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Variation On A Theme

09 March 2014 - 07:27 PM

Variation on a Theme was Terence Rattigan's 1957 variation on La Dame Aux Camelias.  Not much of a variation, it must be said.  The original story is pretty much intact, anglicised and reset (though still in France) and fiddled with at its fringes, but if you know the original nothing here will be too surprising. I don't know the original but I know La Traviata so that's my point of comparison.  And indeed the Traviata prelude sneaks in on the family record player.

Why Rattigan felt this play needed to be written, I do not know.  It's not particularly insightful, it has nothing new to say on the subject of what happens to women who love for money when real love comes along.  But, still it IS Rattigan so the scenes play, the dialogue is credible and often witty, and it's never not entertaining.  It's just pretty much pointless.

But none of this matters because the star of the show, its Violetta Valery, here called Rose (change of flower - one of the variations), is the wonderful Rachael Stirling.  And to sit for two and half hours in this tiny theatre within three feet of this jaw-droppingly gorgeous and talented woman was more than worth a mediocre play.  

I took my eyes of Ms Stirling long enough to notice that the other cast members were all quite good and the production was up to the Finborough standard. But it's the star's show.  And she is a star.

Good People

01 March 2014 - 09:07 AM

In his programme bio playwright David Lindsay-Abaire notes that Good People was the most produced play in America in the 2012-2013 season. In the current economic climate it's easy to see why. It's about hard times and opportunity and, most of all, luck.  Who has it and who doesn't.  Who gets out of the South Boston slums and who doesn't.

Margie (with a hard G) doesn't.  She gets fired from her job in a Dollar Discount store in the play's first scene, yet another setback in her luckless life.  She has a retarded (offstage) daughter to care for, no health care, no money, no skills.  She has to find work fast and how she goes about doing so is the play.  For she turns to an old boy friend and fellow slum kid, now a successful Doctor with a home in fabled Chestnut Hill - the guy who DID have the luck.
And the table is set for drama.

Margie is a great character - desperate, feisty, abrasive, maddening, deeply caring, strong, and beneath it all, "good people", as they say in Boston. The role won the 2011 Tony Award for Frances McDormand and I'll be surprised if it doesn't bring the equivalent acclaim for Imelda Staunton who is breathtakingly wonderful here.  This was only the 2nd preview and already she is so deeply embedded in the character, so nuanced, so funny - for it is a VERY funny play - so fierce and true and utterly heartbreaking.  She totally embodies this complex and affecting woman.

The whole cast is excellent. Lloyd Owen is pitch perfect as Mike, the doctor not entirely comfortable with his roots and Angel Coulby is quite sensationally good as Kate, his sensitive up-market wife.  She doesn't enter until Act Two which is basically a long three-hander in which Margie invades their suburban home and forces a confrontation with the past. It's a tour de force scene in every way and the centerpiece of the play, done to perfection here.

Jonathan Kent directs with a light touch, which is to say we don't notice his work - always a good thing.  And Hildegard Bechtler's ingenious revolving sets keep the action flowing

As noted, this was the 2nd preview and if the timing was not quite where it should be in some moments - particularly in Act One - that will improve. It's an excellent play and this cast does it justice.  And Imelda Staunton... Brava!!

Philip Seymour Hoffman

03 February 2014 - 08:52 AM

The great actor was found dead in his Manhattan apartment.  Not only the finest screen actor of our time but magnificent on stage.  I saw him as Jamie Tyrone in Long Days Journey about a decade ago and his last act outburst of despair was so stunning, so raw and heartbreaking, it still resonates with me to this day.  I will never forget it.

What a tragedy.  RIP.

The Shape Of Things - Neil Labute

14 December 2013 - 06:36 PM

The Shape of Things originally premiered in London at the Almeida Theatre, starring Rachel Weisz and Paul Rudd, both of whom later appeared in the not-so-good movie version.  It's one of the plays that marked Neil LaBute as a major American playwright and it's being revived now at the Arcola's studio theatre, a basement space much akin to the Trafalgar 2.  It is a very fine production.

It's a cruel piece (no surprise there) which manages to blend Big Ideas about art and love and relationships and all that stuff into a romantic four hander that packs a mighty wallop in a finale you do not see coming. The four actors in this case are all excellent with special kudos to the two leads, Anna Bamberger and Sean McConaghy.  Director Samuel Miller's production is spare but lucid and plays straight through at 90 minutes.

It's a terrific show - playing for one more week - and well worth the journey to Dalston.

The Boys From Syracuse

07 October 2013 - 07:15 AM

The Boys From Syracuse is, of course, Rodgers and Hart's take on A Comedy of Errors - the first Shakespeare work to be adapted for a musical - and it's an appropriately light and silly show that needs considerable expertise to bring to life.  If the Union Theatre's new production doesn't entirely succeed it comes close with lots of energy and lots of laughs.

The little theatre has been set up with more floor space than usual and it's needed for the many dance numbers, some of which - the Act One ballet, e.g. - might have been a little too ambitious.  But there are the classic songs - Falling In Love With Love, This Must Be Love, Sing For Your Supper, etc. - and there's a young eager-to-please cast delivering them with style and the whole thing is infectious and, to me, irresistible. It's one of those shows where you exit the theatre smiling.

Incidentally, the Union has changed its seating policy. It's still general seating but no more huddled, self-regulating queues at the door.  They now issue numbered tickets on a first come first serve basis and admit you to the show in clusters of ten.  We got there a half hour early and were numbers 23 and 24.  Thus, we were in the third group admitted.  We still got front row seats - the place holds 54 for this show.  But get there early.