Next Time I’ll Sing To You

Next Time I’ll Sing To You 

 

Genre: Comedy Drama

Venue:   Orange Tree Theatre, 1 Clarence Street, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 2SA  

 

Low Down

 

The Orange Tree staged many of James Saunders’s plays from 1973 onwards, including a production of Next Time I’ll Sing To You in 1974, a play in which he looked at the maddening challenge a playwright faces when drawing up characters either from ‘real life’ or from the imagination. It’s ‘them vs us’ as he or she wrestle with their own creations who somehow take on a (chaotic) life of their own. Authorship and authority are prised apart as characters are realised within the performance space.

Review

 

For a great deal of his working life as a playwright, James Saunders was a close friend and supporter of the Orange Tree Theatre which, he believed, was the kind of fringe theatre that “attempts an escape from the institutionalisation and ritualisation”. According to Saunders, the Orange Tree stood out midst a style and convention of British theatre that moved “more and more away fromreality”: rather than allowing theatregoers to relate the theatre to the outside world, it portrayed a “grotesque travesty of life”.  How ironic, then, that he chose so often to break away from naturalistic dramatic styles.

Martin Esslin named Saunders and the play Next Time I’ll Sing To You in his introduction of The Theatre Of The Absurd (1965) along with N. F. Simpson, David Campton, and Harold Pinter. The play had its premiere production at the Questor’s Theatre Ealing in 1962.  Viewing the production in 2011, I must admit I felt I was experiencing the performance from inside an echo-chamber with phrases and ideas from Beckett’s Waiting For Godot and Pirandello’s Six Characters In Search Of An Author bouncing off the dialogue.

So what still gets the audience laughing in 2011?

I believe it’s the strength of Saunders’s hypothesis that working in the theatre best mirrors the way humans are stuck with trying to create something in collaboration with others. Ironically, the theatre becomes the perfect place for showing the inescapable way that all attempts in ‘the search for meaning’ is riddled with diverse viewpoints, prejudices, visionary insights and the limitations of our own personal experiences and knowledge. Hence, the playwright/director as auteur would have much an easier life if it wasn’t for those pesty characters who strive to be portrayed according to the truth of their own perceptions.

The wonder of Next Time I’ll Sing To You is that it shows that the dilemma comes alive from the moment that an idea comes into being: I think therefore I am. It is already in existence within the playwright: hardwired (to use a contemporary metaphor to describe an essential self) in his/her psyche as s/he realises their ideas in a dramatic form.

What is more, as various performance theories have shown since Esslin and Saunders partook in their experiments on ‘the theatre of the absurd’, the acting style for such works requires a consciousness from the performer of thedifference between ‘acting’ and ‘just being’. The acting ensemble of Roger Parkins/ Meff, Brendan Paricks/ Dust, Holly Elmes/ Lizzie, Aden Gillet/ Rudge and Jamie Newall/ Hermit understand this with some gusto, though they seem somewhat limited by the direction that tries to ‘motivate’ every line naturalistically.  Nonetheless, the performances are athletic and strong with some moments excelling more than others: particularly memorable for me was the way that Jamie Newell steadily ‘becomes’ his hermit character and how Holly Elmes shapes her character as ‘not Lizzie’ but Lizzie’s sister, similarly named Lizzie!!

All in all, it is worth viewing this English ‘classic’ of Absurdist theatre.  And It is worth experiencing the work of a fine British playwright, James Saunders, and his sense of play and inventiveness at the Orange Tree.

