Posts Tagged ‘Judi Dench’

Peter and Alice, Noël Coward Theatre, March 2013

25 March, 2013

Imagine yourself, as a child, the subject of a book — the protagonist in a series of whimsical adventures that happen around you. How would it affect your future life? Being true to yourself and dispensing with the image formed by millions of readers may be hard. And does it make any difference whether you’re a girl or a boy? In this play there is one of each, the Peter of Peter Pan and the Alice of Alice in Wonderland.

— check back later for images, when available —

They are quite different. Peter Llewelyn Davies and his four brothers were informally adopted by J M Barrie after their father’s death, and Barrie publicly indentified him as ‘the original Peter Pan’. By contrast, Alice Liddell, daughter of scholar Henry Liddell, Dean of Christ Church College, Oxford, was only twice in her life alone in the company of Rev Charles Dodgson (alias Lewis Carroll) who wrote the Alice books. At least that is what she says in this new play by Peter Logan.

The play refers to a break between Charles Dodgson and the Liddell family in June 1863 when Alice was 11, and associates this to Alice’s feeling uncomfortable in Dodgson’s company once when he took a photograph of her (he was a keen amateur photographer). But the central truth in this drama is a meeting between Peter and Alice that took place at Columbia University in America on the centenary of Dodgson’s birth in 1932 when Alice was 80. It was the first time that Peter Llewelyn Davies, aged 35, had met the widow Mrs. Alice Liddell Hargreaves, and Ben Whishaw and Judi Dench brought their characters very much to life.

As they talk, the young Alice and the young Peter join them, along with J M Barrie and Charles Dodgson, brilliantly played by Nicholas Farrell. Judi Dench brings out razor-sharp responses from Alice, as if she were one of the queens in Through the Looking Glass, overwhelming Peter with her intelligence and insight. As present meets past we see the proposal from her future husband Reginald Hargreaves, nervous that a girl from her intellectual background will simply dismiss him.

When the meeting between Peter and Alice took place, the First World War was over, and the world they grew up in was gone. We hear of Peter’s searing experience in that war, and at the end of the play we find out he committed suicide by jumping in front of an Underground train at Sloane Square in 1960. By contrast, Alice died peacefully two years after this meeting.

Good set and costume designs by Christopher Oram, and lighting by Paule Constable, served this Michael Grandage production very well. Fine acting — and I went for the actors — but I found its 90 minutes insufficiently compelling.

Performances continue until June 1 — for details click here.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Rose Theatre, Kingston-on-Thames, February 2010

21 February, 2010

There is an idea that Shakespeare had in mind Queen Elizabeth when writing the part of Titania, queen of the fairies, whose name is based on the Roman goddess Diana. The play was produced in about 1595, at a time when Shakespeare’s company, the Chamberlain’s Men, were regularly playing to Elizabeth’s court and it’s quite likely she saw it. In any event it was a masterstroke of Peter Hall to have Judi Dench play the part of Titania, and I found her entirely convincing. It is nearly fifty years since she first performed it under Hall’s direction with the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1962, but fairies are ancient beings, aren’t they — and fairy queens may be older than most.

The players, who rehearse in the woods and perform at the Duke’s court, were utterly delightful. Oliver Chris as Bottom, with a Brummie accent, was a wonderful ass, and his death scene in the frightful court performance of Pyramus and Thisbe was gloriously over the top. I also thought Timothy Speyer as Snug was superb with his round-eyes and broad Black Country accent, seemingly in awe of his more worldly fellow actors. The hopeless incompetence of the acting troupe was hilarious, and their marvellous comic timing had the audience in stitches.

The lovers were well played, with Annabel Scholey as Hermia, Rachael Stirling as Helena, and I particularly liked Tam Williams and Ben Mansfield as Lysander and Demetrius, the suitors. In the fairy realm, Reece Ritchie was an excellent Puck with his dark features, huge energy and mischievous attitude. The sets and costume designs by Elizabeth Bury, and the lighting by Peter Mumford, were both simple and effective, and the ass’s head gave Bottom an appealing nobility. The Rose Theatre usually has some empty seats, partly because of some poor sight-lines, but Judi Dench has made this a sell-out. If you can get tickets, it’s well worth seeing, not just for her, but because the whole cast gives a wonderful performance. This is the perfect antidote to the winter blues — it’s a riot, and two Americans in front of us were going for the second time that day!

Madame de Sade, in a Donmar production at Wyndham’s Theatre, May 2009

15 May, 2009

madamedesade

The interesting question about this production is why the Donmar decided to devote their excellent creative energies to this play, which is such poor theatre. Indeed it’s not so much a play as a sequence of philosophical discussions concerning the Marquis de Sade and why he had such a strong influence on some of the women close to him. There is little action. All conversations take place in the house of Madame de Montreuil, who was brilliantly played by Judi Dench. She is the mother of de Sade’s wife Renée, excellently portrayed by Rosamund Pike. There are four other actresses, and no male actors. Fiona Button plays Reneé’s sister, who waltzes off to Venice with de Sade at some point in the recent past, but we only hear of this, never see any of it, and the same is true of the rest of the non-drawing room activities. Frances Barber as the Comtesse de Saint-Fond starts the play out by cracking her riding whip, showing a fascination in all forms of sex, and it looks as if this may make interesting theatre. But her later death during a riot in Marseilles, in the early years of the French Revolution, is only recounted in conversation, describing how she became a street girl, a darling of the people, whose dead body was seen to show her as far older than her pretended age. Her original interlocutor Baroness de Simiane shows a prurient interest in the countess’s gossip, and eventually reappears as a nun who will take Renée into holy orders, but none of this works as theatre. The interaction between Judi Dench’s Madame de Montreuil and her daughters is very well done, as is the interaction with Fiona Button as the maid, and the costumes and sets designed by Christopher Oram are lovely. But without action there is nothing to hold our attention, and the only blessing is that it lasts no more than an hour and three quarters, without an interval. If there had been an interval the audience would very likely have diminished, and I’ve heard that Judi Dench and Rosamund Pike, who have the largest roles, are counting the days to the end of the run.

So why did they put this strange 1965 creation by Yukio Mishima, translated by Donald Keene, on stage? Apparently the director Michael Grandage found it fascinating, and having seen his recent work on Ivanov and Twelfth Night I was expecting something really engaging. But while de Sade himself may have appealed to masochists, I did not realise you had to be a theatrical masochist to sit through this stuff.