Page 10, 14th March 2003

14th March 2003
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Page 10, 14th March 2003 — A welcome new Russian invasion
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A welcome new Russian invasion

Theatre

Claus von Bulow

Tre Russians have captured the Royal Court in Sloane Square, so Her Majesty's forces are going off to Baghdad. Vassily Sigaiev's ew play Black Milk will be followed by the Presnyakov Brothers's aptly named creation, Terrorism. Sigarev has read his Dostoevsky, Turgenev and Gogol, so his story is full of criminality, with a hint of redemption. His main character, Lyeatchik is a sleazy young crook selling defective electric toasters to ignorant peasants. One is reminded of Gogol's Chichikov charging across the vast steppes in his quest to buy lost souls. Paul Ready, as Lyovehik, is as despicable as a cartoon capitalist, and his pregnant wife, Shunt, played by Sarah Cattle, is a selfish, screaming bitch, until she finds serenity through maternity. Will it last?

The Russian Government is not sending criminals to prison, but exporting them to the south of France and to South Kensington, where they buy the best real estate. Why doesn't Blair export our gun-toting

boys to "roam" on Scottish grouse moors? The Northern Stage Ensemble adaptation of Orwell's novel, 1984, at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, is a most unusual theatrical experience. Adapted by Alan Lyddiard, who also co-directs with Mark Murphy, it is a multi-media event, a blend of film with stage action, and with music from Bach to Stravinsky. Orwell's fastidious prose is brought into the modem world by inserting expletives to make a sergeant-major blush. The film scenes are in black and white for outdoor shots in Moscow and Newcastle, and in colour for the most horrific physical torture imaginable. This is a dramatic mistake. No one can resist physical torture indefinitely, irrespective of whether the torturer is in the Kremlin, Berlin or Baghdad.

Orwell would have found brain-washing by Big Brother of real interest. Even without any psychotropic drugs, an electorate can be reduced to a subservient blancmange by incessant dumbeddown programmes on the BBC, and a politically motivated state school penswn massaging young minds. Telly-mesmerisation is more dangerous than drug-addiction since many junkies die before they vote.

The late historian, Sir Harold Acton, wrote a short novel called Prince Isidmr, about a young nobleman with a fatal gift. Whenever he looks lovingly at someone they die and he inherits everything. In Dead Divas that talented performer, Lssy Van Randwyck plays a celebrity-snuck fan of a number of famous divas, who all promptly die young: Marilyn Monroe, Janis Joplin, Alma Cogan, Billie Holiday, and Mama Cass in quick succession meet their end. 1 he show. which opened at the Jermyn Street Theatre, was described as a "work in progress". It already seemed quite wonderfully funny and perfect to me. and deserves a transfer to a larger audience.

Some months ago I praised another Jennyn Street production, Ancestral Voices, Hugh Massingberd's wonderfully evocative adaptation of James LeesMilne's best selling diaries. Happily this will come back for another short run in the same theatre starting April 22 and with other occasional one-nightstands in grand architectural settings, like Somerset House. Just what the author would have liked.

The new Hampstead Theatre is certainly also a grand architectural venue. Nothing could be more indicative of the VOlkerwanderung of audiences away from Mayor Livingstone's penalised Shaftesbury Avenue towards this palazzo at Swiss Cottage. The Safari Party by Tim Firth, and directed by Alan Ayckbourn had three acts with two intervals, allowing for some expensive scene changes. and for

maximum utilisation of the huge theatre bar. That was a help.

No stimulus was, however, needed for a wonderful evening of poetry readings organised in aid of the Anton Foundation at the Duke of York Theatre on a Sunday night. Poems were read by Harriet Walter, Imogen Stubbs, Ryan Kiggell, Andrew Motion and Harold Pinter, ranging through the treasure trove of English poetry. At my age tears come easily and I am grateful for it. Even Pinter's reading of Wilfred Owen's "Duke et decorum est" said more about war than any partisan oratory.

The poems, the prose, the jokes and the loneliness of the late Philip Larkin are brought back to us by Tom Courtenay in Pretending To Be Me at the Comedy 'Theatre. It is a memorable performance, one to treasure. There are moments when Courtenay temporarily pauses and his silence, the expression on his ravaged face and the look in his eyes speak to us even more profoundly than the text. That is acting of a very high order. The director, Ian Brown, and the designer, Tim 1-latley, have staged this voyage through Larlcin's life on a day when he had to move house and therefore finds himself in a room that is too small, surrounded by packing cases, filing cabinets, a pot often, and, of course, a bottle of whisky. Very much the flotsam and detritus of anyone's life.




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