Quoting old reviews
A new production of Coward’s The Vortex opened at the Rose Theatre in Kingston on Wednesday; but even before it opened there was a quote on the website trumpeting its virtues: “An evening that memorably moves from cocktail and laughter to the rawest of drama” – The Daily Telegraph. But that quote comes not from a review for this production but for one that Charles Spencer wrote for the last West End revival of the play in 2008, starring Felicity Kendal and a pre-Downton Dan Stevens.
But will the Rose Theatre production likewise “memorably move from cocktail and laughter to the rawest of drama”? That’s very much a judgement on the particular staging rather than the play itself. This new production may or may not be similarly memorable.
Later this year, the Rose is also reviving Peter Nichols’s A Day in the Death of Joe Egg. When Charlie Spencer reviewed the play’s last West End revival in 2001, he wrote, “Watching Laurence Boswell’s fine revival you are left in no doubt that it is a modern classic.” Will the Rose therefore be similarly tempted to suggest, “You are left in no doubt that it is a modern classic”? But another production may create doubts instead of dispel them.
Attacking the audience
The Sunday Times‘s restaurant critic AA Gill is often spotted in the stalls – most recently at The Judas Kiss, where playwright David Hare saw him in the audience and, says Gill, “had his PR ring the Culture editor to say that he’d spied me in the auditorium, and wanted to know what I was doing”. Gill replies, “Well, mainly what I was doing was adding a little style to the groundlings, and lowering the average age.”
What he wasn’t doing was reviewing the show. Instead, he chose to review the audience – despite the fact that he was actually writing a review of a restaurant, the Cafe Royal, once frequented by Wilde (hence the spuriously manufactured link). And this is what he found:
I do wish theatre audiences would make more of an effort. Obviously, they can’t help being old and smelling faintly of wee, but really there is no excuse for them all to have made their own clothes out of hessian sacks and Peruvian llama blankets. And perhaps the women might forgo the jewellery, wittily constructed from distressed cutlery and the pebbles out of Virginia Woolf’s pockets.
And maybe we should restrict walking sticks to just one per pair of legs. If you are in the final, livid flourish of consumption, wouldn’t it be better to stay at home, nurse a warm sputum jar and go through the photo album, yet again wondering who all those dull people are?
Audiences should try to add a little glamour to the stalls. They could start by hoovering the dandruff so that their shoulders didn’t sparkle like the tundra in moonlight. And the man in front of me might have clipped his ear hair, or at least combed out the lumps. It was like vardering nancies through a hedge.
When he finally gets to the mention the play, he says, “The play itself is a pipe-sucking cardigan, rather in tune with its audience.”
All of which is, no doubt, highly amusing to Gill, if not necessarily his readers who might wonder if instead of vardering nancies, they’re reading a nonce (in the current, colloquial sense of the term to mean idiot, not child sex abuser). I found Michael Coveney’s reply to Gill’s attack far funnier.
Coveney happened to run into Gill’s mum, an actress and speech teacher Yvonne Gilan at Chalk Farm station the other day, and reports, “She could hardly contain herself with excitement over her visit to Julius Caesar at the Donmar Warehouse. She really is a game old girl, and her hessian sack looked jolly smart to me, and not smelly at all…. ” And of the audience that Gill had despised so much, he added,
But, d’you know what? I’d rather sit with a crowd of retired teachers and social workers from Palmer’s Green and the Surrey suburbs than a smart crowd of puffed up tarts from the society pages of the glossy magazines for whom Gill, a mincing mannequin with a gimlet eye, is chief cheerleader and Notting Hill trend-setter.
He alone among his own crowd would even know or care who David Hare, let alone Oscar Wilde, really was. My impression at The Judas Kiss was that the moth-eaten, elderly charity shop-dwellers, admirably represented as a type by Gill’s own mother, had gone along to the theatre not just to be seen, or assessed by critical smart alecs, but to engage with the work of a leading playwright and the legend of a genius. Whiffy or well-dressed, the Judas Kiss audience is the most attentive in town.
Obituary of the Week: Richard III
He’s already been immortalised in one of Shakespeare’s greatest historical plays, but now the discovery of the skeleton of Richard III has provoked a brilliant revised obituary in The Economist:
No viper, toad or hedgehog; no unformed bear-whelp, or lump of foul deformity. Instead, the man dug up from the car park of Leicester Social Services in September had, for the most part, an ordinary shape. His height was a little above average for the time when he had lived. His limbs were regular and delicate—almost feminine, the scientists said. Pace Shakespeare, there was no withered arm. There was, however, a severely sideways-twisted spine, the result of scoliosis that had probably emerged in adolescence. It would have put one shoulder higher than the other, making him stand shorter than he was. He might have needed extra cushions in his chairs, and extra tugs when putting on those robes of green velvet and crimson cloth of gold so lovingly detailed in his orders to the Wardrobe. But then a king would get that sort of help anyway.
…Yet all the CT scans, environmental sampling and DNA analysis in the world cannot reveal whether, when he kissed the small nephews whose guardian he ostensibly was, he really meant it, or whether he was already contemplating an order that would snuff them out.
Playwright quote of the week
Anders Lustgarten, whose new play If You Don’t Let Us Dream, We Won’t Let You Sleep begins performances at the Royal Court tonight (prior to an official opening next Wednesday), interviewed by Richard Godwin in the Evening Standard on Wednesday:
If I had come to theatre through the conventional middle class road, I would never have had any interest in it. My mum took me to a David Hare play for my 18th birthday and I was sat there thinking: ‘WHAT is this? I didn’t go again for another 10 years.
…I’ve been to many plays where I think ‘This isn’t for me, but I can tell it’s a well-crafted piece of work.’ But there’s so much stuff that you just think: ‘This is SHIT. Why is this on? And why has it got five stars?…. What was that horrendous Tom Stoppard piece of shit? Rock’n’Roll. That was a disgraceful play.
Director quotes of the week
Stephen Daldry, whose return to the theatre as director of Peter Morgan’s The Audience starts previews tonight at the Gielgud, interviewed in last Sunday’s Observer:
On his approach to work:
Whatever you do, it’s always got to be the most exciting thing in the world. Repetition is the fear. You don’t want to recycle, repeat the same old ideas. That’s why directors have a short shelf life.
On dealing with criticism (with particular reference to his Oscar-nominated film Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close):
Some people liked the film and a lot of people didn’t, and that’s just life. It’s disingenuous to say that criticism doesn’t get to you or you don’t hear it or that you ignore it. When everybody says, ‘That’s crap. I hated that,’ you hear it. But it’s much, much worse when they’re right: when you feel that it is an absolute piece of tosh. I made the film I wanted to make, so you just have to find a way of getting over it.
On theatre vs film:
I’m a theatre person, that’s who I am. I’m happy to make sojourns into the world of movies but I’m basically a theatre director that potters off and does a couple of movies. I’ve never been to Hollywood. I can count the number of times I’ve been to Los Angeles on my hands. I’ve never made a movie there and I’ve never been there for working reasons. The only reason to go there is for silly awards shows.
On splitting his life between London and New York::
In terms of carbon footprint, it’s obscene how many times I cross the Atlantic. And treating it as if you were going to Bristol is slightly insane.