“a profoundly important drama, and totally riveting”
One of Arthur Miller’s later plays, “Broken Glass”, written in 1994, is as rich and deeply moving as any of his earlier, better known works. Set in 1938, in the context of ‘Kristallnacht’ (the ‘night of broken glass’), it focuses on a Jewish couple living in New York and juxtaposes the personal breakdown of their marriage with the far-off effects of the anti-Jewish outbreaks in pre-war Germany in a challenging and painfully honest way.
Phillip and Sylvia Gellburg are living increasingly separate lives. Phillip is obsessed with getting ahead, in a real estate company where he is the only Jew. Sylvia is disturbed by the news of Kristallnacht from Germany. In a single night, the Nazis destroyed thousands of Jewish homes and businesses, smashing windows and burning synagogues. Haunted by these images in the New York newspapers, she suffers a mysterious paralysis and is unable to move from the waist down. Diagnosed as a psychosomatic reaction by the popular and attractive Dr Harry Hyman, it soon becomes clear that the causes are somewhat more complex.
Michael Matus gives a quite stunning portrait of Phillip; a man uncomfortable in his own skin. Self-loathing and withdrawn he is constantly fighting the temptation to blame himself for his wife’s disability. Matus skilfully shows us how his own anxieties are just as crippling as his wife’s physical immobility. His guilt, coupled with sexual impotence, gives rise to frightening bouts of anger that, later on in the play, betray a tender vulnerability and need for forgiveness.
Amy Marston has to be applauded for her portrayal of the neglected wife. A late replacement to the cast, she conveys a sensitivity and sensuality that still manage to pack a punch. There is also a strong current of sexuality that is only aroused in the presence of the doctor: a relaxed, assured and natural performance from Michael Higgs. An outsider to the marriage he worms his way in nonetheless.
Simon Kenny’s translucent set adds an edgy claustrophobia to proceedings, and encased within the tarnished glass walls is cellist Susie Blankfield. Ed Lewis’ grief-laden score accentuates the production, adding a real emotive power.
“Broken Glass” is not a political play. The events surrounding ‘Kristallnacht’ are, in fact, reduced to a backdrop, but it is a profoundly important drama, and totally riveting – particularly in the second act when the couple confront each other’s raw emotions. The production is further heightened by an equally strong supporting cast who all tread carefully around the action as if walking on broken glass; towards an unforgettable finale that achingly lays bare the true nature of forgiveness.
I hope this show makes the transfer into town, but if not it is well worth venturing out to Watford to catch it while you can.
“A pleasant show with a sprinkle of webfooted wickedness “
This version of The Frogs, loosely based on a comedy written in 405 BC by Aristophanes, is the UK premiere of the latest Broadway version of Sondheim’s rarely performed musical. It’s original adaptation by Burt Shevelove took place in a swimming pool at Yale University over 40 years ago. This version has been furthermore adapted by Nathan Lane bringing a modern feel to it.
Over the last forty years or so there have been a few attempts to revive the ‘rarely performed’ The Frogs, mostly with limited runs and often with very mixed reviews. Shows become ‘rarely performed’ for many reasons; they go out of fashion, they’ve not done well in the past, they’re too costly to produce or they’re just plain bad, so it was interesting to see what this sold out production would be like.
The show starts with a sparky little piece called ‘Invocation and Instructions to the Audience’ – basically the do’s and don’t (‘mainly don’ts’ as the song says) the audience should adhere to. The first act continues with, as you’d expect from Sondheim, some good strong songs (excellent accompanying band too), and some rather fun and enjoyable scenes.
There are some clever one liners, such as Dionysos (Michael Matus) saying he only slayed Cerberus as ‘he’s more of a cat person’, and some ongoing Hell themed jokes, which do tire rather quickly. There’s only one main scene in which the frogs themselves make a big appearance, and they are a sinister looking bunch, I’d have liked to have seen more of.
The two leads, Michael Matus as Doinysos and George Rae as his slave, Xanthias are both excellent throughout though Xianthias’ outfit did make him look a little like a monochrome version of Where’s Wally? Chris McGuigan as (mainly) Herakles was also very good – an actor to look out for in the future we think.
The first act is definitely a fun and enjoyable watch. The second act is less so. There seems to be few laughs and the plot gets somewhat tedious and overly long in places. There’s a contest in Hades featuring Shakespeare and Bernard Shaw, to decide who Dionysos should take back to the living world, which drags on to the point where you’re willing Charon the boatman (played wonderfully by Jonathan Wadey) to push them all into the river Styx.
The set (Gregor Donnelly) for The Frogs is a little bit industrial looking but works rather nicely. The show itself features few props, those which are used work well, such as Herakles’ club made out of copper piping. Costume design consists mainly of black, what looks like gym wear, with occasional character costumes looking like they’re from the Ann Summers S&M collection.
A pleasant show, brought nicely up to date, with some sinister webfooted wickedness afoot – if only the second act had been as good as the first …
Production Photography by David Ovendon
The Frogs is at Jermyn Street Theatre until 8th April – the whole run is sold out – check directly with the theatre for returns.