Friday, April 14, 2017

Vaulting ambitions, dramatically o'erleaping

Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory is ending its 18th year of spring seasons with a production of Tartuffe. It's a suitable tale for our times: a self-promoting groper whose fakery pushes him to a powerful position (no golf-course in Scotland but he does dabble in time-share), Tartuffe is a ruthless rogue with no redeeming features ~ not even kindness to kittens. In this present-day version of Moliere's satire, it's a sentimental Tory minister he deludes, using a fake autobiography and phoney tantra postures. This is a single-strand plot: will evil Tartuffe’s ludicrous lying be recognised by obtuse pin-striped Charles before he loses his family and his home? The predictable resolution is satisfyingly achieved by great performances, tight direction from Andrew Hilton, and a wildly entertaining script composed entirely of jingling verse, as Andrew Hilton and Dominic Power have recreated Moliere's rhyming couplets in modern idiom. This leads to some clever pairings like 'dressed in lycra' with 'a wretch in a Nissan Micra' and is very effective for full & frank exchanges: 'You’re just a frigid snob!' - 'And you’re a knob.'  Talking in ten-syllable pentameter does inevitably impose constraints on characterisation, but the cast all find distinctive personalites too. The politician’s mother Dame Pamela (Tina Gray) is fooled like her son, but she departs early leaving Charles to a barrage of complaints of his protege’s idleness, debauchery, duplicity, and lechery from his entire family and the stroppy Polish maid - Anna Elijasz is superb in this role, holding the stage whenever she enters. Daisy May and Joel Macey, Charles’ understandably indignant children, are both delightful and Saskia Portway gives a strong performance as his wife whenever her headaches allow her onstage, while Alan Coveney possibly found his finest hour in awful Des Loyal the tabloid hack. Christopher Bianchi plays the pinstripe Tory straight, or as straight as you can when speaking in rollicking rhyme, though since mis-lit as a genre is notoriously hoax-laden and met its backlash a decade ago, the mystery of how he fell under the spell of Mark Meadows' charmless charlatan remains unsolved.
Andrew Hilton is stepping down from his role as Artistic Director of STF so that’s another reason to go to see this great final show from the man who brought Shakespeare to the Tobacco Factory in 1999 and has enlivened every spring season since with two superb productions of classic plays.  STF will be back next year, but a new steerage, and in the autumn. images Craig Fuller  

Meanwhile in Bath there's a very different drama at the Ustinov Studio, though one also involving ego and ambition. The Mentor by Daniel Kehlemann, translated by Christopher Hampton, is the second German play in their European Season, and with an Academy Award winner in the title role plus direction by Laurence Boswell you'd expect this production to be a bit special. And you'd be right. It's 90 minutes of pure gold, never flagging for a moment and I wish I could say more about the action but I can't without spoilers so you really should go and see it. Writers are always fascinated by the topic of writing & as I'm currently mentoring that was another reason to appreciate the cleverly constructed script, and all of the five actors are outstanding. F Murray Abraham as Benjamin Rubin, the jaundiced mentor, is mesmeric ~ garrulous and wily one moment, witty and charming the next, then deeply moving as he recalls the 'savage melancholy' of his younger days. The three whose lives will never be the same after this seismic encounter are all superb: Daniel Weymann is the young literary lion, Gina Wegner his wife, and Erwin Rudicek the administrator at the venue of their sponsored encounter. Polly Sullivan's set is fabulous, with arty furniture and a tree whose falling blossom seems somehow to make more poignant the fragility of hope and reputation. Seriously, don't miss this one... images Simon Annand

No comments: