Friday, October 16, 2015

Make 'em laugh, make 'em cry - lechery 19thC France & 17thC US

Lust is endlessly malleable in theatre, as in life. Monsieur Popular at Ustinov Studio theatre in Bath offers an absolutely delightful production, a confection of delicious frolicking from the dancing intro to the pantomime finale. As the red velvet curtains part to tinkling piano they reveal a set like a painting by Albert Guillaume, whose 19th Century cartoon characters were as absurd as the plot of Eugène Marin Labiche's farce, directed by Jeremy Sans in his own new translation: fast-moving and very funny, picking out innuendo & polishing up simile ~ I particularly enjoyed the loyal friends sticking to our hero like snot on suede. The plot, such as it is, is an outrageous confession to audience of emotional exploitation for sexual gratification... but no-one seems to mind, so why be picky? The sets are superb (there's a Monet lily pond in their country garden) and every member of this cast deserves praise, but I'll pick out Stephen Matthews' savvy manservant, Gregory Gudgeon and Howard Ward as the two cuckolded husbands longing to bromance their appalling friend, and M Popular himself: Raymond Coulthard, who discovers after taking extraordinary liberties with his friends' wives that the only way to break a friendship is to ask for money... On till 7 November, recommended. image from website

A bit of a leap, then, to Arthur Miller's long tragedy The Crucible the following night. I attempted a matinee of the NFT screened London Old Vic production last summer & left at the interval, blear-eyed from peering at cuffs & candles through gloom and exhausted from all the linen-folding, chopping, sweeping and bread-cutting, so I sent myself along to Bristol Old Vic as a kind of penance. Instead, this was three and a half hours of superb and thrilling entertainment: director Tom Morris's best production at this theatre by far, and - as this would be the playwright's 100th birthday, a powerful reminder of the timelessness of great drama.
Everyone knows Arthur Miller used the near-incredible events of Salem as a metaphor for McCarthyism and the hysteria at the heart of every outbreak of prejudice, but there's a human story here too: the 'lechery' of John Proctor - triggering the whole crazy revenge story - that his wife can't forgive, and the passion both he and she share for the 'name' of goodness which is to be prized above life itself. It's harrowing to watch, certainly, as audience presence onstage and raised lighting in the auditorium for the trial both enhance awareness of our own complicit voyeurism while that tsunami of accusation rolls on in... but this is sheer enjoyment: an absolutely fabulous production, impressively staged, lit, costumed, and directed, with some unforgettable performances: Daniel Weyman as the Reverend Hale, cracking up unevenly as events unfold, Rona Morison as terrible Abigail, Neve McIntosh as stony Elizabeth, and above all Dean Lennox Kelly as John Proctor, all stood out from a brilliant cast.
A week of salutary reminders of how women historically have been both trivialised & demonised ~
distractions in sophisticated Paris, harlots in the more rigid community of Massachusetts. And if you'd like a crib before going to see this amazing production (you must - before 7 November) you could check out shmoop for the lowdown on Miller's personnel: Parris, for example, is such a snake he should live in Slytherin, a snivelling parasite, there is nothing we like about this dude. If only Deputy Governor Danforth had known before he hanged those 20 women... image Geraint Lewis.

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