Into Thin Air! / A Few Good Men / Julius Caesar / Switch Triptych
Various venues
September, 2005

This is probably the smallest issue of Theatre Record since I took over its editorship.  Part of this apparent paucity is due to minor changes in layout, part simply to the time of year: this issue, as ever, carries all reviews from major London and national newspapers and magazines of plays opening in the fortnight in question.  And in any case, there may be fewer pages, but all the usual features are still included.


There’s the traditional dodgy musical.  Jonathan Gibbs puts his finger on one of the main problems with Into Thin Air!: it could work thoroughly amiably as period pastiche, but once it brings wacky ideas into play it simply doesn’t go far enough with them.  Never mind the cheap ’n’ cheerful staging, with eerie lights and a door in the backdrop serving as the main evidence of extraterrestrial weirdness – this is principally a failing in Robert Gray’s script.  And perhaps I saw the show on an off night, but either Wayne Sleep is putting some altogether too subtle notes into his characterization of the merely modestly-talented camp adjutant, or else he is indeed beginning to run out of terpsichorean steam: I saw a Sleep that was on top prancing form for his solo spotlight sequences but oddly tentative when dancing with partners, especially during the first act.

There’s Michael Billington’s preoccupation with the supposed tyranny of the 90-minute play, cropping up again in his review of Harvest.  Lately this has almost overtaken socio-political engagement as Michael’s most frequently voiced theatrical concern; it’s only to be expected that he would find a kindred perspective in the first significant play to emerge from the Monsterist school of writing since its “foundation”.


There’s the major West End production that divides opinion.  Roderic Dunnett and Georgina Brown captain the cheerleading squad for A Few Good Men; Kate Bassett and old faithful Nicholas de Jongh lead the catcalls.  Myself, I fall somewhere between the two camps (let’s call them Delta and X-Ray).  Like Charlie Spencer, I continue to be as much of a sap as the next man for any halfway decent courtroom drama, and this is halfway decent at the very least.  What disappointed me was in part that Aaron Sorkin didn’t examine some of his issues closely enough.  Granted, this was Sorkin’s first play, and one shouldn’t judge it by the subsequent standards he set himself with The West Wing.  Nevertheless, when sidekick lawyer Sam protests that “any decent human being” would have protested the illegal orders in question, Sorkin leaves the remark unchallenged; the play is all about the particular instance of the US Marines’ code of honour, and doesn’t address the point that the training programme of pretty much every armed fighting force in the world is geared precisely towards extinguishing all “decent human being” impulses, since individuality and compassion are considered damaging to the cohesion of such a force.  And as regards avoiding too much of a critical tone, David Esbjornson’s staging waves the flag rather too literally, even at one point invoking the classic image of Marines raising the Stars and Stripes on Iwo Jima.  “You’ll think you were there,” opines Roderic; well, only if you believe that a US Marine would execute his rifle drill moves with all the fluidity of a dancer and none of the crisp precision of a soldier.

There’s the worryingly misjudged throwaway comment.  Zubin Varla as Brutus in Julius Caesar “wears a kebab shop owner’s T-shirt”, says Quentin Letts.  True, it was a hot night when David Farr’s production opened in Hammersmith, but I noticed no signs of sweat, stains or any discoloration on Varla’s shirt.  The only other possible meaning I can see in the phrase is that he is wearing a T-shirt and happens to have a certain kind of complexion.  Why not comment on Varla’s overly musical delivery (which put me strongly in mind of his portrayal of Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar several years ago, in that he sang his Shakespearean lines almost as much), which is surely rather more germane than his dress and/or ethnic heritage?

There are the first couple of Edinburgh transfers, most notably Switch Triptych.  Adriano Shaplin’s play suffered dreadfully last month from being presented in the huge Ballroom space of the Assembly Rooms, whose acoustics worked directly against Shaplin’s style (as both writer and director) of high-speed declamation.  It also didn’t particularly seem to say anything that Shaplin hasn’t said a handful of times before.  On its transfer to Soho, the venerable Aleks Sierz raves, “Older audiences might find it overheated but that’s because it’s young, young, young”, whereas Brian Logan, some 20 years younger than Aleks, finds it anything but overheated.

Written for Theatre Record.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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