Theatre FootNotes for July 2019 – a summary of other theatre events in my diary

MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG

Monday 8th July – Guildhall School of Music and Drama final year students’ graduation show at the Silk Street Theatre, Barbican. Sondheim and Furth’s bittersweet musical complimented by an excellent 20-strong band, as always at Guildhall.


THE LAST SONG OF OLIVER SIPPLE

Sunday 14th July – The Last Song of Oliver Sipple (at the King’s Head Theatre, Islington) tells the story of a forgotten American hero tortured by prejudice, hypocrisy, media intrusion and the rift created within his own family.

“I loved my country, but my country didn’t love me”, laments Oliver (Billy) Sipple, a decorated Vietnam veteran who bravely averted an assassination attempt upon US President Gerald Ford in 1975. An invitation was planned to the White House to thank him. But Oliver Sipple was gay. So the invitation was withdrawn and Sipple received a tiny note of thanks from Ford instead. Sipple’s life story and death at an early age from drink in 1989 after years of media hounding and being preyed on by opportunists makes for a rather sketchy 50-minute play as presented here. It feels like there is a deeper story to tell, but not knowing what research this work is based on it is impossible to say whether anyone connected with the play actually knew Sipple.

The meat of the story is in the central incident, with the rest feeling very much like supporting material. The stories about meeting and working with Harvey Milk are interesting but go no further than a sort of diary entry, so it is difficult to know this character further. What is undoubted is that he was a national hero who was not respected. We hear a lot about what happened but the bio doesn’t leave much time to explore the feelings of this private man reluctantly thrust into the public eye with all the attendant challenges.

Here is another show with no specific theatrical, visual component until the final moments. This would make a fine radio play but I do not see what bringing it to the stage added to the script.

Whilst being grateful to writer David Hendon for bringing Sipple back to the public eye, this show itself is an historically interesting but sketchy introduction to an ordinary man who happened to be in the right place at the right time to avert a potential crisis…and happened to be gay.


THE OFSTED MASSACRE

Monday 15th July – LAMDA final year graduating students’ show. A specially commissioned new comedy by Phil Porter and directed by Joe Murphy. Acting was generally of a very high standard (particularly the leads) and a majority of these actors are clearly stage-ready. The script was relatable and funny, although sadly it ran out of steam halfway through act two, and would have perhaps played better if it was shorter. Nevertheless, by this time the actors had mostly been seen to good advantage.


FERNANDO AND HIS GRANDMOTHER

Wednesday 31st July – At Clapham’s Omnibus Theatre, Out of the Wings ( https://ootwfestival.com/ ) is presenting its fourth annual festival, exploring untapped theatre from the Spanish and Portuguese-speaking world. Over five days, a series of staged readings bring to life new English translations of works by playwrights from six countries, alongside workshops, talks and events, in celebration of theatre in translation.

“It’s the voices, boy, the voices.”

In a dance across the generations, the legendary Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa duets with his irrepressible grandmother Dionísia Seabra. Spanning almost a century, their meetings continue despite illness, distance, and even death. Come what may, some bonds refuse to be broken.

Fernando’s a troubled boy, haunted by his private terrors. From an early age the only refuge is his intimacy with his demented grandmother. They are a conspiracy of two. They are complicit. Faced with a disapproving and seemingly threatening world, they share a private universe of make-believe games and songs.

Are genius and insanity as close as this? These two both spend their lives in different ways as outsiders. Dionísia hears voices in her madness. Fernando as a child is already inventing alter egos which as an adult become the fully fledged fictional “heteronyms” – the many writers under whose names his work is eventually published – and considered among the greatest of the twentieth century.

Written by Armando Nascimento Rosa , translated by Susannah Finzi and directed by Almiro Andrade

Cast Dora DaCruz, Patrick Campbell