Thursday, March 31, 2016

What life has done to us... dramatically speaking

Bristol Old Vic is 250 years old this year, the first British theatre to reach this distinction. This has not been achieved without struggles (it was nearly a banana-ripening warehouse during the last war) and director Tom Morris attributes its survival to the people of Bristol ~ “a 250 year-old love affair between the theatre and the city” ~ and the official birthday in May will involve a weekend of events both plebeian and gala amid a season of celebration featuring 'five world-class productions - one from each century of the theatre's life.
Representing the 20th century is American playwright's Eugene ONeill's painfully autographical Long Day's Journey into Night, the story of a family in anguish. Three of the four members are hopelessly addicted and one is dying: the father is addicted to money, his elder son to drink and his wife to morphine ~ a 'dope fiend' as her consumptive son puts it. Action takes place over one interminably long day of confessions ignored and reproaches denied, every exchange a cats-cradle of evasion and recrimination. It is, the programme notes admit, 'the saddest play ever written' and, as you will imagine, needs rather splendid embellishment to become a centrepiece in a major celebration.

This production can boast an award-winning director (Richard Eyre, with unstinting eye for visual detail) and star players ~ Jeremy Irons with Lesley Manville as the scapegoat wife, Hadley Fraser and Billy Howle as the sons and Jessica Regan as the maid.  They have a splendid set too (designer Rob Howell) ~ more splendid in fact than suggested by script references, though metaphorical confines are cleverly evoked by lighting shifts; opaqueness, pallid costumes and muted fog-horns all emphasise the bleakness of these ruined lives. (Peter Mumford lighting, John Leonard sound). At over three hours running time this is a marathon for everyone concerned but there was hearty applause on press night and reviews are starry. "Applause at the curtain call reflected the audience's appreciation of Miss Manville's skill," suggested the Bristol post, tactfully.

Another day, another drama of dreadful marriage: Bath's Ustinov Theatre continues a season of French-Canadian plays with Forever Yours, Mary-Lou by Michel Tremblay, translated by Michael West. In this tale also addictions are a tragic factor: for Liam it's beer and belligerence, his wife's are piety and taunting. An admirably simple set comprises four hard-backed chairs and little else.  Liam, Mary-Louise, and their two daughters face the audience throughout, apparently without seeing us: their dialogues overlap and it becomes soon apparent the girls are in a different time zone from their contentious parents. They, like us, are listening in to the Titanic struggle between their father and mother which they remember and which has defined the adults they have both become.
A laconic script, impressive uncluttered direction and superb acting (the father outstanding) all combine to create an unforgettable 75 minutes of quality theatre. Paul Loughran and Caitriona Ni Mhurchu are the parents, Caoilfhionn Dunne and Amy McAllister their daughters. Polly Sullivan designed the set,  Isobel Waller-Bridge was composer and sound designer. Terrific work, all.  You have till the end of April to see for yourself. (photos Simon Annand)

Theatrically this has been a week to echo Philip Larkin's verdict.  But blame not the parents for they were fucked up in their turn...   Man hands on misery to man.  It deepens like a coastal shelf.   Get out as early as you can, And don't have any kids yourself.

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