Sunday, July 31, 2011

Odious Comparison: Park Avenue Cat at Arts Theatre, Leicester Square and After the Dance on BBBC Channel 4.

It's a promising sign, I think, when a theatre programme consists of the complete text of the play.It promises a meaty plot you'll have to get to grips with later, or dazzling dialogue to savour at leisure. The last time I experienced this was at The Young Vic when Jane Horrocks starred in a fantastic production of The Good Woman of Schetzwan

But what a let down! Frank Stausser's joyless piece really isn't worth cramping your legs between the rows in the Arts Theatre for, even when the show lasts only an hour and a quarter. I felt relieved and ripped off at the same time.

The premise looks good: a Los Angeles psychotherapist is consulted by 41 year old model who can't decide whether to settle down and have kids with her staid middle-aged lover, or continue a passionate affair with a young playboy rich enough to have a pool and a butler.

Psychotherapist Nancy is played by Tessa Peake-Jones from Only Fools and Horses, who does a fine line in controlled exasperation. The older man, Philip, is Gray O'Brien, the mad-eyed charmer who terrorised Coronation Street's Gale Platt, and the model,Lilly, elegant Josefina Gabrielle, resembles a slimmer Nigella Lawson. The young millionaire Dorian has almost nothing to do but Daniel Wayna makes him plausible.

So what was missing? Only a credible plot, any hint of chemistry between the actors, or vestige of witty dialogue. Some amusement was provided by the phone voices of Nancy's other patients in crisis. Tess Peake-Jones wrung laughs from the contrast between the cheerful cliches of her advice and the irritation she was feeling at her clients' behaviour. It's a bad sign, though, when the scene changes are more entertaining than the play.

It didn't help, of course, that we'd watched Terence Rattigan's After the Dance, on TV the night before. Comparison was invited because it had the same insouciant attitude to relationships and a similar theme of a young woman caught between an older man's suavity and a younger one's ardour. The difference was the brittle half-amusement, half-depair, wholly engaging tone of the script; beneath the banter,there were real feelings.

While Anton Rodgers as the doomed writer doused his liver with whiskey and soda, Imogen Stubbs the dewy-eyed ingenue discarded her fiance to save him. Gemma Jones as the cast-aside wife put on a brave face while world-weary John Bird delivered witticisms from a sofa; all to a backdrop of an ongoing cocktail party and juicy gossip.

Speaking of cocktails, it's annoying that West End pubs are so crowded, inside and out; you can't face the fight to the bar, even to wash away the taste of a wasted evening.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

'Yes, awfully': For Services Rendered by Somerset Maugham at The Union Theatre

In my quest to find fringe theatres within half an hour of Lewisham, this was a real find. First a train to Waterloo East, then a walk to the other end of The Cut - a walk full of interest, too, passing The Old and Young Vic, popular pubs and lively pavement life.

A Latin American band played on the corner opposite the Old Vic.

The tiny theatre, with its scruffy cafe in front, is located near a railway bridge in Union Street. There's a licenced bar inside, but the cafe has a selection of cheap and cheerful baguettes and focacias, very welcome as we'd come straight from visiting the hospital at Camberwell.

The theatre interior was cosy - only about 50 seats, on three sides, but tiered, some comfortable cinema-style ones and some upholstered lecture-hall chairs. I just about managed the step up to seats in the second row to reach one of the cinema seats.I was glad of a companion to give me a hand down

I fancied seeing the play, too. I'm a fan of Somerset Maugham's short stories, although I'd only seen one of his plays before: The Circle at Greenwich Theatre a few years back, starring Googie Withers, an old screen favourite.

WS Maugham comes the same category as GB Shaw and JB Priestley - always reliable for a well-crafted play with a message.

I can't imagine the play much better done in the West End. The maid was slightly late on one cue - her part was a thankless task anyway - but it all added to the fun.

You can see my review on the Remotegoat website

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Moliere's Tartuffe at The Space, Westferry Road, Isle of Dogs

The Remotegoat website favours fringe venues, which suits me fine. I decided recently that sooner than go haring off to Islington, Camden and other points north I'd explore venues more local to me - theatres other than perennial favourites The Brockley Jack and The Greenwich Playhouse. Luckily, I live near the DLR, and The Space in Westferry Road seemed a likely prospect, a shortish walk from Mudchute station on the Isle of Dogs.

It's a building that started out as a Presbyterian church; now it's ornate of facade and shabby inside. The performing space is oval with double rows of chairs spaced in double rows around it. There couldn't have been more than fifty.

I was keen to see a performance of the classic French classic, Tartuffe, by Moliere.

The show was rambunctious, to say the least, so the chases round the auditorium had the added frission of making the audience wonder if chairs would go flying, or actors or audience members. Not to mention all the trailing wires from the hi-tec refurbishment. The rehearsals must have been fraught.

Tartuffe continues until the 16th July. There's a restaurant and bar, which I didn't try, but will next time.

You can see the review on the Remotegoat site by clicking here.