Review: Fathers and Sons by Brian Friel, at the Donmar Warehouse

Anthony Calf as Nikolai, Joshua James as Arkady. Photo Johan Persson

Anthony Calf as Nikolai, Joshua James as Arkady. Photo Johan Persson

In a cunning piece of programming, the Donmar follows James Graham’s Privacy – the most un-Donmar of productions – with Brian Friel’s Fathers and Sons (adapted from the novel of Ivan Turgenev). If Privacy was brilliant in unexpected ways, Fathers and Sons has the emotional richness and acute lyricism that characterise Donmar productions at their best. Let’s be clear: if the Lyndsey Turner directed production doesn’t rewrite the theatrical book, that’s not a criticism in any way.

The story is set in mid 19th century Russia with two young men, Arkady and Bazarov, returning home for the summer. University has opened their eyes to a whole new world and they buzz with the enormity of it all. Back home, they are faced with rich if neglected estates, middle-class ideas, lives preoccupied with the soil, and harvest, and sex. The purity of their idealism is put to the test as the social landscape changes rapidly and irrevocably. The conflict between young and old has the inevitability of a clock ticking but none of the clichés. Don’t assume you know how interactions will play out: Arkady’s father dots on his new baby born out of wedlock. Bazarov’s father idolises his son.

There is a bittersweet, even droll, breeze blowing in the play. Continue reading

Review: My Fair Lady, at the Sheffield Crucible

Domini West as professor Higgins, Carly Bawden as Eliza and Antony Calf as colonel Pickering. Photo Donald Cooper.

Domini West as professor Higgins, Carly Bawden as Eliza and Antony Calf as colonel Pickering. Photo Donald Cooper.

Sitting in the audience before the performance of My Fair Lady (as often with the Sheffield Crucible, an audience with a high quota of well known theatre people – Michael Grandage, Cameron Mackintosh and Iain Glen among them), the chatter of the matinee crowd was mixing with the joyous noise of make believe Covent Garden on stage. It wasn’t so much a collision of worlds, as two worlds bleeding into each other. I have a soft spot for any production that attempts to blur the line between stage and audience. In this case, this was the perfect start for the three hours of joy that were to follow.

I haven’t seen My Fair Lady on stage before, and I am not sure I have seen the film version all the way through. But the musical is such a big part of collective consciousness that songs, snippets and images connect the production with rich personal memories. Director Daniel Evans doesn’t seek to reinvent the wheel or overthrow tradition: his London is a mythical place, not as grimy and miserable as we know it was, but a place of dreams, for Eliza, Higgins and all of us. The production triumphs because this dreamed place is as vivid and heartfelt as anything in real life. Continue reading