Tag Archives: Theatre Royal Bath

“The Truth” at Wyndham’s Theatre

French playwright Florian Zeller’s well-deserved success continues with this sparkling comedy of manners about adultery. As with his previous hit, The Father, Christopher Hampton adapts and the production comes from Bath, this time via the Menier Chocolate Factory. Twisting perspectives and playing with expectations, Zeller’s winning formula engages the audience in an enthralling fashion. This is edge-of-your seat comedy – as exciting as it is funny.

The staging is an austere affair – the flair comes with the writing and director Lindsay Posner keeps the action and performances taut. Four friends and their affairs, the deceit and double crossing, interrogations and revelations, are delicious. The thoughtful overtones of a play so self-consciously about lying are held in check to serve the high-quality humour.

Alexander Hanson, as Michel, gives a gleeful performance as an arch hypocrite who sees guilt as “useless” and lying as the sensitive thing to do. Hanson gets the lion’s share of the lines, followed by the mistress, a convincingly chic Frances O’Connor, her husband, who is his best friend, and the wife. The latter two, played by a wonderfully dry Robert Portal and Tanya Franks (brilliant in the final scene), may be on stage less but it’s testament to the script and cast that this play feels such a firm four-hander. The betrayed have secrets of their own (of course!), providing shocks and laughs.

The circle of lies Zeller constructs is viciously funny and satisfyingly clever. Silly slips and people trapped into telling the truth all happen in a wealthy milieu where discretion is the obsession. With lashes of Gallic sophistication only adding to the fun for a London audience, the wit and irony here is finessed to perfection.

Until 3 September 2016

www.delfontmackintosh.co.uk

Photo by Marc Brenner

“Intimate Apparel” at the Park Theatre

Arriving from the Ustinov Studio, part of Theatre Royal Bath, Intimate Apparel opened in London at Park Theatre last night. Written by Lynn Nottage, famed for the unforgettable Ruined, it is a stirring tale about Esther, a seamstress in New York at the beginning of the twentieth century. Inspired by the author’s own ancestors, Esther’s is the kind of life that is often forgotten and unrecorded. Through Nottage’s skillful writing, it becomes a magically powerful imagined history.

Esther, a bravura performance from Tanya Moodie, makes lingerie, the intimate apparel of the title, and is a successful independent woman. She mixes in different worlds: her clients – a frustrated Fifth Avenue wife and a prostitute, both well acted by Sara Topham and Rochelle Neil respectively – and her supplier, the Orthodox Jew Mr Marks (Ilan Goodman), with whom she shares a passion for fine materials.

The play’s construction is sturdy. Director Laurence Boswell does it justice and the ingenious design by Mark Bailey is commendable, revealing different locations like a doll’s house and appropriately relying on fabric to bolt the piece together. This is a great story, well told, with fulsome characters.

It’s the romance that really shows Nottage’s ability. While Esther’s heart belongs to Mr Marks, she embarks on an epistolary romance with George Armstrong, a worker on the Panama Canal. Esther’s customers act like Cyrano de Bergerac: because she is illiterate, they write for her, and her heart is easily won by George. Another fine performance here, from Chu Omambala, who speaks with a carefully reconstructed Caribbean accent.

Esther wins your heart with her decency and modesty. She describes herself as “plain as flour” and combines a gushing innocence with underlying sensuality. It seems a touch cruel of Nottage to develop Intimate Apparel in a way that will disappoint romantics. But the story here is powerful – there were gasps at the twists last night – and Esther’s character provides a thread strong enough to hold the piece together exquisitely.

Until 27 July 2014

www.parktheatre.co.uk

Photo by Simon Annand

Written 10 July 2014 for The London Magazine

“Another Country” at the Trafalgar Studios

The Theatre Royal Bath and Chichester Festival Theatre’s revival of Julian Mitchell’s Another Country is now showing at the Trafalgar Studios. The 1981 play, which imagines the school days of a future spy, to all intents the real-life traitor Guy Burgess, is an accomplished text and this fluid production, directed by Jeremy Herrin, serves it well.

