Posts Tagged ‘Ken Stott’

Mini-review – The Dresser – Duke of York’s Theater

January 13, 2017

I knew little about this play before I went … I thought I’d seen some blurbles in the Evening Standard ages ago (back when it opened) but they had mostly faded into dim memory. Ah yes, the show about the guy who helps an actor dress up before shows … why, certainly I’ll go at the bargain price I was being offered a ticket for. I was actually unsure if I was going to see someone who was a costume designer or a wardrobe mistress or what, exactly, and just what the arc of the story was going to be. Frankly, it was the ideal situation for me, to walk into a theater having no idea what would happen on stage but feeling confident I was going to have one of those lovely experiences that I’ve come to expect thanks to living in the world capitol of English language theater.

Plot summary: it’s World War II, and bombing is going on. We’re in the dressing room of a famous actor (Ken Stott), who’s possibly not very good, and the man who helps him get ready to go on stage (Reece Shearsmith) is worried about whether or not “sir” is going to make the show tonight. He’s never missed a performance before, but something about all of the bombing seems to have unhinged “sir,” whom his dresser, Duncan, most recently saw wandering a market taking his clothes off and babbling. Duncan’s concerns seem well founded, and we sit with him as he nervously picks his way across Sir’s dressing room, talking with Sir’s partner (Harriet Thorpe) about Sir’s mental health, and generally setting us nicely for the big arrival of The Man Himself.

A lot of this play should be about the relationship of Sir and Duncan, but it’s actually more about the interaction of all of the personalities in a touring company, as we see when the long suffering (yet apparently devoted) stage manager appears – Duncan becomes all confidence, protecting Sir from the humiliation of a cancellation – and then again when a young, manipulative actress attempts to weasel her way into Sir’s dressing room (Normal threatens her with violence). Its all nicely balanced with the actual performance at the center of the play – a Noises Off romp through King Lear, with the backstage shenanigans front and center.

While seeing Duncan disintegrate in parallel with Sir may be what this show is supposed to be about, my enjoyment was most greatly because of the complex interleaving of this play with the text and characterization of Lear. To me, Lear is the the embodiment on many levels of an actual, inevitable mental and physical collapse of older actors, who may get decades on stage but will still eventually struggle to carry on doing what they love when their bodies and minds decide they can do no more. Semi-fictionally, this was wonderfully captured in My Perfect Mind, about an actor struggling to recuperate after a stroke had while in rehearsal for Lear: more meatily, however, this struggle for an actor to keep himself together was quite viscerally brought home two years ago when Brian Blessed had a physical collapse while playing the role, a trauma nearly immediately followed by a production where another actor failed to get his head wrapped around the hard work of dialogue memorization. Macbeth may be the unlucky play, but as a role that attracts older actors, Lear is now, to me, a role far more likely to see on stage tragedy. And seeing Sir struggle to remember his first line … indeed, to even remember which role he was about to play … was the truth of life as an actor being told on stage. It was heartbreakingly real, and a pleasure to watch.

It’s all for the best, then, that so much of this play ultimately has comedy at its heart; it makes for a brisk, exciting evening despite its 130 minute running time. It’s only on through this weekend, but I do recommend a watch; I for one will probalby try to find a way to see the BBC version with Sir Ian. Either way, it’s a treat.

(This review is for a performance that took place on January 5th, 2017. It continues through January 14th.)

Reviews – Dimetos, Donmar Warehouse and A View from the Bridge, Duke of York’s Theatre

April 29, 2009

While I don’t normally double up my reviews, there were so many similarities between these two plays that I thought it would make sense to review them together. Both are modern Greek tragedies, both …

SPOILERS! SPOILERS!

Just let me be clear, I am about to give away major plot points. I recommend both of these plays, with the note that A View from the Bridge makes for a better evening’s entertainment (due to being less abstract) than Dimetos, though Dimetos has more beautiful language and imagery and may have more appeal to the sophisticated theater-goer looking to have her imagination tickled. And with THAT, I continue my review and move on to the SPOILERS ….

