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The Two Popes (Rose Theatre, Kingston and touring)
Verdict: Alpha Papas
The Snail House (Hampstead Theatre, London)
Verdict: More pain, please!
At a time of succession in the royal family, this beautiful revival of Anthony McCarten’s play about Popes Benedict and Francis is poignantly appropriate.
The central question of how we move from one era to another and how an incumbent relates to his office weighs heavily on our minds today.
The play, which was turned into a movie starring Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce, is speculation about what happened behind the scenes in 2013, when Benedict shook the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics by becoming the first pope in 700 years. to resign.
The outgoing Pope is played here by Anton Lesser – with Nicholas Woodeson as Francis – and both find immense warmth in the troubled souls of the men.
The big debate is whether the Catholic Church should renew or transform its 2,000-year-old traditions. But both McCarten and the actors focus on the two men as people who feel overwhelmed by a huge responsibility.
The outgoing Pope is played here by Anton Lesser (right) – with Nicholas Woodeson as Francis (left) – and both find immense warmth in the troubled souls of the men
Lesser initially enjoyed Benedict’s joy of secretly watching Kommissar Rex, the Austrian whodunnit about a crime-solving dog. He innocently remembers how a girl in his youth allowed him to pick salt from her pretzel.
Woodeson’s Argentine Cardinal Bergoglio (who later became Pope Francis) loves tango and watching football; and once told a girl that he would become a priest if she didn’t marry him (the sigh that follows is worth the ticket price alone). Still, Bergoglio reminds Benedict that a priest is a “flawed vessel” and asks who they are to make changes to a church that needs such great forgiveness itself.
The former Joseph Ratzinger (later Benedict) is racked with guilt for not harassing a pedophile priest in Germany. Bergoglio is ashamed that he hasn’t done more to support the victims of Argentina’s fascist junta in the 1970s. And yet, in spite of their imperfections and doubts, one of them must bear the burden of the papacy.
Both are encouraged by supportive and provocative nuns (Lynsey Beauchamp and Leaphia Darko); and James Dacre’s production is soft yet intense. There are sometimes corny explosions of ‘Gloria! Gloria!’ reverberating amid haze of incense and ecclesiastical illumination, but this is a thoughtful and moving delight that glows again.
Catholics are known for their belief in the dignity of suffering and, as a Catholic, I would have liked to have suffered a little more from Richard Eyre’s debut play, The Snail House.
Clearly influenced by the great Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, it is the story of a pediatrician and knight of the realm who catches up with the past as he celebrates his 55th birthday with friends and family.
Our Doctor, played by Vincent Franklin, is an overbearing Northerner, steadfast in his faith in science. In the course of the evening he is confronted by the catering manager – against whom he testified in court (as it turns out) several years earlier.
The Doctor’s wife (Eva Pope) endures grievances familiar to alpha male husbands, while his gay son (Patrick Walshe McBride) is a damning political adviser and their daughter (Grace Hogg-Robinson) an eco-warrior in the teenage age.
One of the great directors of the modern age, Eyre (a late aspiring writer at age 79) skillfully unfolds the action. But I craved more of everything: sweat, tears, intrigue, and most importantly, pain.
Not to mention cunning. For example, how did the catering manager (Amanda Bright) come to be in charge of the chic party in an oak-panelled schoolroom? Was it just a coincidence?
Our top medical dog could also have used a more moral dilemma: one that could have revealed more depth in his character. Instead, the charges against him are not really his fault, and are being resolved at no great cost.
For more reviews see Mail Online.
Funny couple, quirky game…should fit perfectly
The Clothes They Were In (Nottingham Playhouse)
Verdict: second-hand Bennett
This should have been a wedding in theater heaven: two of our best-loved, quintessentially quirky and comedic actors, Adrian Scarborough and Sophie Thompson, staging an Alan Bennett novella about a bizarre kind of burglary, with a couple taking their worldly home first. possessions (including used toilet brush) and, second, from the “marriage deceptions” this couple perpetuates.
It’s sort of a parable about losing “stuff”—and discovering that possessions matter less than living, loving relationships, which they didn’t know much about either before the robbers cleared out the contents of their London flat.
There is a brief explanation of the heist, but that is certainly not the intention of this literary gem.
Sadly, it’s now the focus in Scarborough’s adaptation, unconvincingly dragged into post-Brexit Britain. A portrait of a marriage becomes an overloaded, exaggerated whodunnit, losing Bennett’s wonderfully amused, ironic tone.
This should have been a wedding in theater heaven: two of our best-loved, typically quirky and comedic actors, Adrian Scarborough (left) and Sophie Thompson (right), staging an Alan Bennett novella about a bizarre type of burglary, who stripping a few of their worldly possessions (including used toilet brush) and, secondly, of the “marital deceptions” that kept this couple going
However, second-hand Bennett also has its pleasures. To the meek, oppressed Rosemary, bent and drooping before her time, the heist proves liberating and revealing, feelings somewhat hammered by Thompson, suddenly all cheerful, overwhelming, dazzling wonder.
When she ventures into her local shop to stock up on supplies (always kept to the safety of Marks & Spencer), she is charmed by the kind widowed Mr. Anwar (an echo of Bed Among The Lentils, a from Bennett’s brilliant Talking Heads).
In the uncluttered flat, Dusty, counselor for crime victims, sweeps in and, slumped comfortably on Rosemary’s new beanbags, the women discuss grief and the need to “nurture your womb.” Touched by Lorraine Kelly of daytime television, Rosemary considers “honing her marriage skills.” ‘I’ve grown,’ she beams.
Scarborough, on the other hand, struggles to revive Mozart-mad Maurice, a deadly dull, quietly oppressive lawyer with a dirty secret, who can’t be shaken from his rigid routine.
Somewhat strenuous entertainment.
Inspector still has the power to arrest us
An Inspector Calls (New Wimbledon Theatre)
Verdict: still relevant at 30
Stephen Daldry’s radical reinvention of JB Priestley’s thriller (written in 1945 and set before World War I) was a huge success at the National Theater in 1992, winning 19 major awards, including three Oliviers and four Tonys on Broadway. Now it has been given a welcome 30-year revival tour under Deputy Director Charlotte Peters.
The piece (on Ian MacNeil’s standout set) begins with loud music and lots of smoke, featuring the Birling family’s dollhouse stranded in a devastated urban landscape, underlining the work’s fabulous quality, a morality tale for our time.
Mysterious Inspector Goole (Liam Brennan, rather sardonic) unexpectedly calls on the affluent Birlings when they gather to celebrate daughter Sheila’s engagement to local businessman Gerald (Simon Cotton).
Mysterious Inspector Goole (Liam Brennan, pictured rather sardonic) makes an unexpected call to the affluent Birlings as they gather to celebrate daughter Sheila’s engagement to local businessman Gerald (Simon Cotton).
Goole investigates the death of a young woman whom, it turns out, they all somehow knew – none of them were positive.
Sheila, with an emotional charge from Evlyne Oyedokun, is the moral center of the play, a silly social butterfly who develops a conscience before our eyes as the hypocrisy of her fiancé and parents (Jeffrey Harmer and Christine Kavanagh) comes to light.
I had the extra, er, pleasure to see this production at a school performance. There is no better barometer of clumsiness and overacting than a large group of teenagers and I am happy to report that their titers were only a few.
Daldry’s production remains a relevant social document – and the piece still works as a rousing call to personal responsibility.
Until September 17, then touring (aninspectorcalls.com)