This review is tinged with sadness. My friend Chrissie should have been at the play last night but was prevented by a late emergency on the part of her hubby's work demands: boo-hiss. I feel so much for her, especially as I cannot immediately whisk her away myself due to further demands on her from family circumstances. Nevertheless, a public promise is hereby established to drag her to London later in the play's season, with the prayer that the reported committment of the cast holds true.
To the review:
Well, it was glorious. The Lyric is a beautiful theatre (though I must say that The Old Vic is even more spectacular). But the environment is only one small element - although the scenic and lighting designers Mark Wendland and Michael Philippi clearly had a special importance to making the show work so convincingly.
Transferring a production demands a tremendous amount of work from all the parties involved. That this transfers so beautifully, integrating the contributions of new cast and crew alongside those from the US production, is testament to the great work done by all of those at the Lyric. Moreover, I never felt less than utterly convinced by all the performances and it was clear that the audience felt similarly: I was so thrilled to be part of a standing ovation. The play really did create quite a response.
Director Robert Falls really does a fantastic job in bringing this production over, especially as this gives UK audiences an unforgettable opportunity to watch Brian Dennehy portray the collapsing walls of sanity: a tender violence fighting with the fragile human soul; pleasure (delight) losing to the reality/nightmares that seep over him (delirium). Clare Higgins continues to prove herself one of the best actresses on the UK stage for many years: her ability to convey faithfulness to the possibility of a restorative family peace was truly moving. Mark Bazeley does a wonderful job of making the destructively flighty Happy both comic and yet still so aptly unsympathetic. Addicted to the delusions of his father, Happy’s dreams remain small and temporal – lust and enough money to access it. But the significance of this smallness could never work so well without an appropriately desperate counterpoint. This makes the casting of Douglas Henshall as Biff so perfect: exactly the right mixture of vulnerability and fury required. A performance that burns with intensity, Mr Henshall is, as ever, a joy to witness on stage. The fire in his performance may not be able to keep full restraint on his voice, but for me that only adds to my enjoyment. I know there is more to a career than West End stage productions, but truly this is nothing less than he deserves for the talent he has shown over the years. That he can be so utterly charming off-stage as well only reinforces my long-established belief in the quality of his work (and even if he wasn't, his talent would not be dimished). I treasure the skip in my belly to hear his enthusiastic congratulations to me for having completed my PhD (I'd last spoken to him just after I submitted).
So I admit a bias towards this particular production. Nevertheless, I do sincerely urge anyone interested in seeing this classic 20th century work performed with grace, verve and passion to hawk your goods and beg for a ticket. It's well worth the effort.