My Night with Reg , Donmar Warehouse – Or Reg’s nights with all his friends

3.5 hearts

It’s been twenty years since My Night with Reg was first produced at the Royal Court Theatre but the drama remains touching and funny in equal measure. The play explores the lives of a group of gay men in the mid-80s as they navigated the early years of the AIDS epidemic. The men meet in Guy’s flat to celebrate his house-warming but subsequent meetings all follow the wake of a friend. Over the course of the evening, it becomes clear that, the never seen Reg, has bedded all his friends save for Guy but that none of them know about the others.

My Night With Reg - Geoffrey Streatfeild (Daniel), Jonathan Broadbent (Guy) and Julian Ovenden (John)

My Night With Reg – Geoffrey Streatfeild (Daniel), Jonathan Broadbent (Guy) and Julian Ovenden (John)

The play is universal in tackling such topics as unrequited love, deception, betrayal or the regrets we hold at paths taken and does this in a very touching way. Kevin Elyot’s text is very funny but ultimately wrenching in addressing how these lives were affected by this terrible disease and the destructive nature of its community, continuing with their promiscuous behaviour even when surrounded by the death of so many of their friends.

Notwithstanding the above, this is a gay play in that it deals with a part of history, which affected mostly gay men with the consequences and worries of this deadly disease. But is it also a gay play in that this group of men is strictly different in their behaviour to non-homosexual people (Although I suspect that straight men might envy the sexual license granted in gay relationships). The disparity of the group assembled is one such difference. While some of the men have known each other since university others are working class men such as Bennie, a bus drivers, and Eric, a house painter. It seemed that being gay defined them more than other aspects of their lives and that while they were all very friendly to each other, their promiscuous behaviour led directly to cheating or betraying their friends and lovers.

Directed by Robert Hastie, the cast all give excellent performances. Julian Ovenden, as John, is charming and confident in that way handsome people can be but convincingly distraught to lose his secret lover. Jonathan Broadbent is fantastic as the shy and insecure Guy. The constant, comforting friend whom everyone likes but no one loves. Geoffrey Streatfeild, as Daniel, is the suave extrovert who would rather turn a blind eye than face the truth while never-failing to find the gay joke in any dialogue. Richard Cant, as Bernie, is your boring but loveable aunt Mavis. Matt Bardock is Bennie, the bus driver, who is all working class straightforwardness while, Eric, played by Lewis Reeves, the house painter cum barman, is unknowingly wise and innocent.

The 80s set and costumes by Peter McKintosh beautiful recreates Guy’s carefully manicured drawing-room with period turn table, vinyl collection, Bowie music, Marlboro cigarettes and lots of scotch. The rain, which never quite washes off the sins of the past, was a lovely touch.

Although this is a thoughtful and moving play that makes you laugh while reflecting on loneliness and loss, it never achieved the emotional impact such a subject would warrant nor sought to answer the why behind the deception and lies that abounded within this group of loveable men.

Fathers and Sons, Donmar Warehouse – Or what happens when you are 20 and think you will change the world

3 hearts

This 1987 adaptation by Brian Friel’s of Ivan Turgenev’s 1862 Russian novel has all the charm of a Chekov evening.  We are yet again in a remote provincial dacha where Nikolai Kirsanov, a Russian landowner, awaits the return home of his prodigal son who his studying at university in St Petersburg.

Arkady arrives with his friend Yevgeny Bazarov who quickly disrupts the family gathering by asserting his nihilistic views of the world where human existence does not have meaning, purpose or value. He rudely dismisses what he considers to be useless, and in that category he includes art, beauty and romance. He is quick to point out that love does not exist and that taking your pleasure is the only relevant experience to pursue with women. Of course from that point on, we all know what will happen to Bazarov.

Joshua James as Arkady and Seth Numrich as Bazarov in Fathers and Sons

Joshua James as Arkady and Seth Numrich as Bazarov in Fathers and Sons

Pavel, Nikolai’s brother and Arkady’s uncle, takes an immediate dislike to the young man, as he believes in the aristocratic traditions of old with his dandy looks and penchant for French and English culture. Each man represents the symbol of the struggle between the “fathers” of old Russia, with their liberal ways, and their nihilist “sons”, representing the rising new Russia.

Over the space of the evening, the two young men crisscross the countryside visiting family and Madame Anna Odintsova, a young widow and her younger sister, Katya. Being a Russian play, you know that things won’t end well. Obviously much of the original Turgenev story cannot make it on stage but I must admit to finding the entire evening a little perplexing as if too many strands of the book had been brought to our attention but none had been allowed to develop fully.

Bazarov’s relationship with Arkady is never fully explained. They both fall in love but we never really understand why, except that it contradicts their earlier beliefs. Madame Odintsova’s attitude to Bazarov is sketchy at best. Nikolai’s bumbling management of his estate is never really explored nor his relationship with Fenchka, his mistress and the daughter of his old housekeeper. The duel between Bazarov and Pavel does not lead to a real confrontation of either their diverging political views or love interests. The last scene brings us back to the Kirsanov home where Arkady, distraught after his friend’s death, asserts his decision that he is meant to carry on his friend’s revolutionary ideals but simultaneously takes on the running of his father’s feudal estate. Are you confused by now? Because I am.

