If you told someone about a show featuring depression and being the child of a suicidal mother, most responses would be, `oh, I don’t think so. Not for me. Sounds too depressing.’ They’d be so wrong. On the contrary, they’d be missing something so heart-warming and life affirming as to kick themselves they hadn’t seen it sooner.
Austin Pendleton apparently met and acted with Orson Welles. He never met `Larry’ Olivier or the two other parties to this backstage `comedy’ – the critic Ken Tynan and Olivier’s latest amour, Joan Plowright. He did however encounter Vivien Leigh, Olivier’s soon to be estranged wife. He never forgot her. Or Orson.
Lampedusa, the island at the southern tip of Italy. Junction of two worlds, North Africa and Europe. Site of ancient trade routes. And now with a different, unwanted cargo spilling onto its shores.
Not for nothing has `kafkaesque’ entered the lexicon as the best description of the frustrating minefield encountered in dealing with any corporate or bureaucratic business these days. Or the systemic invasions of privacy at every turn. Joseph K has become the exemplar of the anonymous, numberless state to which we can all now be condemned.
In the past, Gilman has dealt with the pressures on artists to succeed (Baseball), racism in the white ivy-league (Spinning into Butter) and this time tackles child protection and social workers. Heaven knows, the latter’s reputation here has been torn to shreds in recent years. Gilman’s social worker is, typically, hard-working, conscientious, very, very caring. And compromised.
Victorian essayist Thomas de Quincey described it as “perhaps the most superb work in the language”. More recently, scholar Paul Edmonson in his new, highly readable introduction to Shakespeare says the play is “as innovative as anything Shakespeare ever produced”.
Welsh Rugby captain Gareth Thomas was at the peak of his career when the roof fell in and he `came out’ as gay. Imagine. A sporting legend in the Welsh mining communities where rugby was second only to chapel in reverence. Rugby in Wales is a religion.
Klipdrift brandy, the `kick’ of choice for two Jo’burg teenagers, Thandi and Yolandi. Two `klippies’, as different as you can imagine from each other: Thandi, black, privileged, one parent background; Yolandi, white, tearaway with an alcoholic mother and smalltime criminal brother.
Alan Ayckbourn has always had a fascination with the mechanics of things. His plays, as a colleague once wrote, often resemble the internal intricacies of a Swiss watch. He just likes winding things up, seeing how far he can push dramatic possibilities and the occurrence of things happening simultaneously.
Willy Loman is to 20th century drama what Lear is to classical theatre. A titanic figure, he’s one of Arthur Miller’s greatest tragic creations. An achingly desolate symbol of the American dream gone sour, he stands, like Lear, as one of the summits of an actor’s career.
Three women are Joan. All trying to save history from itself. This is a highly physical, darkly funny and entrancing work of theatre.
Matchbox Theatre – An Evening of Short Entertainments (Hampstead Theatre, London) – review by Carole Woddis.
In his own elegant way, Michael Frayn has gone about his career questioning, pilloring and turning the chattering classes, the intelligentsia and middle class mores generally on their heads whilst celebrating them and theatre itself with rare, witty intelligence.