The National Theatre has a great reputation for brilliant staging of old and new drama based on historical fact, to which witness the great success of The White Guard, Coram Boy, and Pitmen Painters, on the last of which I have written previously. This reputation remains intact with the present production, despite lesser success in my own view and the average of very varied reviews received (2 to 4 out of 5 stars).
Tag: National Theatre
… means and ends …
Buchner’s early 19th-century play (1835), in its new version by Brenton, portrays on one level the interpersonal dynamics of the reign of terror of the French Revolution, and on a deeper level the tragic consequences of an ideologue-at-work, Robespierre, who places concept over humanity. Danton, as brilliantly played by Toby Stephens, mistakenly believes that his past services to the Revolution and his reputation as a revolutionary will secure his future. He does not grasp the full consequences of Robespierre’s single-minded pursuit of “political cleansing”. But, as Robespierre says at Danton’s trial, “He [Danton’s friend Lacroix] thinks a special privilege is attached to that name. We want no privileges, we want no false gods!”
I saw The Habit of Art “live” in a cinema well outside London, as did thousands across North America, though not on Broadway, under the new NTLive initiative, using high-definition satellite relay. This is a new technological compromise between live theatre and cinema (long-focus lenses and ingeniously unobtrusive camera technique ensure a better view than from the stalls). It’s worth a debate in its own right (does one clap and laugh aloud ?) However, the play’s the thing.
The Pitmen Painters is currently playing in NYC at the Manhattan Theater Club — click on live link for further information. This review, written when the play was in London, may interest you.
Guest review by Mark Haggard, Cambridge, UK
… a rich tapestry of art, drama and recent history … with personal recollections of Richard Lyon …
What makes a particular play run and run? No single property surely, but some of them are well illustrated by The Pitmen Painters now back at London’s National Theatre for the third time, and for a 4-month season. I would hazard that two such properties are interrelated: breadth of appeal and the efficient weaving of an optimum, slight, degree of ambiguity (ie several messages, none too heavily stated), achieved by having several strands in the dramatic development interwoven with enough coherence to not fall apart. Rank ambiguity is tolerable in the visual arts because we can choose to walk to the next picture, but not in a play; we can’t reasonably disrupt the performance by leaving before the end of the first act. Waiting for Godot was a success but a rare one, in what is historically a very minority taste.