Friday, 3 July 2015
As you know I frequent the many artistic highways and byways of our magnificent capital. If I'm not in a concert hall soaking up Mahler or Mrs Mills you'll find me in the stalls at the National egging Kenneth or Simon RB onto new heights. It's all part of the Faustian pact we soulful creatures readily sign up to. "Art For Art's Sake Money for God's Sake.." has always been my guiding light.
So it was with some anticipation that I attended the Noel Coward theatre in St Martin's Lane last night to witness the latest triumph of Antony Sher.
Boy has this man progressed. Those of us old enough to have sat the 11 plus ( and failed, unfairly) and had a crush on Valerie Singleton will remember our Tony in "The History Man". Sexual predator extraordinaire with a droopy 'tash, silly sideburns with hair straight out of "Godspell". After a few episodes of that Kenneth Kendell reading the news was like a wet haddock on Bridlington pier.
The 70's! Mud, The Sweet, Roxy Music, Yes, The Osmonds, Leo Sayer the list is unendingly embarrassing. But while "Top of the Pops" was turning out DJ's of a less than wholesome character, the Beeb was broadcasting "I, Claudius" and British movies hit their peak with the "Wicker Man" and Brit Ekland - although her bum was a body double!
No more of this reminiscing, back to the present and Antony Sher and his latest triumph. "Death of a Salesman". Classic or what? This is why Marilyn married the man. This is why she became, for a relatively short while I grant you, Mrs Arthur Miller. And last night, there we were in the theatre, after a delightful meal at Sheekey's Fish Restaurant, watching Antony weave his magic as Willy Loman, an man on the edge of insanity.
Except, the first act was pretty poor. I'm happy to acknowledge that a large fish meal doesn't necessarily put you in the proper frame of mind to appreciate an American theatrical classic. However, taking all that into account. I was bored. I had no sympathy with any of the characters. Willy was a loser, fine - get over it. His kids were losers and his wife foolish to still love him. But an interesting first act? Hell no. Sher played Willy as he played Falstaff in Henry IV part 1 last December at the Barbican.
The common view of all four of us was that this was not a good play.
And then somehow it changed. Miller having laboriously set up the ducks in the first act shot them in the second. The inevitable tragic ending snowballed before our eyes. Willy, humiliated, hallucinating, broken down bit by bit - we cared about him. His failure, his two sons (surely personifications of Willy's own split, disintegrating personality) shoving him this way and that. All of this was too painful to witness. And his wife, magnificent, a rock in all this insanity: a Lady Macbeth in reverse.
We watched the dissolution of this man. This poor, hard working, lost man. A man who had given 30 years and more to his company was sacked, dismissed and humiliated. A man whose sons, through whom he sought some sort of validation - so much like Lear's daughters - he so completely misread.
At the end I said to my fellow theatre goers that I found the play surprisingly touching. I ended up caring desperately for Willy and his predicament.
Antony Sher I apologise.
Your performance in the first act I thought was too loud and frenetic. In the end I understood why Willy was like he was: a man in a desperate spiral of self deception and realisation of his own shortcomings. You got him.
Had I left at the interval, I should have been much the poorer.