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A CurtainUp London London Review
Absurdia



I think we have finally succeeded in abstracting ourselves from the painful reality of the situation. — Pilou (The Crimson Hotel)
Absurdia
Lindsey Marshall as Lucienne and Peter Capaldi as Pilou in The Crimson Hotel. (Photo: Johan Persson)
The Donmarís triple bill of absurdist comedies spans two of NF Simpsonís 1960s short plays plus a new one-act play by Michael Frayn. Douglas Hodge directs this celebration of the surreal and the illogical.

The first play of the evening is a revival of NF Simpsonís A Resounding Tinkle. A married couple (Peter Capaldi and Judith Scott) bicker about the dimensions of an elephant theyíve had delivered, whether they live in a semi-detached house or a bungalow, about admitting door-to-door comedians and whether equipping eagles with parachutes and spectacles is a worthy charitable cause. In addition, their visiting Uncle Ted (Lyndsey Marshal) turns out to be a glamorous 1960s babe, whose latest fad happens to be gender change. The tense marital dialogue, unfortunately lacking in any logic or reality, feels extremely tedious at times. Moreover, running as the longest section of the evening, this 45 minute-long play lacks the pace and momentum of the other pieces.

Conversely, the second play Gladly Otherwise is more an extended sketch than anything else. An unexplained visitor scrutinises the layout of a house, to the surprise of its owner Mrs Brandywine (Judith Scott). As he questions the most normal of arrangements, like the wallpaper being against the wall or the carpet placed upon the floor, Mrs Brandywine obligingly does her best to explain.

For me the highlight of the evening was the third offering: Michael Fraynís witty The Crimson Hotel. A loving parody of classic French farces, it is full of meta-theatrical humour and has many echoes of Pirandello. The plot follows a playwright taking his leading lady to the desert to conduct their illicit affair. The premise is that, having learnt all the "dangers of discreet and charming hotels" from his plays, the writer is confident that the wasteland will contain wardrobe or curtains for wary husbands to hide behind. This plan, however, failed to take into account the power of the imagination. With impressive surround-sound effects, the cast play out scenarios which mimic the plot of a French farce: a nexus of adulterous relationships, on the point of exposure.

One of the reasons Fraynís play is so successful is because there is a certain amount of artificiality inherent in the acting of any absurd play. Here, with characters in the theatre business, this melodramatic exaggeration simply feels natural. It is, for example, wholly convincing, when Lucienne (Lyndsey Marshal) cries out, "How could any woman resist your stage directions?"

Vicki Mortimerís set design is an aesthetic treat: a stylised cut-out of a house, complete with 1960s floral wallpaper and a frame of gravel on the floor. As bowler-hatted stage hands people the stage with props, they traipse across the gravel with a satisfying crunch. Punctuating the different plays, a front layer of the house crashes down and creates a new stage.

NF Simpson is decidedly an acquired taste and one which Iím afraid I do not possess. Now showing its age, his writing tends to dip from the absurd into the downright silly. Nevertheless, Michael Fraynís new play is clever, sharply funny and manages to combine the bizarre with wit.

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ABSURDIA
A Resounding Tinkle by NF Simpson
Gladly Otherwise by NF Simpson
The Crimson Hotel by Michael Frayn
Directed by Douglas Hodge

With: Judith Scott, Peter Capaldi, Lyndsey Marshal, John Hodgkinson
Design: Vicki Mortimer
Lighting: Paule Constable
Sound: Carolyn Downing
Composers: Stu Barker and Douglas Hodge
Running time: One hour 30 minutes with no interval
Box Office: 0870 060 6624
Booking to 8th September 2007
Reviewed by Charlotte Loveridge based on 4th August 2007 performance at the Donmar Warehouse, 41 Earlham Street, Seven Dials, London, WC2H 9LX (Tube: Covent Garden)
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©Copyright 2007, Elyse Sommer.
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