Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Review of 2010 - what was missed out: April


by Lucy Prebble

Directed by Rupert Goold, Prebble’s play deals with the infamous collapse of the US energy company Enron at the start of the century. It also explains the curious accounting methods and slack auditing that allowed the firm’s gigantic fraud to take place.

The play’s tone is satiric and there are also musical numbers. The set is high tech but also strangely dark at times. Everything is well drilled and performed and there are entertaining moments.

However, I’m not sure I found it that satisfying. It certainly poked fun but generally lacked the anger that only briefly surfaced towards the end of the play when two ‘ordinary’ people who had lost everything in the fraud confronted one of the main players in the drama. It actually felt at odds with the rest of the play, which was far too jaunty in tone. Indeed Sam West’s final speech as the unrepentant Jeffrey Skilling almost comes across an aspirational endorsement of the free market.

Noel Coward Theatre

The Empire

By D.C. Moore

The Empire is set in Afghanistan in the present day. We look down on a wrecked room in a damaged building. Outside it is very hot. A British soldier, together with a member of the Afghanistan army is guarding a prisoner.

The play deals with the interaction of the three as they try to understand what has just happened, what is happening now and what should be done about it. It is a play about four bearded men and one clean-shaven man. The bearded men are the problem. The backgrounds of each character and his prejudices are skilfully sketched in.

Our opinion of and response to each of the characters changes during the course of the play in the light of what they say or do. For instance, the officer at first seems a clichéd fool, but isn’t. The soldier appears decent but is flawed and easily slips into mindless brutality. The prisoner is plausibly sympathetic at first but there is always a nagging doubt about him, which may just be the result of our own prejudice. But in this instance the prisoner eventually reveals himself to be the terrorist the other characters think he is.

The play deals well with the ambiguities of perception and prejudice; how the behaviour of those who are supposed to bring peace and order can slip into disorder and brutality. It also shows how the voice of the ordinary citizen of a disputed country can be overlooked in the heat of conflict. Staged and performed with conviction, the play teases out prejudice and confronts stereotypes in a dramatically satisfying way.

Royal Court Theatre Upstairs


By Alan Bennett

We go to Milton Keynes Theatre – which is a vast hanger of a space. The play is Alan Bennett’s Enjoy. It’s an early work, which tells the story of a strangely dysfunctional family. At times it has echoes of Pinter and, indeed, Joe Orton.

The set is dwarfed by the vast stage and the show lacks a little of intimacy the play actually demands. Despite this the production does manage to be both amusing and entertaining.

Milton Keynes Theatre


By Laura Wade

Laura Wade’s latest play is about an Oxbridge drinking club along the lines of the notorious Bullingdon club, which counts numerous high-ranking Tories among its members. The play is book ended by a Tory ‘godfather’ in a gentleman’s club talking to his godson.

The members of this Riot club meet up for an evening of eating, drinking and – they hope – debauchery at a country pub. They hire a private room for their festivities, and their intention is to destroy it at the end of the evening.

The first half of the play shows us the group’s attitudes, their sense of ritual and history; it sketches in their relationships with each other, their competitiveness and individualism, yet their dependence on peer group approval. So far much like any other group of young people – or in this case young men – in our society. However, Wade compellingly portrays these objectively repellent young men in a rounded way. She conveys their complex mixture of intelligence, stupidity and nauseating sense of entitlement brilliantly – and yet we also see their vulnerabilities. There are numerous moments in the first half where genuine friendship and feeling are destroyed -before they can flourish - by bullying and aggression.

In the second half the ‘fun’ spirals out of control. The Riot club start talking politics and the views they express are charmless and reactionary. Their sexual politics are demonstrated by their treatment of the ‘escort’ one of them has hired to pleasure the group and the way they treat the pub landlord’s daughter who is their waitress. They think everything is for sale and everyone can be bought off.

In the end they beat up the pub’s owner and collude to lay the whole blame on just one of their number. His reward for taking on their collective guilt will be to go on to be recruited into the political establishment.

This is a true ensemble work. There are ten people on stage for most of the evening and the choreography of their movements and interactions is impeccable. There is singing as well – which is both funny and shows how disconnected as a class these people are.

Laura Wade’s previous plays have been good – but Posh is a major achievement: an exceptional dissection of a particular element of the British ruling class. And becomes even more poignant as our nation is now ruled by a caucus of public school educated multi-millionaires who graduated through such dining clubs and who, more pertinently, don’t actually have a mandate for their destruction of civil society.

Royal Court

Women Beware Women

By Thomas Middleton

This production of Women Beware Women is rather disappointing. The action – particularly in the first half – seems dwarfed by the size of the Olivier stage – especially as most of the scenes are small scale and intimate. This seems to be a perennial problem with modern stagings of Jacobean theatre – frequently the material demands intimacy and claustrophobic settings but seems diminished when open out in a larger space.

The essence of the play is an examination of greed and corruption, which, of course, ends in disaster and multiple deaths. The set is a giant revolve – grandiose on one side, small-scale back stairs on the other. The music which director Marianne Elliot had described as jazzy and bluesy in a pre-performance platform talk is in fact more Latin to my ears and rather unmemorable.

There is some good acting however: Harriet Walter as Livia, Samuel Barnett as Leantio and Lauren O’Neill as Bianca. The much-hyped Vanessa Kirby in the role of Isabella is rather poor – her vocal skill is far less impressive than the rest of the cast. Towards the end there is a ‘masque’ scene, which leads up to the deaths of the main characters. While reasonably striking it is over-long. Altogether Women Beware Women is OK but not great.


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