Tuesday, July 10, 2007
Maids and Marshmallows (or not, actually)
I must admit I was apprehensive going in. The National’s website stated a provisional running time of three hours and five minutes, and due to a minor brain hiccup while booking tickets I’d managed to land myself in the second row from the back of the Olivier circle.
There to see Marianne Elliott’s production of George Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan, I was anticipating a long fidgety evening squinting at the tops of people’s heads. But while my precarious perch did necessitate a degree of squinting, my somewhat negative expectations were pleasantly overturned and, despite the lengthy running time, I was completely engrossed.
Last time I saw Anne-Marie Duff, in the tedious The Soldier’s Fortune at the Young Vic, I was pretty underwhelmed; she looked lost and ill at ease in what was a messy and dull production. But here she was captivating and commanding, so full of passion and energy you quite understood why these soldiers would follow a young girl into battle. Elliott’s spare staging was also striking, drawing out both the humour and the drama of Shaw’s play.
The evening did have a few shaky moments. The opening sequence, which consisted of some slow motion fiddling with chairs to a soundtrack of what sounded like Enya played backwards, had me worried, I’ll admit (and absolutely certain that those chairs would be called into play for the climactic burning sequence, as indeed they were). A stylised battle scene, with a lot of percussive banging and stamping, also resembled something that would not have looked out of place in Stomp.
But most of these wibbles were quickly remedied by the confident staging and strong performances, including an appearance from the wonderful Paterson Joseph (the super-cool Johnson in Peep Show and the man who single-handedly saved Trevor Nunn’s irritating production of The Royal Hunt Of The Sun from its 1970s-style theatrical excesses)
On the interval I caught up with Andrew and Phil, the West End Whingers. They had also been fretting about the three hours plus running time, and were, like me, won over by the production. Indeed, we were so short of things to moan about over our interval drinks, we had to resort to whinging about the Royal Festival Hall refit. They even remembered that I was a gin girl, which perked me up further.
After the interval, and an incredibly tense and gripping trial sequence, the chairs did make a return for the burning, and though the National's smoke machine got a good work out, no actual actresses were harmed. A good thing for Anne Marie Duff, but a let down for the Whingers who were hoping to toast a few marshamllows.