Finally writing up theatre reviews from Jan/Feb (and 31 December).
My Fair Lady, Sheffield Crucible (trailer here)
I saw this on New Year's Eve and only haven't written it yet because I liked it so much I couldn't possibly do justice to it. The retviews were fantastic, and so was the show: three hours of entertainment, three days of talking about it. I love My Fair Lady, and this was simply a perfect production (helped perhaps by a perfect theatre - there's nothing like a great view and leg-room for allowing one to concentrate on the stage). Fantastic direction, a huge amount of energy on stage (and an excellent unseen band), and great acting all round. Dominic West was a wonderfully self-satisfied Higgins, very much the eligible bachelor on every front but his personality. Carly Bawden, in her first major role, was a lovely Eliza; in a way I don't think there's a lot you can do with Eliza in MFL (as opposed to Pygmalion), but get it right, but oh you really have to get it right. Pickering was Anthony Calf (cue my spending the first half thinking "what have I seen that actor in?"), and a pleasant change from Pickering as "the nice one": this Pickering might have had manners, but his engagement with Eliza was still very with her as the object of the experiment.
A final thought: I would love to see a production that used the erotic potential in "I could have danced all night". Yes, it's supposed to be innocent ebullience, but just think how you could sing the line "I could have spread my wings, and done a thousand things I'd never done before".
Julius Caesar, Donmar Warehouse
In the queue for the toilets after the (interval-less) performance:
Enter late-fifties woman, to join the queue.
LFW: hesitantly Can you tell me - was that good? Because I've never been to Shakespeare like that before. I thought it was really good, but I don't know.
Late-sixties woman (posher): I nearly didn't come. shakes head at own folly I thought, all-women Shakespeare, I'm not going to see that, it's not authentic. When he wrote it it was all men and I'd see that, but not women*. But then my friend said she had a ticket, and would I go with her - and I'm so glad!
I don't know Julius Caesar well - i.e. I read it once 12 years ago, and my Roman history is awful, too - but this was terrific. The conceit was a play within a play, a group of inmates in a women's prison putting on the performance; strange to begin with, it quickly felt natural. Strong direction and great performance all round. Jenny Jones (Cassius) was new to men, and I'd love to see her again, perhaps in Ibsen. Harriet Walter has always done tortured decency well, and was brilliantly intelligent as Brutus - the murder of Caesar, with the conspirators wearing scarlet rubber gloves was more powerful than the description makes it sound! I want to see her as Coriolanus. Frances Barber's Caesar was a cunning thug; I want to see her play Thomas Cromwell in the forthcoming Mantel adaptations. Why not? She's short, heavy-set, and looks like a murderer.
Privates on Parade, Noel Coward Theatre
What can I say? I have now seen Simon Russell Beale as Ariel, Captain Terri Dennis, Carmen Miranda, and Marlene Dietrich**, the last three in the same play. I have also now seen SRB in a g-string, a considerable improvement on Ariel's blue Mao suit. I ended up a POP on account of not being able to face something intellectual and War Horse being full, and I had seen a leaflet. It turned out to be both a lot of fun, and surprisingly serious. I could do without the extremely rude songs still stuck in my head several weeks later, though.
Rutherford and Son, Oxford Playhouse
There goes Hemingway. The new family irritating trait is channelling Barrie Rutter as a tyrannical northern patriarch in response to everything. "Croissants? Have I slaved for years in the glassworks to give you croissants?" Rutter can't really be a tyrant (notwithstanding that he's a good old-fashioned Actor-Manager) because it seems implausible that if he were, he would have sustained the Northern Broadsides*** company for twenty years, but he's certainly good at playing one. Githa Sowerby's play isn't quite Tyneside Ibsen, though conversation about what would have happened had it been Ibsen provides an interesting way of viewing the piece, but it's a solid piece of work and well worth the revival. It's the story of a tyrannical northern patriarch (arguably the son rather than the father of the title), who manages the family glassworks. Ruling the family with a rod of iron, he one by one drives his three disappointing children away, but is finally dealt with (in the business sense) by his previously meek daughter-in-law, who free from the burden of family feeling is able to approach him in a way he can understand and win his respect.
*Note that she was not troubled by the inauthentic mixed-gender casting. It is no less authentic for Harriet Walter to play Brutus than Rosalind/Beatrice/Lady Macbeth.
**See Colin Baker as the same.
***Their photography is done by a man named Nobby Clark. You couldn't make it up.