Don’t mention the crusades: Holy Warriors at Shakespeare’s Globe

Sunday 10th August, 2014

You’d be hard pressed to find a more ambitious building project than Shakespeare’s Globe – lovingly researched and rebuilt using traditional craftspeople (with just a few concessions to modern fire regulations), this space is inviting and impressive.  We can’t believe we’ve waited so long to go, but when we heard about a new play, ‘Holy Warriors’, with an equally ambitious subject matter, this seemed an ideal opportunity.  It’s an epic journey through the crusades which promises to throw light on the modern Middle East – what could possibly go wrong?

The thrust of David Eldridge’s play is that if we fail to remember the past we are condemned to repeat it.  Thus we are urged to learn from history, although in this case the premise of the play seems to be that Richard I should accept a fair portion of the blame.  In a clever conceit, following his death and failure to capture Jerusalem, Richard is found in purgatory with his mother, and they while away the time by speculating on what might have been if he had taken some different decisions.  It seems there’s no escape from a mother’s ‘friendly’ guidance, even in death, but given she is the formidable Eleanor of Aquitaine (known by us chiefly from her appearance in James Goldman’s The Lion in Winter), what else can you expect?  There follows a re-run of events which ends again in stalemate, and Richard refuses to accept an offer to enter Jerusalem as a pilgrim rather than a conqueror.  Men are just too proud, Eleanor proclaims.

It is not for us to judge ‘Holy Warriors’ as a historical treatise, although to our untutored eyes it seems a little simplistic, but can we judge it as a drama?  The main problem is that there is very little drama to judge – the piece feels like a historical essay with ideas rather than dialogue put into the mouths of historical figures – too much talk and comparatively little action.  The plot was hard to follow with indigestible chunks of exposition and without visual cues and much existing knowledge of the subject we were struggling to stay engaged.  However, we wonder whether somebody with a thorough enough knowledge of the subject would gain much insight from the play.

However, we did find some of the choices clichéd, and spotted a few ‘sins’ which contravened our list of theatrical holy commandments:

*  Perhaps this will seem peevish given the title, but there was an over-emphasis on religion and Eldridge seems too keen to take the religious motivations of his characters at face value.  There was an awful lot of incense (quite a feat in an open-air theatre), and chanting on both sides, and we felt as though we were being presented with the trappings of religion and an ‘atmosphere’ of reverence without digging beneath the surface.

*  Use of modern dress out of context.  There was no need to dress King Richard and Saladin like modern desert warriors given the second part of the play is a fantasy sequence, and the visual impact does not add anything.  It promises insights it does not deliver, quite apart from being a well-worn cliché in productions of Shakespeare’s own history plays.

*  Cameo appearances by historical figures.  It would have been nice if Eldridge had resisted the temptation to neatly tie up the loose ends with speeches from both George Bushes and Tony Blair, even if George Bush Junior brought it on himself by referring a ‘crusade’ against terrorism following 9/11.  Moreover, including TE Lawrence and Golda Meyer as bit players in this play just goes to emphasis what an impossible task it would be to give a fair account of the last millenium of Middle Eastern Politics in a couple of hours.

The company does brilliantly well in bringing so many different groups of people and individual characters to life, and as Richard the I, John Hopkins really captures the easy arrogance of a King and makes a convincing miliary leader.  He is a man of action, not a thinker, and Hopkins draws us in to make this flawed character strangely likeable.  Alexander Siddig was an impressive Prince Feisal opposite Ralph Fiennes’ TE Lawrence in the TV film ‘A Dangerous Man: Lawrence After Arabia’, so it seems particularly fitting that he should take on Saladin at the Globe.  He brings a more ethereal presence to the stage, clearly a man of principle and a philosopher, although violence is never far from the surface.