Both are modern Greek tragedies, both feature men who are inappropriately attracted to their orphaned nieces. Culturally speaking, they are millions of miles away from each other, as Bridge‘s Eddie Carbone (in a note-perfect performance by Ken Stott) is a hard-working longshoreman of the sort idolized by Dimetos (Jonathan Pryce), a highly educated South African engineer. Eddie’s problems (alongside “making enough money to feed his family” and “hiding his wife’s illegally immigrated relatives, who are living in his house”) are how to make sure his his niece is taken care of in a world where a lot of things can go wrong for a young woman; Dimetos’ biggest problem seems to be staving off boredom. In fact, Dimetos seems comically spoiled compared to Eddie, and while he’s certainly engaged with his environment (as in the beginning scene where he’s solving the problem of getting a horse out of a well), it’s just really hard to garner up a huge pile of sympathy for a man with such a big ego.

Oddly, it’s also Eddie’s ego that gets him hugely into trouble at the end of the play (whereas Dimetos’ trouble is ultimately caused by his inaction), but it just seems so much more compelling to see a man whose anger is at having his life overturned and who is, in fact, protecting what he considers to be his own. Mustering up a full head of sympathy is a bit difficult for either of them considering that, well, it is clear that both of them don’t have their hearts in the right place when it comes to their relationships with their nieces, but Eddie the fighter, even if he’s a drunk and lashes out at his loved ones, is easier to understand than Dimetos the dreamer, who feels free to complain about what’s wrong with the world but doesn’t seem to be willing to engage with it.

The heart of both of these plays wants to be the men, but in Dimetos it is the niece, Lydia (Holliday Grainger, whose perfectly toned body had me and my husband debating her workout regime long after we’d stopped talking about the play) who is the real center of her show – much as she is the center of Dimetos’ world. Watching her interact with housekeeper Sophia (Anne Reid) and visitor Danilo (Alex Lanipekun) is fascinating – Sophia clearly loves her and the two of them have a relationship that shows signs of years and years of being built, and the budding love affair with Danilo is just amazingly tense. Will he? Won’t she? And does Lydia even know where things are going? She forms a fascinating character study of a girl on the brink of womanhood – and perhaps passing over it – though the ultimate turn she takes during the play seems to make little sense in terms of her overall personality.

Lydia and Eddie’s niece Catherine (Hayley Atwell) also have a lot in common. Despite being orphaned, they’ve been sheltered and perhaps a bit spoiled; but in an atmosphere in which they have been loved to pieces, they’ve both grown up intelligent, engaged with the world, convinced of their own powers, and perhaps a bit naive. It makes me wonder if Lydia would have followed Catherine’s arc and finally had to just make a run for it if she’d stayed. Catherine, however, did not provide all of the heart of Bridge, as Eddie so strongly held the stage, but as a part of a trio in which the “other woman” was Eddie’s wife, she was in a much more precarious position than Lydia was. It was, in fact, quite painful to watch the tug of war with Catherine’s head as Eddie attempted to bend her to his will and Bea (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) attempted to bend Catherine’s head to a view of reality that would ensure Bea’s continued primacy in the family, and this further added to the dramatic tension of Bridge.

In general, the drama of the Carbone family (will the immigrants be caught and deported? will Eddie’s niece fall in love?) seems much more vibrant that that of Dimetos’ household (will Dimetos decide to return to an exciting job in the city rather than continuing to live somewhere where he’s not appreciated? will the adults start treating Lydia like a part of the family again?), especially given that a key turning point in Dimetos involves two people both going mad and the actors involved doing it completely unbelievably. While the narrator Arthur Miller dropped in Bridge tends to make the whole thing sound a bit Sam Spade (with flat, identical Brooklyn accents), I’m not surprised that Bridge was ultimately able to keep forty 17 year old students riveted to their seats while Dimetos is the rare Donmar non-sellout. I enjoyed them both, but Dimetos, despite its brilliant script and fine performances, was, like Dimetos himself, just too “woo woo” and in love with itself to really provide as much of a punch as A View from the Bridge. I say see both if you can, but if you can only see one … well, do you want to see the play you’ll never see revived again, or do you want to see the one that’s a hugely compelling night out?

Oh, who am I kidding. View from the Bridge is great. But if you miss seeing Holliday Grainger hog up the stage with her big heart and her radiant, perfectly-formed self, you may truly regret it.

(The Dimetos performance reviewed here was seen on Friday, April 24th, 2009. Dimetos continues through Saturday, May 9th, 2009. A View from the Bridge was seen on Monday, April 27th, 2009 and continues through Saturday, May 16th, 2009. If anyone can get me tickets for the Donmar’s next production, A Doll’s House, please let me know as it’s already sold out and I’m sad.)