Friday, April 23, 2010

Theatre Reviews: Monday 19 April 2010 - Enron @ Noel Coward Theatre, London / Thursday 22 April 2010 - Arthur and George @ Nottingham Playhouse

Enron @ Noel Coward, London (due to transfer to Broadway April 2010, but continuing with a new cast in London til 14 August 2010)

I've briefly indicated that we enjoyed Enron in my summary of our London visit.

It was certainly a treat to see such a fabulous cast and such an intriguing play. Sam West, Tom Goodman-Hill, Tim Piggott-Smith all lived up to their star billing, but in such a macho play (and the narrative is inevitably all about the macho, even if it is shown up to be disastrously destructive) it was also pleasing to see how Amanda Drew stood her ground.

Of particular note though was how wonderfully the whole thing was put together, from writing to directing to staging. Making a musical - well, it has several musical numbers and plenty of song and dancing! - out of this excessively macho narrative takes a real visionary sense of how to interpret and portray the ludicrous duplicity and optimism of the central figures. Lucy Prebble has done an incredible job of making complex economic jiggery-pokery into a comprehensible tale.

This isn't a production with a sympathetic character as its focal point however; all the central figures involved are pretty loathsome, their actions myopic, manipulative and ultimately careless of human life. The 'raptors' may be given literal form on stage, but the real monsters are the human beings who thought they could control the markets.

Boy, did they ever get proved wrong. And more to the point, how the hell did their example not ring alarm bells earlier for the rest of the financial system?

Arthur and George @ Nottingham Playhouse til 8 May 2010

Photo by Tristram Kenton

In its own way, Arthur and George is equally inventive at taking an existing narrative and bringing it to the stage (in this case, both a real life connection and more specifically Julian Barnes' reimagining of the tale).

David Edgar's adaptation I suspect works better for those less familiar with Barnes' book; the form of a novel - especially this novel - enables a more elliptical telling of the coming together of the characters' narratives. By virtue of needing to create a comprehensible narrative, the play inevitably foregrounds and shows what the novel controls and masks - not least the racial identity of George.

Nevertheless, the play does work its own stage magic to provide a degree of interwoven storylines, with characters located on the rotating stage carrying on their own overlapping dialogue, with furniture moving almost constantly, with characters facing each other, the audience, absent figures. The play also makes a virtue of its small cast by highlighting the understandable degree of paranoia George ends up internalising in his dealings with social racism (actors who have played earlier central characters who treated him so badly reappear towards the end in the guise of the great and good, but echoing earlier dialogue of cruelty and dismissiveness).

The cast are very good with Adrian Lukis offering a great turn as Arthur and Chris Nayak as the myopic George. Additionally, Kirsty Hoiles and Anneika Rose offer excellent supporting roles as Jean Leckie (Arthur's second wife) and George's sister Maud respectively. As a portrait of the casual nature of early 20th century racism, of the problems of innocence and guilt, it is well worth catching - especially if you are less familiar with the source novel.

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