‘Holy Warriors’ is billed as sweeping and kaleidoscopic, and we certainly can’t argue with that – but is a kaleidoscope the best instrument – unfocused and ever-shifting flashes of colour and light create spectacle, but not insight, and at times we felt as though we were witnessing a bizarre stage version of ‘Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure’.  It is not enough simply to put these historical figures on the stage – they have to earn their place.

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Off the scent? Dogfight at the Southwark Playhouse

Saturday 9th August, 2014, matinée

Southwark Playhouse have built a solid reputation on bringing some unusual musicals to their intimate theatre and breathing new life into them – the highlight of last Summer being an amazing chamber production of ‘Titanic’.  A year later, almost to the day, we ventured out again for ‘Dogfight’, a new musical with music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul and book by Peter Duchan which premiered off-Broadway in 2012 to great acclaim.

Based on a 1991 film, the story follows a group of marines in 1963, enjoying their last night of freedom in San Francisco before shipping out to Vietnam.  They indulge in an (apparently) time-honoured tradition of pooling their cash for a party, with some prize money set aside for the man who brings the ugliest date, the dogfight of the title. Eddie charms waitress Rose into going along with him but immediately realises he has made a mistake.  When Rose finds out the real reason for their date and punches him in front of his friends he goes after her and convinces her to give him another chance.  A quirky night of romance ensues – but how will Eddie square this with the world of brutality which he is about to enter?

The story seems to be making a point about the way that the military takes young men and desensitises them in order to make them into efficient fighting machines, and their resulting inability to function in ‘civilised’ society.  The only way they seem to be able to enjoy themselves is by humiliating women, whether through the dogfight, or in a particularly disturbing scene in which they intimidate a prostitute into taking on one last client for the night because their friend doesn’t want to go to war a virgin. However, the hard-hitting message is undermined because the love story is so hopelessly sentimental – Rose is innocent and overly impressed with Eddie, and Eddie is weak, finding his identity with the pack, all bluster but with no real depth of character.  The implication seems to be that love conquers all, a disappointing response to such a complex situation, especially as it seems to be the female side of the partnership supplying most of the love.

There are many enjoyable moments along the way, however, and Pasek and Paul fill out the story with a series of strong musical numbers.  Starting with the melodious ‘Take me back’, sung by a guitar-strumming Rose as she sets the scene for the action, the energy is soon ramped up with ‘Some Kind of Time’/’Hey Good Lookin’, where the lads make their plans for the night and begin looking for their dates.  ‘Hometown hero’s Ticker Tape Parade’ is particularly powerful as the lads fantasise about the glory that will await them on their return, in stark contrast to the subsequent hostility that many Vietnam veterans received.  There is plenty of humour and the banter between the marines is well-written and plausibly conveys the laddish hot-house of the military.  There are touching duets too, such as Eddie and Rose’s ‘Come to a Party’ and ‘First Date/Last Night’, and Rose has some strong ballads, such as ‘Pretty Funny’, where she tries to come to terms with the disappointment of being invited out on a false promise.  The title song ‘Dogfight’, when Macy reveals the true nature of the ‘party’, and a scorching critique of men in general, forms a fitting centrepiece for the first act.

The standard of acting and ensemble work was excellent all round, the cast were focussed and the energy was high.  Rebecca Trehearn brought an assured caustic wit to the hard-nosed prostitute Macy, and a powerful vocal delivery of the song ‘Dogfight’. Cellen Chugg Jones as Boland epitomised the unquestioning ‘perfect soldier’ that Eddie seems to be trying to emulate – confident, brutal and uncompromising when it comes to the ‘brotherhood’ of the squad.  As Bernstein, the bespectacled and virginal soldier, a character that seems to be de rigueur for any war movie, Nicholas Corre hits exactly the right note of naivety and testosterone fueled ambition.  Jamie Muscato brings an easy charm to the role of Eddie (perhaps a bit too easy given the character’s insecurities) and brings a light touch and humour to the scenes with Rose.  As Rose, Laura Jane Matthewson has a sweet voice which soars beautifully above the action and portrays an inner strength beyond her years which makes her earlier humiliation seem trivial.

