Posts Tagged ‘Anthony Calf’

The Deep Blue Sea, Chichester Festival Theatre, August 2011

4 August, 2011

A shilling in the meter, for those of us who remember, was essential to keep the gas and electricity going. Awfully annoying when the money runs out unexpectedly, but in this case it saves Hester’s life. She took sleeping pills and put on the gas deliberately.

Collyer and Hester, all photos Manuel Harlan

As Mrs. Page she complains about being a ‘golf widow’, but when she’s found half gassed to death it turns out she’s really Mrs. Collyer, estranged wife of the judge, Sir William, superbly played by Anthony Calf. He’d no idea where she was living, but as soon as he’s told he comes round immediately. He still cares, very much, but has pretended not to, “I thought my indifference would hurt your vanity”. At the end of Act I we find out why she chose this moment to commit suicide. We also meet her lover Freddie Page, beautifully played by John Hopkins. He’s an ex-test pilot, ex-RAF, with good looks and charm that exceed by a long way his ability to earn a living.

Freddie Page

The ultimate failure of their relationship is inevitable, but the ending remains very much in doubt at the start of Act III, which was prefaced by music from one of Britten’s four sea interludes. Mr. Miller, the ex-doctor, very ably portrayed by Pip Donaghy, is the key to hope. He seems to understand her, “Most people commit suicide to escape. You do so because you feel you’re unworthy”. There is more where that comes from, “To live without hope is to live without despair”. Donaghy was excellent, as was Susan Tracy as Mrs. Elton the landlady. She is the epitome of common sense in this wonderful play by Terence Rattigan.

The trouble for me was that I didn’t really care whether Hester lived or died. As Mr. Miller says, “The purpose of life is to live”, but she seemed to lack a vitality that must have attracted Freddie in the first place. Amanda Root played Hester very naturally as a precise and sensitive woman caught up in an affair she thinks means everything, and you can see why she falls for Freddie, though not why he falls for her. That would seem to be an essential ingredient, and while the director Philip Franks did a terrific job with Rattigan’s Nijinsky this didn’t achieve the same theatrical impact.

Mr. Miller and Hester

A movie of this story starring Rachel Weisz as Hester is due out later this year. In the meantime performances at Chichester continue until September 3 — for details click here.

The White Guard, National Theatre, Lyttelton, May 2010

16 May, 2010

Stalin loved this play by Mikhail Bulgakov about the aftermath of the revolution in 1917. It’s set in Bulgakov’s home town of Kiev, capital of the Ukraine, which had achieved autonomy in 1917, before becoming a founder member of the Soviet Union in 1922. He’d served as a doctor during the second half of the First World War, and writing later about the years between 1917 and 1920 he said, “The inhabitants of Kiev reckon that there were eighteen changes of power. Some stay-at-home memoirists counted up to twelve of them. I can tell you that there were precisely fourteen, and what’s more I personally lived through ten of them”.

In 1920 he wrote a play about these confusing events, called The Turbin Brothers (the name Turbin came from his mother’s side of the family), but destroyed it, and during 1921–23 turned it into a novel, The White Guard. In 1925 he adapted the novel as a play for the Moscow Art Theatre, and after the censor passed it, with various cuts and additions, the premiere took place in 1926, under the title, The Days of the Turbins. This play, full of pathos and humour expressing the confusion and misplaced sense of honour surrounding the aftermath of the revolution, became a huge success, but the critics were almost entirely hostile, and in 1929, after Stalin made adverse comments about Bulgakov’s work, it was taken off. Then in 1932, Stalin, who had already seen the play numerous times, casually enquired why they were no longer performing it. The theatre immediately put it on again, and in 1934 at its five hundredth performance, wrote to Bulgakov that, “The Turbins has become another Seagull for the new generation . . .”. But it was not to last, and as Bulgakov’s wife Elena wrote in her diary in 1937 and 1938, “Today in Pravda there was an article . . . about the Moscow Art Theatre. There was not a single word in it about The Turbins, and when they listed the Soviet-era dramatists who have been performed in the Art Theatre, Bulgakov’s name wasn’t even there!”

