Posts Tagged ‘Apollo Theatre’

Twelfth Night, Apollo Theatre, November 2012

8 November, 2012

In Shakespeare’s day a ‘Lord of Misrule’ would call for entertainment and songs on Twelfe Night, a tradition going back to the medieval Feast of Fools and even the Roman Saturnalia. His play celebrates this by making a fool of the miserable Malvolio, hilariously played here by Stephen Fry, with Sir Toby Belch and others representing the spirit of festive enjoyment.

Played with an all male cast, as in Shakespeare’s original, it was hugely illuminating and fun, particularly with the confusion of identities between Viola/Cesario and her twin brother Sebastian, whom she thought lost to a shipwreck. This production by Tim Carroll has transferred from the Globe where it was impossible to get tickets, and the seats on either side of the stage representing the Globe audience, along with musicians above the set, help to recreate the atmosphere of Shakespeare’s own theatre. As in that venue the performers danced together on stage at the end, rounding off a super evening’s entertainment. Delightful designs by Jenny Tiramani, well lit by David Plater, and the music by Claire van Kampen was ideal, with spontaneous applause from the audience after the musicians’ crescendo at the start of part two.

You won’t find a better cast for this huge bundle of fun. Peter Hamilton Dyer was a wily and bright-eyed jester, and Mark Rylance a cleverly subdued and pretty Olivia, very different from the bullish Orsino of Liam Brennan, who doesn’t seem to realise he fancies his servant Cesario, really Viola, beautifully played by Johnny Flynn as a girl disguised as a man. Here is the theatrical joy of an all-male cast, and Olivia’s servant Maria was gloriously played as a wittily assertive woman by Paul Chahidi. But then there are the real men, or people who think they’re real men, like the idiotic Sir Andrew Aguecheek hilariously portrayed by Roger Lloyd Pack, with Colin Hurley as Olivia’s rowdy cousin Sir Toby Belch. The two of them, along with James Garnon as Fabian, made a fine trio of jokers, listening in the tree house while Malvolio reads that mischievous letter.

At this point Stephen Fry was an utter delight, and the audience roared with applause as he hopped off after reading the letter, returning for the postscript. In the second part, thinking he’s on a winner and persistently smiling at Olivia, he came over as a sympathetic character, easily misled into believing he could raise his status. Of such errors is life made and entertainment provided, as Shakespeare knew so well. An iconic reading of the role in a wonderful production — get tickets if you can.

Performances continue until February 9, 2013 — for details click here.

Long Day’s Journey into Night, Apollo Theatre, London West End, April 2012

11 April, 2012

Had Eugene O’Neill’s written wishes been respected this autobiographical play would not be staged: “[It] is to be published twenty five years after my death — but never produced as a play”. As it was, unforeseen circumstances persuaded his widow to have the play published and performed, knowing the anguish he had gone through in writing it.

Suchet and Metcalf as father and mother, all images Johan Persson

The essentials involve a father, mother and two sons, the younger one appearing likely to die of tuberculosis. Yet despite this grim set-up, where the father and sons drink liberal amounts of whiskey, and the mother is a neurotic addicted to drugs, there is hope. And amidst the arguments, the shouting, the put-downs, and the face slapping there is truth. At the start of part two when evening has drawn in, David Suchet as the father James Tyrone, is alone in the sitting room. He is joined by his younger son Edmund, whose criticism of his miserliness gets the response, “You’re no great shakes as a son”. This is mild compared to some of the invective, but then there is the glorious moment when Edmund talks about his time at sea, being at one with the forces of nature, and Kyle Soller handles it beautifully. As his father tells him facts from long ago, there is something more than just anger and argument. There is sympathy, and understanding that our problems stem from the depths of experiences long past.

White, Suchet, Soller as father and sons

Eugene O’Neill’s own father, the model for James Tyrone, was a matinee idol, and though devoted to Shakespeare he became typecast in a stage version of The Count of Monte Cristo. Despite the financial success and security this brought him he had reason to feel dissatisfied with himself, yet seems to be surrounded by wastrel sons and a morphine addicted wife, who’s eventually away with the fairies. She was beautifully played by American actress Laurie Metcalf as a gentle, yet neurotic and self-pitying woman. It was a remarkable performance, and her eldest son James Jr was robustly portrayed by Trevor White, whose drunkenness in part two was pitch perfect. Very high quality acting from the whole cast, led by David Suchet’s sympathetic and convincing portrayal of the father, and with a lovely cameo by Rosie Sansom as the maid.

It may not be a comfortable evening in the theatre for those of us who have seen family problems at first hand, but I left with a sense of optimism knowing that Eugene O’Neill as the younger son survived the tuberculosis. He then went on to survive the other three who all died within three years of one another.  Direction by Anthony Page brought this disturbing drama to life, helped by the excellent designs and lighting of Lez Brotherston and Mark Henderson.

This is theatre at its best, and performances continue until August 18 — for details click here.

All My Sons, Apollo Theatre, London’s West End, September 2010

26 September, 2010

For a fistful of dollars would a man supply defective equipment to the front line of his own side in a war? Yes, because those dollars provide for his family, his sons, and his largesse to his neighbours. Such crooks can be good family men — think of the Mafia barons. But in this play, Joe Keller — brilliantly portrayed by David Suchet — is a warm character who loves everyone and would never stoop to any such shenanigans. Or so it appears. Arthur Miller wrote the play in 1945, and honed it to perfection before releasing it in 1947. Miller was a craftsman, with his hands as well as his pen, and saw this play as a make or break for him. It’s as close to perfection as you can get, and with direction by Howard Davies and a beautiful set by William Dudley, along with superb acting by the whole cast, it must be the best thing on the West End stage at the moment.

Zoë Wanamaker and David Suchet, photo by Nobby Clark

The play revolves around one character, Larry, who’s never on stage. He’s the son who disappeared during the war, but there was no body, no proof that he died, and his mother Kate — beautifully played by Zoë Wanamaker — refuses to believe he’s gone forever. She even gets a neighbour to construct an astrological chart to show he couldn’t have died on the day he disappeared. Stephen Campbell Moore was superb as the other son, Chris who survived the war, showing him to be the most reasonable, level-headed character you could imagine, and Jemima Rooper as the late Larry’s sweetheart Ann Deever was equally wonderful. They want to get married, but Kate won’t have it while Larry is still alive, and if she admits he’s dead . . . well her whole world will crash down. Why? When Daniel Lapaine as Ann’s brother George flies in to stop the marriage the audience hears another side of the story. Ann and George’s father, who was once Joe’s neighbour and business associate, went to prison for producing that defective equipment but George has just visited him and now thinks he’s innocent. Was he imprisoned unjustly? Can the wonderful, homely Joe Keller be the real culprit?

Ann, Joe, Chris and Kate, photo by Nobby Clark

Surely not, and they talk George round into being reasonable, until he eventually says, “I never felt at home anywhere but here”. But there’s more to come, including the issue of the impending marriage, and Kate’s denial that Larry is dead. So Ann is finally forced to bring out a letter from Larry she carries with her, and this leads to the final dénouement.

David Suchet, Zoë Wanamaker, and the others were so natural, I believed all the emotions I saw on display, and Miller’s play has a deft logic that packs a huge emotional punch. I came out feeling utterly drained . . . and I was merely in the audience! How do the actors do it — night after night?

Unfortunately there are very few nights left, as the run ends on October 2nd. It’s a sell-out of course, but worth any number of phone calls and trips to the theatre to get returns.