Overall this was a quality production, but was the material worthy of it?  Ultimately, we are not sure if the music really explores the emotions, issues and relationships deeply enough.  Given the clichéd nature of the story, would it be possible to bring a new angle through music alone?  Maybe, but not in this case, entertaining and beautifully written though many of the numbers are.

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‘Til the clouds roll by: An Evening of silver linings with Jerome Kern at the Royal Academy of Music

Saturday 28th June 2014

If you think singing on stage is scary, try doing it in a room with no mike, no production values and nowhere to hide.  This is the challenge that faces Musical Theatre students from the Royal Academy of Music, performing in a cabaret show as part of their end of year showcase.  This year Director George Hall has chosen the songs of Jerome Kern as the theme of the show, and just in case we might think that’s a bit limiting, we were reminded that he did write 700 songs.  Vivian Ellis reports that she met him at a time when her own publishers were complaining how uncommercial she was.  Kern’s advice? – “Go on being uncommercial – there’s a lot of money in it”.

Never was a truer word spoken.  Most of these songs were new to us, but Hall has obviously taken a lot of trouble to find a wide range of characters and subjects to keep his students busy.  Yvette Ling kicks off the action with the delightful ‘How’d you like to spoon with me?’, showing a lightness of touch and cheeky confidence.  Hot on her heels is Kim Anderson, singing ‘Cleopatterer’, bringing just the right amount of brassiness and comedic style.  She also makes up a nice double act with David Leo in the hilarious ‘Up with the lark’, about a person accidentally getting up early and vowing never to do it again.  Boris Alexander was particularly impressive and got the chance to show his versatility, first in the duet ‘When we get our divorce’ with Lara de Belder, then in a storming rendition of ‘Old Man River’, and going from the sublime to the ridiculous, leading the lighthearted group number ‘Never marry a girl with cold feet’.  Amie Miller, who had already showed off her dancing talents in A Man of No Importance is captivating – her song ‘Rolled Into One’, an apology for keeping several men on the go until she can find one who has all the right qualities, is beautifully delivered and we would forgive her any amount of philandering.  Dalia Fadel brings a darker note of sophistication to the ballad ‘Why was I born?’.  Richard Brindley has a great time with the caustic wit of ‘Tulip time in Sing Sing’, a song which is definitely as bizarre as it sounds. Sarah Mossman powerfully and wittily delivers ‘Billy’s a liar’ with the barely contained outrage of a wronged wife.

Sadly, this performance, along with ‘A Man of No Importance’ and Little Women, has a necessarily short run, but there’s always next year.  And to keep us going in the meantime there is a twentieth anniversary celebration on the 30th November at the Prince Edward Theatre – see Curtain Upon the RAM website for more details.

 

 

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Big Heart: Little Women at the Royal Academy of Music

Sunday 29th June 2014, matinée

Little Women is so iconic that even if you haven’t read the book or seen one of the many films or adaptations, you’ll feel as though you have.  This is a generous helping of warm-hearted sentimentality as American as blueberry pie.  A semi-autobiographical novel based on Louisa May Alcott’s own childhood experiences and early career as a writer, the story centres around the four March sisters and their life in Concord, Massachusetts during the civil war.  Each follows a distinct journey and ultimately their story is captured by Jo, the author who starts out writing sensationalist ‘blood and guts’ stories for money, before discovering that her own story is just as valid.

The material lends itself very well to the musical treatment, with book by Allan Knee, Music by Jason Howland and Lyrics by Mindi Dickstein.  The music allows a shortcut to emotion without falling into cliché, and there are plenty of colourful characters, fantasy sequences telling Jo’s stories, and of course the closeness and conflict that goes with the intimate and domestic story of four sisters.  ‘Little Women’ has also proved an excellent choice for the Royal Academy of Music  to show off the talents of its Musical Theatre students, particularly the female ones for whom juicy roles can be hard to come by.