Set in a prestigious public school, the play begins with a pupil’s offstage suicide. This tragic death compels the lead character, Bennett, to confront his homosexuality and take comfort from his only friend, a schoolboy communist, Judd. It’s possible Herrin could have injected more tension by conveying just how much the political machination of the prefects matter to these youngsters. But Peter McKintosh’s set and, above all, the writing itself recreate the world of the school with conviction. Despite levels of repression that could strike you as clichéd, melodrama is avoided.

Rather than teenage angst we have an intelligent examination of class and community. Cold War politics seem a distant issue now, but there are plenty of arguments raised by these juvenile protagonists that make you stop and think. The youngsters here are far removed from those we know today, being by turn strangely naïve and remarkably articulate, but the deep passions that arise in youth and their impact later on in life remain compelling themes.

To consider another kind of legacy: the play has always been a springboard for acting talent. The cast is well drilled and highly professional. Rowan Polonski makes a superb Fowler, a youth brimming with religious fervour, and Mark Quartley convinces as the stressed head of house Barclay. As Bennett, Rob Callender is sure to be compared to Rupert Everett, who performed the role in the 1984 film. But what Callender lacks in terms of instant charisma he makes up for in terms of credibility as a gawky schoolboy – Everett never appeared this gauche – and his is a better interpretation of the role. As Bennett’s communist comrade Judd, acting scion Will Attenborough gives a tremendous performance, managing to inject passion into the polemic and demanding we sit up and listen to every word he says.

Until 21 June 2014

www.atgtickets.com

Photo by Johan Persson

Written 27 April 2014 for The London Magazine

“Relative Values” at the Harold Pinter Theatre

A new production of Noël Coward’s Relative Values has arrived in London from the Theatre Royal Bath. It’s another sparkling comedy for the West End, boasting star performances from Patricia Hodge and Caroline Quentin, and with respectful direction from Trevor Nunn that is sure to please aficionados of the author.

This is the one where Lady Marshwood (Hodge) finds her son has gone and got himself engaged to a film star (the perfectly cast Leigh Zimmerman), who happens to be the estranged sister of her maid Moxie (Quentin). It’s simply not on. Hodge and Quentin are spot on, making the most of each acerbic line and convincing as two women who have grown close despite the class divide.

As one line in the play points out, this is a comedy idea not to be sniffed at – especially when Moxie, to avoid awkwardness, receives a promotion from maid to companion/secretary. Cue excruciating after dinner drinks and an explosive confrontation between Moxie and her sister that will have you in stitches. All this is aided by the butler, naturally a clever chap with a philosophical bent, performed by none other than Rory Bremner, who makes a great West End debut.

You certainly get your money’s worth. Relative Values is long and Nunn does little to speed it up. It’s a valid decision but I am not sure films introducing each act, providing historical background, are really needed. Some minor roles could be pepped up. But the whole thing, Stephen Brimson Lewis’ set included, drips quality.

Never underestimate Coward. Producers don’t – look at Blythe Spirit  packing them in at the Gielgud. It now seems barely believable that he was once regarded as an unfashionable writer. His observations about class and the changing times of the early 50s, that Nunn takes Coward’s lead in emphasising, leave me cold but then I sometimes feel pretty lonely in these Downton Abbey obsessed times. Coward’s insights into human nature are still pointed and serve his comedy marvelously well. And at the heart of this play Quentin and Hodge make a great team: queens of comedy reigning gloriously.

Until 21 June 2014

www.atgtickets.com

Photo by Catherine Ashmore

Written 15 April 2014 for The London Magazine

“In the next room, or the vibrator play” at the St James Theatre

Sarah Ruhl‘s In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play received its London premiere at the St. James theatre last night. A clever take on the drawing room comedy, it doubles as an intelligent peek at love and sex, medicine and gender. Set in the late 19th century, its saucy starting point is the historic practice of using electrical, ahem, instruments ‘down there’ to induce what were termed ‘paroxysms’. It’s guaranteed to generate giggles, but showing how medical discourse generated its own clientele (the procedure was to resolve the complaint of hysteria), a deeper discussion about relationships between the sexes comes to the fore.

