Review: Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime

Written for The Stage

Ronald Selwyn Phillips’ much lauded adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s absurd short story is given a disappointing revival in Nadine Hanwell’s flat-footed production.

Wilde’s wit is as sparkling and pointed as ever, although even he seems to become weary of the twists and turns that befall his hero, making each more unreasonable than the last. Selwyn Phillips has done a tidy, if prosaic job, entwining each preposterous thread into a neatly woven narrative.

Hanwell, however, has been unable to tie all these strands together convincingly in a production that lacks plausibility and coherence. Jean Christie as a cut-glass Lady Windermere and Kate Sandison as the sickly Lady Clementina Beauchamp are enjoyable. But on the whole, relationships are presented awkwardly. Diction is a clear problem throughout, particularly for Christian Deal’s Lord Arthur Savile. Even when you can hear what they are saying, the cast do not inhabit their roles or the piece enough to transport an audience.


The Night Before Christmas – Neilson Style

Written for What’s On Stage

T’was the night before Christmas and all through the (ware)house not a creature was stirring, not even a junky elf. Doesn’t sound right? Welcome to The Night Before Christmasaccording to Antony Neilson; a world where ‘Christmas feeling’ is a narcotic and prostitutes give hand jobs to get presents for their children. In their production at the intimate Barons Court Theatre, The New Actors Company deal with this scrooge-fest sweetly if a little clumsily at times.

Genial Gary has called his fabulously skeptical best friend, Simon, to his warehouse at 11pm on Christmas Eve. Needless to say Simon is not impressed, his annoyance turning to anger when the cause of the call is revealed to be an elf, caught by Gary apparently in the middle of a heist. Is he an elf or a junky thief, or a junky elf? The possibilities are endless as Gary, Simon and Gary’s squeeze Cherry play detective and find out much more than they bargained for.

Neilson’s language is sharp and darkly witty as he laces his barbarity with an inherent gentlemanly flair. The language of these supposed dregs of society is absurdly eloquent, with Simon at points channeling a slightly perturbed Noel Coward and Gary and Cherry debating the philosophies of parenthood with Zen-like self-awareness. This lends the play a fantasy-like quality; at its heart it is a beautifully warped urban fairytale.

Director Robert Laycock handles this spiky text with care but could do with a bit more relaxed flair to really get it to really fly. Daniel Souter and Jay Alwyn bounce off each other nicely as Gary and Simon and Caroline Steiner’s Cherry inspires genuine empathy at points. However, all-in-all the style is too presentational: the fact that they are ‘acting’ is at the forefront of everything they do. Perhaps unexpectedly the most believable of the cast isThomas Shirley, whose otherworldly silent elf is a beautiful example of the simple power of a wide-eyed stare and the confidence to do very little.

It could do with some polish and more interplay from its actors, but at a tidy one hour long, this Night Before Christmas never bores, with Neilson’s wonderfully subversive text speaking for itself in the midst of this small but neatly formed production. A fun, if slightly disturbing, night at the theatre.

Running till 03 January 2010

When Henri Met Oscar

Written for Whats On Stage 19 November 2009

It’s always exciting to look into the lives of those artistic giants who have shaped our modern culture and delight in the surprises to be found there. Mark Rothko’s hatred of Andy Warhol, Claude Monet who, long before his bourgeoisie water lilies, was the enfant terrible of the art world; the list of real life intrigues is endless. 

Following this gossipy ‘tude therefore, When Henri Met Oscar, Michael Gannon’s new play, is bound to be a corker. Henri Toulouse-Lautrec with his painted whirling dervishes and Oscar Wilde’s delightfully sharp yet frothy wit, both outsiders of the Establishment, both in their separate ways obsessed with beauty; this was to be a meeting of titans. But instead of the explosion longed for, all that results in this confused play is a bemused fizzle, and a damp one at that.

We begin in a high class brothel in 1894 Paris, and end in a cafe in 1900.  During this time Wilde is imprisoned and released whilst Toulouse-Lautrec has been sectioned and is dying. Bewilderingly these life changing events do not affect any discernible personal development within Gannon’s characters. All we get to see is a continuous and tedious routine of griping and quipping at one another which bears no relation to a two-way friendship. Interspersed between their waspish discourse, prostitutes giggle and flirt, supposedly giving us a taste of the bohemian atmosphere of the Moulin Rouge.

Sadly for all this intended hedonism, the only joyous moments come when Wilde is quoted verbatim, with all else in this staging being quirky and awkward. This is a mess of a script that jumps incomprehensibly from the past to the present and gives no in-depth sense of these two men as either individuals or friends. After two hours the question still remains; what did happen when Henri met Oscar?

Director Sinead Kent fails to get a grip on the piece, leaving the cast to fall into either overacting, or under confident performances. Moments of silence are all too easily seen as accidents and consequently there are no moments of tension. Within this hesitant bumbling there are some valiant attempts at detailed physical characterization from Steven Rodgers, who at points succeeds in channeling a little of the spirit of Toulouse-Lautrec.  But this is more than can be said for the rest of this show, which disappointingly lacks any of the sublime clarity and conviction that made its eponymous heroes so exceptional.