Posts Tagged ‘Tim Pigott-Smith’

Review – A Delicate Balance – The Almeida

June 6, 2011

Edward Albee’s play A Delicate Balance, now some forty-five years old, shows a remarkable agelessness despite its references to topless bathing suits and households where women actually say the men run the show (rather than freely admitting the truth). Questions of social obligations, the problems of alcoholism, and fear of aging and death are just as utterly relevant today as they were when it was written. And, joyously, Albee’s unhappy family is one of the best representatives of the unclassifiable type (of endless unique instances) I’ve seen since John Gabriel Borkman. My God, when they get behind closed doors, the vitriol does pour, and it all gets so much better once the applecart is pushed over. Rather than doing so via a bunch of old family secrets a la August: Osage County, Albee does it with the rather surrealistic arrival of the lead couple’s best friends, who are fleeing some sort of unspoken terror (rather than creditors, angry neighbors, or unacknowledged children). What is this terror? Does it have something to do with senility? Is it existential dread? Are they having a bad trip? No answers are forthcoming and I found myself even more satisfied as a result. (I get the same feeling watching Pinter: the onus of responsibility is on us as an audience to figure out the play’s mysteries and Albee isn’t going to spoonfeed us an answer.)

In this one room, living room drama, we, the audience, are gifted with the vibrant presence of Imelda Staunton, playing Claire, the bad-girl sister of Agnes (Penelope Wilton). She’s a huge character: dressed in red, defending her right to drink incessantly (while not being an alcoholic), and making Agnes look every so prim as she says she has to apologize for Claire’s actions constantly. At one point she parades on stage with an accordion (very “Wecome to Hell“), deciding that as much as things have gone in the crapper it’s time to give it all a soundtrack. It’s perfect: while every other character at least tries to be nice and fit in, Claire really doesn’t care and is, in her way, the only voice of reason. I’d come and see it again for this performance alone.

Lost in her shadow is Lucy Cohu as Agnes and Tobias’s (Tim Pigott-Smith) daughter, Julia. Yes, leaving her fourth marriage is a bit of a “thing,” but Cohu doesn’t make her character very interesting. I think, really, this may be Albee’s fault, as the only real reason for this character to exist is so there is someone to blow up when Harry (Ian McElhinney) and Edna (Diana Hardcastle) announce they’re not just staying overnight but moving in. On the other hand, she is a wonderful character for being picked on, and watching Edna use social norms to reduce Agnes to shreds is just rather lovely if you’re feeling a bit mean.

Oddly, the show starts of so marshmallowy, with Wilton and Pigott-Smith struggling to sound American as they discuss absolutely nothing, that it’s hard to imagine it’s every going to go anywhere. And there are a million meanders (“longeurs” for the more hoity) as the characters talk about senility, AA meetings, and pet cats: really, they have very boring lives. But then there is much more to these late middle aged folks than meets the eye: a need for belonging, a desire to destroy, the desolation of abandonment after a child’s death. This is, in fact, the very kind of play it took the sixties to bring about: a show about people who have trained themselves to appear utterly dead inside finally confronting the reality of the passage of their meat machines through the soon-to-end experience called life and making us feel how it felt to get there and how scary it is to be looking at the end. It’s what we’re all going to have to do, even though we all spend so much time pretending not to notice.

Small complaint: amid the perfect set, the lighting was not right for the “car headlights” cue (always should be two lights, not a bar of light) and the “early October morning” in New England light was too bright and not the right color. Guy Hoare, I’m looking at you. Autumn light is very thin. Fix it if you get a transfer.

Overall, this is just a stupendous script with a strong cast, and even in my crappy, restricted view £8 seat (1/4 of the stage not visible), I loved it fron start to finish (well, from about 10 minutes in until the finish). It’s a great representative of the kind of realistic theater London does perfectly. Unsurprisingly, it is now sold out, but I advise making the effort to get returns for Staunton’s scintillating performance alone.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, June 3rd, 2011. It runs until July 2nd. Be advised the show runs a full three hours so easy on the pre-show drinking – that said, there’s so much alcohol consumed on stage you’ll find it hard to leave without tossing one down.)


Review – Sandy Toksvig’s “Christmas Cracker” – Royal Festival Hall

December 24, 2009

I didn’t know anything about Sandy Toksvig or her semi-cohost Ronnie Corbett but the blurb on for “Sandy Toskvig’s Christmas Cracker” totally sold me, promising “festive sing-a-longs” and a retelling of “A Christmas Carol!” It all sounded very English and a lot of fun, as I really enjoy group sings and I love a Christmas Carol.

Well. As it turns out, this show was just not all it was cracked up to be. Sandy had a few jokes to tell, Ronnie managed to make jokes about dildos (“Ann Summers calling: we need you to return our fire extinguisher”), viagra, and being felt up (not really appropriate given the number of under-12s in the audience), but somehow far too much time got wasted on a not very enticing story about a mute stagehand and the Christmas fairy he falls in love with. The guest artists seemed generally horribly wasted in the utterly underpowered Christmas Carol: neither Miriam Margolis (as Mrs. Cratchitt) or Tim Pigott-Smith (as Scrooge) were able to do much other than act as background to Toskvig’s own weak jokes.

