Reviews: A Magistrate, A horse and some Privates on Parade

A conference and working weekend in London meant I got to see some theatre (of course)

The Magistrate (National Theatre) 

I was mulling over whether to see the latest NT Live broadcast which was this play and realised I was in London for it. So as tickets were about the same price to see it actually in the theatre I decided to give it a go. My motivation was largely an interest in seeing how the live broadcasts were put together and affected the theatrical experience. And a mild interest to see John Lithgow on stage after loving him in ‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrals’ on Broadway years ago (the man has done over 20 Broadway plays you know!)

The play itself is a classic farce. Not I confess my favourite of genres (I prefer my comedy dark and subtle rather than big and bold and have an allergy to slapstick) luckily this play creates a true classic farce that relies on the ludicrous situations of the play for comedy rather than injecting it with slapstick as many farces tend to do. The play itself is amusing and unchallenging but the staging and the performances from Lithgow and Nancy Carroll make up for it. After seeing the latter in a similar play, the Donmar’s ‘Recruiting Officer’ last year, I must confess I’m a little in love with this woman! Lithgow also shines, particularly in his extensive monologue depicting the events of the night before. He has a quiet comedic presence on stage that brings a nice subtly to the largely unsubtle play.

The staging and design of the play really stood out. The scenes were linked with an addition of musical numbers, newly composed but in the style of the era (sounding much like Gilbert and Sullivan numbers in fact) and performed by a troupe of four Dandy-like figures. These facilitated the grand set changes which in some ways were the star of the show. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the National’s Olivier stage used to its full potential and these grand sets that rose in and out of the drum really got me excited, not least the main house which opened and closed like a book.

All in all an enjoyable evening, and quite nice to feel my applause has been broadcast around the world as part of the NT live broadcast.

War Horse

My third viewing of this play (and Mum’s Christmas present) I was worried that on the third viewing some of the magic would have been lost, but it really wasn’t. Every time I’ve seen this the moment you see Joey the horse in full for the first time the hairs on my arms stand up and a well up.

I was worried Mum wouldn’t be won over as to say she hates puppets is an understatement but within minutes she was also swept away.

It’s hard to encapsulate what is so magical about War Horse. Without seeing it imagining that the bamboo and material puppets, through which you clearly see the puppeteers could be so powerful. But the attention to detail is such that the horses come to life before your eyes. The story also is compelling and doesn’t patrionise its audience-don’t be fooled into thinking it’s a simplistic children’s story, the narrative is multi faceted and adults whether well versed in history of the War or not will get much from it.

That in fact is the joy of War Horse, its a piece of theatre so theatrical and yet keeps at its core a story that is moving without being sentimental, that is real and graphic without seeking to shock. Its a balance so difficult to strike that I’d go as far to say that War Horse is a near perfect theatrical experience.

Privates on Parade

My last minute choice, more to want to see some more of the Michael Grandage season (I’ve booked for one more and intend to see another at least). The experience was somewhat affected by the announcement that on of the actors Sophiya Haque sadly died earlier in the week. Although I’d never seen her perform previously (though was aware of her work) and obviously didn’t know her, it was difficult at times watching a play knowing the understudy is on under such tragic circumstances.

The play itself was excellent. The text on its own is quite a dated on  but has been handled wryly into an update of sorts without actually changing any of the text. It’s an interesting challenge for a company to take something that is inherently of its time and in this case by default inherently racist and decidedly un-‘PC’ and update it enough to play well today without doing a disservice to the original material.

The play also achieves a strong balance between some serious issues and being a highly entertaining evening. The use of music song and dance are used expertly by the production, and to tread the line of in character bad singing and acting and being just plain bad successfully is quite a trick!

This play could just be viewed for its surface content only-a fun song and dance romp with Simon Russell Beale in drag (a sight to behold it is true!) but I think the production achieved a nice balance of entertainment with the slightly darker elements of the play. That said, Simon Russell Beale camping it up in a sailor outfit was worth the ticket price alone….

Oh and for anyone wondering….there were indeed some ‘privates’ on parade. More naked men than I’ve seen in a long while….

Published by Emily Garside

Academic, journalist and playwright. My PhD was on theatrical responses to the AIDS epidemic, and I continue to write on Queer theatrical history. Professional nerd of all things theatre.

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