The Manor (National Theatre, London)
A Christmas Carol (Old Vic, London)
Referee: A cure, whatever the season
Four Quartets (Harold Pinter Theatre)
Verdict: Glimpses of Eternity
Finally, the National Theater has created a play that only paranoid far-right conspiracy theorists and soil-worshipping nut jobs will be able to understand.
It will leave anyone else confused and confused, but on the plus side, it shows that the country’s leading theater actually reaches all segments of society.
The setting for Moira Buffini’s new rambling and crazy play, starring gorgeous Nancy Carroll and slider Sean Evans (he’s from Endeavor on ITV and Vigil’s latest BBC series), seems simple enough.
Diana (Carol) lives in a dilapidated country house that has been destroyed by a biblical storm, apparently caused by climate change.
In search of shelter, a cross section of modern British society appears on her doorstep.
The first to arrive is a gay old chaplain (David Hargreaves), followed by a black nurse from London (Michelle Austin) and her balshi daughter (Shanekwa Ukok).
They are joined by Ted Farrer (Evans), the leader of Albion: a fictional group of white supremacist British Nationalists.
The setting for Moira Buffini’s rambling and downright crazy theater, starring the usually gorgeous Nancy Carroll and the mercurial Sean Evans (pictured), seems simple enough.
Even inside the house, things are pretty stormy. After an argument, mystery rock star husband Diana (Owen McDonnell) falls downstairs while high on magical mushrooms.
His daughter Isis (Lidan Dunlea) is not too upset. She seems more careful to point out that it is named after the Egyptian deities, not the Islamic State.
Also at the spontaneous house party from Hell is an overweight former Sainsbury check-out assistant (Edward Judge) who falls under Ted’s spell – and Ted’s driver (Peter Bray), recruited for the Albion case while in prison.
Finally, there’s Ted’s blind academic girlfriend (Amy Forrest), who happens to be an expert on French revolutionary history.
Diana’s manor house, I think, means representing Britain as it fell apart. But really, it’s just an excuse for men to talk about a fanatical sub-Nietzsche.
Inevitably, there is discontent about Islamic takeovers. The nurse vehemently warns that they are “sticking to the laws of the future”. what does that mean? Who knows.
Buffini did better with the Reverend, who has a sweet line in Whitney Houston’s words: “It’s hard to maintain love until you love yourself.”
But with everyone setting their oar, there are simply too many random characters, armed with too many intrusive thoughts.
Carol’s curious Diana goes from being rejected by Ted to becoming fascinated by a “charismatic man of action.”
Swinging from his sprained ankle, Ted Evans is a rough, Reiss-dressed Scouser. He may be vaguely charismatic, but not in some way to rip your clothes off – more in “Call the cops, now!” Kind of way (although, to be fair to Diana, her phone lines are down).
It’s no surprise that Fiona Buffini’s production fails to comprehend her sister’s crazy adventure, which is neither overly dangerous nor downright funny.
It’s hard to look at Lez Brotherston’s shaky ensemble as the plot to follow. The music for John Nichols’ movie prompts us to think about all this in terms of the end of the world.
I’m at least impressed that the Buffini sisters managed to channel this mess through the National’s literary department.
I’ve always suspected that the place might have been infiltrated by dissident right-wing Fifth Column writers. Now, perhaps, we have proof.
Another Christmas carol in November? Bah crap!
Mark Gates’ first production in Nottingham (it reopened this week at Alexandra Palace); And now Stephen Mangan, on the fifth Old Vic iteration of the show in five years.
Wouldn’t theaters better keep dark and “reduce overpopulation” in Christmas carols, as the old miser might say?
of course no! Matthew Warchus’ production of an adaptation of Jack Thorne is the standard for modern Christmas carols on stage.
Stephen Mangan enters the show like sage-and-onion stuffing in a festive bird — even if he looks more like the kind of metropolitan beard guy you’d expect to find advertising rare turkeys from Waitrose than a miser, counting his pennies and regretting his “choices” in life.
And Mangan goes on show like stuffing sage and onions in a ceremonial bird — even if he sounds more like the kind of bearded, downtrodden guy you’d expect to find advertising rare turkeys from Waitrose than a miser, promising his pennies and regretting his “choices” in life.
In any case, the real star in the Warchus production is the atmosphere created by the lanterns of the Milky Way above Rob Howell’s viewing platform. Here, most of the scene is provided by creaking sound effects, as Ebenezer is given a tour of his life by the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future.
Christopher Nightingale’s charming music sends the actors reeling into dances, and makes them sing excerpts of hymns as the scene changes, while weaving in various heart-warming hues in O Holy Night. Finally, the ringing of the hand-held crystal bell dampens the intensity and liveliness of the audience’s attention.
Add to that an ice machine filling the stage with white flakes—and a FoodCycle charity whip-round—and dare I say it…it’s a Christmas carol that doesn’t come too soon.
Best of all, it will be more mature next month.
Matthew Warcus’ production of Jack Thorne’s adaptation is the standard for modern Christmas carols on stage
Fiennes’ performance is poetry in motion
Written by Libby Perves
Sometimes a simple, short performance can shake you, excite you, or even change you. So step away from the mundane rush of earnings and spending, and leave the flashy Christmas streets and annoying scrolling screens.
Sit quietly for 75 minutes while the tall, high-brow, slightly rickety man contemplates time, eternity, and annihilation.
Feel with him the ‘fixed center of the transformation realm’, the piercing marvel of those moments when suddenly, something enormous fills you, and then slips away, unquestionable.
T.S. Eliot wrote these four long poems in the 1930s and 1940s: It’s not easy, but its music and images have great power.
Ralph Fiennes spent the long closures learning them by heart: he had recorded them before, but he wanted to get closer to Eliot’s religious and philosophical vision.
He feels, in this performance, that he has been able to do just that: to access (although no human being will ever realize it) the meaning of those eternal moments.
They may come in a silent rose garden, by a choppy sea, with the distant sounds of children, or (as in Elliot’s case) while watching the fire at night during a raid.
Ralph Fiennes spent the two long closings learning them by heart: he had recorded them before, but wanted to get closer to Eliot’s religious and philosophical vision
When Fiennes learned the poems, it occurred to him–because the closures made time seem to compress or stretch, revealing our fragility–that the four could be performed physically.
It was a genius on his part, because his presence and movement on stage endeared us: sometimes dramatic, sometimes almost hilarious. It’s a simple set, with gorgeous rotating gray walls: dark spaces open and close as he wanders between them, drifting from exaltation to despair, sometimes amusement.
For Elliot, he is sometimes lyrically beautiful, often educated, but also abruptly stopping to think about his baffling inability to express what he glimpses.
Fiennes takes advantage of this and sometimes seems to appeal to us, sometimes alone, in the depths of contemplation.
He may have toured this extraordinary show for several months which may give it more depth. It’s worth drowning in.