Susanna Squires perfectly captures Jo’s drive and boundless energy – ‘Give me a task to do’ she cries whenever she is feeling restless. We get a sense of her emotional depth as she is put severely to the test, watching everything she cares about threaten to fall apart.  Her vocals are powerful, and her songs form an emotional centre for the action, whether conveying the youthful indignation of a young author receiving constructive criticism for the first time in ‘Better’, full of ambition in ‘Astonishing’, or finally finding her metier in an unexpected place in ‘The Fire Within me’.  As the eldest sister Meg, Dalia Fadel is a more serious and calming influence, shyer and more modest in her ambitions, but romantic nevertheless.  She brings out the comedy beautifully when she falls (literally) head over heels in love with Matt McGoldrick’s charmingly gawky John Brooks.  As Amy, Bridget Costello has the tricky task of encapsulating the eternal predicament of the youngest sister – a bit of a spoilt brat who is babied by the others, afflicted with the dreaded ‘hand-me-down’ syndrome, and feeling out of place and ignored.  Her transformation from naughty child to sophisticated woman (albeit still unashamedly materialistic) is nicely played out.  Claire Harbourne as Beth conveys the sweetness and fragility of the shyest sister Beth, and her ethereally beautiful vocals bring warmth and sadness to the action whether she is effortlessly coaxing Laurie’s grumpy grandfather Mr Laurence (a very convincing Simon Ward) in ‘Off to Massachusetts’ or gently breaking her earthly bonds with her beloved sister Jo in ‘Some Things are Meant to Be’.  Josh Maddison has a ball as Laurie, delivering a tour de force of charm and shallowness as the ‘eligible’ rich neighbour who should be the perfect catch for at least one of the sisters – but who will it be?  Endlessly enthusiastic and always ready with an optimistic exhortation, his signature number says it all – ‘Take a chance on me’ (no, not that one!).  Stephanie Lyse as Marmee conveys the mature wisdom of a mother of four girls without fuss, calmly allowing them just enough freedom before stepping in to adjudicate.  We see her vulnerable side in her song ‘Here Alone’ as she tries to write to her absent husband and wonders how she will cope.

It is always refreshing to visit these end of year shows, and to feel optimistic again about the future of Musical Theatre.  It is a joy to see a show like this with such a talented cast, skilfully brought together under Paul Warwick Griffin’s direction, and sounding fantastic thanks to Musical Director Bjorn Dobbelaere.  We can’t imagine this show being given a better production on the professional stage (hardly surprising given the extensive professional credits of the directors!), and we look forward to seeing some of these familiar faces again in the future.

 

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The Importance of being Irish: A Man of No Importance at the Royal Academy of Music

Saturday 28th June 2014, matinée

It’s that time of year again – when we embark on the Royal Academy of Music‘s annual weekend marathon of shows by their Musical Theatre students.  We’ve got a sneaking suspicion that the tutors at the RAM’s Musical Theatre department are a little bit sadistic. With A Man of No Importance, they have chosen a show which is based on a troupe of terrible amateur actors, most of whom are middle-aged, all of whom have Irish accents, and just to add insult to injury many of the actors have to double as members of the orchestra.  But with the RAM we have learned to expect surprises, and on that count we were certainly not disappointed.

‘A Man of No Importance’ is based on a film set in 1960s Dublin, about Alfie Byrne, a gay man who barely knows his own sexuality, let alone reveals it to anyone else.  A bus conductor by day, he is obsessed with books and the transformative power of ‘art’, his biggest hero is Oscar Wilde, and his life revolves around his amateur dramatics company.  Undaunted by their terrible reputation, he ploughs on, but gets into trouble when he tries to put on Oscar Wilde’s ‘dirty play’ Salome in the church hall.  The musical is a celebration of the underdog, the ordinary man who lights up the lives of others, and learns to accept himself through the acceptance of others.

