourselves. The play should therefore be a gripping yarn, and after taking one look at the set you think you’re in for a real ride. The set is a natural suburban house and garden which proceeds onto the set as the story starts and recedes into the background as it ends. In the set you see the hopes and dreams wax and wane of a family that have stuck together, when if the truth had been told, they would have fallen apart years ago.

When I watched the online version I was hooked, but I have to be honest, I found myself yearning for the interval in this rather slow-paced production. I found Bill Pullman rather one dimensional and lacking in any conviviality. He should be the guy who you want to spend a night with having a beer and chatting the night away, the guy who you would be shocked to find hiding such a sordid secret, but he’s not. His story comes as no surprise, and frankly I didn’t really care about him or his “ethics” at all, all I could see was a man who didn’t think he’d done anything wrong, and more importantly he didn’t seem to care either. He was a businessman; business comes first before anything else, including friendship, who cares what is right and what is wrong?

I found Sally Field as Kate much more rounded in character and I empathised with her struggle to accept the truth. She knew in her gut what had happened, both with her son and her husband, but facing the reality was too much of a struggle for her. She managed to keep up this nervous anxiety by constantly finding things to fiddle with, and whilst you knew she should put moral principles ahead of anything else, you could understand why she wanted to put her family first instead.

Following the interval, the play did thankfully pick up some pace but the principal males still mumbled their lines and adopted a casual laid-back attitude, in fact at times I just wanted them to quit their whining and just get on with things.

I thought Jenna Coleman put in a solid performance as Ann, but I couldn’t really see any chemistry between her and Chris (Colin Morgan) and I found it hard to believe she’d wait three years before either telling the family the news she had kept back, or indeed that she would want to marry into the family given what she knew!

The play was enjoyable, but considering the headline names, it didn’t have the big, strong performances you would expect, it just loitered along for my taste. It was an ambivalent production, a bit like the suburban society it portrayed.

All My Sons runs from 13th April 2019 - 08th June 2019 at The Old Vic, London

The Crucible – Arthur Miller (The Yard Theatre, London)

I am not going to pretend that I know much about Arthur Miller. I know he was an American playwright, once married to Marilyn Monroe and he wrote The Crucible, a drama based on the Salem witch trials that took place in the Massachusetts Bay Colony during 1692/93. (I know about that because we read it at school and took a school trip to the theatre in Manchester, or maybe Liverpool, to watch it!) But apart from that, I don’t own any Arthur Miller books, so I was happy to go with my friend’s recommendations and have a “Miller” day in London.

First stop, The Yard Theatre in Hackney Wick. Now I have been to this quirky little theatre before to watch Three Sisters After Chekhov which was amazing, but I knew it was a small fringe theatre and so I didn’t raise my hopes up too much on this production, I was saving myself for the evening’s blockbuster!

You’re a witch.
                               No I’m not.
You’re a witch.

                               No I’m not.
You’re a witch.
                               Stop saying that.
You’re a witch.
                               You’re scaring me.
You’re a witch.
You’re a witch.
You’re a witch.

As I took my seat on the front row, I realised this was not going to be the place to take a naughty snapshot of the stage, especially as I was practically sat on it! The opening image is rather striking in its simplicity. A set of red chairs, with the names of the characters emblazoned on the white backrests, are set up as though ready for a service in a small pastoral church. A crib is front, centre stage. The nine actors gradually take their chairs and introduce us to their duel-roles as they swap seats to take on the numerous characters they portray. They start off telling the story in their own accents, gradually slipping into American accents as they explain the context of Salem and the Puritans of Massachusetts, their isolation, their internal tensions and lack of stability leading to the events that unfold during the rest of the play.

I thought this was an interesting but unnerving start to the play, especially as one of the main narrators was sat within touching distance and I wasn’t really sure where to look…do I stare her out, do I look at the others who aren’t speaking??!! I was a little bit anxious if I’m honest…but then as I settled into the play, I realised this was a good thing. I wasn’t just watching the play…I felt complicit in watching the atrocities unfurl…I was that absorbed I felt myself wanting to shout out…scream “No” but I couldn’t…this is theatre I’m watching…I don’t have a voice whilst I'm sitting there watching!

