Michael Coveney: five theatre resolutions for the New Year

Critic Michael Coveney picks five things he’ll be aiming for in 2016

Patrick Godfrey in Here We Go
"Why not have the old man dress and undress for ever, ad infinitum?" Patrick Godfrey in Here We Go
(© Keith Pattison)

1. Make a first visit to theatres whose doors I’ve never yet darkened, such as the Yard in Hackney Wick, the Curve in Leicester, Theatre by the Lake in Keswick, Live Theatre in Newcastle, Theatre Royal Margate, Diorama in Regent’s Park. Trouble is, none of these venues, apart from the Yard and possibly Newcastle, ever have anything on that I want to see, or feel duty-bound to review. And one simply has to make choices and priorities. At least I broke my duck at Camden People’s Theatre this year and caught Licensed to Ill, a really witty, wacky, highly enjoyable rock and rap bio-drama along the lines of Jersey Boys about The Beastie Boys.

Olivia Vinall in The Seagull
Olivia Vinall in The Seagull
© Johan Persson

2. Find out more about how sound works, especially with regard to the microphoning of actors. At the end of The Seagull in the Chichester Chekhovs last October, Olivia Vinall as Nina hit her own forehead and pinged her mic so we heard the technology not the voice. Earlier, Sam West as Ivanov had played an intense speech offstage left as if he knew we could understand his mutterings when we clearly could not. He had misjudged the level of amplification he was working with. I’m told by those who know that the acoustics at Chichester are far easier than they are at the Olivier (which has been consistently mic’d since the Trevor Nunn era). So why can’t actors project their voices in large spaces unaided anymore? Is it because sound levels now have to match the increasingly pervasive soundscapes that are designed into big productions? Or is it because they have lost the art of developing the sound board in their own rib cages?

3. Give no more notes to directors in the form of a review. Except for this one: when, in her stage direction for the last scene of Here We Go, Caryl Churchill says that the old man should get dressed and undressed "for as long as the scene lasts," director Dominic Cooke really missed a trick. Dom, lad, why not have the old man dress and undress for ever, ad infinitum, with the house lights coming up and the audience, after half an hour or so, fidgeting, standing up to yawn and stretch and indeed leave the theatre, the actor continuing all night until the half for the next performance and a resumption of Churchill’s poetic triptych on mortality.

4. Go to Paris to see wunderkind Thomas Jolly’s new Richard III. His three comparatively uncut productions of the Henry VI trilogy were the best Shakespeares I saw last year, worlds away from the RSC’s plodding Henry V, full of invention, youth, irreverence, light sabres and a meticulous, accurate translation. Jolly’s just 32 years old and has worked as an actor and director for ten years, based in Rouen, with the same group of his student contemporaries. In the year we lost Luc Bondy, following recent departures of Patrice Chereau and Yuri Lyubimov, he’s all set to play a big part in the future of European classical theatre.

New York, New York
New York, New York
© Dorli Photography/Flickr

5. Go back to New York at the same time of year – early December – as I did just now to catch shows, spend time with friends, hang out in Chelsea and the East Village. Any city is interesting to visit, and we do a fair exchange for New Yorkers with London. I love the formality of NY theatre ushers, their brusqueness and efficiency – on all counts better than in London — and I love having a drink in the small bar at the front in Sardi’s, where this year I bumped into Michael Riedel of the New York Post who has written a sharp, funny column about my Maggie Smith book and added an anecdote of his own, passed on by the actor Edward Hibbert. Hibbert was dining with Maggie in Orso’s. She arrived in a fizz and sat down: "I need wine, immediately." Star-struck, stammering waitress: "What wine would you like, ma’am?" Dame Maggie (fixing the girl with a cold stare): "The type you pour down your throat."