This is another production to arrive at St James from the Ustinov Theatre in Bath. It confirms both venues as exciting locations. Directed with care by Laurence Boswell, the design from Simon Kenny focuses attention on that glorious new discovery – electricity – which revolutionised work and home. For the Givings, the couple at the centre of the play, the two are combined: the Doctor’s surgery is ‘the next room’ in his house, in which patients are satisfied in a manner denied to his wife.

In the lead roles, Natalie Casey and Jason Hughes give fine performances as a man of science and his wife, driven to desperation mostly, it would seem, through sexual frustration. The doctor’s patient, Mrs Daldry, has a similar complaint, depicted with great fun by Flora Montgomery. And lest we should suspect Ruhl is simply recasting a Victorian malady, suggesting sex is a cure-all, there are the deep pains and joys of childhood to consider. The better-off woman’s fears and anxieties are brought into sharp relief by the employment of a wet nurse whose own child has just died. Madeline Appiah does wonders with this small role.

This is a chance for London audiences to see the work of a new, much feted American writer. Well constructed, with a light touch underlined by some deep thinking, it has possibly too many twists; including what happens when there is a power cut and the arrival of a male patient (now that’s got you thinking). Some predictable touches commenting on a battle of the sexes fail to satisfy. The play is impressive for its commercial potential as much as a sense of integrity. Ruhl may try to tackle a little too much but the laughs are uproarious and the romantic ending a delight.

Until 4 January 2014

www.stjamestheatre.co.uk

Photo by Johan-Persson

Written 22 November 2013

“The American Plan” at the St James Theatre

Arriving from the Ustinov Studio (Theatre Royal Bath), having already received a big thumbs-up from the critics, The American Plan opened in London last night at the St. James Theatre. Full of laughs and bittersweet wisdom, this exquisitely written play from 1990 by Richard Greenberg deals with not one but several love stories.

Here we have a fascinating trio of women. Eva and her “difficult” daughter Lili, wealthy refugees from the Nazis, are on vacation with their maid Olivia in the Catskill Mountains across a lake from other Jewish families who flock to the area. The women are isolated by an amusing, imported snobbery. Until a young man arrives.

Nick is a “blue chip stock” kind of guy, but true romance isn’t the story here. All these Americans, émigrés old and new, are full of plans and a warped determination to bring them to fruition. Plots might be a more accurate description if there wasn’t so much sincerity behind their motivation. The lies they tell are often deliciously funny but there’s real heart here, too.

Entangled with a family, not eccentric but “giddy around the circumference”, where the daughter is the wrong side of neurotic and the matriarch lives up to every stereotype of Jewish motherhood, you never much rate Nick’s chances. But he has secrets and pain of his own and watching them revealed is great theatre.

And the lies don’t stop with the introduction of the final character, Gil. In the part, Mark Edel-Hunt more than makes up for his later arrival with a great plot twist that, since I liked the play so much, I really don’t want to spoil.

There is no star role here – rather a great collection of characters, telling fantastic stories, performed impeccably. Greenberg’s trick is to skilfully switch focus, a plan needs to be looked at from every angle after all, keeping you on your toes and entertained. The cast fulfils the tactic, and it’s a kaleidoscopic experience that shows the skill of director David Grindley.

Diana Quick is scene stealing as Eva (her accent alone fascinates), putting the metal in mittel European, and Dona Croll makes a marvellous foil for her as the “enduring” Olivia whose inscrutable privacy hints at yet more tales. Emily Taaffe fully embodies the “mercurial” Lili, delighting with her wit then shocking with a traumatic intensity. And effectively subduing his character’s hidden depths until just the right moment, Luke Allen-Gale is tremendous as Nick.