Brian Friel has long been attracted by the impact of a character who is not what he purports to be. He has played with the deceiver, the impostor and the exiled character who is dissociated from himself, his surroundings or even his family. In Bazarov, it seems that he has found such a character. He is a young revolutionary whose ideals have not yet been tested by real life but while the character might be interesting, the play never really takes off.

That being said, Lyndsey Turner directs this Donmar Warehouse production adroitly and the acting from the entire and very large cast is consistently good. Anthony Calf is a charming and convincing, if ineffective, landowner. Caoilfhionn Dunne, who plays Fenichka, is both deferential and loving. Tim McMullan is excellent as Pavel, full of mannerism and bon mots. Joshua James as Arkady is all passion with not much substance. Seth Numrich (fresh from his success in the Old Vic’s Sweet Bird of Youth) is excellent as the handsome revolutionary. Elaine Cassidy was good as the widow Anna Odintsova. Susan Engel, as Princess Olga, has some of the best lines, which she delivers with perfect timing. Karl Johnson was wonderful as Bazarov’s father while Lindy Whiteford was convincing as his admiring mother driven to madness. Finally, David Fielder, Jack McMullen, Siobhan McSweeney, Phoebe Sparrow all added to a fantastic ensemble piece. The design by Rob Howell is all distressed wood and fall from earlier glories, capturing beautifully the essence of Russia mid 19th century.

Privacy, Donmar Warehouse – I’m watching you! Yes, you!

4.5 hearts

What is privacy in an age where we advertise our lives online to anyone and sundry? You might think that this does not concern you. After all, you’re no terrorist and (like my companion) you might not even have a Facebook account. But, if privacy means that you are not observed or disturbed by other people, then you would be very wrong indeed.

Privacy -  Gunnar Cauthery, Michele Terry, Nina Sosanya, Joshua McGuire and Paul Chahidi.

Privacy – Gunnar Cauthery, Michele Terry, Nina Sosanya, Joshua McGuire and Paul Chahidi.

The protagonist at the centre of James Graham’s new play is the writer himself. The play details the fictional (or not) journey the playwright took in writing Privacy and while it is not a documentary, it is also not quite fiction either. It reminded me of the very enjoyable New York Public Radio show called Radio Lab. Graham has cleverly structured the play to mirror the ideas that are central to his explorations of what exactly we understand about our own privacy in today’s world. Do you know what information you give away unwittingly to various government surveillance programmes and corporations? And how would you feel if all the information you left behind was made public- right here, right now.

Throughout the evening, Graham breaks down the fourth wall in a completely new way and attempts to shake us out of our lethargy. To make his case, he brings on many famous and less well-known people from William Hague and Edward Snowden to various behavioural scientists and Clive Humby, the investor of Tesco’s Clubcard, the first data gathering tool invented to know things about you. Without veering into the political, he tells it like it is and let’s you decide what to make of all this.

I’m not going to say anymore about the plot for reasons that will become only too clear to those who are lucky enough to have tickets for this fantastic and provocative piece of theatre. Joshua McGuire is excellent as the slightly naïve and troubled playwright, Gunnar Cauthery, Paul Chahidi, Jonathan Coy, Nina Sosanya and Michele Terry are all extremely versatile and convincing in their many respective roles. The very ingenious set is designed by Lucy Osborne and the whole is directed with precision by Josie Rourke. Go and find out what information you have divulged today…

Donmar Warehouse Announces New Season – A tantalising choice of old and new

Mark your calendars.  The Donmar’s new season will be open for new bookings on November 26th and the tickets will sell quickly if the new line-up is anything to go by.

First off, Josie Rourke, the Donmar’s Artistic Director, is giving us Peter Gill‘s Versailles, a new play which is set around the 1919 Paris Peace Conference.  The play looks at the consequences of the Treaty of Versailles and coincides with the centenary of the start of the Great War.

Versailles: February 20th – April 5th

For the second course, Rourke herself will direct James Graham‘s new play Privacy which explores how governments and corporations collect and use our personal information.  James Graham who brought us the 2012 Oliver nominated This House at the National Theatre has been interviewing journalists and government ministers to get an up-to-the-moment snapshot of the state of cyber snooping.  I would definitely book this play.

Privacy Courtesy Donmar Warehouse

Privacy Courtesy Donmar Warehouse

Privacy: April 10th – May 31st

Finally, Lyndsey Turner is directing Brian Friel‘s Fathers and Sons.  Ms Turner has directed a number of stage successes, amongst them, the superlative Chimerica (Almeida Theatre, 2012),  the very good Philadelphia Here I Come! (Donmar Warehouse, 2012) and the timely Posh (Royal Court Theatre/West End 2010).  The play, which is an adaptation of Turgenev’s novel, is set in Russia in the mid 19th century where an anarchic young man visits his best friend, the son of a rich provincial landowner.   Determined to dislike his bourgeois hosts, he is tormented by conflicting emotions.   The play is obviously political but also concerned with the fraught difficulties of parent-child relationships.  I have to admit upfront that I have a weakness for Friel’s plays which resonate with emotions and humanity.

Fathers and Sons: June 5th – July 26th