The March On Russia by David Storey, Orange Tree Theatre, 7 October 2017

Back in the late 1980’s. when I read a heck of a lot of plays as my “commute fodder”, I remember wanting to like David Storey’s plays but never enjoying reading them. I wanted to like them, because I knew his son, Jake, at University, which was as close as I got to actually knowing a playwright back then. But I always found the plays themselves naturalistic to the point of being dull.

But I had never seen a David Storey performed and now he has died and Daisy liked the sound of this one and it is supposedly one of his most autobiographical ones and it was the Orange Tree…

…so off we went.

I’m going to guess that this is about as good a production of a David Storey as one might find. Excellent cast, fine young director in Alice Hamilton, whose work we have enjoyed before. (Although German Skerries,which she also directed, was a naturalistic, dull, late 20th Century play which sent us to sleep.) Plus, the Orange Tree “in the round” treatment suits this type of naturalistic chamber play.

This production of The March On Russia has had excellent reviews – quotes, links and other resources about the production can be found on the Orange Tree’s site – here.

But I did find the play dull. It was borderline for me whether we stayed on for the second half, but Daisy guessed, correctly, that the drama would unfold in a rather more interesting way second half. I’m glad we stayed. I’m glad I’ve seen a David Storey. Neither of us will be rushing back to see another of his, though.

We debated this and more over a delicious Spanish meal at Don Fernando after theatre, as is our habit post Orange Tree, making the evening as a whole worthwhile and enjoyable.

The Treatment by Martin Crimp, Almeida Theatre, 27 May 2017

By the time we got to our seats, Janie and I had probably had enough suspense, drama, excitement and surprise for one day.

We’d been following the ODI cricket all day, which was well poised when we left Noddyland, in good time to get to The Almeida.

Noddyland/well poised

In fact the traffic was very light, enabling us to take an unusually direct route, but that didn’t stop the cricket from taking more twists and turns than a Sat Nav assisted London journey in a traffic jam.

Janie was convinced England were going to win throughout the Saffer chase; whereas I was less optimistic in the absence of early wickets for England on a very flat track. But between the time we drove past Madam Tussaud’s to the time we drove past the Wellcome Collection, the Saffers reduced the ask from 26 runs off 13 balls to 10 runs off 10 balls. Even Janie briefly thought England were as stuffed as…well, waxworks aren’t technically stuffed, but some specimens in the Wellcome Collection must be.

The worst part about listening to the end of that cricket match in the car was waiting to turn from White Lion Street onto Islington High Street, when the Saffers needed just four runs off the last two balls. The radio signal hit one of those building-affected interference spots and we couldn’t hear a thing for about a minute – which felt like an hour. As we emerged onto the High Street, we soon learnt that we hadn’t missed a ball; merely a lot of faffing around in the field. Phew.

So the match was won – scorecard here – just as we arrived at the Almeida. Double-phew. We sat in the car a while to decompress and hear the post-match punditry.

The Almeida was heaving by the time we entered, a little after 19:00. We collected our tickets, bought a programme, ordered our drinks and found a quieter spot in the corner of the bar. Janie wanted to read the two or three sentence promotional teaser for the play, which was absent from the programme but is the information that enticed us to book the play. I volunteered to get her the little promo card, via the loo.

As I weaved through the heaving foyer/bar area, at one point a fellow, with his back to me, was standing in a particularly obstructive place, making it impossible for me to get past. I tapped him gently on the shoulder and said, “excuse me, may I please get past you?”, to which he replied, without turning around, “NO. You can go all the way around the other side instead.”

Then the unhelpful gentleman turned around.

It was Ollie Goodwin. An old mate from school…or should I say an old high school bud? It must be fully four days since we last met. Ollie had seen me coming.

Janie had met Ollie and indeed Ollie’s other half, Victoria, a few months ago at Chris Grant’s alumni do, so we needed little reintroduction, chatting briefly before the play and then again at some more length about the play during the interval and after the show.

It is one of those plays that gives you plenty to chat about.

The Almeida website has a superb resource on each production these days, with production information, pictures, descriptions and links to the reviews, so no point me replicating that sort of stuff – click here for The Almeida resource on the Treatment.

The Treatment has had superb reviews (as evidenced in the above Almeida resource), but one of Janie’s clients had absolutely hated this play, describing it as “rubbish”, so we went with a little trepidation. That particular client/lady often has taste that corresponds with ours. But on this occasion Janie’s client got it wrong; I can see how the play (indeed Martin Crimp’s writing generally) wouldn’t be to everyone’s taste, but it is very interesting and far from rubbish.

Martin Crimp’s plays are (in our experience) always sinister and weird. The Treatment (which Crimp wrote and was first performed in 1993) echoes some of the themes Crimp also covered in The City – which we saw at the Royal Court in 2008 and which I Ogblogged here. In particular the crazy, suspenseful nature of cities. Menace that is partly overt, partly covert; some only in our minds, some all too real.

Coincidentally, Benedict Cumberbatch was in the audience with us, sitting very close to or even next to Ollie and Victoria. As a young, up-and-coming, virtually unknown but clearly very talented actor, Cumberbatch starred in that production of The City (and indeed Martin Crimp’s version of Rhinoceros at The Royal Court – Ogblogged here). I think we first saw Cumberbatch at the Almeida as it happens, as Tesman in a superb production of Hedda Gabler in 2005.

Benedict Cumberbatch also plonked himself at the next table to ours during the interval, much to the complete nonchalance of Janie, Ollie and Victoria…until I pointed him out to them.

Actually, these days Benedict Cumberbatch is everywhere and in everything, so on that basis this encounter was hardly a coincidence. Indeed, given the size of the cast used in The Treatment it’s a miracle that Cumberbatch wasn’t in the play rather than merely watching it. Stranger still that Janie and I didn’t see him eating at Ranoush in Kensington later in the evening. Absolutely everywhere, he is.

Back to The Treatment. You can read many good reviews, mostly four star, linked in full at the Almeida resource – here. But the reviews are not universally great; Dominic Cavendish in the Telegraph is not so sure about the play.

I also wondered what the American critics might think of it; Marianka Swain in Broadway World was pretty impressed.

Janie and I will find ourselves talking about this play for some while, I’m sure; certainly for the rest of the weekend…and this is a long weekend. That’s the sign of a good play to us. We also thought it was a superb production, with excellent performances and very innovative stage direction/set design.

The Power Of Yes by David Hare, Lyttelton Theatre, 17 October 2009

We were not overly impressed with this play.

David Hare is very good at burrowing around all manner of interesting topics, but I suspect he was too far away from his spheres of knowledge and understanding with the financial crisis.

Hare almost admits as much, as the narrator of the play is a somewhat perplexed author.

So to me, Hare was making the obvious points about the financial crisis well enough, but there was little dramatic tension and no new insight in the piece.

Janie liked it a bit more than i did, but I suspect that she got more out of it, being less steeped in the financial crisis in the first place.

I’m glad we saw it, but this is second division work from a first division playwright. There was little a good cast and production could do to save it.