Posts Tagged ‘Noel Coward Theatre’

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.

Enron, Royal Court Theatre, October 2009

18 October, 2009

ENRON-web

With its sound effects, lighting, and occasional choreography this was the Sesame Street version of the Enron story, explained for those who missed the real thing. It was educational, showing the rise of the company under chairman Ken Lay, a glad-hander who had little idea of how the Enron bubble expanded nor why it was bound to implode. Lucy Prebble’s stage drama starts by focusing on the competition and sexual frisson between Jeffrey Skilling and Claudia Roe, showing Lay to be a decisive gambler who chooses Skilling to be the new chief executive, with his wild ideas of trading energy rather than producing it, as Roe wanted to do. Skilling then turns the aggressively ambitious Andy Fastow into chief financial officer so he can pursue his mad ideas of creating the Raptors — almost wholly owned subsidiaries of Enron — for swallowing debt. These extraordinary beasts, in which only a minority share of a minority share of a minority share was backed by real money, are well-staged as humans with alligator heads. For a public company the accountants, in this case Arthur Anderson, have to sign off on such creative accounting, and their doing so led to their own collapse.

As to the collapse of Enron itself we were shown how desperately they needed George Bush to win the 2000 presidential election to give them the deregulation of the Energy industry they’d been banking on to pay off the Raptors. In the process they failed, but screwed California, a folly that should never have happened if Ken Lay had half the political nous he imagined he had. Bush, who referred privately to Lay as ‘Kenny Boy’, had more important things to do than rescue him or his house of cards, and while Skilling got out before things went publicly pear-shaped, Lay continued to talk up the company to everyone. He and Skilling both screwed the employees, whose pension funds were tied up in Enron stock that became valueless as their jobs disappeared and the company went belly up.

This play showed a great deal about the rise of Enron, but omitted the story on how Lay, Skilling and Fastow were nailed. Living in America, I well remember in December 2002 being asked by English ingénues whether I really thought anyone would ever be convicted for the Enron fiasco. I replied that they already had, and the point is that Americans were apoplectic about this nonsense. It was criminal, and was prosecuted the same way a major crime family, or conspiracy, would be prosecuted. First you go for the smaller fry, giving them light sentences in return for cooperation so you can bring down larger game, until eventually you reach the top. This is what happened, but by the time they got to Ken Lay he conveniently died, leaving his wife with their ill-gotten gains. Skilling is now in prison, but his appeal is pending before the supreme court for sometime in 2010.

Samuel West did an excellent job of portraying Skilling as a man driven by a conviction he could outsmart everyone else, and really wasn’t guilty of anything worse than being a victim to forces beyond his control. Tim Pigott-Smith was Ken Lay, with his Texan accent and cheerful demeanour, sailing smooth seas and blithely unaware of the raptors beneath. Tom Goodman-Hill portrayed Andy Fastow, showing him to be a small man, rather like a graduate student whose PhD thesis wouldn’t even get him a receptionist’s job at the US Treasury, and Amanda Drew played Claudia Roe as a very smart, very sexy and attractive lady, who was lucky to be sacked when she was.

The whole thing was well directed by Rupert Goold, with clever designs by Anthony Ward. I particularly liked the ‘alligator’ raptors, and the Lehmann Brothers appearance with two men in one coat. Despite slight misgivings, it was an evening that didn’t drag for a minute, and like Sesame Street kept the audience entertained while informing them of the basics they ought to know.

In 2010 this is playing at the Noel Coward Theatre in London’s West End.