Right – got that out of the way.
It has to be to its upmost credit that the production at the Donmar Warehouse held my attention for three hours as I was very, very tired. I think a lot of that has to do with the intimacy of the venue where you can pretty much touch the actors, or feel as if you can even in the Circle, and a superb cast. Take the first scene. I happily watched it but only got hold of a little bit of plot exposition and character relations plus a few witticisms, whilst remaining lost on about 80% of the conversation between the two friends talking in a coffee house.
I better add here that I did not know a thing about the play when I sat down in the theatre. The plot is deliberately complicated and boy, is there a lot of talking. I do understand a director wanting authenticity of text, but there is no need to do any lopping here. I reckon thirty minutes could be delicately pruned at no expense to the text and to the benefit of the actors; it’s a fast-talking comedy with elements of farce and it has to keep energy and pace or it’s going to lose its audience. The first three acts pre-interval were beautifully acted. The fourth act is very funny indeed and the last act (successfully here) walks a fine line resolving itself between comedy and, if not tragedy, certainly an unexpected seriousness when characters revealed depths unseen before.
There is a lot of teamwork for the actors as in all good comedy and that’s why I think they need a shorter production. No one misses a beat in their performances, but a shorter text would bind the actors even tighter, rather than (what they must be doing) have them concentrating on saying so much the audience isn’t going to care about or understand.
I hate to gripe as this is a crack team of performers and the production is well directed with visual and vocal clarity by the very experienced James MacDonald. Haydn Gwynne had me laughing uncontrollably at her Lady Wishfort, Fisayo Akinade as Witwoud just had to walk on stage to make me smile; but again his repartee with Simon Manyonda’s Petulant would have sparkled more with some pruning. Justine Mitchell fleshed out Millamant in such a way that made me desperate to see her play Beatrice, and her chemistry with Geoffrey Streatfield’s Mirabell was perfect. I’m loathe to fail to name them all as not one actor struck a false note.
Hats off to all involved and I really mean that. In a way I’d like to see it nearer the end of its run when it will have bedded down and the actors will be even more comfortable with each other. Even if it was fire instead of fireworks, just writing about it here has brought back the many pleasures it gave me.