Posts Tagged ‘Nancy Carroll’

After the Dance, National Theatre, NT Lyttelton, June 2010

9 June, 2010

“I love you, now change” is not a line in this play, but the young Helen lives this cliché, and at first seems to make it believable. Within a month she’s fallen in love with David Scott-Fowler and manages to get him to stop the drinking that’s destroying his liver. Her determined superficiality shatters her fiancé Peter Scott-Fowler, upends David’s 12 year marriage, and destroys his wife Joan. While these people wear the masks of gaiety and jest, and seem almost to have become their masks, reality persists beneath the surface, and the only person to fully comprehend it is John Reid, who lives with David and Joan in their spacious London flat as a self-confessed court jester, with a strong penchant for the drinks tray.

David with Helen

In the end it is John who tells David the truth about himself that kills the incipient marriage to Helen, and returns him to his former life, now as a widower. In the meantime we are treated to superb acting. Adrian Scarborough is brilliant as John, and Benedict Cumberbatch and Nancy Carroll are entirely convincing as the ever cool David and his wife Joan, who loves him but gaily pretends to be just as cool, so as not to bore him. Faye Castelow portrays Helen as a bossy little ingénue, and John Hefferman is a rather edgy Peter, who tries to take life seriously, but doesn’t quite succeed.

David playing Avalon for Joan

What I loved about this fine production by Thea Sharrock, apart from the spacious and elegant designs by Hildegard Bechtler, was the music. Certainly the play features the 1920s foxtrot ‘Avalon’ towards the end of each act, but the melody was pinched from Puccini, albeit in a disguised form, and in this production we also hear the original. For those who know it, this is powerfully suggestive because it’s the music behind E lucevan le stelle from the opera Tosca. Cavaradossi sings it before he dies, knowing that these are his last moments, and it was played here just before Joan goes out to the balcony on her own, never to return, and again at the end when David decides to return to the drinking that will destroy him.

This riveting play by Terence Rattigan had the misfortune to open in June 1939, shortly before war was declared, and when the country’s mood rapidly changed it was taken off. So it failed to enjoy a good run, and Rattigan left it out of the collected plays he published in 1953. It’s been somewhat ignored for that reason, but this production and cast do it full justice, and I recommend booking tickets before word gets out.

Performances continue until August 11th — for details click here.

Arcadia, Duke of York’s Theatre, June 2009

13 June, 2009

Arcadia

This Tom Stoppard play cleverly juxtaposes the modern world with the early nineteenth century, and in particular modern literary scholarship and mathematics with the earlier emphasis on literary creativity, classical study and scientific enquiry. In the early period we have a very clever girl of 16 named Thomasina, played by Jessica Cave, and her tutor Septimus Hodge, wittily played by Dan Stevens, along with a poet, and others. These early nineteenth century characters are juxtaposed in the modern world by a dreadful literary academic named Bernard Nightingale, played by Neil Pearson, along with an author named Hannah, wittily played by Samantha Bond, and a clever but rather intense mathematician named Valentine, very ably portrayed by Ed Stoppard.

Hannah is doing a book about the history of the Derbyshire country estate where all the action takes place, and Bernard visits with questions about Byron staying there in the early nineteenth century, and some slightly daft and ultimately irrelevant ideas about was going on at the time. While Bernard and Hannah plumb the past, those in the past enquire about the future. Thomasina hits on the idea of the second law of thermodynamics to explain the arrow of time, whose direction is entirely absent from Newton’s laws of motion, which are the same going backwards or forwards. As she points out, you can stir jam into a rice pudding, but you can’t stir it out again, and the three laws of Thermodynamics have often been wittily stated as: you can’t win, you can’t break even, and you can’t get out of the game. The second law says that available energy gradually becomes unavailable, so that in the long run everything will be at ‘room temperature’ and the universe will die out. Thomasina also discusses mathematics with her tutor, and devises an iterated algorithm that Valentine, in the modern world with his Apple laptop, is able to use to create beautiful shapes of nature.

The ability to make this into theatre is Stoppard’s genius, and while the main passion is intellectual, he sprinkles sex into both periods. The women are keen for some fun, and in the early period a poet’s wife, whom we never see on stage, along with Lady Croom, elegantly played by Nancy Carroll, breathe sexual allure into the proceedings. In the modern world Hannah shows desire for the dreadful Bernard, and the young Chloë Coverly, charmingly played by Lucy Griffiths, shows a bright interest in things sexual as did her earlier incarnation as Thomasina, who starts the play off by asking her tutor what carnal embrace means. In the end she desires more than words from her tutor, but when she goes to bed with papers and a candle we realise this is where her room goes up in flames and her genius is lost forever.

This revival is by David Leveaux, with sets and lighting by Hildegard Bechtler and Paul Anderson, but on the Duke of York’s stage it is unfortunately more cramped than when I saw it at the National in 1993, and the impression of extensive gardens behind the house is lost. The acting was very good, though I would have preferred more charm from Jessica Cave as Thomasina, whose high-pitched voice resonated sharpness, while Neil Pearson could have made Bernard less obnoxious and more smugly clever, which may have kept things in better balance. But Samantha Bond, Ed Stoppard and Dan Stevens were a delight to watch.