Penelope Wilton almost, almost, makes it worth seeing a David Hare play with The Bay at Nice at the Menier Chocolate Factory
“I know what life is and what it cannot be”
Oh, British theatre and your ongoing obsession with David Hare. I’ve never really got it, never had that experience with one of his plays that made me go ‘oh that’s what they’re talking about’. Indeed, I only really booked for The Bay at Nice for the opportunity to see the Great British wonder that is Penelope Wilton in the intimacy of the Menier Chocolate Factory.
And such is her exceptional talent, that she almost makes this an unmissable event. Her Valentina Nrovka is a strikingly captivating presence, a former pupil of Matisse called to authenticate a painting that might be one of his. Having left post-war Paris for revolutionary Russia, her artistic career has taken a back seat and motherhood has not proved anywhere near as fulfilling.
But though the play has Wilton and Ophelia Lovibond as its leads, its focus is squarely on Matisse, a man, and his artistic legacy. And this distorts everything that comes to pass – Richard Eyre’s production makes no attempt to redress this balance, or to address the questionable gender politics. In a piece that is only 75 minutes, he also achieves a stultifying pace that slows time down to an absolute crawl. It’s a big question whether Wilton’s performance is enough to counter-balance that, and I remain entirely unconvinced about Hare’s legacy.