Posts Tagged ‘Vanessa Redgrave’

My first emotion was exhilaration.

Virtual Friend and Theatre Twin alerted me to the fact that Fiona Shaw was going to be appearing alongside Lindsay Duncan and Alan Rickman in Ibsen’s “John Gabriel Borkman”. She is something of a theatre insider and so this knowledge was shared way before it became public knowledge – so my excitement was very real, tempered only by the desire to get on and book some tickets. “Where would it play?”, I wondered. A cast like that has got Almeida, West End or National Theatre possibilities – but which? Could it be that the brilliant Nick Hytner was going to use this production to follow the flawless Paul Schofield, Eileen Atkins and Vanessa Redgrave “Borkman” of some years previous (a production I can still remember, almost minute by minute – can you even imagine how brilliant it was: well CAN YOU?)? WHERE?


And then New York.


This was going to be difficult: I had to get to see it. It was Fiona Shaw in Ibsen (and her “Hedda Gabler” is still the greatest thing I have ever seen in a theatre) – and the rest of the cast weren’t exactly slouches either. It was designed by Tom Pye, whose brilliant work on “Medea” and “Happy Days” had been so impressive, Finally, Virtual Friend and Theatre Twin got herself off to Ireland and gorged on it. Ireland would have been cheaper and easier – so I went to New York to see it.

Now, I am a Fiona Shaw enthusiast – but I am not a blind disciple. I, for example, found her performance in “Black Dahlia” (loved by many) to be so embarrassing that I could scarcely keep my eyes open – so I am capable of seeing where she has strayed from brave to ludicrous. That said, this performance was miraculous. It was up there with Hedda and Medea, largely because her danger zone (letting rip in quivering tones and going the FUCK FOR IT) was so well reined in that the audience could feel the pressure in her. And when she finally did let rip, it was like a glacier exploding: it was absolutely spellbinding, and most crucial of all, it felt like the result of years lived in torment and quiet fury, not like the outburst born of a couple of hours of theatrical adrenaline.

Lindsay Duncan was also magnificent. A much warmer presence than Shaw, and with a voluptuous quality that has served her throughout her career and is as much a mark of her interpretation as it is of her physical presence, they were magnificently paired. It’s always good to see two actors absolutely matched, but with contrasting qualities and styles (think of Brando and Leigh in “A Streetcar Named Desire”) and with this script it was very heaven.

I have to confess that the disappointment for me was Rickman. Maybe it’s because I saw Schofield in the role (and I truly can’t imagine it being done better), but I also think that Rickman was too slight a character to scale the part and to crash down into its depths: it felt as though he was picking round the edges of the part a little, rather than immersing himself in it. It is a mountain of a part and perhaps it was simply too much but (on the night that I saw it, at least) he was subdued, rather than destroyed; miffed, rather than devastated – though I should add that plenty of people disagree with me as violently as it’s possible to do without falling over.

It was a trip worth taking in every way – and I cannot but hope (though Virtual Friend and Theatre Twin thinks it highly unlikely) that there may be a London transfer at some point this year. I would gladly go again, and again, and again.

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I had lunch with Hilarious Researcher recently, and she (who is married to an actor, and who likes theatre) and I (who am married to a woman who does not like theatre at all) were discussing what it is to travel across London to see something truly execrable.

There is nothing worse than Terrible Theatre: nothing to make one conclude that this is an outmoded form, populated by self-indulgent actors whose understanding and experience of human nature seems as remote as our general understanding of alien life forms. I have recorded the unspeakable horror of Gary Wilmot as Bottom in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, and the (usually immaculate) Fiona Shaw’s ghastly folie d’amour in “The Powerbook” – but Hilarious Researcher was reminding me of another type of theatre: the type where one knows a member of the cast, and is thus performing every bit as hard and carefully as the paid performers. I haven’t been to this sort of show for a while, but I do remember at University (and for a number of years afterwards) turning up at “spaces” to stand (always) with a handful of other “friends of the cast” (invariably) to see someone one had spent too many earnest evenings with in the past, stand at a microphone in a tight spotlight, clad in a leotard, intoning “I am vagina” over and over before covering themselves in four pints of milk, assuming a foetal position and sobbing, as we wait for the pitilessly long and final fade of the light to release us all.

It seems that Hilarious Researcher has not been so lucky: her husband’s profession means that they are still finding themselves in strip-lit church halls with leotard-clad performers a little too often for her liking. Maybe it’s because I have been on the other side of the divide often enough (either as performer – although I always drew the line at the leotard, but was less resistant to the “basic black – a WORKING ACTOR” look, which is equally morally awful, if less anatomically repellent – or as director or designer) that I am ready to forgive bad theatre a little more readily than most others would. I know that it is, to some extent, a numbers game: because there is no financial barrier at all to a group of people performing a piece of theatre, it is bound to be prolific in a way that film isn’t (although there are lots of developments that mean the gap is narrowing, though still significant) and so that means that there is an awful lot of bad theatre knocking about. But when it is good (Shaw’s “Hedda Gabler”, “Electra”, “Medea”, “Happy Days”; Ian Holm’s “King Lear”; Simon Russell Beale’s “Hamlet”, Paul Schofield, Eileen Atkins and Vanessa Redgrave in “John Gabriel Borkman”; Judi Dench in “Amy’s View”, Judi Dench and Antony Hopkins in “Antony and Cleopatra”) there is nothing to compare with its thrill – and it stays with you undimmed forever.

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Saturday, 26th April 2008

I discovered last night that this street is literally shitting celebrities.

At a party for the “new arrivals” (the presenter, Jeremy Vine and his wife), I discovered that not one, but two James Bonds live here: Timothy Dalton AND Pierce Brosnan. Brosnan I have seen, sauntering along, looking debonair and clutching  Tesco carrier bag (which is no mean feat) – but I think that Dalton must access the outside world through a series of underground tunnels. Add in Colin Firth (permanently grumpy looking) and Vanessa Redgrave (8 feet, 7 inches tall) and it’s becoming dangerously like setting up permanent residence in the RSC dressing room.

The party was given by Government Economist and Former Ballerina – and there had been dark rumours that something referred to only as “Socialist Quiche” would be served… In the event, it was my culinary Nemesis: Fish Pie, so there wasn’t even a possibility that I would be sampling it. The puddings were heart-breaking, though: stewed Rhubarb, Pecan Pie, Pavlova: a triumvirate of mouthjoy.

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