The Herd, written by Rory Kinnear, directed by Howard Davies and with a very fine cast, doesn’t suffer from the absence of eye catching names. Its subject matter, a family celebration of a special birthday, shows ambition in its simplicity. Yet, as the play started, I started noticing things I disliked: the mother was obnoxious, with a suffocating flat quality. The daughter – thirty three years of age – was behaving like a spoilt teenager. First impressions can go either way, but in this occasion they started shaping into substantial objections.
First and foremost, I struggled with the characters: the women were universally unlikeable, worse they didn’t feel flesh and blood. The grandmother was a formidable character, but she was just that, a character. The daughter was meant to struggle but came across as whiny. The men fared a little bit better: they were salt of the earth, perhaps a little bit too much. Wisdom came easy to them, even for the father who abandoned the family but still was emotionally articulate to know why. Continue reading
Mark Gatiss as King Charles I. Photo Catherine Ashmore
I have a peculiar relationship with british history. As I never studied it at school, all my knowledge comes from fictional universes. When I hear of Oliver Cromwell, I am more likely to think of The Adventures of Luther Arkwright than any historical facts. With that in mind (which is to say with so little about the actual historical facts in mind) I went to see Howard Brenton’s play 55 Days, directed by Howard Davies, about the days leading to the trial and execution of King Charles I amid the English Civil war.
It’s a play of two halves: on one side we have the historical context, more than a dozen characters representing different fractions and ideas, trying to get their point across. I admit that in those scenes I felt lost. The performances were energetic, the direction had urgency but no character had enough time to make their mark with a text that seemed wordy and slow. It felt like the actors were running ahead trying to create momentum while dragging the text behind. But the mirror side of the play more than makes up for this problem. Continue reading