Tag Archives: Paul Pyant

The Bay at Nice

The Bay at Nice
★★½

Menier Chocolate Factory

The Bay at Nice

The Bay at Nice

Menier Chocolate Factory

Reviewed – 19th March 2019

★★½

 

“packed with enticing themes, but consistently presents them in ways that aren’t engaging”

 

Revivals always generate intrigue as to what the creative team has found within a usually decades-old script that will resonate in new ways for modern audiences. When the play is penned by prolific writer David Hare, and helmed by prolific director Sir Richard Eyre, then the intrigue is amped up considerably. You can imagine my disappointment, then, to have the left the theatre none the wiser as to why The Bay at Nice has received a revival at all.

Set in a disused room of an art museum in Leningrad in 1956, hardened and straight-talking Valentina Nrovka (Penelope Wilton) is ostensibly there to authenticate a Matisse painting, but when her docile daughter Sophia (Ophelia Lovibond) informs her that she’s planning to leave her stoic husband for a less successful man (Peter, played by David Rintoul), the ideologies of the pair collide in a clash of the personal and political, freedom and duty, and will and instinct. The play sets these arguments against the subjectivity of the meaning of art, in contrast with the objectivity of the social and political structures in place at the time; for Sophia to get a divorce, for example, she is required to surmount numerous obstacles including advertising it in a newspaper and receiving marriage counselling at huge expense to her, as though not conforming to the state’s idea of love and happiness is something to be deeply ashamed of.

The Bay at Nice is packed with enticing themes, but consistently presents them in ways that aren’t engaging. Although Valentina initially chastises Sophia for wanting to leave her husband for Peter, she warms to him so quickly when he’s introduced that any sense of conflict dissipates fairly quickly. The script is also laden with labouring monologues, as opportunities to give the arguments a sense of prescience and agency are ignored in favour of long-winded stories about the characters’ pasts. These shortcomings prevent the design and direction from feeling scarcely more than perfunctory, simply creating a functional space for the actors to do their best with the dirge of anecdotes they have to deliver.

But do their best they certainly do. Martin Hutson as the fidgety and eager-to-please assistant curator rounds out a quartet of stellar performances, where each actor brings a unique energy and history to the stage. Wilton, as the epicentre of the play’s action, coaxes nuance out of every word, with such gravitas that there are a number of moments where she simply stands and eyes another character and it is totally enrapturing.

The engrossing dynamics of the cast, however, only make you yearn for a script with interactions that fully served them. With such an iconic team involved, it was surprising just how little flair this production contained; The Bay at Nice trudges along with a datedness that fails to justify its return after over thirty years.

 

Reviewed by Tom Francis

Photography by Catherine Ashmore

 


The Bay at Nice

Menier Chocolate Factory until 4th May

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
The Gronholm Method | ★★★★ | May 2018
Fiddler on the Roof | ★★★★★ | December 2018

 

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

 

Agnes Colander: An Attempt at Life
★★★★

Jermyn Street Theatre

Agnes Colander

Agnes Colander: An Attempt at Life

Jermyn Street Theatre

Reviewed – 18th February 2019

★★★★

 

“aesthetically seductive with some captivating acting and thought-provoking perceptions”

 

In an intimate and eloquent production at the Jermyn Street Theatre, an accomplished ensemble of actors and creatives join together to bring to life a long-neglected work by Edwardian playwright, Harley Granville Barker. Using one of his list of possible subtitles, ‘Agnes Colander: An Attempt at Life’, he broaches the sensitive issue of women’s lack of freedom in that era but, more delicately, examines how relationships change when they become sexual. Married at seventeen, Agnes has left an unhappy, respectable marriage to become an artist. When, three years later, her husband orders her home, she moves to France with Otto, a passionate, Danish painter, while being pursued by the smitten Alec.

These three men reflect her emotional struggle and the play follows the considerations and deliberations of a woman whose strength and conviction make her want to shape her own destiny. However, with the examples of writing by Shaw, Wilde and Ibsen freshly censored, he knew that a play which questioned the code of acceptable female behaviour in that society would never be approved by the likes of Lord Chamberlain, so it lay tucked away, unrevised and unperformed, until its recent discovery by Richard Nelson.

This early piece is entirely conversational, consisting of a series of dialogues and sometimes missing a link or background, but Trevor Nunn directs a distinguished cast, engaging our empathy with the characters on a personal level and opening our thoughts on whether it is possible to love with body and soul. Naomi Frederick’s alluring performance as Agnes draws us into her conflicting complexity of thoughts, feelings and ideals and her deeply sincere nature. The ardent Otto is played with increasing coarseness, creating a contrast to Harry Lister Smith’s nuanced, if timorous, portrayal of young and besotted, yet determined, Alec. Emmeline Marjoribanks re-establishes the norms of female conduct in an appealing interpretation by Sally Scott, not without desires but quick to cover them up.

Robert Jones’ set design is an elegant backdrop to his period costumes and detailed props which further combine with the actors’ movements and sublime tones and hues of the lighting (Paul Pyant) to conjure up a semblance of continuous oil paintings. Although this is not a perfectly constructed drama – a little stilted due to the linear form and an ending which is rather too neatly tied up – it is an enjoyable and involving portrait of Agnes. Well-suited to the small stage it is aesthetically seductive with some captivating acting and thought-provoking perceptions.

 

Reviewed by Joanna Hetherington

Photography by Robert Workman

 


Agnes Colander: An Attempt at Life

Jermyn Street Theatre until 16th March

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Woman Before a Glass | ★★★★ | January 2018
Mad as Hell | ★★★ | February 2018
The Dog Beneath the Skin | ★★★ | March 2018
Tonight at 8.30 | ★★★★★ | April 2018
Tomorrow at Noon | ★★★★ | May 2018
Stitchers | ★★★½ | June 2018
The Play About my Dad | ★★★★ | June 2018
Hymn to Love | ★★★ | July 2018
Burke & Hare | ★★★★ | November 2018
Original Death Rabbit | ★★★★★ | January 2019

 

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