Posts Tagged ‘Francesca Annis’

Review – Under the Blue Sky – Duke of York’s Theatre

July 23, 2008

Last night I went with the WestEnd Whingers and crewe to see “Under the Blue Sky” at the Duke Of York’s theater.

Ostensibly this should segue right into a review of a show, but I have to pause and take a moment to praise the company. To go see a show with the Whingers means that, for once, I am surrounded by a crowd of people who can talk really intelligently about theater. By this, I don’t mean “namedrop famous actors/productions they’ve seen” (God only knows a lot of people think that constitutes clever conversation on the topic), and I also don’t mean “try to top each other in snarkiness” (because while they will baste and roast a turkey when they find one, it’s the underlying enthusiasm for the medium that makes the conversation even possible). No, I mean they can talk about other shows, new ones worth seeing, old ones worth remembering, connecting them to other plays and other works of art … letting me listen, learn and participate in great conversation in a company of my peers (and beyond). Sue, CitySlicker, Helen, Phil, Andrew, Graham, Paul (the GWTW Twitter man) … spending the evening with you is like a dream come true for me.

Anyway, I was naughty and didn’t read anything about the show before I went. Basically, it had Catherine Tate in it, whom I’ve had a good time watching on YouTube (even though it’s frequently been in car crash mode – it’s embarrassing but I can’t turn away), and, well, I was invited to go by people I wanted to hang out with, so I just went for it. The day of I realized I didn’t actually even know what theater it was in! And when I got there, I had a “bad theater experience” flashback (rather like the ones caused by Fram nowadays) right before the show started, as I remembered struggling through almost two hours (so it seemed) of the first act of Rock and Roll with seven cups of tea crying for a quick departure from my body. I finally leapt over four or five other audience members to make it to an exit door during a between-scene dark bit (and there were rather a lot of them) and spending the rest of the act watching the play through a bit of scratched-off paint on a window while the assistant director whispered to me a summary of the dialogue.

Er, so, back to the show. Uhhh …. well, it’s about teachers shagging teachers, and it’s kind of funny in bits, but touching in others (I cried during the last scene and felt just horribly manipulated, even though I liked it), and it plays straight through with no interval. I’d find it okay to recommend to people in general, in a great deal because it knows when to stop – it’s not a bad night out, really.

But. (I’m sorry, I just can’t stop myself, I have to say more.) The play is … incoherent. It has three scenes that don’t really seem to have anything to do with each other, even though the playwright has ensured that the characters in scene one are mentioned in the subsequent ones. The acting in the first scene is wooden – Chris O’Dowd’s first lines read to me as, “Hi! I’m acting in a play and these are the words I am supposed to say!” And while I don’t know what his accent was supposed to be, it seemed kind of … fluid. Lisa Dillon seemed to jump more readily into her character, but for both of them I found neither their words nor their actions made any sense. There was a sense to the situation … but not their responses to it or to each other. They seemed just like people who existed only as words written on a page. Only the writer can ultimately take the blame for this. (That said, huge kudos to the both of the actors for actually succeeding in making chile on stage during a show. I could smell each of the ingredients cooking in the pan from my second row seats and it smelled good.)

The second scene was the big blow out (well, in terms of “what the audience came to see”) with Catherine Tate and some actor that wasn’t Catherine Tate (in the minds of the audience – but seriously, it was Dominic Rowan, who gets brownie points for conjuring up tears on stage). This was a sort of sex farce scene that cracked me up because, er, the one teacher I know in the UK public school system is really as much of a ballbreaker as Catherine Tate’s character was and it all just seemed too likely to be true. That said … as she got meaner and the guy got weaselier/creepier … I found myself not liking either of them. In fact, I wanted terrible things to happen to both of them just to spice up the scene. (I thought this during the first act, too.) Since neither of them really managed to seem real, it just didn’t matter to me what happened to them. I laughed at the crude bits and thanked God that actual nudity was never involved as it would have been Too Much, and while something terrible did happen, I was happy about it.

The final scene was for me the best part of the play, even though the long speech in the middle was, once again, completely unrealistic and took me out of the “lost in the show” mindset (and made me firmly aware of being at a play). Actorially speaking, we had two powerhouses: Francesca Annis (whom I had not previously seen but who held the stage … I mean, she just had it) and Nigel Lindsay (who smoked the Almeida in Homecoming and was quite charismatic in a rather limp production of Awake And Sing at the same theater). Lindsay was brilliant, utterly unselfconscious, perfectly in character, completely believable – I hung off of every word that came out of his mouth. His body language, everything was perfect for the character he was portraying. (And who knows, maybe the playwright understood this language better than that of the other characters he was creating dialogue for.) Watching him interact with Annis was a pleasure for me. That said … when they said that another character was dead, my feeling was actually one of relief, that I wasn’t going to have to see the rest of the wooden characters brought back on stage for some sort of horrible resolution (a la any number of cheesy movies) after the interval, but just instead could walk out of the theater with the show wrapped and on a bit of an up note.

Anyway, my summary is that this show was flawed but, still, not a bad night out, and, in fact, I think most people who would enjoy it wouldn’t really care about the stuff that bothered me. For the folks who are super diehards: it’s not a bad way to spend a free night, but, you know, there are likely to be other options. Try Brief Encounter first if you still haven’t been – it’s still the best thing on right now.

(This review is for a preview performance that took place on July 22nd, 2008.)

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