Brideshead Revisited

By Evelyn Waugh, adapted for stage by Bryony Lavery
Performed by the ETT in co-production with the York Theatre Royal
At the Oxford Playhouse


Spurred on and swaddled in an 8 year old’s soft memories of Anthony Andrews, loving his teddy and sporting a pastel sweater hung delightfully upon his shoulders, Team Family minus one, arrived at yesterday’s matinee clearly ready to see some fabulous 1920s outfits; a bear with a name; and an exploration into Man Friendship. Gratefully we got that and more, so much more.

Mummy issues were explored; insecurities were shared; artistic creativity included; the impact of war; but most fascinatingly for me, maybe as I didn’t get it or understand it the first time, the influence of religion, specifically Catholicism, can have on one’s life, not just in terms of the choices you make but the guilt you carry.

Somewhere in the fog of my limited memory I think I recall having a couple of discussions with my husband about Waugh as a writer and how religion was something he had an opinion on, but it wasn’t until yesterday’s show that I believe I’ve felt it as being so profoundly central to the story being told. I guess I tend to think of him as writer of horridly funny books which take the mickey like The Loved One or Vile Bodies, but maybe I missed the religious comments in those…Anyway, one thing’s for sure, I’ve added another book to the forever increasing must read bedside stack and now back to the yesterday’s production.

With limited staging and well considered props, Charles Ryder’s memories are shared simply and effectively. From the 1st Act where you are participating in imagining what he sees – an ornate fountain, a private chapel, a grand house that holds so many dear and real memories – your imagination fills in the necessaries and makes the stage more stuffed and filled with the kind of pieces you’d expect to find in a grand house then a design team could ever wish to detail.

And I just remembered a ripper scene where Charles and Julia are on a boat sailing across the Atlantic and not only is it moving in an emotionally enjoyable manner, the way they spin across stage with the assistance of some ropes and a pulley system – simple and extraordinary.

The casting is also very good, ‘Julia’ is guarded but loving; ‘Lady Marchmain’ detestable and thankfully not my mother; ‘Sebastian’ you just want to cuddle and remove him from the situation; and ‘Charles’, although hardly off stage, manages to present and inhabit a character whom is reversed, frustrated and a true friend, in the most believable way possible.

And the adaptation – picks up on the essentials. The memories are explored, a variety of places are visited, and time moves back and forth, without you ever being confused or feeling ‘You know what this doesn’t work’, because it does work. Lavery has taken a much loved book, TV series and movie, and turned it into a thoroughly enjoyable, thinking piece of live theatre.

A Little Life

By Hanya Yanagihara

A little life

In a courageous bid to break my addiction to daytime playbacks of Reality TV, in particular anything that starts with ‘The Real Housewives of…’, I thought it would be safest to turn to my bookshelf for some escapism instead, so prepare yourselves as my reviews might be coming in thick and fast.

Kicking off with A Little Life, which is anything but little. It’s sweet, upsetting, beautiful, revealing, disturbing and difficult, but definitely not little.

It’s so tough at times I started think, ‘Can I do this?’ however I did and couldn’t put it down all day yesterday as I continued to turn the final 250 pages.

You are placed in a character’s head (and not just one), throughout the telling. Silently watching their decision-making and you’re drip-fed details throughout, either from the present or past and then suddenly you are in the future – though you shan’t be confused by the structure, it actually feels right, the story should be delivered this way.

And sometimes it reads so slowly and then at others it’s like your speeding through, like in the olden days when you could use your video remote controller to run the picture in slow-slow motion and then at normal speed.  The author’s deliberate use of this focus on time, gives you time to absorb and then continue – like you would in everyday life.

Oh and you never know what’s coming. Honestly, I couldn’t predict even the next page.

Based around four male characters whom have met in college and moved to NYC in their early twenties, this tale is more an epic for it spans their lifetimes. The more you read, the more familiar they become and you become, to the way they see things. These are normal people, they have issues, they are dealing with them in the best way they can. As the reader you are left powerless to intervene, but this I guess is the point, sometimes you can’t, you can’t save, you just have to support and love and adjust. For loving people, and friendships, are rewarding and fabulous, but also tough.  You know it, I know it and this story explores it with such authenticity and beauty.

Yanagihara invites you into the scene and provides you each characters point of view. She doesn’t preach, she doesn’t provide you with solutions, she just gives you the facts and illustrates how humans negotiate their environments.

Presented with some pretty hard-core no-win situations, where every angle or approach can be justified in the circumstances by at least some of the characters (even if delusion is the only validator at times), you’re made to stop and think and reassess.  In particular, the issue/impact of immense psychological damage as a result of years of monstrous abuse. Never before have I read a book that looks at how the victim deals with life afterwards and takes steps to normalise it.

Strikingly, it’s also a very positive book, for you are privy to some truly tender private moments which are so beautiful and saturated in love as well as great declarations/celebrations of shared love.

And yes, there is a high probability you’ll cry, surprisingly I only started at page 607, had a little breather until page 641, eye-sweated again for a page then spent the final four pages hiccupping away my tears.

This is a remarkable book and I look forward to reading Yanagihara again.

The Alchemist

By Ben Jonson
At the RSC
The Alchemist
Twenty years ago I had the happy pleasure of experiencing the Belvoir Street Theatre (a fabulously talented Sydney based theatre company), interpretation of this hilarious treat. And double bonus to such (and thank you so much Jess South), I was sitting front row and was in the presence of two insanely talented actors – Hugo Weaving and Geoffrey Rush – delivering this extraordinary tale of con with a huge helping of play and chemistry. So naturally that evening and the play have stayed with me…will kind of…

So, I remembered the intimacy of the space; the way the actors bounced off each other and clearly relished sharing the script; and the wit; but what I didn’t recall was the actual events – so luckily six nights ago, I had a refresher.

From the musicians who start off the wackiness and confusion and hilarity through to the final bows, this show is crazy-silly-funny and delights. Often I see theatre which is serious and sometimes dark, so it was a great change just to laugh along with the satire.

Additionally, the casting’s great and Team Family were overjoyed to play, ‘I know him, wasn’t he the husband in Queen Anne’ and golly I could go on, I mean the RSC’s really gifted at identifying and hiring the very best actors working now.

The action places itself in 1610, when the plague is reaping havoc across London and the opportunity to take advantage arises. Jeremy’s Master’s left town and he, with two other less than trustworthy types, start trading in the not so honest and taking advantage of the gullible whom arrive at their door. Among them are, the merry and saucy Sir Epicure Mammon looking to turn his pots and pans into gold and pick up a little love along the way; two Dutch Protestants whom you know are slippery and played so particularly well; a gambler with bad teeth; a tobacconist with the cups not just half full, but going to overflow in a couple of moments expression; and a very amusing brother and sister combination.

It’s all jolly good fun and on in Stratford-Upon-Avon until 6 August, then transfers to the Barbican.