Sutton Arts have announced their 2019/20, 75th anniversary, programme. Invariably they produce a thought provoking combination of hidden gems, much loved standards, and the quirky.They have excelled once again. Here is a preview of the treats in store.
Sutton Arts have not bothered to save their best for last, but instead laid down a marker by producing it first.
This is a brilliant choice by a relatively forgotten talent, Rodney Ackland, who died in 1991. He was a part Jewish, English playwright, actor, theatre director and screenwriter.
Ackland worked with Alfred Hitchcock, first as an actor, then as a screenwriter, collaborating with him on London fog-bound thriller Number Seventeen .
Originally entitled “ The Pink Room”, premiered in 1952, it failed first time round. Rewritten, and retitled , it enjoyed considerable success due to its salacious content. A large cast is provided for, black marketeers, bohemians, gays, artists down on their luck and kept socialites. Character acting opportunities abound. There is even a tyrannical theatre critic – I may well audition. The fabric of the Club is falling to bits – the set team can take a night off.
Will the director opt for the Weimar feel of Cabaret, or the intellectually foppish world of Freud and Bacon? The Club “La Vie En Rose” is loosely based on Muriel Belcher’s Colony Rooms. Will the producer resist Edith Piafs’s rendition of the eponymous standard? Grace Jones’s perhaps? Go on – I dare you!
The script is verbose, misogynistic and crude – and with a running time of about three hours, including a fifteen minute interval and a five minute pause, lengthy. The audience will need stamina as well as a soft cushion. It is also quite static. But at its best it is a heady feast of post-war Soho decadence in bomb-blasted London. A place where members drink into the morning , of lost souls, and bruised lovers. Its content and language , was condemned as ‘a libel on the British people’ when first performed in 1952. Sixty -eight years later how will it look?
Towards the end of the play a guest at club in waves a gun above his head. “You’ll never escape!” he yells. Let’s hope the audience do not feel the same for this opus.
The play begins in the last days of World War II. London has endured the Blitz, and rationing continues to contract the menu at La Vie en Rose. Around club owner Christine Foskett’s club, artists mix with servicemen, black market dealers and prostitutes, one of whom silently circumnavigates the stage. Boho in Soho. Christine’s American lover has recently abandoned her, and she finds solace in failed writer Hugh Marriner.
Sutton Arts took on a huge risk last season with “Jerusalem” – and triumphed. The challenge in “Absolute Hell” is that Ackland asks us to care for people who do not care for each other. I saw the National Theatre production last year. It divided opinion savagely. Will the producer make the production sleazy enough? Will the running time be cut? Will the cast be big enough ( and interesting enough) to counterbalance an essentially slow play?
The theatre has taken a chance with this, go and see it, and love it or hate it.
I first saw this as a play in the West End in the early 70’s, it was one of the first stage shows my parents ever took me to. I was enthralled, as I was by the 1972 film starring Michael Caine. It has subsequently been remade for cinema twice.
Playwright Anthony Shaffer’s script is tight, the mystery and suspense expertly presented. It is set in the Wiltshire manor house of Andrew Wyke, a murder/ mystery author. Wyke’s home is a temple to his obsession with the inventions and deceptions of fiction and his fascination with games and game-playing. He lures his wife’s lover, Milo Tindle, and convinces him to stage a robbery of her jewellery. Thereafter, what is real, and what is imagined, tantalises the audience. It is said that the composer Stephen Sondheim, a friend of Shaffer, who also had a fascination for illusion and mystery, was the inspiration for the play.
This will delight the murder mystery crowd and draw new admirers to this finely crafted work.
Wizard of Oz
I was a child. We were living in America. Christmas was coming, The snow was falling thick and fast outside, then this enthralling story set in Kansas unfolded before my eyes. I was hooked. The magic of this story has never left for me.
A departure from the straight forwards pantomime of recent years, nonetheless this will not disappoint.
