Thursday, 10 January 2013

The Magistrate - National Theatre, Tuesday 1st January 2013

Some years before the play begins, Mr. Posket, a London magistrate, married a widow, Agatha Farringdon. At the time she had pretended to be 31 rather than her true age, which was 36. Accordingly, she found that she needed also to knock five years off the supposed age of her son by her first marriage, Cis Farringdon. When the play opens, the Poskets are preparing to entertain to dinner the following day an old friend of Posket, Colonel Lukyn. The Colonel knew Mrs. Posket in her earlier days, and is Cis's godfather. He is well aware of Mrs. Posket's true age. Fearful that the Colonel may be indiscreet about dates, she slips out that evening to see him privately. She takes with her her sister Charlotte who is staying with the Poskets for a few days, getting over a broken engagement.
Agatha's son Cis takes advantage of his mother's absence. Although he is supposed to be 14, he is in fact 19 without knowing it, and his precocity is far in advance of his supposed age. He smokes, he flirts, he gambles, and now, as soon as his mother has left, he coolly proposes to his staid stepfather that they should go to the Hôtel des Princes, where he keeps a room for the use of his friends. Posket allows himself to be persuaded.
Greatly to his surprise Posket finds himself "making a night of it". Colonel Lukyn has also arranged to dine at the Hôtel des Princes, with his friend Captain Horace Vale, the man who has broken Charlotte's heart.. When Agatha and Charlotte arrive to see the Colonel, there is a lengthy reconciliation scene between Vale and Charlotte. Equally lengthy are the carousings of Posket and Cis in the adjoining room – so much so that a breach of the licensing laws is committed and the police arrive to search the house
The landlord, having put out the lights, brings all his law-breaking guests into one room and bids them conceal themselves as best they can. Posket and his wife hide under the same table, each unaware of the other's identity. When the police burst in, Posket and Cis make a dash to the balcony, which collapses under their weight, depositing them in the street below. The others are all taken into custody.
Posket and Cis are chased by the police. Posket staggers back just in time to perform his magisterial duties at Mulberry Street court. He is tattered, bruised and dirty. He pretends to be much shocked when the chief clerk tells him that the first case he has to hear involves his friend Lukyn. Despite Lukyn's appeal, Posket permits no favours, and insists that the case must be tried in the normal way. On going into court, Posket is so shocked to find his wife in the dock that he finds himself, in a trance-like state, sentencing her to seven days' imprisonment without the option of a fine.
Posket's excessive sentence of his wife and the other guests at the hotel is overruled on a technicality by Posket's fellow magistrate, Bullamy. Back at home, Posket feels the force of his wife's indignation, but she cannot avoid explaining her presence at the hotel, and the truth about her deception about her age comes out.

Posket, a Magistrate - John Lithgow
Agatha, his wife, formerly Mrs. Farringdon - Nancy Carroll
Charlotte, her sister, formerly engaged to Captain Vale - Christina Cole
Cis Farringdon, her son by her first marriage - Joshua McGuire
Achille Blond, a hotelier - Don Gallagher
Beatie Tomlinson, a music teacher, in love with Cis Farringdon - Sarah Ovens
Colonel Lukyn, a former acquaintance of Agatha - Jonathan Coy
Captain Horace Vale - Nicholas Burns
Mr. Bullamy, Posket’s colleague - Nicholas Blane
Mr. Wormington, Posket’s Clerk - Roger Sloman
Popham, the Posket’s cook - Beverly Rudd
Sergeant Lugg- Sean McKenzie
Inspector Messiter - Peter Polycarpou

Director - Timothy Sheade
Designer - Katrina Lindsay
Lighting Designer- James Farncomb
Lyrics- Richard Stilgoe
Music - Richard Sisson
Movement Director- Liam Steel
Sound Designer- Paul Arditti
Vocal Arranger - David Shrubsole

Yes, its been over a week since I saw this, but I had to go into hospital shortly after New Year to have a small op and I’m only just now up and around (I don’t do inactivity very well, in fact I don’t do inactivity AT ALL). I can’t sit comfortably for very long, can’t lie down unless I’m completely flat on my back, can’t really lift anything heavy, certainly can’t do anything remotely useful and as for picking something up that I’ve dropped – have you ever seen a giraffe trying to take a drink??

