Sometimes interesting ideas and good performances combine into a big theatrical yawn. It’s a mystery that London’s theater seems happy to be exploring.
Enda Walsh’s one-man play “Misterman” at the National Theatre deals with a day in the life of small-town religious obsessive Thomas Magill (Cillian Murphy).
He lives in a decrepit warehouse surrounded by tape machines which play the voices of his mother and his neighbors. He speaks to an angel called Edel.
Eventually he reveals the terrible secret which has unhinged his mind.
Isn’t it nice that madmen of this literary type always seem to have a terrible secret which neatly explains their behavior? And they’re always lucid enough to reveal it?
Murphy’s 90-minute performance is a tour de force. He’s funny one minute and savage the next. It’s not enough to rescue a plodding, repetitive piece.
‘Making Noise Quietly’
Robert Holman, 60, is sometimes called a writers’ writer. That usually means “his plays don’t sell any tickets”.
I’m not sure his cause will be helped by this 1987 triptych “Making Noise Quietly” at the Donmar Warehouse.
His three short plays examine the effects of war. In the first, a young homosexual meets a conscientious objector over a picnic in 1944.
In the second, a naval officer tells a mother that her estranged son has died in the Falklands War. In the final play, set in 1986, a holocaust survivor befriends a violent British soldier stationed in Germany.
Nothing much happens in any of them. People chat in question-and-answer format, like therapist and patient.
In the final play, the thuggish soldier has improbable flashes of insight. “How do I stop myself from enjoying hurting people?” he wails to Helene, the all-wise survivor. “I hurt myself to prove I’m not a coward, maybe.”
The acting is all good, Peter Gill’s direction unforced and straightforward.
In Dominic Gray’s promenade opera production, set in 1987, Giovanni’s conquests are closeted Alan, businessman Eddie and recently-engaged Zac (two tenors and a baritone).
In Duncan Rock’s warmly-sung performance, Giovanni’s character represents all the fun, danger and selfish hedonism of the Thatcher boom years.
Giovanni accidentally murders Alan’s mother Petra (a mezzo). She comes back as a ghost and drags him to hell, which turns out to be a lonely old age in an underfunded hospital.
The translation by Ranjit Bolt and David Collier is whip- smart, and gets plenty of laughs.
It’s musically witty too. The singers perform their character’s arias up or down an octave. Then in the ensembles, they revert to singing the line originally suited to soprano, or tenor, and so on, so that Mozart’s textures are preserved.
The score is cut down to two hours, and it all feels seamless.
It’s not flawless. Once or twice the direction is too static, and not all the singing is top drawer. If you can put up with that, then there are plenty of other pleasures in this thoughtful, funny, and oddly engaging production.
English National Opera has just announced its new season, and there are some intriguing curiosities there too.
Philip Glass’s new opera “The Perfect American” about Walt Disney has its U.K. premiere. Two rarities will be seen: Vaughan Williams’s “The Pilgrim’s Progress” and Charpentier’s “Medea.” The world premiere of Michel van der Aa’s “The Sunken Garden” promises to be the first opera ever to employ 3D film.
Star directors Richard Jones and David McVicar both get productions. The bizarre German director Peter Konwitschny tackles “La Traviata.”
If a gay “Don Giovanni” can work, maybe this will too.
What The Stars Mean: **** Excellent *** Good ** Average * Poor (No stars) Worthless
“Don Giovanni’’ runs until April 30 at Heaven nightclub: http://www.dongiovannitheopera.com
For information about ENO: http://www.eno.org
“Misterman’’ is in repertoire at the National Theatre: http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk or +44-20-7452-3000
“Making Noise Quietly’’ is at the Donmar http://www.donmarwarehouse.com +44-833-871-7624
(Warwick Thompson is a critic for Muse, the arts and lifestyle section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
To contact the writer of this review: Warwick Thompson, in London, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at email@example.com.