Claus von Bülow Theatre
As an erstwhile Broadway producer, who is now a threadbare theatre critic, I am insanely jealous of David Pugh. His show Art has run for years and his new production of Gerald Sibleyras’s Heroes is likely to do the same. With such successes a producer should be able to back some better and more venturesome plays with his profits. The economic formula is simple: find a foreign author, get our great Tom Stoppard to translate the script, with a maximum of three parts by celebrated and much-loved actors, add a dog (even if it is only made of stone) and have a storyline that will make even potato television addicts feel that having paid a lot for a theatre seat is tantamount to getting an Oxbridge double first.
Having got that off my chest, I admit that I had a very pleasant and enjoyable time at Heroes. Who wouldn’t? Richard Griffith
plays at being fat, John Hurt plays at being thin, and Ken Stott is agreeably barmy. I am a paid-up subscriber to the Daily Telegraph, largely because of its obituaries of war heroes and that is what we find on the Wyndham stage in an idyllic garden of a retirement home for French veterans from World War I.
Our three old damaged men talk of the nuns who watch over them and a little more evocatively about the local schoolgirls they would like to watch. The excellent directing by Thea Sharrock, the perfect timing and acting by these descendants of Dumas’s musketeers and Stoppard’s fine ear make more of this material than there really is. Ninety pleasant minutes, waiting, not for Godot, but for thunderous West End public applause.
The Albery Theatre’s location is of course back-to-back with the Wyndhan and its new show, Ducktastic is as amiably entertaining as Heroes. The public’s applause at both theatres is at the same decibel level. Similar formula really. Instead of three truly famous actors you get two equally celebrated comedians, Hamish McColl and Sean Foley
(who were last seen when impersonating Morecambe and Wise in The Play What I Wrote). Instead of invisible nuns and schoolgirls you get a very agreeably visible usherette (Alex Kelly). Instead of a trio of war heroes you get a duo of a Las Vegas conjurer and his mad assistant and in the major name-dropping league, instead of Tom Stoppard as translator you get Kenneth Branagh as director.
And, most importantly, instead of the stone canine at the Wyndham there is a real live white duck. This splendid ornithological specimen featured prominently in the newspapers before the opening. Apparently Daphne, the famous thespian duck who was billed to appear, was kidnapped. Maybe by an avian flu inspector or a talented press agent (un canard pressé). Anyway, this was the chance for the stand-in, named Sabre, who quacked like a swan.
Georg Büchner has been called the father of modern theatre and it is not difficult to recognise his offspring, both legitimate and imitatively bastard. His very youthful work inspired Alban Berg’s powerful opera and has seen several imaginative recent produc
tions: Sarah Kane’s in 1997, and the great Bob Wilson’s, with music by Tom Waits, in 2002. It is now part of the Young Genius series at the Barbican, performed by the Icelandic Vesturport Theatre, directed by Gisli Orn Gardarson. Büchner’s setting in militaristic 19th century Prussia has been successfully changed into our own corporate world with the brutal Drum Major as the Chief Executive. The music is by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, and, in the words of their fans: “It’s one good trip.”
Immigration continues to preoccupy the media. As a Dane I am gratified to see so many talents from the Viking North visiting London this year. Hans Christian Andersen’s bicentenary exhibition at the British Museum, Edvard Munch at the Royal Academy, a terrific production of Strindberg’s Creditors, and now Gardarson’s interpretation of Büchner. As a gesture of cultural reciprocity the Swedish Academy promptly gave the Nobel Prize to Harold Pinter, which is almost as good as reserving the empty plinth for his statue in Trafalgar Square, one of the great writer’s favourite venues.