Review: Sweet Bird of Youth, Chichester Festival Theatre

“‘I think that hate is a feeling that can only exist where there is no understanding”

There’s something a little depressingly predictable about my inability to resist a neat bit of star casting – Marcia Gay Harden’s long-in-the-making UK theatrical debut being the guilty party here. It’s depressing because Tennessee Williams’ Sweet Bird of Youth is a play I wasn’t much of a fan of the one time I saw it before and the heart wasn’t beating any faster at the prospect of sitting through it once again.

And maybe there’s an element of self-defeating prophecy at work because I was bored rigid by Jonathan Kent’s production here for Chichester Festival Theatre. A quiet audience (never seen the upper seats curtained off like that before) sweltered in the stifling atmosphere but sadly, there was no heat being generated on the stage of Anthony Ward’s distractingly-conceived design. Continue reading “Review: Sweet Bird of Youth, Chichester Festival Theatre”

Review: Henry V, Open Air Theatre

“This revolt of thine is like another fall of man”

It would be great to live in a world where gender-blind casting isn’t newsworthy in and of itself but we don’t and so it should be shouted out and celebrated wherever it happens, until the day that it just feels rightly commonplace. What should always be celebrated though is the opportunities being given to some our greatest actors to take on powerful leading roles – the intrigue of Glenda Jackson’s return to the stage, the trifecta of Harriet Walter’s Donmar leads soon to be capped off with Prospero and here at the Open Air Theatre, the glorious Michelle Terry rising to the challenge of Henry V.

Insofar as Robert Hastie’s modern-dress production has a conceit, it’s of a group of actors coming together to put on a play, waiting for Charlotte Cornwell’s Chorus to anoint one of them with the leading role – and it’s hard not to feel a frisson of delight as she bypasses the cocky guy pushing to the front to place the crown on Terry’s head. And from then, it’s a relatively straight-forward production, playing out on the wide expanse of Anna Fleischle’s square of riveted iron, props kept to a minimum, John Ross’ movement coming to the fore in impressionistic battle scenes lit beautifully by Joshua Carr. Continue reading “Review: Henry V, Open Air Theatre”

Review: French Without Tears, Orange Tree

“If I’m left alone with her for a minute, I shudder to think what might happen”

You wait years for a production of a rarely produced Rattigan comedy and sure enough, two come along at once. Kenneth Branagh has revived Harlequinade in the West End as part of his takeover of the Garrick but nipping in first was Paul Miller, putting on French Without Tears at Richmond’s Orange Tree. As with Harlequinade, one can see why these plays haven’t been produced more often and certainly more recently, they’re definitely old-fashioned in many ways but with the care they receive here, enlightening too.

French Without Tears was actually Rattigan’s first major hit, set at a private language school where five bright young things are crash-learning French in order to meet the requirements for entering the diplomatic service. But the only thing on their mind is matters of the heart as the boys find their head completely and utterly turned by femme-fatale-in-the-making Diana and this putative tussle between the sexes is literally about it as the boys find solace in each other’s company as they struggle to control their urges in the face of flirtatious women. Continue reading “Review: French Without Tears, Orange Tree”