Talking Heads at the Bridge Theatre

Looking back on the last two plague years: Part 1, The Onset

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In the eerie Twixtmas gap, I set out to chronicle and celebrate the return of live theatre since May 2021. And this will follow. But when I totted up the 2021 score – 60 theatre nights, 30 being completely new plays and 19 brand-new productions – it seemed to me only decent to pause, look back at the year before, and remember first how sad, how scrimpingly poor was live theatre after I returned to it in March 2020 after six months’ sequestration on chemotherapy.  The last treatment coincided with Day 1 of lockdown. The frustration was proportionally greater…

Theatrecat, for reasons of private principle, did not review ‘streamed’ shows, bar one particularly valiant local effort, because it felt wrong to approach them in the same way one does after a journey to a theatre, sharing the same air as the players. So there are gaps on my site: it was September before things flared into brief brave life.

Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads at the Bridge Theatre recreated the TV versions under Hytner and it turned out true that one found new things and fresh nuances in seeing them live.

“Amid the Bennettian wry pathos, the playlets were often enormously funny. Not that they weren’t on TV, in a head-nodding sort of way, but one didn’t often laugh aloud.  Here was evidence that even a scattered audience has the old communal magic:   pleasure was redoubled by shared giggles and some real barks of laughter…performers definitely made the most of that,  understood their pauses, did it for us who were there”.

There too in the weirdly social-distanced clumps of chairs, I saw Ralph Fiennes do David Hare’s grumpy monologue Beat The Devil,  all about how Hare got Covid and it was basically all Boris Johnson’s fault.   And then – just before the iron fist of restriction closed it – there was A Christmas Carol with the peerless Simon Russell Beale and sparky Patsy Ferran.  The joy of that – with a cast of three and careful budget – was that it took advantage to be text-heavy, Dickensian.

Meanwhile, other brave theatres struggled through, determined. Even with new work: Howerd’s End at the Golden Goose in Camberwell paid tribute to Frankie Howerd in Mark Farrelly’s new two-hander.

“…[Howerd] fascinated me in my late 50’s childhood – his was a fifty year career – because his looks, which he described as “face like a camel on remand” were worryingly like those of my Granny in old age. Especially when going “oooh!” In a knowingly filthy way.   It was also of interest because I know two people who worked with him and didn’t like him one bit:  tricky, moody, sexually predatory, they said.

But he had an excuse.. It was no picnic to be gay  in the in the unforgivingly homophobic 1950s and early 60’s, when audiences adored the liberation of camp  but abhorred the reality of same-sex love.  And, as in Howerd’s case,  drove that abhorrence deep into the private identity of some victims.  He hated it, despised himself, and never over their forty-year partnership acknowledged Dennis Heymer as his partner”.

That was moving, interesting, good pub-theatre.  More purely entertaining was LONE FLYER at the Watermill, a tribute to Amy Johnson by Ade Morris.  And a fresh new musical,  THE LAST FIVE YEARS,  surfaced at the gallant Southwark Playhouse .   I liked it a lot and am glad it has returned in 2021 up West.

But the shades of night were creeping on us, the curtains falling.   Another Christmas Carol at Bury St Edmunds was outdoors, freezing cold,  with a cast of six plus a stilt-walking ghost  Hi-vis jacketed ushers,  distancing by traffic cones, all in headphones, in front of the Angel hotel in the square.  Back in London, .  POTTED PANTO opened in the daytime West End  and I noted that Daniel Clarkson and Jeff Turner had

“ actually polished it up better in this season of compulsorily half-empty houses and scrupulous virus-bashing.  Nor is there any truth in the  rumour that panto  whooping, shouting and jumping in the seats would be banned in favour of silent hi-fives and the like.   There’s a fair bit of audience racket, though it never felt worrying –  given the distanced seats and the fact that the noisiest were plainly family bubbles some distance away”.

The final outing was to the Palladium and PANTOLAND,  much the same core of Wilmont, Zerdin, Havers and Clary as returned this year, with some of the same jokes.  Not complaining. Cheered us up no end in that dangerous December,  when lockdown loomed again.    I called it “a proper, silly, defiant  showbiz shot in the arm. “  And did wonder whether the royal children a few days earlier had been spared some of the broader trouser-related Clary jokes.

Probably not.  Anyway, it closed the day after we saw it, and the desert loomed again, for many months….

Tomorrow I shall post up Part 2:  a celebration of theatre’s return to life in

2021.   Meanwhile, as ever, all reviews are scrollable-searchable on this site for the record.

 

Looking back on the last two plague years: Part 1, The Onset

Part 1, The Onset: When @lib_thinks set out to chronicle the return of live theatre in 2021, it seemed to her appropriate to pause & look back at the first of the last two plague years as well, starting with @_bridgetheatre’s screen-to-stage presentation of #AlanBennett’s #TalkingHeads. #YearInReview #londontheatre

I set out to chronicle and celebrate the return of live theatre since May 2021. And this will follow. But when I totted up the 2021 score – 60 theatre nights, 30 being completely new plays and 19 brand-new productions – it seemed to me only decent to pause, look back at the year before

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Libby Purves
Libby Purves was theatre critic for The Times from 2010 to 2013. Determined to continue her theatre commentary after losing that job, she set up her own site www.theatrecat.com in October 2013. She personally reviews all major London openings, usually with on-the-night publication, and also gives voice to a new generation of critics with occasional guest 'theatrekittens'. In addition to her theatre writing and myriad other credits, Libby has been a presenter on BBC Radio 4’s Midweek for over 30 years. She is also the author of a dozen novels, and numerous non-fiction titles. In 1999, Libby was appointed an OBE for services to journalism.
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Libby Purves on RssLibby Purves on Twitter
Libby Purves
Libby Purves was theatre critic for The Times from 2010 to 2013. Determined to continue her theatre commentary after losing that job, she set up her own site www.theatrecat.com in October 2013. She personally reviews all major London openings, usually with on-the-night publication, and also gives voice to a new generation of critics with occasional guest 'theatrekittens'. In addition to her theatre writing and myriad other credits, Libby has been a presenter on BBC Radio 4’s Midweek for over 30 years. She is also the author of a dozen novels, and numerous non-fiction titles. In 1999, Libby was appointed an OBE for services to journalism.

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