Peter Hall’s new production of David Hare’s 1997 play Amy's View - starring Felicity Kendal (pictured) in the part of ageing actress Esme Allen, originated by Dame Judi Dench – opened at the West End’s Garrick Theatre on Monday (20 November 2006, previews from 14 November), following a regional tour (See News, 16 Aug 2006).
Esme, a West End veteran who makes a living through TV soap operas, is locked in a battle of ideology and emotional conflict with her daughter Amy. Spanning the years from Labour's fall from power in 1979 to post-Thatcherite England in 1995, Amy's View premiered in 1997 at the National - directed by Richard Eyre, Hall’s successor as NT artistic director, and starring Dench opposite Samantha Bond as Amy - and subsequently transferred to the West End and Broadway.
Hall’s new production, the play’s first major London revival, incorporates revisions Hare made for the Broadway premiere and co-stars Jenna Russell, seen earlier this year in the West End in Sunday in the Park with George. It’s designed by Simon Higlett, with lighting by Peter Mumford and sound by Gregory Clarke.
Overnight critics gave largely positive notices, with all enjoying the drama and the cast’s performances. Kendal, in particular, won raves for a mature turn, playing against her usual “winsome” image, while Jenna Russell and, in supporting roles, Gawn Grainger, Ryan Kiggell and Antonia Pemberton were also praised. While critics disagreed about the enduring merits of Hare’s play itself – with descriptions ranging from modern classic to dated - they felt that Hall’s “excellent” production raised interesting issues about art, politics and relationships.
Michael Coveney on Whatsonstage.com (4 stars) - “There are so many things to enjoy about David Hare’s 1997 play, revived in a production of great clarity and classical poise by Peter Hall…. It is Felicity Kendal’s considerable achievement to make the part resoundingly her own. Her performance is utterly captivating…. This is a long journey, but Hare’s play is so skilfully fashioned and interesting on a line-by-line basis that you only appreciate its architecture on the way home…. At the crux of what happens is her volcanic relationship with Amy, winningly played by Jenna Russell as a critical friend, as well as a loyal daughter…. Handsomely designed by Simon Higlett, exquisitely lit by Peter Mumford, this superb play – I’d say it was a modern classic - deserves to draw the town and enrich the West End theatre list for many months.”
Michael Billington in the Guardian (4 stars) – “In Peter Hall's expert revival, (Hare’s play) seems a less sentimental paean to theatre than it once did…. Its marriage of family drama and state-of-the-nation commentary emerges more clearly…. On a first viewing, the personal drama and the cultural debate never seemed totally in synch. But here there seems more intensity in the mother-daughter relationship. Felicity Kendal is excellent, playing Esme as a capricious, vain, and sometimes infuriating woman who views her daughter with an exasperated love…. Meanwhile, Jenna Russell intelligently implies that, for all her attacks on Esme's wafting dreaminess, Amy has something of her mother's obduracy…. In Ryan Kiggell's sympathetic performance, you understand his sense of exclusion from this family relationship, and his dislike of theatrical clannishness…. Hall's production heightens the play's Chekhovian undertones. Gawn Grainger gives a pitch-perfect performance as Esme's quietly adoring neighbour.”
Benedict Nightingale in The Times (4 stars) - “Those who still think of Kendal as the pert chipmunk of yesteryear will be as surprised by her strong, doughty performance as they must have been when she recently played Winnie in Beckett’s Happy Days…. She’s acquired the depth and, where needed, the gravity that seemed missing in her cuter, more winsome days. But how has the play itself fared? As Peter Hall’s revival proves, not at all badly…. In many ways… Amy's View is a well-written mother-in-law play. But, Hare being Hare, Esme and Dominic’s cultural attitudes largely cause and shape their mutual dislike. Dominic despises the theatre as elitist, arty-farty and, compared to the electronic arts, embarrassingly old-fashioned and dull. And he proceeds to become slickly successful…. All Sir Peter’s cast do their bit: from Kiggell, who brings aggro and punch to Dominic, to Gawn Grainger, who is gloriously flummoxed as Frank…. But it’s Kendal who gives the lie to those who underrated her. At the end, she’s quietly, movingly heroic.”
Sheridan Morley in the Daily Express - “Just under a decade after it was first and last seen at the National, David Hare’s Amy's View re-emerges as one of his most personal and least publicly political plays…. Although largely set in a Thames Valley cottage, this is centrally a play about the theatre where we end up: on one level it’s all grease-painted views through a dressing-room mirror darkly, but Hare brilliantly keeps us away from a land for luvvies only by running throughout his script an almost soap-operatic plot about the daughter giving her heart and children to the wrong man, and the mother in perpetual mourning for the right one despite the new suitor (a superbly double-faced Gawn Grainger)…. Real life keeps crashing into the footlights and the arc lights, and once again Hare takes our national temperature, remarking in passing that it is Amy herself, the one character with her feet apparently firmly on the ground, whose view (that all will be well if we are just very nice to each other) turns out in the end to be the most deluded of all…. Peter Hall’s new production is suitably and unashamedly theatrical, and apart from the central casting there are brilliant performances from Antonia Pemberton as the Alzheimer’s-riddled grandmother and Ryan Kiggell as the treacherous young director. But in the end it is clear that Hare’s heart is with the rapidly ageing actress and her fight for theatrical and personal survival against all odds.”
Nicholas de Jongh in the Evening Standard (3 stars) – “What a blast of dramatic irony attends Peter Hall's emotionally charged revival of this nine-year-old play by David Hare…. For Amy's View arrives when the serious West End play is being declared an endangered species…. The play still strikes me, though, as startlingly conservative in style and sympathies, harking back to the Fifties work of NC Hunter and Robert Bolt…. Hare's focus is on those opposing credos of mother and daughter which ultimately destroy the lives of both under-characterised women. Esme puts passion into theatre and her daughter's life - about which she feels free to pass judgment. By contrast, Jenna Russell's wan, rather too cool Amy relies upon her pacific, platitudinous view that love conquers all…. Kendal, exuding that formidable charm and sweetness of hers, is less grand, steely or passionate than Judi Dench's original Esme and sometimes relies too much on actressy hand gestures. Yet in Esme's final incarnation as a bereaved, penniless, lonely actress… Kendal achieves a sensational poignancy.”
- by Caroline Ansdell