Stoppard and Sheridan at Chichester

Posted by RDN under On theatre on 14 August 2010

Two sparky delights. But were they one tad too perfect, too technical?

The Real Inspector Hound and The Criticwere marvellously-matched (plays-within-plays mocking critics, who blundered into the action). They are very lovable pieces: affectionate toward all parties, even the critics, but especially the showfolk. They were also wonderfully done. You expect Nicholas Le Prevost to have got his chops round high-speed language, but plenty of the others had too. Joe Dixon and Sean Foley might have been in a contest for the country’s best physical comic, each as spectacular in both plays as you could possibly hope for.

It is late in the run, and we saw the pieces on the evening of a matinee day. Perhaps that excuses the way some of the actors had slightly lost their grip on the awesome feats of memory required. Richard McCabe never lost his words, and was powerful and compelling as the neglected critic Moon in the Stoppard, but in the Sheridan, his Puff sometimes slightly ran out of it.

The oddity, though, is that the very perfectionism – the extraordinary levels of skill of every sort now required of actors and productions – left these shows, and perhaps especially the Sheridan, a little cold. Because they were so canny and deft, they were also a little shy of the imperfections which make theatre human, and which were the subject of the plays. Una Stubbs was a comfort, and so was Derek Griffiths, perhaps precisely because they were more obviously troupers.

A curious sign of this problem might be the last scene of the Sheridan. It became a tour de force of circus instead of a fond reflection on over-ambitious finales. I picked up a copy yesterday in the Petersfield Bookshop after an excellent affordable lunch at La Piazetta. The business required by Sheridan could have been purveyed better by an am-dram group.

I hope you won’t take me wrong. I’d go back and see these shows anytime and know that this was breath-taking stuff.

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