Posts Tagged ‘Henry Goodman’

A Walk Through the End of Time, Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond, November 2012

20 November, 2012

In Summer 1940 as a member of the French forces, Olivier Messiaen became a POW at Stalag VIII-A in Silesia. The future looked extremely bleak and he composed Quartet for the End of Time, performed by himself and three fellow prisoners in January 1941. “Never have I been listened to with so much attention and understanding”, he later recalled.

The circumstances of composition dictated the instruments: piano, violin, cello and clarinet, with the piano played by Messiaen, and the clarinet by Henri Akoka, both of whom are background characters in this two-hander by Jessica Duchen. She originally wrote it for the opening of a new performance space at St. Nazaire in France to celebrate the centenary of Messiaen’s birth, and as a prelude to the quartet. Here at the Orange Tree in Richmond it was followed by a brief presentation and question and answer session by Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, a survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau and later Bergen-Belsen.

Harriet Walters and Henry Goodman

Ms. Duchen’s play was performed in a ‘rehearsed reading’ by Henry Goodman and Harriet Walters, who brought their characters beautifully to life. She the daughter of a man who was imprisoned with Messiaen, he a scientist with a strong religious faith, meeting again before a concert of the quartet, having not seen one another since their divorce twenty-five years ago. At that time she glimpsed the possibility of something different from the spiritual journey he was making, and left him, “I needed more” she said. “Because your father did so much more than we ever could”, came the response. A good point perhaps, but they were far apart in a way illuminated by his admiration for Messiaen’s religious beliefs, “Messiaen believed in God”. “And my father believed in man. Like me!”

He is Messiaen, she Akoka, a spirited and witty musician with a great sense of humour and an ability to hang on to his own clarinet through thick and thin. After leaving Stalag VIII-A and being transported by cattle truck on suspicion of being Jewish, which he was, he escaped through the roof and jumped from the moving train, clarinet in hand.

Should we applaud Akoka’s pragmatism, or Messiaen’s religiosity? Both are valid but music transcends them, and as she says about the quartet, “I had a longing for an emotion I knew must exist because it’s in the music”. At this point a performance of the quartet would be perfect, but the play stands on its own and should be performed more often. At one hour long it is only slightly shorter than another two-hander currently winning four star reviews in the West End, but it is far deeper and far more compelling. Let us hope this ‘rehearsed reading’ is the prelude to something further.

For details about the background to Ms. Duchen’s play see her article in The Independent.

The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, Minerva Theatre, CFT Chichester, July 2012

12 July, 2012

Bertolt Brecht wrote this play, parodying Hitler as Chicago mobster Arturo Ui, in less than a month in 1941 while awaiting his US visa in Helsinki. Other main characters represent various people Hitler either used or killed to get where he was. Its didacticism is intended for an American audience, and although the first act dragged a bit, the second proved to be far more riveting, and the acting was superb.

Nightclub musicians at the start, all images Manuel Harlan

Henry Goodman in the title role gave an extraordinary performance, showing a hunchback worthy of Richard III, and comic elements worthy of Peter Sellers. After a row among his accomplices when he says, “I want what’s best for you. And I know what’s best for you!”, he is left alone, and the scene with the piano was pure Inspector Clouseau. This is followed by a magnificent coup de theâtre brought on by the dramatic appearance of a 1930s car at night with headlights blazing.

Ui and right hand man Roma

William Gaunt gave a fine portrayal of the highly respected Dogsborough (Paul von Hindenburg), and some of the low-life Chicago accents were brilliant, particularly Michael Feast as Roma and Joe McGann as Giri (representing Ernst Röhm and Joseph Goebbels). Helpful notes in the programme tie the various scenes to historical facts from Hitler’s rise to power up until the Anschluss with Austria, represented here by the Chicago suburb of Cicero. In reality Cicero was ethnically Czech, but fiercely independent of Chicago, as Brecht doubtless knew. Lizzy McInnerny as the powerful lady of Cicero, wife of the murdered Dullfoot (Austrian Chancellor Dollfuss), made a welcome female addition to an mostly male cast, and her interactions with Hitler — I mean Ui — were carried off to perfection.

Ui on the way up

This excellent production by Jonathan Church ends with the dictator on a high podium, from which the cover is later torn off revealing the means by which he arrived there. In the meantime we have been treated to wonderful theatrical effects, well lit by Tim Mitchell, with very effective designs by Simon Higlett, and music by Matthew Scott that includes excerpts from Wagner: Siegfried’s funeral march in Act I, and the Pilgrims’ march from Tannhäuser just before the end.

The play was not staged until 1958, after Brecht’s death, but with the rise and fall of numerous dictators today — some comical like this one, some less so — productions are surely welcome. And finally the text allows Henry Goodman to remove his moustache and utter the ominous lines, “Do not rejoice in his defeat, you men. For though the world has stood up and stopped the bastard, the bitch that bore him is on heat again”.

Performances continue until July 28 — for details click here.