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Phil Willmott travels through theatreland…

Bored of Waiting, a long worthwhile J.B. Priestly, clumsy 60s medley and a roughed up Ibsen.


Every time I sit through Waiting for Godot, Samuel Becket’s expressionistic theatrical meditation on the emptiness of an existence waiting for time to pass, I promise myself I’ll never put myself through it again. For several hours two tramps bicker about nothing in particular as they apparently wait in vain for the arrival of the entity Godot, enduring a welcome interruption from a grotesque master and slave double act.

Godot represents… Oh who cares? It’s all exceptionally tedious and pretentious but the two tramps have a lot of lines and the play has long been inexplicably regarded as classic, so famous actors are often drawn to perform it. Currently at the Haymarket Theatre Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and Star Trek’s Captain Jean-Luc Pickard (Patrick Stewart) twinkle their way through the purposely banal dialogue. I was grateful for their lightness of touch and director Martin Sherman’s production emphasises the music hall nature of the pair’s exchanges by framing the action within a rotting theatre, but this is strictly one for star spotters and theatre geeks.

There’s a much more appealing meditation on the effect of time passing at the National Theatre where star director Rupert Gould has staged the 1940’s play, Time and the Conways. In section one we see the bright young and idealistic Conway family just after the first world war, in the middle section it’s twenty tears later and we watch in horror as the bitter, cynical failures they’ve all become rip each other apart; then in a final section playwright J.B. Priestly returns us to that first party where we look for some signs of hope they might escape those ravages of time.

Some critics have been disappointed, expecting something showier from this imaginative director or a repeat of the National Theatre’s last Priestly hit, An Inspector Calls, which so resonated in Thatcher’s Britain. But I think Gould gets the tone exactly right, it’s the performances that are exuberant rather then the staging, which seems entirely appropriate for a play that deals with the individual rather then society. Francesca Annis is particularly impressive as the vain mother turning into a cruel and confused monster as life and her children disappoint her. There’s some heart stopping visuals too. A long evening but worth the investment.

Time passes pleasantly enough at Shout[pictured], the 1960s musical at the Arts Theatre which clumsily grafts famous hits of the period on to a rushed and clichéd story of northern lasses making a go of it “down town”. The girls belt out the numbers with ear splitting glee interrupted occasionally by a fey young man reading extracts from women’s magazines of the time. The big attraction though is light entertainment veteran Su Pollard formally of TVs holiday camp sit-com Hi De Hi. I couldn’t take my eyes of her as she fearlessly and shamelessly threw herself into delivering the sub-panto gags and proved what a show stopping, fog horn like, singing voice she has. It’s a performance from another era but it lifts this bland nonsense into something worth seeing.

There’s just time to catch Peer Gynt at the Barbican Theatre. My Colleague David Rees had a great time. He reports -

“When Henrik Ibsen wrote this in 1867, it’s a fair bet he didn’t expect it to start with a chav wedding in Scotland. He probably didn’t expect the f-word to turn up 13 times in a minute, either. And he almost certainly didn’t picture it ending in a clapped-out caravan. Playwright Colin Teevan and director Dominic Hill haven’t so much adapted Ibsen’s play, about a man destroyed by his dreams, as roughed it up with a crowbar and injected it with speed. This brilliant National Theatre of Scotland / Dundee Rep Ensemble co-production follows Peer Gynt from his beginnings as a wandering, dreaming drunk to his last years, when he’s made a fortune and set his life on the path to oblivion. On the way, Peer encounters the king of trolls, becomes a prophet, takes a trip to a mental hospital, enjoys a plane crash and meets the devil himself. Keith Fleming’s performance as the young Peer is incredible. He foams at the mouth, curls up in despair and bursts with the energy of dreams. Gerry Mulgrew, as the man whom Peer becomes, nails it as the arrogant cynic without a soul. Everyone else is strong. The sets, Spartan but massive, are well-used, and the lighting plays a role all its own. There’s not a second when the play drags, it’s moving and it’s very, very funny.”

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