mon 04/03/2024

2011: We Need To Talk About Grandage and Guvnors | reviews, news & interviews

2011: We Need To Talk About Grandage and Guvnors

2011: We Need To Talk About Grandage and Guvnors

Michael Grandage bade farewell at the Donmar, while Tilda Swinton once again scorched the screen

You talking to me? Eddie Redmayne as a heart-stopping Richard II in Michael Grandage's Donmar farewellAll images: Johan Persson

And what a year it was! Comedy was king on stages around town, while a variety of Shakespeare royals -- Richard III à deux courtesy Kevin Spacey and the lesser-known but far more electrifying Richard Clothier, Richard II in the memorably tremulous figure of Eddie Redmayne (pictured above) - kept the Bard alive, and how.

That was literally so in the case of Michael Sheen's astonishing Hamlet at the Young Vic, a life force that wouldn't go quickly or gently into the good night, as the final image of Ian Rickson's production asserted to controversial effect: no problems in this corner whatsoever.

It was a terrific year in general for Rickson, whose West End revival of The Children's Hour made a lasting case for Lillian Hellman's surpassingly bleak play, one whose potential tilt towards melodrama in the hands of Rickson and a blazing cast (including Mad Men star Elisabeth Moss, pictured below right) landed instead in a landscape of psychic terror suggestive of the bleaker environs of Beckett. I shan't soon forget the visual and emotional limbo in which Moss and Keira Knightley, playing two schoolteachers at a New England boarding school who are isolated first from society and then from one another, found themselves by play's end. 

Elisabeth Moss made a blazing London stage debut in The Children's HourRickson returned to the same West End house with a summer reappraisal of Harold Pinter's Betrayal, an ever-shimmering play served up with renewed power by the knockout trio of Kristin Scott Thomas, Douglas Henshall, and the blistering Ben Miles, the last-named playing the husband, Robert, like a deliberately gruff-voiced version of the playwright himself. (Dramatists were channelled elsewhere on the West End, by the way, Peter Capaldi's faux-professor in The Ladykillers sounding for all the world like none other than Tom Stoppard.)

Staying with directors, the clarity and vigour that marked out Michael Grandage's Donmar tenancy of nearly a decade was nowhere more marked than with his farewell production at that address of Richard II, Redmayne's fallen monarch honouring both the petulant ruler and the wounded manchild that rest within this most lyrically ravishing of roles. (The rest of the cast was pretty great, too, not least the ever-flinty Ron Cook, one of this director's more essential mainstays.) And lest it sound like sobriety and self-seriousness were the order of the day, I can't decide whether I laughed more at Jamie Glover's shoelace-related antics in Noises Off or Tom Edden tumbling repeatedly into the abyss in One Man, Two Guvnors. It's quite possible that a single arched eyebrow from Oliver Chris in Richard Bean's Goldoni rewrite was the year's funniest single image of all.

2011 highlight: Away from the theatre, I was transfixed by Tilda Swinton, whose performance in We Need to Talk About Kevin marks her career-best, even if Meryl-doing-Maggie remains the star turn to beat for the 2012 Oscars. (Runner-up: Lisa Batiashvili blazing her way with hair-raising passion through Shostakovich at the Proms: see YouTube link to her affinity to the seismic Russian composer below.)

2011 letdown: Hmmm. It's a battle for last place between two musical duds. The Menier Chocolate Factory's Pippin represented a bad idea done with startling lack of finesse (even if Harry Hepple sang nicely in the title role). Not to be outdone, a new musical called Ex at the Soho Theatre failed to mark the spot beyond featuring in Gerard Carey's putative playboy, Jack, perhaps the single least appealing character I have ever come across centre-stage.

2012 recommendation: Onstage, comedy looks set to reign supreme, though not without a taste of the bittersweet. I eagerly await West End revivals of both Alan Ayckbourn's Absent Friends, directed by Jeremy Herrin, and Noel Coward's gloriously subversive Hay Fever, starring Lindsay Duncan as the narcissistic matriarch par excellence.

Watch Lisa Batiashvili perform Shostakovich


The clarity and vigour that marked out Michael Grandage's Donmar tenancy was nowhere more marked than with his farewell production

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My wish for the New Year is that whoever puts all these gems into the tiny Donmar should put them into a larger theatre where we dormice can actually get tickets. The current Donmar repertoire has three seemingly fab productions, none of which have I been able to get even a single ticket for. This is not a complaint about seat prices, but privilege. Always, always, Donmar tickets are sold out before they have effectively gone on sale to Joe Public because all the millionaire patrons of British theatre have subscribed to the £1,000 schemes to snap up advance bookings. And much as one admires the Donmar for its creativity and success, it does the general theatre lover *no favours* at all for having so few seats. It has created a Covent Garden-style elitism worse than the National, which is bad enough with its disgraceful half-dozen tiers of membership which make it well nigh impossible for mere mortals to attend a first run. About time the Arts Desk got very angry on the topic of exclusivity in London theatre IMHO.

I was teaching a group of American students when Michael Grandage's blinding production of OTHELLO was running at the Donmar with Chiwetel Ejiofor and Ewan McGregor. Every single one of them had managed to get tickets by arriving early in the morning and buying day seats. There are 10 seats available each day and standing room. I've seen many a production at the Donmar standing at the back of the circle and have loved the experience.

Just to echo what was said by the previous user - if you are prepared to stand, you can get to see Donmar productions - though you have to have a contingency plan just in case - lots of other theatres in London, so it wouldn't be a wasted trip. Also, the National Theatre does standing tickets on the day and there are often returns, even if it says 'sold out' on the website. Similarly, Michael Sheen's Hamlet was sold out months before it opened, but there are tickets released on the day for a tenner. I went on a Saturday an hour and a half before the show and got a seat. If that had failed, I would just have tried the Old Vic across the road, or the National a little way down the road - you can see this stuff if you're prepared to risk not getting in to one of them.

I accept what both Anon and CWestenra say about queuing for standing tickets at the Donmar. But this should NOT be the norm. More ANGER please on behalf of the average theatregoer who may have neither time nor opportunity to queue early for day tickets, eg, holding down a job.

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