I’m just emerging from my long weekend of theatrical extravaganza and am still a little dizzy with it all. I remember a colleague once saying that he could tell when I hadn’t been to the theatre for some time because it was so apparent that my batteries needed recharging. Well, at the moment I think said batteries may have been charged to the point where sparks are coming out. Certainly, I am buzzing with all the thoughts that the productions I’ve seen have given rise to.
Overall, the performance to which I keep returning is the one I saw last Thursday. For me the best theatre is that which speaks to the audience about the society in which they are living now and with its emphasis on the question of assisted suicide Ghosts did precisely that. However, it was also the most powerfully staged and performed and the chill with which it left me is still palpably running up and down my spine.
Alan Ayckbourn’s A Small Family Business wasn’t quite what I was expecting. Written at the height of Margaret Thatcher’s governmental power, it is about the consequences of greed at every level of society and while it is very funny it is also very concerning. Jack McCracken has just taken over the family business when he is faced with the dilemma of what to do when his daughter is charged with a minor shoplifting offence. Should he offer work to the private detective who has the power to drop the case or should he let her go to court? As in so many of Ayckbourn’s plays, a relatively small decision has consequences that snowball until Jack finds himself enmeshed in a web of corruption that threatens the future of both family and business.
I can understand how, when this was first staged in 1987, it would have been cutting edge satire but we have seen so much more of what corruption can do since then and somehow for me this didn’t transfer to 2014 as well as I had expected. I couldn’t fault the production or the acting but at best it left me squirming with embarrassment and at worst feeling thoroughly grubby. Not Ayckbourn at his incisive best for me.
The Tempest was typical Globe Theatre and coming from me that isn’t always a complement. I can’t come to terms with their need to play everything for laughs. If you don’t know what I mean and you want to see them at their worst then try and get hold of a copy of their Richard II. The funny bit in that ought to be the scene with the gardeners and even that should have you laughing through your tears. What shouldn’t be the comic relief is Richard’s performance. Why you should want to make Richard a clown is beyond me. I had a problem with their Twelfth Night as well, which admitedly is a comedy, but not surely at the expense of Olivia? Anyway, what I’m getting round to saying is that I don’t like being asked to laugh at Prospero. If he isn’t scary then the play doesn’t work for me and much as I love Roger Allam he came over as far too avuncular. In fact, he played him pretty much as if he was Fred Thursday. And, what is more, although I’ve only just thought of it, Ferdinand became his Endeavour. When the final curtain call is for Prospero, Miranda, Ariel and Ferdinand, and Caliban is banished to take his ovation with the smaller roles then you know the balance of the play is out, especially, as James Garnon acts the socks of everyone else on the stage.
Reading this back it sounds as though I had a pretty miserable weekend, but in fact, for me, almost any theatre is better than no theatre at all because you have to engage on a minute by minute basis and even if you’re disagreeing with the interpretation at least you are involved. This coming weekend I’m going back to Stratford to see the other two plays in the Midsummer Madness series, so I’ll write about the ones I’ve already seen along with those. I’m afraid I have to say, however, ‘don’t hold your breath’.
It was a good weekend, really!