We can’t comment on the original film (although clips are available on you tube), but Terrence McNally’s book is cleverly structured to make the most of the staged setting, using a play within a play with Alfie’s company recreating his story in their own production, affectionately christening the show ‘A Man of No Importance’ as a tribute to Wilde.  The am dram setting works well and generates plenty of energy and fun, with some nice set pieces, such as the song ‘Going Up’ which takes us from Mr Carney’s butcher’s shop to the world of make-believe, and allows the characters each to do a ‘turn’ and show off their ‘talents’.  In ‘Art’ we get the madcap creativity of the company as opening night approaches, and a polystyrene head of John the Baptist is tossed around with abandon.  ‘The streets of Dublin’ allows Robbie, Alfie’s driver and the object of his affections to show that there is more to life than books with a lively tour of the seedier parts of Dublin.  In ‘Confession’, a clever trio has Alfie in confession with the priest, trying to confess his real feelings while an imaginary Robbie hovers at his shoulder urging ‘Go on, tell him’.  Stephen Flaherty’s music is gentle, lyrical and uplifting, never more so than in ‘Man in the Mirror’ (No, not that one) and ‘Love who you love’.  With witty lyrics from Lynn Ahrens, this show has a lot going for it, and it is infused with quirky charm.

The cast is very strong, and under Naomi Jones’ direction, all did an excellent job of realising the music, characters and action with a pacey and energetic production which never flagged.  Guy Hughes as Alfie perfectly captures his otherworldly naivety, especially in the soul-searching ‘Man in the Mirror’ (again, not that one), and he brings a gentle eccentricity to the role.  There are some great supporting performances, not least Ana Richardson as Alfie’s sister Lily.  She has an assured stage presence, a strong voice, and brings out the toughness and vulnerability in the character who has been trying to ‘look after’ her brother without ever really knowing him.  Alex Wingfield as Robbie, Alfie’s ‘muse’, does a nice job of keeping the audience guessing about his sexuality, and brings some much-needed street-wise charm to the proceedings.  Sarah Mossman brings out the comedy as Miss Crowe, the indefatigable costume designer.  Amie Miller gets a chance to shine with a fantastic tap dancing and singing cameo as Mrs Curtin, the trained professional who now has a family and has to content herself with am dram, never missing a chance to get in on the act.  We loved Nicholas Denton’s cameos too – as that familiar character, the amateur actor who only has one line and can’t seem to get it right, and as the cocky seducer turned abuser Breton Beret.  With a clever piece of doubling, Jamie Blake plays Alfie’s hero and nemesis – Oscar Wilde, and Mr Carney the butcher who finally gets the company closed down by the church.  Full of self-righteous indignation, yet barely understanding what is really going on, Blake nicely captures the misdirected ‘morality’ of the devout church-goer with no imagination. Most importantly of all the cast created a convincing world out of a few boxes and ladders, and worked together as an ensemble with huge professionalism.

This is not the obvious choice for a musical, and we felt that ultimately the set-up promised more than it delivered, lacking any real dramatic pay-off or character arc for Alfie.  But we certainly had a lot of fun on the way.

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Satire Never Dies: Forbidden Broadway at the Menier Chocolate Factory

Sunday 22nd June 2014, matinée

We waited a long five years for Forbidden Broadway to come back to the London.  This show, first conceived in 1982 by Gerard Alessandrini is as much an institution on Broadway as the mega-musicals it lampoons.  Given the English reputation for self-parody it seems ironic (yes we’re supposed to be good at that too) that this show hasn’t taken off to the same extent on this side of the Atlantic. Perhaps he was just waiting for some new shows to open (a theme the show touches upon).  Whatever the reason, we are grateful to have another chance to see it at the Menier Chocolate Factory, and to have a show perfectly tailored to the West End.