This production does true justice to a fine play and it’s clear those responsible have a thorough understanding of the text. More than his intelligent exploration of “intricately unhappy” lives, Greenberg brings a Jamesian flavour and intelligent humour to his examination of our deepest self-fashioning. The result is a play that resonates with depth.

Until 10 August 2013

www.stjamestheatre.co.uk

Photo by Jane Hobson

Written 9 July 2013 for The London Magazine

“4000 Miles” at The Print Room

Notting Hill’s Print Room has secured another theatrical coup, working with the Ustinov Studio at the Theatre Royal Bath to bring the UK premiere of 4000 Miles to London. Winner of multiple awards in the US, Amy Herzog’s play involves the relationship between elderly Vera and her grandson Leo, who unexpectedly pitches up at Vera’s New York apartment having completed a cross-country bike ride marred by tragedy.

Nurtured by his grandmother’s presence, the young man’s emotional journey is just beginning. It’s a modest premise, perhaps, but, with superb performances from Daniel Boyd and Sara Kestelman, love, life and death are observed with such a realistic eye that the play is fascinating.

The simple story is elevated to extraordinary theatre by Herzog’s characterisation and James Dacre’s precise direction. Each scene, though dealing with the mundane is never ordinary, as the subtle, detailed observations build. The cast rises to the writing with Boyd and Kestelman joined by Leo’s love interests, both wonderfully drawn and performed by Jenny Hulse and Jing Lusi, although it has to be admitted that the latter steals the show for comedy value.

Herzog never stereotypes her characters – an especially impressive feat considering the politics in the play. Vera is an old Communist, Leo a new age hippy, and fun is poked at both. But Herzog is less concerned with single-issue politics than with the nature of our responsibilities to one another. Recognising the difficulties of both old age and youth, with plenty of wry comment to entertain, 4000 Miles shows different generations finding common ground in an original and moving manner. A remarkable achievement.

Until 1 June 2013

www.the-print-room.org

Photo by Jane Hobson

Written 17 May 2013 for The London Magazine

“The Madness of George III” at the Apollo Theatre

It seems we love the Royals right now. What with last year’s wedding and the forthcoming jubilee, there’s a feelgood factor about pageantry that our first family is riding high on. It’s well known that the Windors aren’t big theatregoers, which is a shame since they will probably miss this new production of The Madness of George III.

Alan Bennett’s 1991 textbook play, dealing with one of George III’s periods of mental breakdown (probably from the hereditary condition of porphyria), has aged superbly. Progressing from the Theatre Royal Bath, this production is highly polished. Against the backdrop of Janet Bird’s intelligent design, Christopher Luscombe’s direction is clear and pacey. While lacking satirical bite, the politics of the period are presented well, with fine performances from Nicholas Rowe and Gary Oliver as Parliamentary rivals William Pitt and Charles James Fox using the Royal family as pawns to gain power.

And Bennett’s gags about the parlous state of 18th-century medicine still shine. Peter Pacey plays the King’s first doctor with suitable sycophancy. Clive Francis is commendable as the radical physician Dr Willis whose techniques reveal the ridiculous dangers of court protocol (such as not being allowed to question the King directly) and who gets the play’s best line: “the state of monarchy and the state of lunacy share a frontier.”

The role of George III is a dream for any leading man. David Haig lustily rises to the challenge of bettering Nigel Hawthorne’s much loved representation in the 1994 film. Haig is best at showing us the King as a likeable character: the benevolent ‘farmer’ George whose “indirect and infinite curiosity” annoys his equerries but charms the audience.

Often, if you are rich, you aren’t mad – just eccentric. So Haig works hard to convince us that George losing his mind isn’t just quaint but something painful. His performance forces this point home. We can smile when the King says he would rather go to Japan than Kew, but portraying George as an intelligent man, aware of his own tragedy is Haig’s main achievement, making this a more moving evening than you might expect.

Until 31 March 2012

www.nimaxtheatres.com

Photo by Robert Day

Written 24 January 2012 for The London Magazine