Friday, 23 March 2012

I want my own revenge! And I want it in the Old Vic!

I went to see Eve Best
in The Duchess of Malfi the other evening. Don’t.

Or, at least, if you do, laugh. It is truly terrible. She’s as good as you’d expect, given her CV. But everything else was bad, bad, bad.

As my wife said, you knew it was really bad as soon as the actors came onstage in a kind of choreographed procession. She’s a dancer and movement teacher so she’s knows about these things. But even I . . .

In fact, I should have been tipped the wink even earlier, by the set  — which must have cost a lot but which didn’t really leave much room on the stage for the actors. So they spent all their time in the middle of the stage.

They shouted a lot, too. I know that shouting is one of the prime rules for actors in Shakespearean and Jacobean drama and I wish they’d simply stop it. But this was really shouty. No rhythm to the speeches either — Eve Best aside.

So far, so quite completely awful. My wife left at half-time but I stayed on, as I’d never seen a staged version of the play before, only read it.

I’m glad I did. Not because it improved. It didn’t. It went the other way. But . . .

It gave me a Springtime For Hitler moment. Well, a potential one, anyway. If only I’d had the guts to start laughing out loud and honking the way the first-night audience do in Mel Brooks’ great comedy, The Producers.

What happened was Eve Best died, with extreme slowness. Or rather the Duchess of Malfi did. (Why? I can’t be bothered to remember.) It took minutes of groaning and moaning. Then she revived and did it all again — though making it a little shorter for this second going.

It was like something out of, say, a Morecambe and Wise version of Shakespeare. Ludicrously protracted death played for laughs.

I remember wishing I had laughed and being a little surprised there weren’t more sniggers around me. Particularly when there were several more deaths along the same lines.

It was only today, though, after a suitable break from it that I realised that I’d probably misunderstood. I think Eve Best knew what she was doing — but we the audience had let her down.

She had realised that she was in a real stinker. With her Nurse Jackie experience of how to handle mordant comedy, she’d decided the production’s only possible salvation was to play it for laughs — make it a Jacobean revenge tragedy rival to Brooks’ Nazi musical comedy.

But we the audience just didn’t get it. So, what can I say? Eve, I’m sorry, really sorry, I failed you. Next time, I promise, I’ll laugh and laugh and laugh at your Duchess of Malfi.

1 comment:

Dave Schulps said...

Re Barry Mann. Was and still is. I saw him and Cynthia just the other night at a BMI event, seated next to Carole King, who was getting an award for something. Who put the bomp? He put the bomp! Also in the house, Gerry Goffin, Lamont Dozier, Eddie Holland, Jeff Barry and Mike Stoller (Ellie Greenwich and Jerry Leiber have passed on to the Brill Building in the sky, or they'da been there, too!)