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

TARTUFFE at the National Theatre.Yes, yes, we all know of it as a classic theatrical work. But how many of us have actually read or seen it? I have to say the main reason this edged up my list was that the director was Blanche McIntyre, a hugely talented director who I have followed since 2011, having worked her way up diligently and successfully through such memorable shows as the (five-starred by the New York Times) ACCOLADE in 2011, THE WINTER’S TALE at Shakespeare’s Globe, TITUS ANDRONICUS at the RSC, WELCOME HOME CAPTAIN FOX at the Donmar Warehouse, THE WRITER at the Almeida, and now she has arrived at the National. I was really looking forward to this.

Written by Moliere 350 years ago, TARTUFFE’s original target was religious piety. With the changing drives in the world the target today is usually the guilt of wealth and inequality, which is true of this new adaptation by John Donnelly.

The best of it is that the production is sumptuously designed, set on a fabulously gaudy perspective-defying room design by Robert Jones (which might best be described in style as National Trust meets Studio 54) , it gushes unfocussed excess, going as far as to have a 20-foot high gold statue of Michelangelo’s Adam in the corner on a black circular (revolving!) plinth – making it look delightfully like a really buff Academy Award on steroids.

McIntyre does what she can with the script, but it’s impossible to care for or about any of these self-serving characters, which does of course mean that it’s a spot-on critique of our current society. The cast work hard and the supporting cast are particularly effective in delivering what laughs there are. I’m disappointed to say that Dennis O Hare’s highly resistable Tartuffe left me cold. His accent is an ever-shifting global melange of stereotypes which while obviously sincerely meant to be amusing (and plainly entailed much hard work in “vocal choreography”), all this hard work was scuppered by a lack of projection (together with a low sound balance) which rendered half of his dialogue completely unintelligible even from K row in the stalls (NB I have near perfect hearing). By sheer coincidence this was a Captioned Performance, and I was very grateful for the caption boards to figure what he was attempting to say. I am sorry to say that this effectively pulled the plug on my engagement in the show, and I was glad to get to the end after a long two and three quarter hours.

Seminar/ Discussion of the work of group GAY SWEATSHOP – at Studio Voltaire’s Oscar Wilde Temple in Clapham. Conceived and led by artist Conal McStravick, this event considered the work and legacies of pioneering group The Gay Sweatshop Theatre Company, and in particular, their seminal 1976 play As Time Goes By. Utilising well-chosen readings from two of the original group members (Bruce Bayley and Philip Osment), and some early video footage. An Illuminating and timely reminder of those pioneers who opened the door for many other actors, groups and dramatists who followed.

CIRCA by Tom Ratcliffe – at the Old Red Lion. A loosely connected collection of dialogues which aims to explore the gay identity over the last few decades. Despite the best efforts of a hard-working cast, what little message did get through was unfocussed and ultimately rather soulless and pessimistic. I am sure an earnest intention, however it failed to translate after two long hours.

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