Last week I went to London to the theatre twice. I know, how cool am I? Although I love the theatre I’m not usually so profligate with my attendance but on this occasion it was due to the fact that I have quite a bad memory.
I was in Italy and my husband asked me what I would like to do to celebrate my birthday the following week when I would be back in the UK. As I was contemplating my choices I saw, on Facebook, a friend refer to going to see the screening of Twelfth Night from the National Theatre at her local cinema. She had a spare ticket and was seeing who might be available to go along with her and another of her friends. I couldn’t take up the offer as I would still be in Italy but it reminded me that I had intended to get tickets to see Tamsin Greig, who I love, playing Malvolia (!) in this gender bending production of Twelfth Night. So I looked to see if tickets were available for my birthday and they were. I booked them but had forgotten that I had already booked tickets, some months ago, to see Edward Albee’s ‘The Goat’ later the same week. I still keep an old fashioned calendar on the wall in my kitchen, which is good because since asking my husband to take a look at some problem I was having on my iPhone my calendar no longer synchronises across my devices, so I don’t use it very much as a diary, so it wasn’t until I arrived back in the UK that I realised it was going to be a glitzy theatre going week.
The National Theatre isn’t the most beautiful building ever built, in my opinion, but the upside is it has an underground car park and that is very much in its favour. The previous performance of Twelfth Night that I had seen had starred Steven Fry as Malvolio and Mark Rylance as Olivia so it seems the inherent gender bending of the original play is never enough for the modern day director.
Tamsin Greig’s Malvolia is not a female playing a male role, they have made the ‘steward’ of Olivia’s house female. Indeed they have made the whole of Olivia’s household female including Feste who is played by Doon Mackichen, mostly in hot pants. The play was wonderful. Malvolia, dressed in her puritan garb was as uptight as you could imagine. It’s very funny in parts, the introduction of both a fountain and a hot tub ensure that very few of the cast come out of it completely dry! Tamsin Greig interacts with the audience on occasion, telling them how cold the water is and remonstrating with them for what she perceives to be their questionable laughter. Tim McMullan plays Sir Toby Belch very much in the style of Bill Nighy’s character in Love Actually and Daniel Rigby’s Andrew Aguecheek illicits the most laughter not least for his amazing costumes. I absolutely loved Tamara Lawrence as Viola. She was totally convincing as the lively and adorable Cesario and I felt her performance was equal to Grieg’s. I would certainly love to see her again. Despite the humour of most of the play the ultimate humiliation of Malvolia was a gear change that was both very upsetting and unsettling, bound, blindfolded and half clothed as she is on a stool in a prison cell. The set was wonderful, a succession of rotating and soaring stairways where musicians could be seen playing their instruments. The music, the singing it was all a triumph. Loved every minute. If you are in London before the end of May I would certainly recommend a visit.
Now a few nights later we were back in town, this time on the other side of the river for Edward Albee’s ‘The Goat or Who is Sylvia?’ This play stars Damian Lewis and as my husband is a fan of Mr Lewis I thought it was a great chance to see him in a play as opposed to on the TV. This is advertised as a black comedy which is just up my street. However, if a play about a successful American architect, called Martin, who falls in love with a goat who he makes love to is not your idea of a fun evening then this may not be for you! I have never seen quite so many people walk out of a play. This was exacerbated by the fact that there is no interval, so people leaving do so in a very public way, treading on people’s toes and mumbling apologies while the action continues on the stage. The play is certainly funny in parts but also rather surreal. A few rows behind me there was also an outbreak of very loud snoring that continued for some minutes.So people were either appalled by the subject matter and left or lulled into a cosy snooze. Very different reactions!
As the audience you do get to laugh a lot but it’s also quite distasteful and there’s a lot of shouting, much of which is, ‘but you f****d a goat.’ Sophie Okonedo plays the wife, Stevie and her performance is the strongest. She smashes a lot of ceramics and glass, which is quite understandable but the potter in me couldn’t help but wonder whose work she destroyed night after night. Overall it’s not a very convincing production. It’s difficult to have any sympathy with any of the characters including the young adult gay son of Martin and Stevie.
I really wanted there to be an announcement at the end of the performance that no goats were harmed in the making of the play – but I didn’t get it.
If you are in London in the next few weeks go and see Twelfth Night at the National or the other Edward Albee play, ‘Who’s afraid of Virginia Wolf?’ at the Harold Pinter Theatre until the end of May, I haven’t seen that but I’m almost certain it would be a better night out.