Remembrances of 2014

by Lynn on January 8, 2015

in The Passionate Playgoer

January, 2014

Manon, Sandra and the Virgin Mary

At Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

By Michel Tremblay

Directed by John Van Burek

Richard McMillan played Sandra as a sashaying, coy, seductive, bitter transvestite. As the audience filled in, McMillan, as Sandra, strolled on stage wearing a floor-length satin dressing gown. He sat down at a table facing us and stared.  His middle finger made small circles on the surface of the table. He pouted at the audience. He was toying with us. The performance revealed a deep-rooted vindictiveness and sadness.

Irene Poole played Manon, a repressed, religious woman, stuck in her own disappointment. She wore a severe black suit with a long skirt. When she sat her knees were tight together and were covered by the skirt. Poole still pulled the skirt tighter down her already covered legs.

Slowly, almost without us noticing, the huge backdrop of the Virgin Mary ever so slowly came into view. Kudos to the lighting of Itai Erdal.

Light Princess

National Theatre, London, England.

Music and Lyrics by Tori Amos

Book and Lyrics by Samuel Adamson

Suggested by a story by George MacDonald.

Directed by Marianne Elliott

Designed by Rae Smith

Lighting by Paule Constable

Choreography by Steven Hoggett

Starring Rosalie Craig

Not exactly a shining moment for Tori Amos in her musical theatre debut, or for Samuel Adamson who keeps just missing in his playwriting. About a princess who is cursed to defy gravity and never really alight on the ground.

The always imaginative Steven Hoggett devised choreography-movement that had the princess floating in air, and ‘bounced’ and flipped by a group of black-clad men who were therefore to be considered invisible.  A technicolor set and striking lighting from director Marianne Elliott’s stalwart team:  Rae Smith on sets and Paule (pronounced Paulee) Constable on lighting.

Henry V

At the Noël Coward Theatre, London, England

Written by William Shakespeare (of course!)

Directed by Michael Grandage (part of his season of plays with British star actors)

Designed by Christopher Oram

Lighting by Neil Austin

Composed and sound by Adam Cork

Starring Jude Law

An unevenly acted production with Jude Law playing Henry V— the draw for this production. Mr. Law is determined to be taken seriously as an all-round commanding actor (both in film and on the stage). He didn’t blow me away but I admire his tenacity and his not being afraid to disappear into his characters and be unrecognizable.

As the all-important Chorus  (who calls “O for a muse of fire….” and sets the stage and tells us what is going to be ‘crammed within this wooden O’),  Ashley Zhangazha left a lot to be desired, starting with contained passion and  comprehension of the text. He needed a director to help him and Michael Grandage was not that person. Zhangazha was so busy flinging his arms around and seemed so delighted to be onstage that comprehension of what he was saying was flung away.

The back wall was curved like Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, which is where the play was first done. But when Zhangazha came to the line “Crammed within this wooden O,” instead of flinging his arms wide to indicate the curved walls, he flung his hands down in front of him, indicating the floor. Mystifying.

Stephen Ward

At the Aldwych Theatre, London, England

Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber

Book and Lyrics by Christopher Hampton and Don Black

Designed by Rob Howell

Lighting by Peter Mumford

Sound by Paul Groothuis

Choreography by Stephen Mear

Directed by Richard Eyre

Starring Alexander Hanson

Dr. Stephen Ward, osteopath, arranged women for his male friends in high places. He introduced John Profumo — in the British cabinet — to Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies. There was a scandal. Political crisis. Stephen Ward was sacrificed. Andrew Lloyd Webber thought this would make a swell musical.

Alexander Hanson was a suave, smooth Stephen Ward. He smoked with style. He put the slow moves on women. He sang beautifully. You wanted to take a shower after spending time with the character.

Lloyd Webber repeated and repeated melody lines and songs he wanted to be the hit tunes. With all that repetition naturally the melodies stuck. The first scene took place in The Chamber of Horrors in Blackpool. A semi-circle of wax figures — a who’s who of the monsters of the 20th century were there — Hitler, Stalin, the Acid-bath murderer and Stephen Ward. Ward came out of the line of wax figures and sang that he was there on display between Hitler and the Acid-bath murderer. Only he wasn’t. He was between Hitler and Stalin. The Acid-bath murderer was waaaaay over there at the other end of the line.  I knew we were in trouble then. The show closed in four months.


At the Harold Pinter Theatre, London, England.

Written by Jez Butterworth

Directed by Ian Rickson

Designed by Ultz

Lighting by Charles Balfour

Music by Stephen Warbeck

Sound by Simon Baker

Starring: Brendan Coyle

Rupert Grint

Tom Rhys Harries

Daniel Mays

Colin Morgan Ben Wishaw

Silver Johnny was a rock star on the club circuit in London. People went wild when he appeared. Everybody wanted to represent him. A kind of bidding war happened. Things got ugly. A guy who managed him was found in two barrels.

