The Soldier's Fortune / The Man Of Mode / The Reporter
Various venues
February, 2007

I recently interviewed David Lan about the Young Vic’s reopening.  He waxed enthusiastic (and relieved) about the success of the first two productions in the rebuilt main house, before adding, “But I'm aware that success is only disaster deferred, so the next one's going to be disaster, and that's mine!"  Well, many a true word’s spoken in jest, although “disaster” is a bit strong.  But certainly, few reviewers have found much to say in favour of The Soldiers’ Fortune.  Lizzie Clachan’s design shows off the flexibility of the new space, from a faux-proscenium arch to a pit stage right, but at the expense of making a playable space: the pros stage is too far back to connect with the audience, the bulk of the action makes no sense being played on a set of steps, and when the scene shifted to a Turkish bath on the semi-subterranean level I stopped trying to watch the action and instead observed a good third of the stalls audience trying to peer over or round all those steps to see even a tiny bit of what was going on. 

Thomas Otway wrote comedy with the skill of a man best remembered as a tragedian, and Lan’s production tries to find a style that will accommodate text, modern expectations and that damned set, and fails.  (One invalid criticism, however, is contained in Rhoda Koenig’s Independent review.  A couple of issues back I disagreed with her about the American accents used by the cast of Bash.  That was a matter of opinion; on the subject of Kananu Kirimi’s allegedly American accent here, I’m afraid Rhoda is simply wrong in fact.  What she heard were the strong Rs of a West of Scotland accent: Kirimi comes from that part of the Atlantic coast where the Skye road bridge touches the mainland.)


However, I merely failed to be gripped by The Soldier’s Fortune,  whereas The Man Of Mode had made me actively furious.  I didn’t have space last issue to fulminate on Nicholas Hytner’s production, so let me take this opportunity to do so now.  Its updatings struck me as reinforcing the play’s joke about modishness without being in on that joke: like Sir Fopling Flutter himself, the production cavorts around gorgeously, believing itself at the contemporary cutting edge, when it simply looks like a big pillock.  Between that, the unintelligibility of many actors’ delivery and my increasing boredom with being flashed assorted bits (the left-hand side of the auditorium is the place for genitalia fans to sit), I came closer to leaving at the interval than I have in many months.

Altogether more scrupulously managed is Richard Eyre’s production of The Reporter round the corner in the Cottesloe.  It’s a beautifully assembled production, pitch perfect.  Yet its refusal to overstate a single thing means also that it does not “sell” a play which perhaps could do with a little more push.  As virtually every review mentions, James Mossman’s suicide note said, “I can’t bear it any more, though I don’t know what ‘it’ is.”  I emerged from the theatre with no more idea what author Nicholas Wright’s “it” is.  I could have written 5000 words on various aspects of individual scenes: compare-and-contrast with today’s current affairs reportage and political interviewing, or the portrayal of gay relationships, or Spiritualism, or heaven knows what-all.  But they don’t add up to a play.  Wright’s dramatic investigation of Mossman’s death is as reserved as the protagonist it portrays.  Indeed, it takes this reserve to unintentional extremes: nowhere in the play or the programme is the date of Mossman’s death directly stated.  Wright is candid that the play is at least as much speculation as it is biography, but nevertheless one might reasonably expect it to get around to some precision regarding its very raison d’être.

Written for Theatre Record.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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