Of wit, murder and confusion
We begin with Sussana Efthyvoulou in the company of two golden oldies…
Private Lives (Ambassadors Theatre) by Noël Coward is a classic comedy of manners that conjures up an abundance of drawing room clichés. I promise not to use any and simply tell you why Christopher Luscombe’s production is a treat. Imagine a couple who love and hate each other, almost simultaneously, punctuated by consummate Cowardesque wit, including some of his best songs, and hey presto you’re in for delightful entertainment. Former married couple Elyot (Nigel Havers) and Amanda (Patricia Hodge) are on their second honeymoons with their new partners and have a serendipitous meeting while staying in adjacent rooms in the same hotel. Despite a perpetually stormy relationship, they realise that they still have feelings for each other and off they run to her flat in Paris. All this suggests a young buck and spirited filly. In the hands of Havers and Hodge it becomes something far more subtle, less energetic in terms of physical prowess, but oh so amusing. What we lose in swinging from the chandeliers we gain in sharp tongues firing off a volley of hilarious one liners fuelled by a tipple or two and the ending may surprise you.
They bicker, flirt and have a go at each other in word and deed. Hodge is an actor comfortable in her own skin and her timing is impeccable, spitting out a sequence of sarcastic comments coupled with denigrating facial expressions. Havers too is at ease with his debonair persona and milks it for all its worth as he matches her word for word delivering his lines with an air of urbane superiority even if it’s not true. The Coward wit is ever present and hilarious but in their hands it takes on a different meaning as when he jokingly pleads “Kiss me my darling before your body rots.” Both of them are septuagenarians. That said a recent survey stated couples were having the best sex in their sixties. On that note, as a woman of mature years myself, I rest my case and encourage you to go and enjoy this peachy production.
Meanwhile Stellaria Embellou sees history strike home for today…
The description of the “smiling assassin” takes on a whole new meaning in Anupama Chandrasekhar’s play The Father and the Assassin (National Theatre). The man responsible for the killing of one of the twentieth century’s most iconic leaders, Mohandas (known to most as Mahatma Gandhi – ‘the great soul’ – for his civil rights activism) began life as a girl. The parents of Nathuram Godse promised the gods to raise him in this way having lost all their sons at an early age. In return they asked for his/her survival. It would be churlish to connect this conflicted upbringing with his deathly deed but Hiran Abeysekera’s transformation from playful camp child to cold blooded killer, obsessed with nationalist ideology, taking inspiration from Nazi Germany, is astonishing. He is deadly serious about everything he does and as Godse is also the narrator, on stage throughout, we continually discover new things about his psychotic character.
The three bullets used for the assassin hang from the ceiling on Rajha Shakiry’s starkly minimalist set and the contrast between Gandhi’s quest for peace and the constant threat of violence is an ever-present dichotomy. The historical aspects of the play are brutally depicted, with the 1947 Partition into India and Pakistan, being superbly choreographed and acted, the music and lighting heightening the tension and graphic detail with backdrops becoming the bloodstained sheets of the countless lives lost. In fictitious meeting between the two men Godse’s realisation that he is a boy and his relationship with masculinity as opposed to the genteel peace-loving man he meets will haunt him forthwith.
Indhu Rubasingham’s direction is sharp and well-paced, my one criticism being not enough variation in volume or tone, shouting often being the norm, especially strange when it is coming from Paul Bazely’s Gandhi. An actor of such height is an odd choice for a man who was actually five foot five though his overall performance is strong, treading a fine line between humility and resilience. A play well worth seeing carrying a poignant and topical waning about current dangerous political ideologies.
Finally, the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre returned from its summer hiatus with the enigmatic and idiosyncratic production of Torben Betts’ Murder in the Dark. It features a dysfunctional family headed by singer Danny Sierra and a bonkers elderly pig farmer Mrs Bateman who all end up in an isolated holiday cottage together. They zoom in on Danny’s messed up life, the headlines being he was a star, a drunk and not a good parent. It turns into a family psycho drama, not dissimilar to a fishbowl therapy session with Danny and his family swimming round and round with a couple of unforeseen twists which include the discovery of a phantasmagoric girl in the outside loo who ends up being hanged. Confused? You will be as it descends into farce, the writer caught between several genres. A real betwixt and between show.
Private Lives – www.atgtickets.com
The Father and the Assassin – www.nationaltheatre.org.uk
Murder in the Dark – on tour