Claus von Bülow Theatre
fter their foolish and precipitous
Adeparture from the Barbican the Royal Shakespeare Company is back in London with a vengeance. Their Macbeth, currently at the Albery, will be followed there with Vanessa Redgrave’s much-awaited Hecuba. Her brother, Corin Redgrave, is now at the Arts Theatre giving a splendidly arrogant performance portraying the seminally influential theatre critic, Kenneth Tynan. Do not be put off by the BBC docudrama, supposedly on the same subject, and very appropriately named In Praise of Hardcore. Sometimes television producers are not content with just serving addictive trash to their faithful couch potatoes, but go out of their way to dump slyly on what they perceive as competition from the live theatre. Tynan is a stimulating show about a man of great literary talent and sensitivity, who ruined his full potential and his own private life. The RSC deserves credit for this production and indeed for its current series entitled New Work at the Soho Theatre. After Laura Wade’s Colder Than Here, the Soho will bring us Zinnie Harris’s Midwinter, a deeply moving anti-war play, followed by Joanna Laurens’s Poor Beck. Finally, at the Playhouse Theatre, the RSC trio of Spanish plays continue to entertain grateful audiences. Counting on all fingers that makes a total of over 16 RSC productions filling four London theatres within one year. And I must not forget their production with puppets of Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis at the Little Angel. Quite a comeback!
But Stratford-on-Avon is not the only provincial centre for exciting theatre. Thanks to the Lottery, there is new life in Manchester, at the Theatre Royal in Bath, the Bristol Old Vic and many others, including Sheffield’s Crucible. The fine revival of Ronald Harwood’s The Dresser has now reached the Duke of York after an appropriate provincial tour. I say appropriate, since the action of this wonderful play takes place in a miserable down-at-heel provincial theatre during the Second World War. Tom Courteney starred in the original production and that was a hard act to follow. However, Nicholas Lyndhurst gives a finely tuned portrayal of the servile dresser cajoling his aged, tired, dying Shakespearean ham actor back on stage for his 277th performance as Lear with an off-stage German air raid giving special acoustic resonance to the mad king’s ravings on the stormy heath. Julian Glover is a strongly autocratic, but rapidly failing, old actor-manager, a role which reminded many of the late Sir Donald Wolfit, whose biography Harwood also wrote. Annabel Leventon plays her “Ladyship”, and Lisa Sadow a protective and secretly enamoured theatre company manager. The star of the play is, of course, the dresser, and Lyndhurst gives us a sibilant, swishy, Cockney fairy with the soul of a raging and manipulative Iago. We all may encounter such dully-coloured snakes in the grass, who love us and yet hate us. Harwood is a playwright of great depth and a unique talent for creating complex characters and their moments of dramatic truth. Lorraine Hanaberry’s prize-winning A Raisin in the Sun is another modern classic and the revival at the Lyric Hammersmith shows us the deeply moving story of a black family in 1950s Chicago, their aspirations, endurance and inevitable sad compromises. This is a wonderful production and does not seem dated, except that the $10,000 of life insurance, crucial to the plot, ought sadly to be adjusted for inflation.
Richard Maxwell’s Joe, which is part of this year’s BITE season at the Barbican, is also a saga of distinctly American dystopia, and is presented by the New York City Players in the form of monologues, interspersed with songs of heart-breaking pathos. If you find all this depressing you can get plenty of tragic alcoholism in the Donmar Theatre’s revival of Days of Wine and Roses. This reviewer found Laura Wade’s Breathing Corpses much more cheerful. It is a brilliant, tense thriller, full of suicide and murder. Naturally the Royal Court’s Theatre Upstairs production is sold out, but this deserved success will ensure a transfer. Don’t miss it; this young playwright will have a great future.