Director Anna Ledwich brings Arthur Schnitzler’s 1926 novella, made famous by the movie “Eyes Wide Shut”, to the Gate Theatre this month.
Under her direction Schnitzler’s tale of jealousy and hidden desires transports the audience from the sharing of dreams to the ever-increasing shadowy darkness of the human heart. What opens with a drunken post-party covetous discussion between man and wife descends rapidly to exposed indiscretions and the active pursuit of secret longings before returning to the memory of a fast-fading dream.
Luke Neal and Leah Muller are adroitly cast as husband and wife in this adaptation. The physical contrast marries well to the imbalance within Fridolin and Albertine’s relationship the former’s persona as upstanding citizen soon transformed to seedy sexual predator.
The stage is dominated by a bed which slides to create different rooms and spaces. Most effective is a powerful lift sequence descending in parallel with Fridolin’s moral compass. The decadence of wealthy Vienna in the 20’s is admirably portrayed via costume and the contrast with the poorer classes.
The cast are truly masterful and it is a play worth seeing for the performances alone. Neal is convincingly duplicitous and cruel while Muller is outstanding in her transformation from wife to wicked costume merchant. Rebecca Scroggs, in multiple supporting roles, is particularly arresting as the dejectedly spurned lover injecting a rather surprising bit of humour. Jon Foster in smaller roles equally brings presence to the characters he embodies.
The challenge of portraying dreams however requires the audience to delineate between reality and fantasy and it’s ultimately wearing in this protracted production. A complex portrait of yearning and madness – to be fair – that resides within an overly long and hazy chronology. In the end, no one’s dreams, real or staged, are of interest to anyone but Freudians and the dreamer.
Portobello Premier Farmers and Fine Foods Market launches a new speciality food market this weekend. In future this addition will be open Fridays-Sunday (10:30-17:30)with produce reflecting the ethnic diversity of the capital. Alongside top UK produce (rare meats, fresh fish and organic farming) you’ll find delights from Poland, Spain and France. Opening day is Saturday June 18th and includes interactive activities for kids and adults alike – get down there for the wine tasting, music and more! 4-8 Acklam Road (at the Portobello junction)
In Quest of Conscience brings the interviews of extermination camp Nazi Commandant Franz Stangl to the stage. An intriguing, devastating subject matter yet Gitta Sereny’s interviews, so real on paper, translate poorly to the “boards”.
The four-piece production, made up of Stangl (Martin Buchan), Sereny (Phillipa Peak) plus a male and female chorus (Patrick Knowles & Siubhan Harrison,) fails to augment the text in this adaptation. Stangl’s reflections on his time in command of Sobibor and Treblinka come across as impersonal. Buchan and Peak do their best to channel their characters but their efforts come across as “acted” and at times under-rehearsed.
The simple set with the leads in conversation across a table from each other in the Dusseldorf jail following Stangl’s extradition from Brazil could provide a stark contrasting backdrop for strong emotion. The chorus re-enact scenes from Stangls’ past re-creating third party memories: his wife in interview, a priest, a daughter, etc. The chorus is an effective tool – accent challenges aside – and the play would benefit from Stangl interacting with his revisited past. The chorus, Knowles in particular, energises proceedings but more is required to bring this death laden play to life and connect us to the horrors committed and rationalised by this man.
The Finborough, a sure bet for fringe theatre, currently delivers top drawer musical enjoyment with a revival of “Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd”.
Set in the smallest Big Top I’ve ever seen the story is ultimately one of class struggle between the portly officious “Sir” (Oliver Beamish) and the threadbare hungry-eyed “Cocky” (Matthew Ashforde). These two are engaged in an absurd game of hopscotch with ever-changing rules to ensure the upper-hand of the upper-class. The competition is followed throughout by a chorus of “urchins” part-mice, part-Pierrot who provide dazzling support for whichever player takes the lead.
The 60’s original never gathered the UK momentum required for a West-End run but instead was exported straight to Broadway where the class tale and setting translated as a huge success for its resonance with the struggles of the great depression. Undeniably dated, stereotypical comedic fodder is provided briefly by “The Negro” a caricature with little more than a hayseed stance and guffaw. Nice then that Terry Doe, assuming this small role, stunned the room with his show-stopping delivery of “Feeling Good”.
The true standout performance of the evening is delivered by Matthew Ashforde who takes on “Cocky” with gutsy relentlessness. As engaged with the audience as his fellow cast members he embodies the painful trials and pathetic triumphs of this role. His eye-catching panache brings to the production a magnetic pull that kept us drawn to the storyline of reinvention and hurdles.
Superior numbers, tight performances and terrific choreography elevate the night’s entertainment. The cast deliver with such vivacity that from the very outset we were captivated. The chorus of singing and dancing urchins outdo themselves with exuberant routines in a set that can barely contain them. Hoots of hilarity and shouts of bravo echo after each number proving this production a delightful, rollicking evening with an entertainment value exceeding many despite the half-century wait for its London opening.