I bet Emily and Dexter will have a miniature witch scuttling along the wire over the auditorium…
A success as certain as Santa’s arrival on the 25th.
Absurd Person Singular
Alan Ayckbourn is a consummate, hugely successful, playwright. He understands the craft of comedy and farce as well as anyone. He does not write for posterity, he writes for a living, and has earned well out of it. His heyday was the 1970’s, but he was also prolific in the 60’s and 80’s. He was very good at writing about “now”.
That now has passed. The now of “The Good Life”, “ It Ain’t Half Hot Mum”, Love they Neighbour” “Are You Being Served”. The relationship neuroses which he specialises in are from a different time . That is no sleight on his writing. Its success was its contemporaneity , not its enduring statement on life and love.
There are excellent modern comedies being written by the likes of Torben Betts. “Invincible” (2014) is superb, “Caroline’s Kitchen” (2019) a joy. Betts is himself a disciple of Ayckbourn. It would be good for the Committee to look forwards, and not back, for this genre
Sutton Arts have wisely drafted in the master of comedy, Barrie Aitchison, to realise this production. He will not let anyone down.
An Ideal Husband
Oscar Wilde plays are a challenge. If you ham them up, they become too smug and arch, played straight, they can be laboured and drawn out. Fortunately, alongside “The Importance of Being Earnest” this is in the top two of his most produced plays.
The action is set in London, in “the present”, and takes place over the course of twenty-four hours. Will the Director elect to present this in contemporary 21st century style?
He started writing it in the summer of 1893,at Goring-on-Thames, where the pop singer George Michael used to live, after which he named the character Lord Goring.
After opening on 3 January 1895, the play continued for 124 performances. But In April of the same year, Wilde was arrested for gross indecency and his name was publicly removed from the play.
It is a tale of blackmail and political corruption, public and private honour. “Sooner or later, we shall all have to pay for what we do.”
Would a man marry a woman he did not love simply to protect a friend, or keep a confidence? Today that would be unlikely, but for the original audiences of “An Ideal Husband,” it was plausible enough amid an array of misunderstandings.
Goring declares, “To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance”. Occasionally the lengthy script, which can run to three hours, does become self- obsessed, but Wilde is such a good writer that it does not matter.
The Deep Blue Sea
A stunning choice.
Written by Terence Rattigan in 1952, the story and characters are based upon his secret relationship with Kenny Morgan, and the aftermath following the end of their relationship.
Taking place over the course of one day, the play begins with the discovery of Hester Collyer in her flat by her neighbours, after Hester has failed in an attempt to commit suicide by gassing herself.
What distinguishes this play is its exploration of the inequality of passion, and its signature, quintessentially British understatement.
The characters are brilliantly written, the part of Collyer should have every actress in North Birmingham and South Staffs hammering at the door to claim.
With the right cast it could be the hit of the season. Highly recommended.
This is a left field selection. A revival of a show first performed in 1970 featuring a series of vignettes on love and marriage, not a linear story. It can be seen either as unforgivably bitty, or bravely surreal in its disregard for the conventions of Broadway musical. Its episodic storytelling gives great scope for the wit and neurotic comedy of Sondheim. However its narrative strength, where it exists, is in the unbearable loneliness of urban life, where everyone talks incessantly and nobody listens. Something which Neil Tennant, lyricist with 80’s band the Pet Shop Boys, a huge Sondheim fan, revisited in some of his own songs.
Although the libretto will divide, the score will not. I agree with those who believe this to be Stephen Sondheim’s finest music.
“The Little Things You Do Together” and “Getting Married Today” are sublime, even if we have insufficient time to develop warmth for the characters themselves. Listen out for “ Getting Married Today” ,” Ladies Who Lunch” and, at the end, when Evans sings the spine-tingling “Being Alive”. human race.
It will be interesting to see whether the Director gives this a 1960’s feel, as per the original, or brings it up to the present.
There is so much to look forwards to for this season, for dates and booking: