It’s curtains up on filmmaker Joe Wright’s new career as a theater director.
Wright, known for “Anna Karenina” and “Atonement,” has chosen Arthur Wing Pinero’s backstage comedy “Trelawny of the Wells” (1898) for his debut.
The play, at London’s Donmar Warehouse, stars Amy Morgan as Rose Trelawny, a popular actress in melodramas of the 1860s. She decides to leave the stage when she falls in love with aristocratic Arthur Gower.
Members of Gower’s stuffy family reject her, and she tries to go back to the stage. She finds she can’t act in the crude old barnstormers any more. She’s grown up.
Gower’s tyrannical grandfather (Ron Cook) visits Rose and she shows him old theatrical memorabilia which remind him of his theater-going youth. The cast and director beautifully handle the back-and-forth subtlety.
The first act of the play is another matter. Rose’s acting troupe gather to say farewell. Pinero pokes good-natured fun at their pretensions.
Wright directs it as if it were one of the 1860s productions which Rose stars in. The acting is deliberately hammy. The props are pointedly fake. The landlady is a man in drag (Ron Cook again), scuttling like a British pantomime dame.
Self-referential it may be. Effective it isn’t. When the production slips back into this overdone mode, as it does every so often, the tension lags. The comedy falters. It’s not so much close-up as close down. By the end, the balance is about half success against half faltering.
The cast throw themselves into the hamminess with gusto, and those of them who are given a chance to calm down are great. Amy Morgan is a sweet Rose, and Susannah Fielding amusing as an actress who becomes a theatrical producer during the story.
Patrick Marber does a good job in adapting the play by cutting out minor roles and trimming scenes. Rating: ***.
In the wake of an excellent biography of Jonathan Miller, his 1987 production of “The Barber of Seville” reappears at English National Opera to remind us of his talents.
It’s a simple, period-costume staging set in a single room. There are zesty comic sequences -- the self-important Bartolo getting his glasses caught in the strings of a harpsichord is a treat. There’s enough freedom for good performers to shine.
In this revival, Andrew Shore dazzles as Bartolo, and his inventive slapstick hits the spot. Lucy Crowe makes a superb Rosina too: Her luscious voice is as winning as her comic gifts.
Nobody else quite matches them, and conductor Jaime Martin plods through the score like an old dray horse. You can’t have everything. Rating: ***.
“Trelawny of the Wells” is at the Donmar Warehouse, 41 Earlham Street, Seven Dials, London WC2H 9LX. Information: http://www.donmarwarehouse.com or +44-844-871-7642
“The Barber of Seville” is in repertoire at English National Opera, London Coliseum, St. Martin’s Lane, WC2N 4ES. Information: http://www.eno.org, +44-20-7845-9300.
What the Stars Mean: ***** Excellent **** Very good *** Average ** Mediocre * Poor (No stars) Worthless
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(Warwick Thompson is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)