THEATRE REVIEW The Lion in Winter
THEATRE ROYAL, HAYMARKET James Goldman’s codhistory play, which premiered in New York in 1966 and has never been seen on the London stage until now, is best known as a film with Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn in which they and the rest of the cast were encouraged to go right over the top and give the inflated bickering the full theatrics. The result was an entertaining, camp mixture of overwrought melodrama and high comedy flippancy with a bit of calculated bathos thrown in for good measure.
During Christmas 1183 King Henry II, his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine (whom he has imprisoned for the last 10 years), his three sons, his mistress and Philip of France meet in Chinon to discuss who is going to be king when Henry dies. Is it to be bisexual Richard or cretinous John or shrewd Geoffrey? Eleanor, who has never forgiven Henry for ditching her, favours Richard. Henry, inexplicably, favours John. Geoffrey, inevitably, feels left out. Three less prepossessing siblings it would be hard to imagine.
The Lion in Winter is gloves-off, behind-the-arras intrigue, a sort of Angevins Who’s Afraid of Eleanor of quitaine ? These royals, double and treble crossing each other, adore play-acting and regularly compliment each other on their performances. Trevor Nunn’s revival is somewhat mechanical and Joanna Lumley is never quite the Medusan gorgon Hepburn was; but Robert Lindsay, who acted Henry II in Jean Anouilh’s Becket (a much better play), is in his element, especially when he is reeling off his curriculum vitae. Reasons to be Pretty
REASONS TO BE PRETTY is the third in a trilogy of plays Neil LaBute has written about obsession with physical appearance. The first was The Shape of Things to Come, in which an art student vandalised her boy friend and literally made an exhibition of him. The second was Fat Pig in which a young man ditched his girl friend because he couldn’t cope with the constant jibes by his mates about her obesity. Audiences, who have seen these two plays and are familiar with LaBute’s other works, such as the chillingly cruel In the Company of Men, will presume that he is going to be as nasty; but, surprise, he is in a gentler mood. A warehouse worker makes a remark about his girl friend being no beauty and it is reported back to her. Overreacting, she instantly breaks off their relationship. Tom Burke is well cast as the decent, surprisingly well-read guy with a nice line in dry wit; full of boyish charm and obviously in love, he doesn’t know what has hit him. Meanwhile, his best friend, whose wife is pregnant, is having an affair and he expects him to lie on his behalf and give him an alibi. Sian Brooke, even though she is far too pretty, is very good as the girlfriend and she has a typical LaButean scene when she lists in great detail all his physical faults at the top of her voice. Billie Piper, as an unhappy pregnant security guard, has a touching scene when she is seeking confirmation of her husband’s infidelity. Kieran Bew is obnoxious macho jerk incarnate.
JERMYN STREET THEATRE
Adam Meggido and Roy Smiles set their musical in 1952 when American burlesque (a showbiz mixture of striptease and comic turns) was in its death throes. It was also the era when thousands of people’s lives were being destroyed by Senator McCarthy’s notorious witchhunt of Communists. A comedian who has been blacklisted and can find employment only in the sleaziest of joints has to decide whether to cooperate with the FBI and name names or go to prison. The musical has potential, but it still needs a lot of work if it is to have a longer shelf-life. The more it concentrates on the comedian and his sidekick and their relationship off-stage and onstage, the better it is. The second half is vastly superior to the first. Jon-Paul Hevey and Chris Holland as the comedians and Linal Haft as a bankrupt theatre owner are excellent.