In setting up the scene when Johnny goes on stage, Tom Rhys Harris swiveled his hips to get in the groove; put his hands down his pants to ‘fluff’ himself up; then flung himself over a railing to jump on the stage below. Talk about a dramatic entrance. No stairs for this guy.

Brendan Coyle (a long way away from Mr. Bates on “Downton Abbey”) played the brains of one of the groups. Ben Wishaw, who usually plays slight, sensitive men, was unrecognizable as one of the toughs. A fabulous production.


At the Trafalgar Studios, London England

Written by Henrik Ibsen

Directed and adapted by Richard Eyre

Designed by Tim Hatley

Lighting by Peter Mumford

Sound by John Leonard.

Starring: Adam Kotz

Jack Lowden

Brian McCardie

Charlene McKenna

Lesley Manville

As Mrs. Alving, Lesley Manville was glorious. She can assume a look of sadness, despair, joy with a tinge of ‘something’ and yet never give it away. You didn’t see the last scene in her first entrance.

The design/set/lighting etc. were the other stars. Dark, forbidding walls then became slowly transparent with light as a glass wall appeared where we thought there was wood.  I love the ache of the play; the trapped, gasping characters. The sins of the father heaped down on his innocent son. That Ibsen knew his way around a woman’s heart and mind.

Jeeves & Wooster in Perfect Nonsense

At the Duke of York’s Theatre, London, England

Written by The Goodale Brothers

From the works of P.G. Wodehouse.

Directed by Sean Foley

Designed by Alice Power

Lighting by James Farncombe

Music and sound by Ben and Max Ringham

Starring Matthew Macfadyen

Stephen Mangan

The story is impenetrable, complicated, and hilarious. Bertie Wooster, that upper-class twit, was played by the lively, toothsome Stephen Mangan. The always calm, efficient, wily Jeeves was played by a totally contained Matthew Macfadyen. With a purse of his lips, a raise of his eyebrows, and a slow pan to the audience, Macfadyen spoke volumes but said nothing.  These two actors played all the characters, both men and women, sometimes at the same time. At one point the set was changed when a hook attached to a wall of the set was then attached to a stationary bicycle and one of them peddled like mad, and the set then revolved to reveal another location. Great silliness.

Emil and the Detectives

At the National Theatre, London, England

Written by Erich Kästner

Adapted by Carl Miller

Directed by Bijan Sheibani

Designed by Bunny Christie

Lighting by Lucy Carter

Movement by Aline David

Music by Paul Englishby

Sound by Ian Dickinson

Starring a cast of thousands it seems, and one of three Emils (I think I had Daniel Patten)

Emil was going to his relatives by train. His mother gave him some food for the journey and money for his relatives. A scumbag thug on the train stole the kid’s money. When  Emil arrived at his destination the word went out to all the kids in the town about the theft an the need to get it back. The kids rallied. The scumbag was caught. The whole thing looked like a film noir setting. Loved it.

This is the show I was seeing when, at intermission, Andrew told his girlfriend Emily (sitting next to me) that they would honeymoon in Venice but would live in Pasadena. Emily seemed agreeable. Then Andrew announced he wanted to get married when he was 24. That gave them 15 years to plan it all, Andrew pointed out, because he is currently nine.

Happy Days

At the Young Vic

Written by Samuel Beckett

Directed by Natalie Abrahami

Designed by Vicki Mortimer

Lighting by Paule Constable

Sound by Tom Gibbons

Movement by Joseph Alfond

Starring: David Beames

Juliet Stevenson

I saw the second or third preview. Not fair to comment. Never mind. This was one of the best productions of this hard play I have ever seen. Vickie Mortimer designed a mound of earth at the bottom of a craggy cliff. Every time the bell rang with its teeth-gritting sound, pebbles would trickle down the cliff. This takes away any mystery as to how Winnie got buried up to her waist. Even in repose, bent down over the mound, Juliet Stevenson as Winnie, looked like it was an unrestful sleep. The jollity was forced. The tenacity of Winnie was heartbreaking and impressive.

In Act II Winnie should be up to her neck in dirt. Here she wasn’t. She was up to her chin—much worse.  When Winnie screamed twice in Act II, to release tension, get rid of angst, the stones trickled more and faster. That made me heartsick. To be stuck, trapped, desperate to release a desperation by screaming, and the scream loosens pebbles that are slowly burying you. God! As Willie, Winnie’s consort, David Beames is masterful  — present but absent, trying to help and failing. The director is Natalie Abrahami. Brilliant.





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