Reviewed by Josey De Rossi Friday 11th November

Website :

 http://www.orangetreetheatre.co.uk/

http://www.jamessaunders.org/index.htm

James Saunders (1974) “The Casuality of Ritual” in theatre programme for Next Time I’ll Sing To You, 9 November – 10 December 2011

Martin Esslin, Introduction to “Penguin Plays – Absurd Drama” (Penguin, 1965)

 

Don Carlos

 

Genre: Drama

Venue:  Blue Elephant Theatre, 59a Bethwin Rd, Camberwell, SE5 0XT  

 

Low Down

 

Lazarus Theatre’s website clearly shows the depth of the young theatre company’s presentation of Elizabethan and Jacobean drama and Greek classics. The choice to stage Schiller’s 18th century classic Don Carlos is another milestone for the company. On viewing the rarely staged play at the Gielgud in 2005, Michael Billington wrote, “Who would have thought it – Schiller in Shaftesbury Avenue?” Similarly, my viewing of Don Carlos at the Blue Elephant on Thursday felt totally surprising. The play’s themes are common enough in classical literature: the use of marriage to secure political alliance; parental conflict, incest and political plots. However, the play’s non-Englishorigins and context creates a distinctively unfamiliar environment. Imaginatively, it seems simultaneously alien and totally engaging in its emotional unravelling.  The use of fog and mist appropriately permeates throughout the play: representing the unfolding tragedy overtaking father and son, new queen and established ladies-in-waiting, young prince and experienced courtiers, church and state and so on.  And as relationships work against each other, the mist-bound atmosphere seems a fitting symbol of the participants lack of clarity and loss of hope for the coming of a new age.

 

Review

 

The strength of Ricky Dukes’ direction and design is evident from the outset. The large gold-painted diamond centre stage is meticulously worked as a kind of ‘stage-within-a-stage’ throughout the show. It is a platform for key scenes and demarcates the action of characters ‘in the court’ and elsewhere. In the opening scene, it represents a crowded and convivial restaurant somewhere in France where the young Carlos escapes after losing his love, the French Princess Elizabeth, through her royal marriage to his father, Phillip II of Spain. In such a setting we first focus on the origins of the tragedy, arising from Carlos’s immature character and the explosive political times in which he lives, as Europe States fight for freedom against despotic kings.

Most memorably, the positioning of the painted diamond area is pivotal to the way in which scenes slowly assemble and come into view and then reassemble and become another scene. The effect of watching an ever-evolving narrative is made utterly fascinating through the discipline, focus and sheer physicality of the fifteen cast members. I marvelled at Heather Doole’s lighting design as it further defined Ria Whitton’s choreography, together with Dukes’ imaginative use of tableaux and precise timing of scene changes.

Also impressive was the full range of choral vocalisations together with a largely disciplined choice of sound effects. What didn’t work was the very faint background music in various settings. Was that Bolero which was being played in the opening restaurant scene?

There were many strong individual performances throughout the play. Firstly and most crucially, Robin Holden, Sherine Chalhie and Douglas Rutter worked well together to show the lethal tensions between Phillip, Elizabeth and Carlos. Sherine Chalhie portrayed a very strong Elizabeth who was entirely believable as Phillip’s dutiful wife and Carlos’s young lover. However, the similarity in age between Holden and Rutter rendered the roles of father and son far less effective: primarily because so much of the rivalry between them is expressed in the dialogue as a conflict between ‘age’ and ‘youth’. The youthful nature of the cast as a whole was obvious, as was their considerable talent, but I felt that not casting an older actor to play Phillip was counter to the meaning of the play.

The production also exhibits an absence of differentiation in the costuming of male characters in general, which was not the case for the female roles. As a result, while I felt I was able to come to know the manipulative ways of courtiers such as the Marchioness Mondecar and Princess Eboli. However, the largely undistinguished use of ‘men in suits’ made, for instance, David Palmstrom’s pivotal role as the Marquis De Posa less effective. This was despite the actor’s considerable skill in portraying his character as politician intent on rebellion.

These elements may become less important as the season at the Blue Elephant runs its course (the season finishes 26th November). I don’t believe they detract significantly from the overall power of the production. I very much recommend this rarely played but wonderfully passionate drama by Schiller ofDon Carlos by Lazarus Theatre Company at the Blue Elephant.

Reviewed by Josey De Rossi Thursday 3 November

Website :

 http://www.blueelephanttheatre.co.uk/

http://lazarustheatrecompany.webs.com/