This was pretty clever stuff by Artistic Director, Jay Miller. Sometimes it’s the simplicity of something which says the most. His choice to make The Crucible The Yard Theatre’s first revival of an old play is an interesting one. Watching this small-town community break-down in front of you as characters are victimised and bullied, where immigrants are now outcasts and not to be trusted, this strong belief in a higher power? Well it’s not hard to make the connection with the clap-trap gullible Daily Mail readers swallow about Brexit and migrant workers.  

Now whilst I thought it was an interesting opener to the show, I did start to get mildly worried that maybe the entire piece would be like this. As the cast, sat in modern dress, continued to set the scene, including stage directions, I wondered if there would be any…well, acting involved! I needn’t have worried, there was a visible and dramatic change as we switched to period dress and to the rest of the tale as we found ourselves in the home of Reverend Parris, where his daughter Betty lies motionless in her crib; he has discovered that Betty had been dancing naked in the forest the night before with his Barbadian slave and some other girls performing pagan rituals.

As the town becomes beset with rumours of witchcraft, Reverend Parris agrees to get Reverend John Hale to investigate. He is an expert on witchcraft and this news sets panic amongst the girls who had been trying to conjure a curse against a local woman, Elizabeth Proctor. Abigail Williams, one of the girls involved in the ritual, threatens the other girls and demands they stick to their story of harmlessly dancing in the woods. John Proctor, a local farmer, confronts Abigail. She had once worked for him, but she was fired following an affair with him. Whilst she still had feelings for John, he makes it clear he only has feelings for his wife. During their confrontation, Betty starts screaming, the villagers presume this is because they have been singing a psalm and so the accusations of Betty being possessed, and witchcraft, resume once more. During this time the tension has been rising, but you only realise this when the cast speak as one voice and terror shivers down your spine!

As you move through the play to the actual witch trails, the production grows in confidence. There is a mix of contemporary and period stitched together, highlighting that this play was based around an event in the 1600’s but the themes are still prevalent today. It is a cautionary tale of persecution and fearmongering, and in our digital generation this seems to become the norm, rather than the exception. I felt uncomfortable as masked figures inhabited the stage…the witches, the contagion of the play. They set to unnerve proceedings as The Judge (Jacob James Beswick), played with some humour to give some depth to this sombre play, condemned innocent women to death, not necessarily because he believed in God, but because he believed in “the system.” The courtroom scene worked all the better for the ambient mixing of recorded whispered words that floated around the audience with the actors simultaneously saying the same words on stage.

What was most poignant about the play was that the role of John Proctor, the voice of truth and reason, was played by a woman. Now I have heard a lot by people in the past stating “men should be played by men, women by women. I don’t want to see a female Malvolio!” But in this production, Caoilfhionn Dunne shines as John, and it neither adds nor detracts anything from the play; the audience is just treated to the work of a talented actor who can portray the truth and justice of which John seeks throughout the play. It’s an interesting twist as John is trying to convince the men in power that the women should be heard and believed…that they are innocent and being condemned to death because of the reckless acts of some young women who have their own motives for lying…but his (her) words fall on deaf ears, something which still happens in today’s society.

I can honestly say I was shocked to find I had sat through three hours of performance. The only thing that convinced me I had, was the numb bum I had from sitting on the “school” style plastic chairs! This was an ambitious and cleverly constructed adaptation of Miller’s play…by another Miller, which made me all the more excited to see that evening’s production of All My Son’s starring Sally Field and Bill Bullman at The Old Vic.

The Crucible ran at The Yard Theatre 27th March 2019 to 11th May 2019.

All photo's c/o @helenmurraypix for The Yard Theatre

(view her other work here )

Saturday, 4 May 2019

All About Eve - Noel Coward Theatre, London

“Nothing is forever in the theatre. Love or hate, success or failure…whatever it is, it flares up and burns hot and then it is gone.”

