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A CurtainUp London Review
So why does this seem such a lacklustre production when it stars the great Diana Rigg? Rigg plays Honour, the eponymous heroine of the play, a woman in her sixties whose husband George (Martin Jarvis) leaves for a much younger model, Cambridge graduate Claudia (Natascha McElhone). It is partly to do with the acting of Martin Jarvis and Natascha McElhone. Jarvis seems so mundane as actually not to be a loss but rather a tedious liability to any woman, which could explain Rigg's lack of emotion when told he was leaving. Underplaying maybe, but this comes over as couldn't care less and destroys the central point of the play which has to be the journey Honour makes from deserted wife to a woman comfortable in her own skin with achievements of her own in later life. We have to believe that Honour initially thinks she is worse off. I remember clearly the transformation that Eileen Atkins as Honour made in the final scene when she has regained her writing career and her self esteem, but although Rigg has a costume change, the effect is much flatter. Jarvis too made little of George's final realisation of what he has lost in ending his marriage to Honour.
The beautiful Natascha McElhone plays the expedient career girl using George's celebrity as a stepping stone to fulfil her own ambition but she seems oddly stiff and uncomfortable in the role. Also there is no sexual frisson between her and Jarvis' pedestrian George, again begging the question that what is such a beautiful and clever girl doing with an old man? I know that fame is meant to be sexually alluring but at no point does George seem remotely interesting. Only Georgina Rich as George and Honour's daughter, Sophie raises the involvement factor in her scenes as she shows anger at the parental split. There was a loud audience groan when George explains to Honor that it was his labours which had provided the family assets.
Liz Ascroft's set is a solid and expensive study with fine mahogany antique bookcases and to the rear antique chairs, fifty or more of them -- I've really no idea why? At Cottesloe I was occasionally distracted by the mirror image of audience opposite me, whereas here all the set piece chairs are empty. Is this significant?
I know that theatre lacks good parts for women in their sixties but we have many great actresses in this age group who, we are told that we are ten years younger than their mother's generation were at the same age. Please, please can someone write a brilliant play for Diana Rigg so that London theatregoers can see her in her prime?
Elyse Sommer reviewed Joanna Murray-Smith's play in New York. For her 1998 review go here Incidentally New York's journalist Gus was renamed Literary Editor George for the London market. The play also had a run last year in Los Angeles which was reviewed by Laura Hitchcock. To read that review
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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