3 for the play, but 4 for the production and performances! Peter Nichols’ playwriting career is a real puzzle to me. Between 1969 and 1982 London saw almost a play each year. He was one of the freshest, most inventive and funny writers around. In the last 28 years we’ve had no new plays and a handful of revivals, two at the Donmar and one elsewhere in the West End. Apparently he has a drawer full of unproduced work and I understand his take on it is that he’s been deserted by institutions like the NT and RSC who had earlier championed his work. So I jumped at the chance to see this new Nichols play at the tiny Finborough; the stellar cast was a bonus. Set in a language school on post-war Florence, it explores the lives of its Italian administrator and expatriate teachers; the students are just off-stage voices. The central character is new boy Steven (passionately played by Chris New) who may be autobiographical (in which case Nichols has written himself as a bit of a shit!). He is stalked by infatuated Peggy (Charlotte Randle no less) but beds holocaust-denying Heidi (well-played by Natalie Walter) who had the attentions of administrator Gennaro (an excellent performance from Enzo Cilenti, whose name suggests he’s well qualified to play it!) before an anti-semitic rant. Add to the cocktail Abigail McKern’s terrifically plain speaking Aussie, Ian Gelder’s very English Italophile (who makes no compromises for living in Italy) and Rula Lenska, perfectly cast as an elegant smokey-voiced Russian, and you have a fascinating cast of characters.
The play is an interesting look at sensibilities in post-war Europe, but the narrative doesn’t really live up to the excellent characterisation. The dramatic flow is damaged by a profusion of very short scenes and monologues and the play doesn’t really go anywhere, though it’s an interesting slice-of-life set in a period few have dramatised. Designer James Macnamara has worked wonders with four shutters and some projections and director Michael Gieleta uses the tiny space well, with a ‘sound scape’ for the city and the students. Still, I’d rather be in the sweaty Finborough watching a cast any West End producer would be proud of put on a play that’s better than any new play the National have done recently whilst they (and the Donmar) are pre-occupied with pointless revivals of 19th century German mediocrity. On this form, I think I’m inclined to side with Mr Nichols. - Gareth James
28 Jul 10
Fabulous cast, witty and acerbic dialogue, great design and production - london fringe at its best. Have Missed hearing from Nichols - more please. Hope it transfers.... - Henry Gerard
25 Jul 10
'Up a steep and very narrow stairway, to a voice like a metronome' ... well strictly that's 'A Chorus Line' but it could apply to almost any show in the airless attic that is the Finborough Theatre and particularly to Charlotte Randle's shouty performance as an English teacher in 'Lingua Franca'. +++
I'm sure she's a subtle and sensitive actress, but veteran Peter Nichols' new play doesn't give her free rein to express it as he confines all his characters trapped in a Florentine language school in the 50's to one-dimensional stereotypes: particularly Rula Lenska visibly straining to add a sophistication and depth to her flatly-written Russian emigre countess, Abigail McKern's hard-workingly crude but ultimately uncomical Aussie lesbian, and perhaps most wasted Natalie Walter as a Nazi-sympathising Mädchen just two telephone plaits short of Helga from 'Allo 'Allo. +++
What saves the production from the scrapheap is the two semi-autobiographical characterisations: Ian Gelder as an ageing monolingual aesthete who turns to sculpture as a substitute for sex, and Chris New playing Steven Flowers now transplanted from soldiering in Malaya in 'Privates on Parade' and with a burgeoning socialist conscience fighting a complicated provincial diffidence. +++ Read the rest of this review at the Blog called A KICK IN THE STALLS www dot johnnyfoxlondon dot blogspot dot com - JohnnyFox
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