Sunday, 19 December 2010

Review of 2010 - what was missed out: February

The 14th Tale

Inua Ellams is a word and graphic artist and this is the story of Ellams himself. Brought up in Nigeria, he moves with his family to London and then, following his father’s job, to Dublin and again back to London.

This is also the story of a boy growing to manhood, the trouble he gets into, which is both compounded by, yet in many ways, not dictated by his immigrant status. The narrative deals with stories of his experiences in Nigeria, Ireland and London.

Ellams’ performance is assured and engaging. He presents the immigrant experience, coupled with the male experience of growing up, in a poetic language that is amusing, poignant and self aware. His use of language is constantly inventive and delightful: for example, his younger self’s double take at the ‘black’ argot of his white school fellow Gary, and resonant phrases such as ‘a hurricane of nuns’ which linger long in the mind.

The 14th Tale is staged in a minimalist fashion and is all the more effective for this. The use of lighting, sound and pauses adds to the dramatic narrative. And it all builds to a satisfying conclusion.


The Power Of Yes

by David Hare.

This is Hare’s take on the collapse of capitalism dome in the style of his verbatim theatre as exemplified by Stuff Happens and The Permanent Way. We have seats in the front row of the circle, which is always a nice place to sit.

It’s performed on a more or less bare stage with some graphics projected above and behind from time to time. The narrative takes us from the ideology of Thatcherism up to the present economic collapse. The conceit is that an author “David Hare’ assisted by a researcher (Amanda Rooper) try to explain capitalism’s crisis by talking to the major players in the economic farce. It works well as Hare doesn’t impose his views on events – his frustration with the mealy mouthed answers he gets doesn’t really erupt until towards the end. The differing strands of capitalist thought are given equal weight and it’s up to us the audience (or rather the tax payers who bail them out) to decide whose view we favour. As an overview of how the world economy got to this state and a sketch of the characters of the major players it is entertainingly informative and induces a feeling of anger – if you share the view that the crisis was caused by greed, hubris and social inadequacy. The idea that society is now nothing more than an economic transaction is shown to be the hollow nonsense it palpably is – not least from the statements of some of those involved in the collapse of capitalism.

The only odd thing in the play is an implicit suggestion that there is a strange sexual tension between the ‘author’ and the researcher whenever they’re on stage together.

Well-performed and staged, the play is more engaging and multi-faceted than the subject matter might suggest.


The Habit of Art

By Alan Bennett

Bennett’s latest play at the Lyttelton is called The Habit of Art and deals with an imaginary meeting between the poet W H Auden and composer Benjamin Britten. The action takes the form of a rehearsal - at the NT - of a play about this imagined meeting. So, we get sizeable chunks of the play and the reactions of the cast and crew to it while the author watches and intervenes. The celebrity director is away furthering his career elsewhere, so the rehearsal is led by a stage manager, played by Frances de la Tour.

This structure allows Bennett to comment on the nature of performance, how biography works, the relationship between music and poetry and the lives of gay men in an age when homosexuality was illegal. As it’s Bennett there are many humorous scenes and brilliant lines. While some of the humour may be self-regarding there’s always an acid edge to it that means it doesn’t become complacent.

Richard Griffiths is excellent as the actor playing Auden and Alex Jennings as the one playing Britten.


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