Sunday, September 10, 2006

Stage Presence #5

“Restoration” by Edward Bond
Bristol Old Vic, 09/09/2006

Restoration is billed as ‘dramatic, explosive and wickedly comic…packed with rousing songs and biting satire.’ Whilst not misleading, Headlong (formerly Oxford Stage Company) Theatre’s production of Bond’s 1981 play is, in every sense, a play of two halves. The audience (a relatively poor turnout, it has to be said) endured not only energy sapping heat but also a play that swiftly moved from wickedly comic to just plain wicked in the final hour and a quarter. The audience were a continual distraction, with Johnny Come Latelys, mobile phones ringing and even at one point someone’s stomach growling above the dialogue. I’ve rarely seen an audience make such a rapid beeline for the bar and/or exit as I witnessed (and participated in) last night. In fairness, Restoration isn’t a bad play, in fact Bond’s writing for the most part is every bit as sharp as the opening hyperbole suggests. Mark Lockyer, as the dishonourable gentlemen Lord Are, dominates every scene that he appears in and rewards the audience with a expertly judged performance, whilst the remaining cast members give their all. That said, Michael Schaeffer’s energetic acting is undermined by the fact that his lines are often unintelligible. Also, Dorothea Myer-Bennett saddles hapless bride Ann Hardache with a regional accent so closely mirroring Jane Horrocks’ character Bubble in Absolutely Fabulous that it detracts from her own comic touches. The musical performances are strong, accompanied by a three-piece who materialise behind a thin screen at the rear of the stage when the play demands. Although relatively short, judiciously pruning some songs (and indeed, some scenes) may have made for a less bum-numbing theatre experience. The applause was enthusiastic but brief and, as mentioned previously, followed by a veritable stampede for the cool night streets…and, in my case, a neighbouring bar. In the wee hours of this morning, nursing a whisky and cola in Renato’s, I was still none the wiser as to why I’d been in such a hurry to join the rampaging herd or why I had this nagging feeling of disappointment with Restoration. However by then, I’d become far more interested in the celebrity photos adorning Renato’s walls and stopped giving it any more thought.

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