Also, I was hampered slightly by this being on 1st January – out a little too late the night before, and as the auditorium was warm and dim, I caught myself nodding occasionally in that slightly drooly way you do sometimes when you are desperately fighting to stay awake. Not that the show was sending me to sleep, you understand. But my impression was a little hazy sometimes.

We should have been seeing The Count of Monte Cristo, which was scheduled to be the National’s Christmas show. But apparently there were problems with the script, the writer got the heebie jeebies and the whole thing had to be shelved. Consequently The Magistrate had to be moved up the pecking order to take its place, and as a result I felt that the festive element of the show felt a little bit crowbarred in and the jollity fell a little flat. You know that feeling when all the presents have been opened and you’ve sat and looked at them and played with them for an hour or so, and then someone starts to scoop up all the shreds of wrapping paper and begins muttering about having to get the dinner on?

For one terrible moment I thought that the entire production had been designed by Gerald Scarfe. Certainly he drew the picture on the programme cover, and to the untrained eye both the sets and the costumes looked as if he had designed them – lots of ink blots on the wallpaper, Mr. Whippy hairstyles and so on. But apparently not – Katrina Lindsay has done a good job of “sub-Scarfe”, slightly rounded-down and easier on the eye. The first set opens towards the audience like a huge Christmas card – clever in itself and deserving the round of applause it got. All the furniture has to be stuck down, of course, and apparently there was a slight amount of chaos at an earlier performance when some of it came adrift (which I would like to have seen). As a consequence, the other sets are a bit of a let down by comparison, and bear more than a trace of Dr. Seuss.

Everyone on stage did a good job, although I have to admit that John Lithgow left me a little cold. Apparently he was in something on TV called Third Rock from the Sun, which I never saw. Apparently it made him a big star. Meh. I did wonder why he had been cast in this most English of plays – a lot of the time his accent slipped precariously but he did some inspired clowning. I think Nancy Carroll rather walked off with the honours though, and I got terribly, terribly confused between the actors playing Captain Vale and Colonel Lukyn to the detriment of my understanding of the plot. Maybe I was just tired and not paying enough attention. Him Indoors thought that the direction was too broad, but then he’s never satisfied. It certainly didn’t bother me that much. And, in fact, now I look back at it, that really rather sums up my feelings towards the entire production. It didn’t bother me that much. It was inoffensive, nicely played, but a bit weak around the edges and not something I would put myself out to go and see again. In fact, the bit I enjoyed most was the clever sung interpolations – allegedly in the style of Gilbert and Sullivan but not noticeably so until the very last song at the end, when I picked up distinct allusions musically and verbally to the “Paradox trio” from The Pirates of Penzance, a patter song very much in the manner of “I am the very model of a modern major-general” and the clever mixing of two choruses, each sung at a different speed (a musical form which Sullivan is alleged to have invented – probably the best known example is “When the Foeman bears his steel”).  Sharp-eared G&S afficionados will probably pick up on a bit of dialogue which I swear Pinero stole from Iolanthe, in which a legal professional has to apply to himself in order to apply some legislation.

But the whole thing seems to fall between two stools. It’s of a style which is very much an acquired taste – rather wordy, elements of a comedy in the manner of J. B. Priestly (the “taking five years off your age with hilarious consequences” is very Priestly) overlaid with bits of farce, but not enough farce to make it a complete farce, if you follow. People laughed, I spotted that a couple of the audience didn’t come back after the interval, there was some decent applause at the end but it didn’t really set my world alight.

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