Even sadder was the unsingability of the supposed singalong moments. We were invited to join Barb Jungr as she attacked holiday classics (“White Christmas,” I think, and, er, something else, maybe “Winter Wonderland”) with a Minelli-esque enthusiasm – possibly from the coked-up years. The thing is, even though her voice was good, when you start going all over the place with your songs, people can not sing along with you. I would have really wanted to, but hers was not a “lead a singalong” performance – it was showy solos all the way through. And the three tenor men who sang earlier – good voices but still, they were showing off and harmonizing, not inviting us to participate. This was an utter flop as a singalong. (And I’ve mostly supressed the memory of the horrible, flat voice of the child who played “The Little Match Girl.” Seriously, this is London: could they not have found a brat who could at least hold a note, and even the RIGHT note? Were they all off performing in Oliver? Did perhaps Ms. Toksvig owe this girl’s mother a favor of some sort? The mind boggles.)

Actually, as I sat there clutching the contents of my cracker and my ticket stub after the show – reminding me I’d shelled out £25 for the pleasure of attending plus £2 for a paper crown, a bad joke, and a battery operated candle – I realized that the whole evening, from the not funny magician to the not funny stagehand to the – dare I say it – not funny joke in my cracker, was just pretty lame. Was it under-rehearsed? Is the Royal Festival hall just the kind of barn that kills any show? In retrospect, the best moments were when an audience member was being chosen in pub-quiz style to participate in “The Christmas Carol” (as Tiny Skirt, er, Tiny Tim), and the brief moment when Ronnie and Mr. Pigott-Smith were joking with each other on stage. But otherwise it was a really poor way to blow my night. Thank goodness this dog is over; I only wish I’d been warned soon enough to have spent the night at home watching David Attenborough on the BBC Iplayer.

(This review is for the performance that took place on December 23rd at 7:30 PM. The show is now over. Weep not. A more thorough review can be found on the West End Whingers‘ site.)

Summary from the Southbank website: A Christmas cabaret in Royal Festival Hall featuring an array of guest stars from the worlds of music, magic and comedy, including the legendary Ronnie Corbett. Hosted by queen of the quips Sandi Toksvig and a house band, the show is a joyous mix of music and comedy. It features festive sing-a-longs and, in time-honoured tradition, a re-working of a much-loved period drama in the form of a hilarious romp through Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, written by Sandi Toksvig and a specially commissioned Christmas anthem by Fascinating Aida’s Dillie Keane. Created by Sandi Toksvig and Southbank Centre Artistic Director Jude Kelly, and directed by Fiona Laird, who directed Stephen Fry’s Cinderella at the Old Vic in 2007 starring Sandi Toksvig, each performance will have the same format, although star guests will vary through the show’s ten-day run.

Special guest stars now announced! Keep checking the website for updates – the remaining guest stars to be announced soon.

The 20 December performance is captioned and has speech-to-text reporting.

15 Dec
Maria Friedman
Stephen Mangan
Sara Kestelman
16 Dec
Maria Friedman
Nicholas Parsons
Sara Cox
17 Dec
Sarah Connolly
Fiona Shaw
Jeremy Hardy
18 Dec
Denise Van Outen
John Humphrys
Dick & Dom
19 Dec
Barb Jungr
Roger Lloyd Pack
Sara Kestelman
20 Dec
Clive Rowe
Jon Snow
June Whitfield
London Gay
Men’s Chorus
21 Dec
Sharon D. Clark
Rob Brydon
Sara Kestelman
London Gay
Men’s Chorus
22 Dec
Frances Ruffelle 
Arthur Smith
Sue Perkins
London Gay
Men’s Chorus
23 Dec
Barb Jungr
Tim Pigott-Smith
Miriam Margolyes
24 Dec
Maria Friedman
Lionel Blair
Sue Perkins

Review – Pygmalion – Old Vic Theater

August 7, 2008

What a pleasure it is to watch theater that is the very embodiment of what people expect to see in London, the English language theater capitol of the world. Witty, beautifully staged, excellently acted – it was fairly well perfect. Of course, it started with an excellent script – Shaw is a good writer – but Pygmalion is a masterpiece, right up there with Hamlet. It appears it was cut a bit for length, but I didn’t mind it much (except for a reference to a black eye later in the show that didn’t seem to make sense) – each scene was a powerhouse of action, funny dialogue, and character development. The set (Simon Higlett) was rather heavily designed, but seemed well suited to a very realistic production; the costumes (Christopher Woods) were gorgeous 1910ish fashion plates (when appropriate), and the choice to put Eliza consistently in white a wonderful decision – the cut of her tea party dress had me drooling.

The actors were all basically spot on and I can’t really say too much about any one of them (in part given that the show is ending this Saturday) that doesn’t apply to them all due to their uniform excellence. They completely inhabited their characters and each one of them, from the rather hateful Henry Higgins (Tim Pigott-Smith) to his mother (Barbara Jefford) to his housekeeper (Una Stubbs) just kept me fully engaged at all time. And Michelle Dockery, well, this Eliza she had me laughing and crying at different times during the show and had irresistable stage presence to boot. Nice job all!

The previous evening’s show had left me with a bit of Post Turkey Stress Disorder, but Pygmalion washed it all away. It closes soon, but do try to catch it if you can – a better show can hardly be imagined. Me, I want to get a copy of the script and read it all to catch the few lines I missed due to them being laughed over by the audience. What a great night!

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, August sixth.)