In Celebration
Duke Of York's Theatre, London WC2
July, 2007

[...] From an absolutely up-to-date show to an antiquated one.  At least, that seems to be the opinion of most of the reviewers of In Celebration.  I don’t agree.  It was relatively recently, in 2001, that I made a belated acquaintance with David Storey’s work through the production of this play at the Minerva in Chichester; it struck me with the force of a revelation.  I can’t believe that either the world or I have changed so much since then.

I don’t think it’s valid to argue that the world in which the play (written in 1969) is set is unbridgeably alien to us because Britain’s coal mining industry has all but died since then, any more than Shakespeare’s histories are alien to us because we no longer have an absolute monarchy.  I don’t believe that British men have become radically more expressive emotionally in little more than a generation.  And as for the dissipation of class consciousness... as one of my reviews published last issue observed, all it takes to dispel that notion is to listen to an audience react to Shaw’s Pygmalion.  So I don’t think it is the play that is at fault here.  But I sat in the Duke Of York’s Theatre watching the play that had so impressed me, and utterly failed to connect with my own previous responses.


I have come to the conclusion that there’s too much acting being done in this version… at least in the first half.  Things happen after the interval, but mostly they take the form of shouting and crying and a general feeling that it’s best to pretend they didn’t happen after all.  But that long first half is all about a stilted family reunion, and director Anna Mackmin and the cast have made the mistake of trying to fill the space with Personality, Emotions and the like.  Tim Healy is a fine actor; he gives it all he’s got as the father, and he has quite a bit, but I’m not sure this is the play for it.  After all, legend has it that during rehearsals for the Royal Court première in 1969, director Lindsay Anderson at one point berated an actor, “Don’t just do something – stand there!”

In a perverse way, what is impressive about Orlando Bloom is precisely how little he does: the fact is that the star name on which the production is sold is perfectly happy to just stand there much of the time.  He performs with an admirable self-effacement that is entirely faithful to his character.  But then, if the entire production had taken that tone, it would probably have felt dwarfed even in what by West End standards is a comparatively small venue, and its presence in the West End would be even more of a mystery than it currently is to many.  Perhaps I was just lucky to make the play’s acquaintance in a studio venue, and perhaps Bloom should have allowed himself to be enticed into a more intimate space like the Almeida for his stage debut if it was to be in this kind of piece.

Written for Theatre Record.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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