It’s true that people are often more interested in what goes on behind the scenes in the movies and the theatre, than what they see on screen or stage. Actors are a strange breed if you’re not living in their world…when you speak to them at the stage door are you really speaking to them, or are you speaking to another version of them? When they hug you and say, “it’s wonderful to see you again” do they really mean it, or internally is every fibre of their being screaming “oh dear God no, no, not you again!!!!”

There are those of us who think they must be fed up of us if they were honest, that they are just being polite, it’s just part of their job when they leave the stage door to smile and pose for pictures. Then there are those who genuinely believe the actor is as thrilled and excited to see them after the show, as they are to see the actor. And then there’s the Eve Harrington’s of this world, so honest, so sincere, but behind the laughter and the smiles they want something more than a hug and a selfie, and by God they’ll make sure they get it, even if it means riding roughshod over everybody.

Based on the 1946 short story The Wisdom of Eve by Mary Orr, All About Eve tells the story of how one obsessed fan manipulated her way into the life of the Broadway star Margo (Crane) Channing. Eve’s behaviour is rather desperate, her desire to become friends with Margo is all consuming, but once she has overcome that hurdle and gained Margo’s trust, we realise that this devious minx has even greater aspirations than just becoming friends.

“Mrs Roberts, I’ve paid to see this play – from a balcony seat – over fifty times. Fifty-seven to be exact. Don’t you think that deserves one little minute of Miss Crane’s time?”The Wisdom of Eve

Well really, alarm bells should have been going off in both Miss Crane’s and Mrs Robert’s heads at that remark. If someone is stupid enough to go and see the same play 57 times that’s up to them and it shouldn’t give them anymore privileges than the person who could only afford to go once. Quite frankly I think they should have been calling the police and getting a restraining order served, but then you wouldn’t have had much of a play to watch, would you?!

Many people will remember the 1950 classic film All About Eve starring Bette Davis as the aging, but highly acclaimed star, Margo Channing (renamed from the original book) and Anne Baxter who played Eve Harrington, the ambitious young fan who cleverly manoeuvres herself into Channing’s life. The film received a record 14 Academy Award nominations, winning six awards in total which included Best Picture and caused a stir at the Oscars when all four female stars were nominated as either Best Actress or Best Supporting Actress. It is considered to be one of the best films of all time, and when you see the remarkable performance from Bette Davis, it is easy to see why.

The problem with turning such an acclaimed film into a theatre production carries baggage with it. A stage production can never be the same as the film, and so it is a brave director who takes on the challenge. Ivo Van Hove is no stranger to the themes of this text however, he directed a film called Opening Night, which looks behind the scenes of a theatre company in the run up to opening night. It also shows the principal actress, Myrtle, having difficulty coming to terms with her role of an older woman desperately trying to hang onto her youth. Her feelings are confounded when she witnesses a young fan’s death shortly after giving her an autograph…as the film progresses, Myrtle spirals towards insanity confusing real life with the theatre. It therefore stands to reason that Ivo Van Hove would be excited to bring All About Eve to the West End.  

“Fasten your seat belts, it’s gonna be a bumpy night.”

And I was excited too. Got my tickets pretty much as soon as they went on sale…my friend bought me The Wisdom of Eve for Christmas, and I watched Bette Davis on my TV growl “Fasten your seat belts, it’s gonna be a bumpy night.” But it wasn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the evening and I’m glad I saw the play, but I didn’t leave the theatre that evening feeling energised…I was more excited about trying to find a chippy.

On the one hand, All About Eve works because in general the cast are great and it is an interesting script based partly in the world of theatre and partly the greenhouse prison of life, where nothing is private anymore. Ivo Van Hove has carefully weaved this crossover into his play by utilising film on stage, however, I think the reliance on the filming becomes distracting.

