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A Year at the Theatre

A Pygmalion for Zimbabwe? The Convert was a deeply immersed and convincing portrait of the moral rot of a Bafu (a convert not just in faith but in dress and language) torn from his native Mashonaland culture. An evening full of subtle word play fuelled by a simmering tension slowly stoking itself up towards violence and sacrifice. In February drawn back to the Young Vic theatre, assisted by a picnic consumed on the pavement. Jesus Hopped the A-train was an intense examination of the African-American prisoner experience leading towards death row. Loud and raw but ultimately anchored to a testament of Christian faith.

theatre ticketsBitter Wheat at the Garrick theatre summoned up an even bleaker vision of American-kind, dominated by fat, middle-aged sexual predators, made horribly real on the stage by John Malkovich. Sweat at the Gielgud theatre dug further into this rich seam, of American society rotting from within. The drama was centred on a neighbourhood bar and provided a total immersion into the dysfunctionality of a late 20th-century American working class community and their profane but energetic vocabulary. It was gruelling.

I have never seen Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, but it was worth the wait, with the added traction of an African-American family placed at the heart of this subtle dissolution of the American Dream as won by the Heroic Generation. The Picadilly theatre, which had dropped some of its plasterwork ceiling on a previous audience a fortnight before, was draped in scaffolding but packed out on 27 November.

The Hunt (seen at the Almedia on 9 July) took you into a small contented community within rural Denmark, which then dissolved into a modern witch-hunt as they persecuted a teacher (almost to death) who has been wrongfully accused of sexual abuse. The bleakest, most dystopian vision of mankind was set in a kitchen on a street in Belfast (Cyprus Avenue at the Royal Court Theatre on Sloane square). For a protestant grandfather becomes convinced that the newborn baby has been born with the face of Gerry Adams. By the end of the play he has done a Herod, popped the infant into a back plastic bag and smashing it to pulp on the kitchen floor. Gorki’s Vassa (seen at the Almeida on 16 November) was not quite so physically in your face, and offered a Russian take on the inevitable crimes, abuse and death required to uphold a successful bourgeois household and a family business.

The most haunting play of my year was a monologue by Maggie Smith playing an old German secretary, explaining but never quiet apologising as to how she ended up working for Goebbels as the stage imperceptibly crept closer to the audience. A German Life was staged at the new Bridge Theatre opposite the Tower of London.

Hamlet, played outdoors over an English summer evening, with the scent of rain, lounging with bare feet on a grassy bank, sipping my way through an entire bottle of Hampshire grown champagne, was an intensely enjoyable evening. I was also spoiled rotten by festival operas with that happy collision of picnic, the reunion of old friends and chilled wine consumed over a long summer evening: Handel’s Beshazzar at the Grange, Monteverdi’s Vespers at Garsington, Evita at Regents Park and Verdi’s Falstaff at the Grange.

As Pepys said it for us, “The truth is, I do indulge myself a little the more in pleasure, knowing that this is the proper age of my life to do it.”


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