Edinburgh: King’s Theatre, Tue 2—Sat 6 May. Whenever you think of adaptations of Victorian novels. you can‘t help but think of costume drama, all sumptuous presentation and vacuous content. This is the suspicion about this adaptation of Henry James‘s Washington Square. Way back when Ruth and Augustus Goetz first presented this play to London audiences in 1949, its leads, Peggy Ashcroft and Ralph Richardson. stole the hearts of their audience. but was it all down to lavish production values and a sentimental view of Victorian history? Was it the brick-a-brack and swishing dresses that seduced its audience?
Director Philip Franks, in charge of another touring National Theatre production after his earlier Private Lives and The Cocktail Party, thinks not. ‘I don‘t think you‘d call it costume drama if you were going to an Ibsen or a Chekov,’ he says. ‘This play is like finding Ibsen written in English. It‘s not costume drama if you mean stuffy, fussy Sunday afternoon “let's all go down and look at the big frocks" stuff. We‘ve created a chamber, where we can explore these characters with the utmost psychological intensity and depth. It’s not a knick-knackfest.‘
The play tells the story of Catherine Sloper (Eve Best), a young woman considered plain and spinsterish by the mid-19th century New York society she moves in. She meets a desirable young man, Morris Townsend (Ben Porter) who begins to court her, but is he only after her money? Her father (Alan Howard) thinks so and does all he can to sabotage the relationship, while Catherine's widowed aunt, Lavinia (Maggie Steed) attempts to foster it. Endless twists and turns ensue, as we're left guessing at the characters‘ motives.
James‘ original story plays upon the characteristic early modernist obsession with the unreliable narrator. In the
Philip Franks: ‘James is surprisingly good at writing about sex’
novel we‘re left with a succession of disparate accounts of the same events, unable to fully trust any particular version of reality, so that there‘s a sense of ambiguity about what has taken place. How can this be conveyed in drama? 'T he American adapters have found a very clever way of representing that shifting sands element of James‘ writing,‘ Franks says. 'What they‘ve done is create four characters who keep changing. You think you know who they are from the outset. but they keep showing different sides to themselves. I hope that in the end, people will come out arguing about this play, not complacent.‘
Franks stresses the passion beneath the text. 'They‘re profoundly sexual beings,‘ he says. ‘When Catherine first kisses Morris it‘s orgasmic, and after that. she keeps on asking ‘Won't you kiss me again?". What surprised me when I first picked this play up, is that Henry James is surprisingly good at writing about sex.‘
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allows the rise of Nazism and all its implications almost by default,’ says director Hamish Glen. ’At that time, Berlin was a place that artists and writers descended upon. There was this heady creative atmosphere and nobody was keeping their eye on the ball enough, in political terms, to realise the implications of what was happening.’
Cabaret’s potent metaphor for a world in socio-political turmoil, the flamboyant hot-bed of sexual ambiguity, political volatility and sheer cultural hedonism contained within Berlin’s fictional Kit Kat Club, represents one of the most enduring and important images in modern theatre. As well as featuring all the sardonically witty songs of the original, Dundee Rep has taken particular care
Dundee: Dundee Rep, Sat 6—Sat 27 May.
Whether you're familiar with the original musical, one of the numerous recent stage productions or just the celluloid image of a lingerie-clad Liza Minnelli straddling a chair accompanied by a manic dwarfish
80 THE LIST 27 Apr-ii May 2000
Life is in rank decay, old son: Cabaret returns to pre-War decadence
pansexual, chances are you've encountered Cabaret in one of its various incarnations. Keeping faithful to the original Christopher Isherwood text, Dundee Rep is bringing Cabaret to Scotland, replete with all its chaotic charm and, more seriously, its poignant and disturbing examination of the rise of Nazism in 305 Germany.
’For me the most important element was how to describe a world that
to recreate the Kit Kat Club of 305 Berlin in every detail, including replacing standard front-row seats with cabaret club tables. Audiences can look forward to being immersed in the production's decadently seedy atmosphere. ’We're trying to recreate a world in design terms,’ says Glen. ‘All the action takes place in the club setting; we're transforming the whole theatre into a club. The idea is that the club is more than just a venue; it really is all of Berlin.’ (Olly Lassman)
Scottish Ballet Shorts
Ayr: Gaiety Theatre, Sat 29 Apr, then touring.
Strange to think that a prestigious visiting ballet company was once knocked back for offering a perennial favourite as its programme, but almost a century ago the denizens of Paris preferred to watch contemporary triple bills rather than see the Russian ballet perform Sleeping Beauty. These days the short ballet triple bill does not command the same audience enthusiasm but, as Scottish Ballet artistic director Robert North explains, ignore it and you neglect a large proportion of choreography from the last century.
’The greatest choreographers of the last century did triple bills,’ he says. ’Only a few tackled the three-acter because with the full evening ballet you have to do production and a whole series of other things, but choreographers were keen to just get on with making up steps and putting movement together.
’With a short ballet you can get three different styles of dance in a programme and change the music a great deal. You don't have to tell quite as elaborate a story. It’s like short stories; as long as you’ve got one good clever idea in it you can sustain it for the 20—25 minutes. With a triple bill you can have three courses; a starter, something meaty in the middle and a nice sweet thing to finish.’
Scottish Ballet’s National Tour 2000 is one such three-courser, featuring the world premiere of Mehmet Balkan's Frederick, based on the life and work of Chopin and, according to North, ’full of expression and gesture in a lyrical, classical style’.
This will be sandwiched between two of North’s short ballets from the last ten years. Miniatures ('very colourful and childlike') was inspired by the paintings of Matisse and uses a couple of Stravinsky’s arrangements for piano. In contrast, Light Fandango is ’a very exciting piece about youth and dancing', which sets Riverdance- inspired steps to American and Scottish folk music. 'Covering the range is important,’ says North. ’lt's nice sometimes to read short stories and sometimes to read big volumes.’
Striding through Stravinsky: Robert North’s Miniatures