In the book, the stage is split down the centre…two rooms, Margo’s dressing room and Karen’s Library. As the action moves between theatre and home the lights fade on one side and go up on the other. In this version we have one room used as Margo’s dressing room and her flat. In the wings an area is set up as Margo’s kitchen, and a camera crew is following the action. Margo has no privacy, the camera follows her to her bathroom, we watch her sitting in her flat whilst we watch on screen the real action taking place in the kitchen. I felt a bit short-changed if I’m honest. I come to the theatre to watch theatre, and whilst I appreciate the use of film has enhanced some of the plays I’ve seen, here I felt it was an excuse to make the different settings a bit easier to put together. This was Van Hove showing off…his vision became more important than the actors on stage…and there’s an irony there when you think that back in the day, the director was always second fiddle to the star of the show!

There is no denying that Gillian Anderson is a great actress, but she lacked the gumption of Bette Davis in this role. It might seem unfair to compare the two, but when you have watched such an iconic performance it is hard not to.

It is hard to imagine Gillian Anderson as the fading beauty, worried about her future career, she looked so stunning on stage. There were times you could see her strength and power as Margo when she raised an eyebrow or curled her lip in disgust to some remark, but this needed to be portrayed in the dialogue. There was a spark missing, somehow the relationship between Margo and Eve didn’t work. Margo Channing is a termagant, but in this production she was more the broken woman, taking solace in copious quantities of alcohol until her body had had enough and we watched it vomited back up in the toilet. This was completely unnecessary and underlined a theme throughout the whole play that both Eve and Margo owed everything they had to the strength of a man giving them the right opportunities.

Gillian Anderson carried with her the baggage of when she played Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire. Margo had become insecure about the aging process, how was she supposed to play younger women when she was beginning to show the signs of ageing, why weren’t people writing plays about women of her age?!  Why was her writer only able to produce young women in meaty roles? She lacked any of the strength or anger found in the book or when Bette Davis played the role, instead she became this sorrowful, pitiable figure surrounded by an entourage who didn’t know what to do with her.

Lily James seemed to struggle with the role of the cleverly calculating Eve, hellbent on ensuring she will succeed in her ambition of usurping Margo Channing by becoming her best friend. The tale is, as the title suggest, All About Eve, but this production wasn’t. If anything it was all about Margo, Karen and Eve was somewhere in the background. She should have been the forefront of the role, cleverly mixing a “butter wouldn’t melt” persona with one of a steely determination to get what she wanted.

I know the play was based in America, but the story could just as easily have been set in the UK, and I wondered if instead of concentrating so hard on trying to perfect the accent, Lily would have been better off concentrating on the character.  I saw her vulnerability, her desperation to be famous but I couldn’t believe she had the tenacity to worm her way into a famous person’s life, let alone make it in the harsh world of the theatre. She had to have some guts about her to manipulate her way into a Broadway stars life, to make people believe she was a poor little girl who had suffered some terrible knocks in life, and to make the audience believe she was capable of such duplicities. To do that requires an incredible amount of self-belief and I felt Eve lacked that steely, calculated determination of the wolf wrapped up in sheep’s clothing.

Monica Dolan was without doubt the greatest strength of the play. She played Karen Richards, the best friend of Margo Channing, who unwittingly got herself caught up in a web of deceit. As the game rolled on around her it became harder and harder to stand up and tell the truth, to admit she was the reason Margo missed getting to the theatre on time, that she was responsible for giving Eve her big break, that she was blackmailed into ensuring Eve’s further success. When she was on stage, there were echoes of the cynicism, humour, and backstage bitchiness of showbusiness!

I did enjoy the cleverly crafted ending to the play. Eve had become the shining Broadway star she always wanted to be, but rather than partying with the rest of the crowd she returns home where she finds a young fan asleep in her bed. As the youth gushes her love for Eve, she offers to pack Eve’s bags for Hollywood. When Eve leaves her alone, we watch the young lady confidently take a seat at Eve’s mirror, and put on her make-up….the cycle has begun again, and leaves you with a spine-tingling chill of satisfaction!

All in all it was an enjoyable evening, the acting was good, but it competed too much with a multi-media approach of sound and vision which would be best left to the film set.

All About Eve ran at the Noel Coward Theatre, London from 2nd February to 11th May 2019.