Jude Law has gotten an Irish accent, grown a beard, and gone to the gym. When he flops semi-naked out of a stormy sea in “Anna Christie,” the barometer sizzles.
His arrival injects some much-needed oomph into the creaky 1921 play by Eugene O’Neill, currently running at the Donmar Warehouse in London. Law plays Mat Burke, a tough Irish stoker rescued from drowning by the skipper of a coal barge.
Mat swaggers around the deck, boasting in a thick brogue of his invincibility, and wins the heart of the skipper’s young daughter Anna.
When he finds out Anna used to be a prostitute, he gets into a terrible blather, and his neck veins bulge out beautifully. His brogue goes into overdrive. After much cursing and weeping, he forgives her and they kiss.
He’s wonderfully watchable. Ten times more so than the piece itself, which reworks the theme of the repentant whore with join-the-dots dullness and some crass sea symbolism.
Anna’s father tells her that beefcake Mat isn’t good enough for her.
“No, it’s me ain’t good enough for him,” replies the downcast trollop.
She’s talking about Jude Law with his shirt off, for heaven’s sake. She’s really going to refuse him?
Such implausible self-sacrifice may be bearable in operas like “La Traviata” or “Madam Butterfly,” which have lovely tunes to ease the way. Here, there are no tunes and mere mouthpieces instead of characters. At 2 hours 45 minutes, that’s a heck of a lot of mouthpiecing to put up with.
Ruth Wilson (Anna) delivers her lines in a sing-songy way with a peculiar rising and falling intonation. Maybe she thinks the lines are blank verse, rather than even blanker prose.
David Hayman does a much better job as her father Chris. His Swedish-American accent sounds attractively salty, and his old sea-dog manner is vividly done.
Rob Ashford’s straightforward production conjures up the atmosphere of a 1920s sea-going barge, with dry ice for fog and overhead sprinklers for rain.
There are sounds of bells, foghorns and creaking timbers. They don’t disguise the louder creaking of the plotting.
‘Crazy for You’
There’s more fun to be had at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. Its triumphant run of musicals, including “Hello Dolly” and “Into the Woods,” continues with a fresh and zingy “Crazy for You.” Music and lyrics are by George and Ira Gershwin.
Ken Ludwig’s clever 1992 book reworks an earlier Gershwin show called “Girl Crazy,” and tells the story of a hemmed-in New York banker who wants to hoof on Broadway. In a classic case of fish out of water, he gets sent to Nevada on business.
He meets tough-talking postmistress Polly, helps her to save her business by putting on a revue -- a cue for lots of squeaky showgirls to appear -- and all ends well.
The delightful nonsense is directed with panache by Timothy Sheader. In his trademark fashion, he seamlessly integrates Stephen Mear’s choreography into every element of the show.
On opening night, the heavens opened early in Act 1 and swept the froth away for a while. The show was stopped while the stage was mopped up.
It gave a whole new meaning to the phrase “tap dancing.”
That the show eventually recovered is a testament to charismatic Sean Palmer (Bobby), spunky Clare Foster (Polly) and an indomitable all-singing all-dancing cast.
“Anna Christie” is at the Donmar Warehouse, of which Barclays Capital is the principal sponsor. Information: http://www.donmarwarehouse.com or +44-844-871-7624.
“Crazy for You” is at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. Information: http://www.openairtheatre.org or +44-844-826-4242
What the Stars Mean: **** Excellent *** Good ** Average * Poor (No stars)Worthless
(Warwick Thompson is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)