Monday, 30 April 2007

Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Friday, 6 April 2007

Thursday, 5 April 2007

Don’t Look Now

Based on the Daphne du Maurier short story of 1971 Don’t Look Now is perhaps more famous in its film incarnation directed by Nicholas Roeg. However, this new adaptation by Nell Leyshon and directed by Lucy Bailey brings the story to the stage and places the action in what appears to be the late 1950s.

A middle class couple – John and Laura - are on holiday in Venice. The previous year their daughter had died of meningitis and they are still in the process of recovering from the trauma.

There is humour in the piece – mainly at the expense of the buttoned up husband and his attempts to speak Italian – but also when John and Laura invent stories about people they see. This all helps in the establishment of the tone of the relationship between the two of them and how they are travelling from grief towards the normality they had before their child’s death.

They keep encountering a pair of sisters, one of whom is blind and apparently has second sight. She claims to be able see the couple’s dead daughter and warns the husband that he must leave Venice as he is in danger.

The staging of all this is plain and austere. A large part of the action takes place at tables in restaurants and to compensate for the lack of movement the furniture glides from one side of the performing area to the other very slowly. This is effective at first as it gives a sense of the disorientation the couple and particularly the husband feel. It can also be regarded as a visual metaphor for how the sisters are brought into John and Laura’s lives and then drift off again. However, it does get rather irritating after a while. At times it feels as though the pace of the dialogue and action slows down to mirror that of the slow-moving scenery.

There is also another problem: the sex scene in the story is just a couple of lines but was famously realised in Roeg’s film. As a consequence it’s depiction in this staging on a bed slowly traversing the stage is at a huge disadvantage. It has neither the subtle discretion of du Maurier’s original text nor the erotic charge of the film version.

It all ends badly. Laura returns to England to be with their son who is at boarding school and who has been hospitalised because of appendicitis. Husband John is left alone in Venice to follow on later. But, he imagines that he see his wife still in the city with the two sisters, and starts to pursue them. Rather than finding his wife he becomes the latest victim of a serial killer targeting tourists.

Altogether this was a competent but dull production that lacked atmosphere and pace.

Lyric Hammersmith


29th March 2007

The David Glass Ensemble is always worth seeing and this revival of their early 1990s production of Mervyn Peake’s gothic trilogy proves to be no exception. Although their style of physical theatre was unusual and groundbreaking fifteen or so years ago this type of performance is now fairly commonplace.

Peake’s cult trilogy about Titus Groan is a strange gothic history of a young man coming to maturity and rejecting the stifling conformity and ritual that blights his life in the crumbling building that is Gormenghast. As well as Titus the story is peopled by a myriad of eccentric, deviant and grotesque characters.

This adaptation by John Constable relates key events from the mammoth story. They are presented in a style mixing physicality, puppetry, movement and music that successfully recreates Peake’s imaginary world, bringing out the darkness at its heart. The gothic, somewhat blowsy style of production matches Peake’s prose perfectly.

Each of the major characters is realised in a convincing manner and there is a satisfying mixture of humour and darkness. In particular Phillips Pellew’s depiction of the angular Flay creaking around the gargantuan, echoing interior of Gormenghast is pleasingly grotesque. Elisa de Grey and Sally Mortemore make for an entertaining Clarice and Cora and the latter doubles as an imposing and gothic Gertrude Countess of Groan. Eric MacLennan’s Dr Prunesquallor was perhaps a little too much like a character from the TV comedy The League of Gentlemen at times but altogether this was a fine ensemble performance.

At the conclusion of the play, the flooding of the castle and fight to the death between Titus and his arch enemyl Steerpike is achieved with the aid of a giant white sheet and stylised movement: it is suitably climactic.

Although the performance is possibly a bit too large at times for the space it’s in – sometimes a little distance from the action would have been desirable, in order to appreciate the full visual impact of what was on the stage – this is an entertaining and satisfying revival of one of the David Glass Ensemble’s seminal works.

BAC until 15th April

Attempts on her Life

28th March 2007

Katie Mitchell and her ensemble have recreated Martin Crimp’s 1997 play in a brilliant fashion. It’s as if everything they’ve done from A Dream Play, via The Waves and The Seagull has found its culmination in this. The mix of live action, video and music is challenging and engaging. It’s not simply a gimmick - it encourages us to think about the way the world is shown by the media and the condition of the society we live in. It’s both extremely funny as well as moving.

The play boasts no plot or consistent characters. The individual scenes offer different accounts of someone whose name is a variation of ‘Anne’. The ‘attempts’ of the title are not simply ones of assassination, they are also attempts to create, understand and give meaning to character. By bookending the piece with the vacuous babbling of a brainstorming session about the imagined qualities of ‘Anne’ the production offers both a critique and description of our society in the 1990s and now.

The production uses the vastness of the Lyttelton stage to good effect. The performance area is littered with cameras, lights, musical instruments and various scene-setting props. It also shows the difference between film performance and live performance. By simultaneously showing the stage and projected versions of a scene, the audience is asked to think about what it sees in the mass media and the way reality is presented. In addition the technique illustrates how film and video can overlay a sordid reality with a veneer of glamour.

The ensemble work is excellent with the cast switching characters, operating cameras and lights and playing musical instruments as though part of a giant fluid dance. Two of the scenes are turned into songs, adding an even greater edge of excitement to the production. Other scenes that stood out were the spoof of advertisement for a car called the ‘Anny’, a pastiche of Newsnight Review and an oblique reference to seminal 90s tv show ‘The X-Files’

What informed Crimp’s play in the 1990s is still true now. In Katie Mitchell’s production Attempts on her Life has not just been revived – it feels recreated for a new century.

Lyttelton until 10th May