Tuesday, 22 July 2008

The Royal Court Theatre Inside Out

I’ve just finished reading The Royal Court Theatre Inside Out by Ruth Little and Emily McLaughlin, which was first published last year.

The book is divided up into chapters dealing with each or the artistic director’s tenures, starting with George Devine and finishing with Ian Rickson. It draws on other books that have been written about the theatre, but also contains interviews with many of those who have worked there over the years. These interviews are never less than informative and interesting. Among many anecdotes and assessments, a couple of stories told by Kenneth Cranham particularly stood out for me and I wondered why he hasn’t yet written a memoir of some sort.

The Royal Court Theatre Inside Out is a fascinating book to dip in to for many reasons. It was interesting to be reminded of works such as Alan Brown’s Wheelchair Willie and Barrie Keefe’s Sus. I was a bit disappointed, though, that some things I’d seen weren’t covered at all - C.P. Lee’s Sleak a ‘snuff rock musical’ performed by Alberto Y Los Trios Paranoias for instance. Although if everything that had ever played at the Royal Court had been included, this would have soon become a multi-volume work.

There is also a very useful appendix containing a chronological list all the Theatre’s productions from 1955’s The Mulberry Bush to 2007’s The Seagull. A pedant might complain that it would have been nice to have dates, cast lists and whether the play was performed Upstairs or in the main house – but that would probably be a little ungenerous. Altogether this is a book to be enjoyed by anyone interested in the theatre of the past fifty years and the central part played in this history by the Royal Court.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Patrick Hamilton and Hangover Square

I’d been reading and re-reading a lot of Patrick Hamilton recently. A novelist and playwright, he died in 1962 of cirrhosis of the liver and kidney failure. I’d first read Hangover Square and The Slaves of Solitude in the 1970s when they were on offer via The New Fiction Society - a sort of book club, funded by the Arts Council, if I remember rightly.

While a great success in the 30s and 40s, Hamilton is a writer who has subsequently drifted in an out of fashion. Currently he appears to be experiencing something of a revival. Hangover Square is a Penguin Modern Classic, while Black Spring Press are publishing a new edition of Nigel Jones's biography Through a Glass Darkly, as well as the 1926 novel Craven House. Most of his other major works are also in print.

So, last Friday evening I set off for Earls Court and the Finborough Theatre, where I was to review a new production Fidelis Morgan’s adaptation of Hangover Square for the Morning Star.

It was my first commissioned theatre review for some six months and my first visit to this particular theatre. A short walk from the Warwick Road exit of Earls Court station – but feeling longer because of the rain - The Finborough pub is long and thin and elegantly refurbished. Most of the people already there seemed to be theatre critics. Among them I recognised Lyn Gardner (Guardian) and Ian Shuttleworth (FT) from other press nights I’ve been to.

The play itself was engrossing and I thought the production and acting were excellent - especially well suited to the intimacy of this small space. If you follow this link it will take you to my review published in today’s Morning Star.

I’ve just had a look online to see what other people are saying, and the production seems to have gone down well with most critics. I was interested to note, though, that Lyn Gardner n The Guardian detects strong misogynist tendencies in the work.

I’m not sure I agree with this. I think Hamilton could more accurately be described as a misanthrope rather than a misogynist. For example, in Slaves of Solitude his main protagonist, Miss Roach, is portrayed with sympathy and understanding. Indeed it is the men who fare less well in this novel.

Again in The Plains of Cement, the final part of the Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky trilogy, Ella the barmaid is also treated with understanding and sympathy, yet placed squarely within her class context. The closing sentence of the novel is:

But at about half-past ten that night, John, the new waiter at “The Midnight Bell,” coming up tired to bed after a hard day’s work in the job he had taken on, listened, and heard the barmaid weeping.

It seems simple and prosaic enough but, in light of what has come before, it is unexpectedly and deeply affecting. It also underlines how far the reader has come in understanding and caring about the character and is a tribute to the subtlety of Hamilton’s writing.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Reactivating the site

After many months of apparent inactivity, now seems like a good time to reactivate this site. It’s not that I haven’t been going to the theatre – I have – but I haven’t been recording my thoughts about what I’ve seen in a particularly coherent fashion.

Now I’m going to try again and, this time as well as Theatre, include my responses to what I read, as well as what I watch and listen to.

And so the name of the blog has changed from the rather prosaic Theatre Reviews to the almost equally prosaic WRL Review. It’s quite possible the name may change again in the future.