The Miser at Richmond Theatre review ***


The Miser

Richmond Theatre, 22nd February 2017

Just catching up with this from a few weeks ago prior to the current West End run at the Garrick Theatre.

Now comedy is a tricky business to get right. Moliere’s tale with satirical and farcical forebears by way of Plautus and Italy has all the stock scenes you might wish for. The cast is definitely up for it with a performance of great energy from Griff Rhys Jones, a sardonic turn as multiple characters from Lee Mack on his “proper” theatrical debut and sterling support from the likes of Matthew Horne, Kathy Wix and Andi Osho (for me the best performance here) all off the telly.

And the whole thing is brought together by the go-to director to deliver sure fire comedy theatre in Sean Foley. LD and I really enjoyed The Painkiller which he directed as part of Branagh’s last London season though I think the playwright Francis Veber combined with perfect roles for the comedy talents of Branagh himself and Rob Brydon (anyone remember Future Conditional) made Foley’s job easier. Otherwise though whilst the whole family enjoyed The Ladykillers and SO and I tolerated Mad World My Masters, nether set our pulses racing.

So how was this Miser. Well enough gags and visual humour stuck to raise a few laughs but it all felt a bit laboured and obvious to be honest. Not unenjoyable but not memorable. I think the play has the capacity to offer a satirical insight in today’s world with Harpagon’s worship of money but this was more Mrs Browns Boys than Father Ted if you get my drift. The obvious can be subtle just not here. But like I say comedy on the stage is really tough. Oh for another Old Vic Noises Off.

Sussex Modernism at Two Temple Place review ***


Sussex Modernism: Retreat and Rebellion

Two Temple Place, 15th February 2017

Just a quick shout out for this interesting, compact exhibition. For those who don’t know Two Temple Place it is a neo-Gothic, late Victorian mansion on the Embankment built for an Astor and full to the brim of OTT panelling, carving and painting. It puts on occasional exhibitions at the beginning of each year and this year it is a diverting journey through key British figurative artists of the first half of the C20.

Many of the artists represented here spent sizeable chunks of their working lives at various locations in Sussex hence the theme and many were associated with the Bloomsbury Group and latterly whimsical British surrealism. Sussex no doubt because the houses are nice and the rich toffs have always liked it and it was close to the capital. But also to be fair because the landscapes did offer material to feed the muse. But don’t expect any proletarian radicalism here.

What you do get though are 120 or so works by many of the key figures in British art through the 1920s to 1950s.My favourites are the sculptures from Eric Gill (we can still appreciate the art I think), some lovely Vanessa Bell works (including a perfect still-life and fine fabrics), an Eric Ravilious interior, landscapes and studies by John Piper, Edward Wadsworth and Paul Nash, watercolours by Edward Burra and some haunting photos by Lee Miller.

All in all worth a detour or a lunchtime trip if you work close by. And it’s free. On until 23rd April.

P.S. I note that a fair proportion of the works on show here come from the Towner Gallery in Eastbourne which is one of my absolute favourites. It always has interesting exhibitions informed by its permanent collection. Like the Turner Contemporary in Margate a great excuse when the sun comes out to get on the train, scoff some chips and ice cream, take a look at some of the shops set up by the East London bearded dispora and generally promenade. Lovely.

Hamlet at the Almeida review *****



Almeida Theatre, 11th March 2017

“…. but I’ve forgotten what Hamlet is about. 

It’s about a young man called Hamlet. And a girl called Ophelia who goes mad. And a ghost. And a Queen called Gertrude who gets poisoned. And a king called Claudius who gets stabbed. And a young man called Laertes who gets killed in a duel, and an old man called Polonius who gets killed by mistake.

I remember now. Not a Bright Piece …. “

From Henrietta Sees It Through by Joyce Dennys

The SO’s unparalleled reading of first half C20 memoirs turned up the above. A perfect spoiler/summary which tickled me. Hamlet may be the greatest play that big Will ever created but for me it still has some plot development that needs a deft directorial touch as well as, obviously, a believable psychological portrait from the Prince himself. That means a logic to the pile up of corpses, a Hamlet who loves Mummy and Daddy, reasons why Gertrude might love Claudius who therefore cannot just be just a weakling or a tw*t from the off, a Polonius who isn’t a total buffoon, an Ophelia who isn’t off with the fairies, a properly p*ssed off Laertes, good reasons why Hamlet might still have mates whilst his behaviour gets ever more erratic and preferably sotto voce reference to Norway and England.

For me this Hamlet ticked all the boxes and much. much more. I can’t pretend I have seen loads of great actors do their thing here nor can I remember vast swathes of the text. You can read the proper reviews to get all of that. But I can tell you that this is, in my view, about as good as Shakespeare gets.

Casting Andrew Scott as Hamlet if I am honest, probably didn’t require a massive leap of imagination. He looks the part (still sufficiently youthful) and surely was a shoe-in to play an unhinged mind based on previous work (oh alright based on his Moriarty on the telly as that is all I really know).

But OMG as the kids might say. Does he deliver. The conversational delivery meant I could savour almost every line and hear plenty that had not previously registered. There was an inevitability to his behaviour as events unfolded reinforced by the continuous animation in his face and hands . The petulance and narcissism that I want from a Hamlet was abundant. Let’s be honest he can be an annoying little s**t.

The relationships were perfectly pitched. The archness in the scenes with the actors, with Polonius, with Horatio and with the gravedigger were spot on. And the emotional tension created in the scenes with Gertrude, Ophelia and with Claudius (a gun and a dream, maybe – brilliant). And the soliloquies were perfectly delivered (and there are some cracking notes in the programmes about the psychology around voices in the head).

Hard for me to imagine better performances as well from a tactile Juliet Stevenson (Gertrude) especially as realisation turns into self-sacrifice, Jessica Brown Findlay (Ophelia), just edge of seat stuff with the herbs (a phrase your are unlikely to hear again!), Luke Thompson (Laertes), lump in throat in the final scenes with Hamlet, and Peter Wright (Polonius) a proper loving Dad and a vital right hand man. And for me Angus Wright’s (Claudius) more declamatory delivery fitted the nature of a chap who I think is rarely plagued with self doubt unlike his step-son.

The real genius though is director Robert Icke who is at the top of his game here. That’s not to stay he is infallible. Myself and BD (who was a massive Simpsons fan when she was a littlun) didn’t get on with Mr Burns where the concept drowned the characters for me, and whilst The Red Barn at the NT looked amazing I think the story was perhaps ultimately too thin, even as it passed through the hands of David Hare and the eyes of Mr Icke, to support the promise. 1984 though was brilliant, his Mary Stuart was absorbing and, for me, his Uncle Vanya was revelatory (I have not always got on with this), but even this was surpassed by Mr Icke’s Oresteia which was magnificent with the expanded prologue setting up the moral pickles and making the intervention of the gods gripping instead of a bit bonkers.

In this Hamlet the use of video is inspired not hackneyed, in the Ghost scene, in the play close-ups and in the conclusion, all reinforcing the the themes of surveillance and tine passing. The idea of Claudius’ confession as a dream is intriguing as is Ophelia’s breakdown from a wheelchair. There is mordant comedy in the Polonius/Hamlet scene. All in all lots of bang up to date ideas but which all serve a purpose.

Love it, love it, love it. And the good news. It is transferring to the Harold Pinter Theatre apparently. So no excuses now. Get a ticket.