Mum’s the word at the Donmar

“You’re sitting next to Charlie Cox’s mum,” whispered Baz Bamigboye as we took our pews in the Donmar last night for The Prince of Homburg, with Charlie in the lead.

I was glad for the tip off. Didn’t want to be caught muttering out loud something about the actor’s sloppy diction.

The fact that Charlie was her darling was obvious from the minute the play started. Mum was living every line, suffering every minute.

And as the grave yawned for our hero at half-time, she grabbed my arm and declared her maternal status. “I’m so worried about him!”

I said that I hoped things would turn out better for the poor darling — who’s certainly inherited his mother’ dark good looks; though mum doesn’t have a two-week stubble or, as far as I could see, a hairy chest — in the second act, but that it seemed unlikely.

What does happen to the Prince of Homburg in this production is in fact far worse than it should be. And this translation lark is getting out of hand.

At least Neil Bartlett made some attempt at Kleist’s ten-syllable line in his RSC version eight years ago. Dennis Kelly, a playwright I much admire, settles on a pretty workman-like prose version, with some good bits, but not too many.

The result is you don’t really get a sense of what Kleist is really like, any more than you did with Racine in the National’s Phedre, or for that matter, with Buchner in the current Danton’s Death.

At least the air-conditioning seems to have improved a lot at the Donmar. It was so much cooler on a really hot and sticky night that I could keep my jacket on in the second act. Charlie’s mum, though, was boiling with excitement from start to finish.
      
It’s almost tedious to have to go on and on about the Trafalgar Studios, but the Willy Russell plays are torture to sit through.

Not because of the productions, which are terrific, with an unbelievable improvement all round in Educating Rita, largely thanks to Tim Pigott-Smith giving one of his best ever performances.

For Shirley Valentine I sat in a seat that was cracked and broken, no springs at all. For Rita, my seat on the other side of the auditorium was OK, but the shape of this auditorium simply doesn’t work.

It’s unsightly and ungainly, rising steeply to the back so that customers in the top tiers look like seagulls clinging to a cliff (the analogy was proffered by new Times critic, Libby Purves).

Access and exits are awkward and unpleasant, and the place only seats 370 people: so why did they bother turning one of London’s most elegant art deco playhouses — the Whitehall — into this ugly crucible of discomfort.

It’s also excruciatingly hot. If there is any air-conditioning, I certainly didn’t feel the benefit on Monday.

In between the Press shows, the management entertained the critics to egg and chips (or, more correctly, in Shirley Valentine’s parlance, chips and egg), which was jolly nice of them.

I thought, well, as they haven’t joined us, perhaps they are all over the road installing some emergency fans and air-blowers.

No such luck. At the end of Educating Rita, I followed a group of young girls onto the street who were unpicking their panty lines through their summer dresses and ringing out their damp hair with varnished fingernails.

The sun is shining strong this glorious morning, which bodes well for Howard Brenton’s new play about Anne Boleyn at the Globe tonight. Outdoor summer heat, though, is something else, a blessing from God. The Trafalgar’s cooker climate is the devil’s work.
 

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