‘Forbidden Broadway’ gives us the best of both worlds – high quality music sung by professionals, and highly comedic lyrics courtesy of Alessandrini.  It seems ironic that due to the current state of the West End, the best chance of seeing a really excellent cast is to watch them taking the proverbial out of their own livelihoods.  And here we have a truly luxurious gathering of fine singers whose comedic talents more than match their vocal chords. Damien Humbley, who really brightened up the recent Menier production of ‘Merrily we roll along’, here runs the gamut from Jean Valjean in ‘Bring it down’ (God it’s High/This song is high/bring it down….) to a fantastic Miss Trunchbull in a skit of ‘Matilda’. Not to mention a wicked take-off of Mandy Pantinkin, whose show (or by all accounts ‘love-in’) with Patti LuPone is mercilessly mocked (‘My boy Bill should be 40 by now….’).  Ben Lewis is so unfeasibly tall that we honestly thought he was on stilts when he came on stage as Willy Wonka.  Next to him, they could have used the normal-sized cast as Oompa Loompas. It is a delight to hear his beautifully sung rendition to the tune of ‘Pure Imagination’, here rendered as ‘The show with no imagination’ while watching his bizarre antics with the notorious glass elevator.  He does a great turn as Stephen Sondheim, and proves himself a liar by singing ‘The Impossible Song’ (‘The Impossible Dream’) perfectly, complete with well placed warbling.  We’re not sure if this one is aimed at a famous singer who is reluctant to retire, but it doesn’t really matter, the conceit is beautifully carried off.  Anna Jane-Casey is an absolute fireball of frenetic energy with a fantastic voice to match.  She takes on the great icons with mischievous delight – Liza Minelli (‘Poor Liza one-note’ – ouch!), Chita Riveira, who gets into a verbal, musical and physical cat-fight with Rita Moreno to the tune of West Side Story’s ‘America’, and as her piece de resistance she perfectly imitates Idina Menzel (while singing a song about how impossible to imitate she is) in the wonderful ‘Defying Subtlety’ – and defy subtlety she certainly does!  Sophie Louise-Dann is the chameleon of the troupe with a genius for characterisation.  From a ten year old Matilda wannabee (‘My Mum says I’m a triple threat’) receiving her P45, to the 82 year old Angela Lansbury, singing ‘I Don’t want to know’ from Jerry Herman’s ‘Dear World’ as an explanation for her retreat into Miss Marple and cameo parts.  It’s a genuinely touching moment, yet simultaneously hilarious and we look forward to seeing Sophie’s Mabel Normand one day.  As Miss Saigon, she gives a fantastically simpering performance as the ill-fated bar-girl.

We could go on.  The gems just keep coming and are a delight to watch.  But what we also love about Forbidden Broadway is the spot on analysis of what’s going on in the West End which makes this comedy truly satirical, not just mindless fun (although there is plenty of that as well).  We have child exploitation in a mash-up of Matilda, Billy Elliot, and Les Mis’s Gavroche.  With some long-running shows now running their own ‘academies’ to supply them with regular child stars, the idea of a school of West End wannabees run by the monstrous Miss Trunchbull doesn’t seem that far off the mark. Then we have the curse of the long run, with a whole segment on ‘Les Mis’, including ‘Ten Years More’ in which the cast both celebrate and bemoan the shows success.  The biggest irony here is that the songs themselves have become iconic – Colm Wilkinson mentioned ‘Bring It Down’ with obvious glee in his own Broadway show.  We’re sure ‘Ten Years More’ will run and run as long as Les Mis is around and we hope it does.  Miss Saigon takes on the mantle of ‘unworthy revival’ in a segment which mercilessly shows up the score’s inconsistencies and the clichéd plot, which, the show suggests, hasn’t aged well – we couldn’t possibly comment.  And in a truly spine-tingling finale, the Nazi anthem from ‘Cabaret’ is used to highlight the tendency towards corporate takeover on both sides of the atlantic in ‘Broadway belongs to me’.

