London has a new commercial theatre, and everybody in the theatrical profession, as well as regular theatregoers, will be wishing it well. The Bridge Theatre, co-founded by Nicholas Hytner and Nick Starr, who ran the National Theatre so successfully, is on the South Bank between Tower Bridge and County Hall. The repertoire will be mostly new plays with an occasional musical or classic.
The opening play is Young Marx by Richard Bean and Clive Coleman. Most people’s image of Karl Marx is based on Laurence Bradshaw’s bust on the memorial in Highgate Cemetery of a stern old man with a white beard. The 32-year-old Marx (Rory Kinnear) was a Bohemian roué, boozing, swearing, procrastinating, sponging off Friedrich Engels, the “cotton-lord communist”, and cheating on his wife. Having been exiled from France, Belgium and Prussia, he arrived in England in 1850, when London was awash with refugees. He lived in poverty and squalor in Dean Street in Soho and spent much of his time hiding in a cupboard and up a chimney from creditors, bailiffs, German spies and the police. The episodic script has lots of jokes, Kinnear is an engaging actor, and Bean swears that what we are witnessing is almost all true.
Birmingham Royal Ballet’s touring triple bill opens with Ruth Brill’s Arcadia. Brandon Lawrence is physically impressive as Pan (half-man, half-goat), and the music by saxophonist John Harle is particularly appealing. Le Baiser de la fée was conceived by Igor Stravinsky and Alexandre Benois and choreographed by Bronislava Nijinska in 1928. The libretto is based on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Ice Maiden. The music pays homage to Tchaikovsky’s ballets. Michael Corder’s version lacks an icy evil which might have made this predatory fairy’s baby-snatching more dramatic. Finally, “Still Life” at Penguin Café, created by David Bintley in 1988 to an amazing and instantly likable score by Simon Jeffes, is sheer delight. The ballet, a series of revue vignettes, is a carnival of endangered species and so charming and light-hearted that the serious coda may well come as a surprise.
The Slaves of Solitude, Patrick Hamilton’s novel, adapted by Nicholas Wright and skilfully directed by Jonathan Kent, is well cast at Hampstead Theatre and very watchable. A lonely and vulnerable 39-year-old (Fenella Woolgar), living in a genteel boarding house, has an affair with a charming and charismatic African-American GI (Daon Broni) during World War II. I suspect a lot of theatregoers will now want to read the novel, a modern classic.
What makes Lucy Bailey’s production of Agatha Christie’s Witness for the Prosecution special is its staging in the council chamber at London’s County Hall. The venue makes this Old Bailey courtroom drama a much more interesting experience than it would have been seeing it in a theatre behind a proscenium arch.
Mother Courage and Her Children, Bertolt Brecht’s manifesto on warmongering and capitalism, set during the Thirty Years War, can be pretty boring, and Hannah Chissick’s awkward production at Southwark Playhouse, set on a narrow traverse stage and with a titchy cart, doesn’t begin to do justice to this legendary anti-war epic.
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