Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Not Very Satisfactory: An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilde at the Vaudeville Theatre

Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest is one of my favourite plays - the aristos are ridiculed in the best English literary tradition. But watching An Ideal Husband made me sympathise with Lady Bracknell's horror of babies in handbags - not because it smacks of 'the worst excesses of the French Revolution', but because it glosses political corruption, as 'youthful folly'.

London in 1891: Sir Robert Chiltern MP, who made a fortune selling privileged information when he was young, is being blackmailed by Mrs Cheveley, a woman in possession of a letter that proves his guilt. If his high-minded wife finds out she'll divorce him and he'll lose his Under-secretary post.

Set in the opulent gold-walled, marble-floored 'Octagon Room' in Sir Robert's house in Grosvenor Street and the stylish Curzon Street home of his dandyfied pal Viscount Goring, the design by Stephen Bromson Lewis is top-notch. The costumes are the best I've ever seen.

The pace is slow in the first half, where supper party guests lounge about in elegant clothes and complain of boredom, in slowly-delivered aphorisms: 'Questions are never indiscreet, but answers often are', 'One should always play fairly when one has the winning hand' and 'To love oneself is the start of a lifelong romance'

The second half is more invigorating, with unexpected visitors, mysterious letters and concealed eavesdroppers. The tainted Lord should get his come-uppance, but alas it's a case of art mirroring life. Oscar Wilde forgets his own definition of fiction, which demands that the good are rewarded and the wicked are punished.

The acting is good, especially by Caroline Blakiston as waspish dowager Lady Markby who might be Lady Bracknell's sharper-elbowed sister, and Samantha Bond as the beautiful worldly blackmailer who wants wants to be restored to fashionable society. Elliot Cowan as Goring had the best lines as the author's mouthpiece, as well as the most flamboyant suit.

Monday, November 08, 2010

The Country Girl by Clifford Odets at Apollo Theatre

My hopes for this play were mostly fulfilled.

I love to see a good solid classic play, especially when I don't know the plot. Clifford Odets' name crops up in association with Arthur Miller, whose All my Sons, starring David David Suchet and Zoe Wanamaker, I saw a few weeks back. I'd read he was a contemporary of Miller's, closer to him in tone and style than lightweight Neil Simon, whose Prisoner of Second Avenue , with Jeff Goldblum, I'd only half liked recently.

I've long been a fan of Martin Shaw's, not because of the TV series Judge Deeds which I haven't seen, but his wonderful performance as Macduff in the Polanski-directed film, Macbeth.

The plot is fairly straightfoward: In 1950 alcoholic actor Frank Elgin (Martin Shaw) is all washed up. Young director Bernie Dodd(Mark Letheren) remembers Frank at the height of his powers and wants him to lead a new play he's taking to New York. Despite producer Phil Cook (Nicholas Day)'s doubts Frank is persuaded to take the part, but insists his wife Georgie(Jane Semour) stays to support him for the trial-run in Boston. The action mainly takes place backstage at the two theatres where Georgie and Bernie are at odds about who exactly is pulling Frank's strings. In fact, Bernie accuses Georgie of 'riding him like a broomstick'. How soon will Frank fall off the waggon?

All-round the acting was very good, with two strong leads. This is the third time I've seen Jenny Seagrove in this year, once in Bedroom Farce and in A Daughter's a Daughter, the latter allowing her to show her versatility in a role where she transforms from dowdy wartime mother to selfish Honeysuckle Weekes in the first half to brittle partygoer in the the second. Here she's just dour and long-suffering, all on one note.

Maybe that' why I didn't like it. The play also dwelt too much on the theme of the wife sacrificing her own happiness for the sake of her husband.So it seemed a bit dated.