This new production of The Turbins, now called The White Guard, has been adapted by Andrew Upton.  Its large cast of over twenty was headed by Richard Henders and Justine Mitchell, who brilliantly played the roles of Nikolai Turbin and his sister Lena, a sympathetic woman much adored by all the men staying in the house. The last to arrive at the Turbin household is the student and poet, Larion, very well portrayed as a bit of klutz and dreamer by Pip Carter. The Hetman — the Ukrainian leader — who flees under the protection of the Germans, was strikingly played, almost as a Yes Minister character by Anthony Calf, and his aide-de-camp Leonid, the only occupant of the house in whom Lena has any romantic interest, was very well portrayed as a man of the world by Conleth Hill. Good direction by Howard Davies, and the designs by Bunny Christie gave a fine sense of space to the Turbins’ apartment and a claustrophobic sense to the spaces occupied by the military. They were complemented by Neil Austin’s excellent lighting, and the production was enhanced with music arranged by Dominic Muldowney.

Performances continue until July 7, and the £3 programme is a gem containing helpful excerpts and comments by Julie Curtis of Wolfson College, Oxford. The quotations I wrote above are all taken from her notes.

The Power of Yes, National Theatre, January 2010

9 January, 2010

In Spring 2009 the National Theatre asked David Hare to write a play about the financial crisis precipitated on 15th September 2008. That was when the US Government rejected an appeal to rescue Lehmann Brothers in New York, and liquidity between banks collapsed. The result is this play about a writer trying to get to grips with what happened and why. He has meetings with numerous experts and important players, including that magnificent Hungarian guru, George Soros, who tells us how he learned from his father all about the Russian revolution, a lesson he never forgot. Things can go suddenly very badly wrong, defying the self-professed experts, who can’t imagine that the worst-case scenarios will ever happen. This is backed up by another of his interlocutors, David Freud, a government advisor who now works with the Conservative opposition, when he mentions his father leaving Austria in 1938, the year of the Anschluss with Nazi Germany. By contrast many of the bankers were unable to see what was coming because of a lack of historical perspective, and in the case of the Royal Bank of Scotland boss, an acquisitions geek named Fred Goodwin, couldn’t see anything beyond their own aggrandisement.

The powerful people who attract the most contempt are the previous British Chancellor of the Exchequer — now Prime Minister — Gordon Brown, and to a slightly lesser extent the previous Federal Reserve Chairman, Alan Greenspan, with his zeal for Ayn Rand’s book Atlas Shrugged. The governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King also attracts a few negative comments, but otherwise the author’s interlocutors come over as sensible, intelligent people who were caught up in events beyond their control. David Hare has constructed a play that gives the audience a nuanced insight into what happened and why, and it should be required viewing for anyone who thinks it was all simply a question of greed.

Most of the performance took place on an empty stage, with only the occasional chair, and at the end two chairs and a long table, to disturb the clear telling of a story. It worked very well, with a large cast headed by Anthony Calf as the author. He was entirely convincing, as were the other actors, some of whom appeared in different roles. The exits and entrances came fast on one another, giving the story drive and urgency. I liked Bruce Myers as George Soros, and he has the last word in recounting a conversation with Alan Greenspan in Zürich, when he flatly contradicted Greenspan’s airy optimism. Perhaps the man who invented the phrase “irrational exuberance” had a little of it himself.

Wallenstein, at Chichester, June 2009

7 June, 2009

Wallenstein

This was adapted by Mike Poulton from Schiller’s trilogy: Wallenstein’s CampThe Piccolomini and Wallenstein’s Death. The story takes place during the chaotic Thirty Years’ War (1618–48) when Wallenstein, fighting on behalf of the Austrian emperor was a brilliantly successful general, inspiring loyalty and admiration among his troops. He was superbly played by Iain Glen, showing his over-trusting nature and impulsiveness. His wife Elizabeth, his daughter, and his wife’s sister, the redoubtable Countess Terzky were all well portrayed by Jessica Turner, Annabel Scholey and Charlotte Emmerson. His daughter falls in love with a young colonel, Max Piccolomini, excellently acted by Max Irons. He is almost a surrogate son to Wallenstein, and is the only character invented by Schiller, while the rest, including his father Octavio Piccolomini, very cleverly played by Anthony Calf, were real figures of history. Among the other generals, Count Terzky was skilfully represented by Paul Hickey, and Buttler, who kills Wallenstein off-stage was strongly played by Denis Conway.

This adaptation by Mike Poulton gave a fine insight into the strengths and weaknesses of Wallenstein, showing his enthusiasm for astrology, which caused fatal hesitation in waiting for the right omens. He was murdered in 1634 by those plotting against him, and this formed a strong but bloody end to the play. The direction by Angus Jackson kept the action moving rapidly. The costumes by Sian Harris were excellent, and the wonderfully realistic fight sequence, involving Max and a drunken general, was brilliantly arranged by Terry King.