We hope we won’t have to wait another five years for the show’s return and we look forward to enjoying the old favourites with some new additions. We wonder if Alessandrini began writing skits on ‘Stephen Ward’ or ‘From Here to Eternity’ and had to tear them up.  Or what delights he might have found in shows long-closed.  Something about Cameron Mackintosh using that ever-so-catchy tune from ‘Betty Blue Eyes’ springs to mind.  With a back-catalogue of twelve albums, there is a rich and ever-growing seam of material to choose from, and long may it continue.  Whether you love the West End, or hate what’s happening to it, we can’t recommend this show enough.

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Two fat ladies, 88: Valley of Astonishment at the Young Vic

Saturday 21st June 2014, matinée

Peter Brook never tires of exploring new territory, and in the ‘Valley of Astonishment’, currently at the Young Vic, he continues a journey he began in the early nineties, when he adapted Oliver Sachs’ popular book ‘The Man who mistook his wife for a hat’. Realising that the human mind is as full of wonders as the external world, Brook, along with his long-term collaborator Marie-Helene Estienne, takes us on a journey through some very unusual human beings and attempts to convey how uniquely they see the world.  The key character is Sammy Costas, a fictional memorist (based on an amalgam of real people) who not only has an extraordinary memory, but also synaesthesia, a merging of the senses which results in ‘hearing’ colour and shapes.  She sees a seven as a man with a moustache, and an eight as a fat lady, a memorist’s trick which is entirely involuntary.  We watch her coming to terms with her unusual abilities before she is finally able to take control of her life, and the play asks the question ‘if you have an extraordinary talent how should you allow it to shape your life’.  In Sammy’s case, becoming part of a ‘freak show’ nearly destroys her and her former life as a journalist who doesn’t need a notebook seems blissful by comparison.  By contrast, we also meet a painter struggling to express himself until he learns to embrace the colours and shapes that music evokes in his mind’s eye.

As we expect from Brook, a director who takes seriously the assertion that ‘less is more’, the action plays out on a minimal stage with a cast of three and some imaginative lighting by Philippe Vialatte.  Kathryn Hunter plays Sammy.  Peter Brook has mentioned in interviews that her performance is so engaging that audience members tend to assume she must be playing a real character.  Sure enough when we got home, we were confidently googling this non-existent person. She perfectly balances a sense of genuine eccentricity with a down to earth frankness which allows us effortlessly into her world. To her, her talent is nothing special, she cannot imagine being any other way, and she is a reluctant ‘star’.  There is sadness in her journey through near burn-out when she discovers that no-one can teach her how to ‘forget’ the random objects generated by her audiences which clutter up her mind, but also satisfaction in seeing her recover her integrity by returning to a life of obscurity.

Marcello Magni doubles up as Doctor, patient and performer in a series of remarkable vignettes.  He plays a character who has lost his ‘proprioception’, the innate sense of the body’s position which allows us to move unconsciously.  Facing permanent paralysis, he realises that he can train himself to move by controlling his body with his eyes.  We weren’t surprised to learn that Magni was a founder member of the theatre company ‘Complicite’, so well known for the physicality of their work.  He has a compelling stage presence which is completely convincing and enthralling to watch.  He also has a spectacular turn as a one-handed magician which he pulls off with easy charm.  We were glad to see Jared McNeill again after his stand-out performance in The Suit two years ago.  His brief turn as the synaesthetic painter is beautifully done as he performs an ‘invisible’ painting for us with great precision and dexterity.  As the Doctor’s assistant, he counterpoints the more outlandish action with a quiet, sympathetic presence.  The cast are ably supported musically by Raphael Chambouvet and Toshi Tsuchitori.

It’s interesting to note that there are no writing credits for the play, and it feels like a devised production.  The plotting is hardly tight, and at times, it can feel as though the subject matter has overwhelmed any sense of structure.  However the action is never boring, and every segment brings some new insight into the human condition, directed and performed with a conviction that makes it hard to ignore. Even the magic act, which seemed a little out of place in the story, was a pleasure to watch, and we left wanting more.

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