These are politically interesting times – although it might be preferable to live in boring ones. A million of us shuffled – there was no room to march – along tightly packed streets to Parliament Square on March 23rd. All million of us knew we were in agreement, either wishing the Brexit referendum had never been held or, in the case of a few – according to honest placards – that they regretted voting Leave in 2016. The atmosphere was friendly, celebratory, optimistic even, but, despite Margaret Beckett’s brilliant, logical call for a second public vote on the following Wednesday and Theresa May’s failed third time of asking for support for her deal, we are still no nearer to a solution to the Brexit conundrum. Feeling helpless in the face of others’ decision-making, which will have perhaps dire consequences for generations to come, is not good for one’s health. My acquaintance seems to be divided between those depressed from living under a constant Brexit cloud and those who have opted to stick their metaphorical fingers in their ears and sing “La la la” (or possibly “the Ode to Joy”) very loudly.
Theatre offers at least some different perspectives on life, and personal matters still exercise most of us. Pinter’s Betrayal, his masterpiece about infidelity, is given a revelatory production by Jamie Lloyd, with design by Soutra Gilmour, at the Harold Pinter Theatre (extended until June 8th): bare, clean, beautifully choreographed and yet psychologically intense and detailed. Tom Hiddleston as Robert the cuckolded husband, Zawe Ashton as his wife Emma and Charlie Cox as her lover Jerry, Robert’s married friend, circle each other. Whenever two are in dialogue the third remains onstage, still in mind. Both the excitement and the pain of disrupted relationships are etched in every encounter as well as the isolation of the third party. It has never been clearer that there are numerous betrayals taking place here, of friendship as well as of marriage vows and of lovers’ expectations. There is too a restraint in the acting which is in tune with Pinter’s ability to hint at messy volcanic feelings boiling beneath the civilised, middle class surface.
My only disappointment was that, watching from my seat in the upper circle, I could not see changes in expression as clearly as I’d have liked. Tops of heads are less expressive than eyes. (I should say that I’m often provided with a ticket for professional reasons, but not on this occasion.) And while I’m in moaning mood – what a shame that so much of the excellent programme was printed in white on dark grey – and many elsewhere are mainly white on black – making it virtually impossible to read in the pre-action gloom. As more theatres make programmes available to reviewers online, could there be a scheme for everyone to download them – for a small fee, of course? The hard copy cover price – often £5 now – is becoming prohibitive and many of us are anyway wondering how to cope with any more additions to the teetering piles in cupboards, under beds and clogging up attics.
Women centre stage
The current (overdue) trend for placing women centre stage is joyfully exhibited in Emilia (last year’s Globe production, at the Vaudeville until June 15). Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s celebration of Emilia Bassano, poet and musician – and just possibly Shakespeare’s Dark Lady – is, in Nicole Charles’ energetic, exuberant, fourth-wall-disregarding production, a call to feminist arms which regularly sees the audience on its feet shouting support. The premise is more fun than history, but there are some moments to savour, especially in the young Emilia Saffron Coomber’s fervent performance (and glorious voice) and older Emilia Clare Perkins’ forceful, rabble-rousing final speech. It is a shame, though, if in order to see women as the strong characters we are, we still have to reduce men to cartoon cut outs (admittedly in this case all played by women). One day we really will be equals.
Two women – Katy Stephens and Emma Fielding – successfully play 39 characters, both male and female, in Mary’s Babies (Jermyn Street Theatre until April 13) about the unforeseen results of early fertility treatment. When there were few male donors it was possible for hundreds, if not thousands, unknowingly to share a parent. Herewith my review of Maud Dromgoole’s play.
After Edward at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is moving, funny and vital. I admit to having had my doubts about a play whose jumping off point is the death of Marlowe’s Edward II and includes Gertrude Stein, Quentin Crisp and Harvey Milk, but Tom Stuart’s exploration of coming to terms with his gayness is oddly compelling, personal and universal at the same time. As Gertrude Stein (perched on a pink carpet covered loo) and Quentin Crisp (dangling from the ceiling on a swing) interact with Mrs Thatcher (spouting Section 28), Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, Edward Alleyn and a small, bullying schoolboy, the action unfolds with the skewed logic of dream. Stuart, who plays Edward II in the parallel production in the SWP, has an attractive stage presence – non-plussed, ashamed then growing in confidence until an infectious sense of celebratory joy takes over. Brendan O’Hea’s inventive production culminates in an impromptu concert by the fabulous Fourth Choir, London’s LGBT+ singers. On press night they were still singing to most of the audience in the foyer afterwards. Nobody wanted to go home. Hurry – there are only two more performances scheduled, on April 4 and 6, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we see this production again.
That’s enough blogging. Time for the Parliament Channel…