Tag Archives: Jonathan Evans

Margot, Dame, The Most Famous Ballerina In The World
★★★

King’s Head Theatre

Margot Dame

Margot, Dame, The Most Famous Ballerina In The World

King’s Head Theatre

Reviewed – 17th July 2019

★★★

 

If allowed to, I think this piece will grow up to match the quality of Macor’s other plays

 


It’s in the title. And it is fundamentally undeniable, which is probably why writer Claudio Macor has separated the dancer from the dance to focus on the lesser known events of Fonteyn’s life. Commissioned to write the piece for the King’s Head Theatre’s annual ‘Playmill’ festival of new writing, Macor has rightly refused merely to tell us what we already know. Here we see Margot Fonteyn reinventing herself as a cattle rancher, we learn some of the reasons she kept on dancing long after she should have stopped. We get snapshots of her childhood and her relationship with her mother. And at its heart is her marriage to Roberto (Tito) Arias, the serial adulterer and dodgy Panamanian politician.

But at barely an hour long we don’t really feel the pulse of this story. We are, in fact, left wanting it to be massaged into life and given the prospect of a long and healthy future. Even given the limitations of being part of a festival, “Margot, Dame” feels underdeveloped. Thankfully we are aided by a back projection informing us when and where we are in the action as the narrative jumps about chronologically. We have fewer pointers, however, to help us decide whether we are watching a comedy or an earnest piece of drama.

Abigail Moore gives an assured portrayal of the eponymous Fonteyn. An unenviable task but she mixes the imposed affectations of the grand dame with the down to earth girl from Reigate. Neat touches such as the origin of her stage name (“… named after a hairdresser’s on Tottenham Court Road…”) season the exposition with a bit of spice. Fanos Xenofos has more scope for dramatic licence as the husband, ‘Tito’. It was a complicated relationship, and Xenofos’ performance only occasionally hints at the mystique of the man that Fonteyn had to put up with. After a failed coup to oust the President of Panama, Tito escapes and returns to Peru. Margot is arrested for her involvement in her husband’s botched attempt at gun-smuggling. When Tito was confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life after an assassination attempt, Margot uses up all her savings to care for him – one of the main reasons she continued to dance so late into her life.

The story is not so much sidestepped as danced over lightly. It is a fascinating angle on Fonteyn’s life and one that refreshingly avoids the obvious. But, as if worried that the audience might lose interest, director Robert McWhir and choreographer Robbie O’Reilly have shoehorned flourishes of ballet to cover the scene changes and time shifts, which dilute rather than add flavour.

But one mustn’t lose sight of the purpose of the Playmill Festival at the King’s Head, which is a vital platform for new writing. “Margot, Dame…” has only two performances in which to reveal its essence. As Fonteyn herself famously said; “… the first night is the worst possible time to make a hard and fast criticism: the baby never looks its best on the day it is born…” If allowed to, I think this piece will grow up to match the quality of Macor’s other plays.

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Peter Davies

 



Margot, Dame, The Most Famous Ballerina In The World

King’s Head Theatre until 18th July as part of Playmill New Writing Festival

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Carmen | ★★★★ | February 2019
Timpson: The Musical | ★★★ | February 2019
The Crown Dual | ★★★★ | March 2019
Undetectable | ★★★★ | March 2019
Awkward Conversations With Animals … | ★★★★ | April 2019
HMS Pinafore | ★★★★ | April 2019
Unsung | ★★★½ | April 2019
Coral Browne: This F***Ing Lady! | ★★ | May 2019
This Island’s Mine | ★★★★★ | May 2019
Vulvarine | ★★★★★ | June 2019

 

Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com

 

Radio
★★★★

Arcola Theatre

Radio

Radio

Arcola Theatre

Reviewed – 24th June 2019

★★★★

 

“a performance that convincingly and loyally wrings the emotion from the text”

 

“Maybe you wanna see an effect? A piece of magic?” Charlie Fairbanks (Adam Gillen) asks us, explaining that magicians prefer to use the term ‘effect’ rather than ‘trick’. What they create are illusions by taking advantage of how we perceive and process information. A dove fluttering from a hat is used to draw an audience’s attention away from the actual trick. Just as some believe the moon landing was a trick (fake news half a century before the phrase was coined) by the American Government to distract us from Vietnam and the Cold War. It is this merging of the global and the personal that informs Al Smith’s writing in “Radio” that enables us to connect instantly to the play.

Smith’s father worked for the US space programme and helped to choose the landing sites on the surface of the moon for Apollo 11. He grew up hearing his stories about that time, and about the highs and lows of that era in the States. By extension, “Radio” is about fathers and sons, pride and protest, love and war; a kind of love-letter to his own father and to a lost era. Alone on the stage, Adam Gillen treats the writing with reverence in a performance that convincingly and loyally wrings the emotion from the text. It is no small challenge to keep an audience clinging to your words (and there’s a fair few of them) for eighty minutes. And Gillen does it with style, honesty and subtlety. Director Josh Roche avoids gimmickry and allows the actor’s storytelling to take centre stage.

Charlie Fairbanks was born at noon, in June of 1950 in Kansas, in the dead centre of the 20th century and in the dead centre of the United States. The trouble is that the centre has a habit of shifting. As does the focus of the story. But that is not a criticism; Gillen’s anecdotal flair adds spontaneity so that the flow of the narrative never ebbs as it meanders and side streams. The strands of his story overlap, like fragments of clarity from a continually spinning radio dial, in a performance that crackles with understated energy.

While chasing his own dreams of becoming an astronaut, Charlie navigates the American Dream and the twists and turns of his changing world – from JFK’s assassination, Vietnam, the cold war and, central to the play, the space race. His is a heartwarming story of reaching for the moon, and of the effects of seeing our world from afar. The real achievement of the moon landing, says Charlie at the close of the monologue, wasn’t that we got there but that, in getting there, we realised the value of all we left behind.

And like the cycle of the moon, we are back at the start – with an echo of Charlie’s opening question. But by now we have the answer. It doesn’t take an illusionist’s trickery to know that we have just seen a piece of magic.

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Helen Maybanks

 


Radio

Arcola Theatre until 13th July

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Elephant Steps | ★★★★ | August 2018
Greek | ★★★★ | August 2018
Forgotten | ★★★ | October 2018
Mrs Dalloway | ★★★★ | October 2018
A Hero of our Time | ★★★★★ | November 2018
Stop and Search | ★★ | January 2019
The Daughter-In-Law | ★★★★★ | January 2019
Little Miss Sunshine | ★★★★★ | April 2019
The Glass Menagerie | ★★★★ | May 2019
Riot Act | ★★★★★ | June 2019

 

Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com