Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Backlog

Aah, I have a backlog! Lots of theatre seen, much of it good, but a lack of time to actually write about it all. So since I now have a window of, oh, some minutes I’m going to try and rectify that in at least a semi-coherent fashion.

First up, Many Roads To Paradise at the Finborough, Stewart Permutt’s warm-hearted and kind play about the lives of six disparate characters. Is ‘kind’ a relevant adjective for describing a play? Yes, in this case I think it is. This is a play full of warmth and wit and affection for its characters despite their flaws, their failings. As I said, it concerns six people, whose lives we come to realise are all interconnected. There is Martin, a middle aged Jewish travel agent who arranges to meets a man 20 years his junior on a gay dating website. Then there is his colleague Helen, who is in a long term relationship, thirty years and counting, with Avril, a strident and formidable type who wears driving gloves and has been hitting the Chardonnay with a vengeance after losing her job as a radio producer. And there is Helen’s mum, Stella, old and frail, once a milliner, a maker of hats, but now blind. She is in an old people’s home where she has developed a friendship with her new nurse, a Muslim woman from Somalia. Their growing closeness is starting to make Helen jealous. This is an admirably unsentimental view of old age. The elderly Stella is fragile and fading but ancient resentment still resurfaces within her, fresh. She asks after long dead friends and gobbles bananas as if they may be stolen from her at any minute.

I suspect the production elevates the play into something more than it is. With a lesser cast, its various coincidences and predictabilities may have grated more (a friend who also saw the play commented ‘If I ever see an African nurse portrayed as a bitch, I think I shall cheer.’ Here, of course, the nurse is as decent and caring and patient as it gets). The cast are superb, particularly Gillian Hanna as the dumpy Helen, who has become accustomed to being told she is ugly, lumpy and useless, and Daniel Hill as the nervy, needy Martin. And then there is Miriam Karlin’s Stella, frail herself, with stick limbs and near translucent skin, but still with much fight in her.

Going back further, some two weeks now, and there was Simon Stephens’ Harper Regan at the National. This to me was a play of moments, rather than a satisfying whole, with Lesley Sharp’s performance a gleaming light at its centre. The things that have stayed with me are the image of Sharp’s Harper collapsing to the floor, a slow fall, in her mother’s living room; the sense of escalating menace supplied by Jack Deam’s coked up, bigoted hack reporter in a grotty northern pub; a moment of tenderness between strangers in a glossy, anonymous urban hotel room; and the final glimmer of hope and potential healing in a morning sun-warmed garden.

Sharp is quite amazing in the role, her Harper is a woman under water, limbs and tongue weighted down. She seems forever out of step, askew, she talks where no words are needed. The play though, demands a lot of its audience. It is only in the second half that you discover the pressure she’s been under, the reason her behaviour is so odd (by which time some people had given up on it and departed to the bar). I liked the fact that the play parcelled out its story to you slowly, making you wait. But I still found the whole thing less than the sum of its parts, Harper’s journey failed to convince me, it didn't move me as much as it might have.

I also saw Hugh Hughes’ Story Of A Rabbit, which has been touring for a while and has now landed in the Barbican Pit. I remember reading Helen Smith’s description of this piece last year and being intrigued; I was worried that the knowledge that Hugh Hughes was the creation of an actor, that this ‘emerging Welsh multimedia artist’ was simply a persona, would be a barrier to my enjoyment. That the blurring of fact and fiction would somehow clash with a subject as emotive and personal as the death of a parent. But it really didn’t matter, taken on its own particular terms, this production was incredibly effective. Hughes’ eye-wide enthusiasm seemed ever so fitting, well-meshed with the collage style of the production, blending music and photographs and amiable audience banter (and cups of tea), and by the time he was describing is dad’s final fall as a kind of super heroic, acrobatic tumble, a daring dive into death, my throat had tightened and I was aware of the building prickle of tears.

Gosh, that brings us about up to date. Yesterday I saw Chris Goode’s …Sisters at the Gate, but to write about that requires a little more time and thought, so I shall hold off for now.