WhatsOnStage Logo

Bees in my Easter bonnet

WhatsOnStage logo
An early Easter is arriving with the departure of good weather, but that won't dampen the spirits of the Chichester faithful as they assemble for the opening of the summer festival tonight.

The occasion is Uncle Vanya, a play that suitably marks the fiftieth anniversary of the theatre, as Laurence Olivier directed his famous production in the National Theatre's very first season in Oaklands Park in 1962.

You can even see a clip of the opening scene on the theatre's website, with Sybil Thorndike as the nurse telling Olivier as Astrov that he's not as young and handsome as he used to be...

That production, of course, was on the main stage; there was no Minerva in those days, whereas tonight's version conforms to the studio fashion in the smaller venue, though I've no doubt the regular producers at Chichester such as Duncan Weldon will be looking for any commercial transfer opportunities.

The trouble is there's already a Vanya scheduled for the West End with Ken Stott, so — with the Print Room production in full flow starring Iain Glen and Charlotte Emmerson — we'll either have to settle for an overloaded Vanya fest or lose sight of Roger Allam and co after the Minerva run finishes in May.

The one aspect of the show I know won't disappoint is Michael Frayn's translation, which is the text he prepared for the Michael Gambon/Jonathan Pryce Vanya directed by Michael Blakemore and which is as supple and accurate a translation as exists in the language.

This is because a) Frayn is a fine writer anyway and b) he knows Russian and therefore works from the original.

Mike Poulton, the "translator" of the Print Room version is, as usual, coy about his literal translation, or whether indeed he just worked from a study of all the other translations, including Frayn's.

David Lan once did a very good "version" of Vanya for the Young Vic, but he paid full tribute in the published text to the literal translation of Helen Rappaport, and her general expertise.

This matter is certainly a bee in my Easter bonnet, and I won't rest, really, until playwrights come completely clean about their real association with the texts they recycle as "translations" when in fact they're only "versions."

Talking of which, in the "eco-friendly" green production of After Miss Julie at the Young Vic, for which most of the cast have gone veggie and jumped on their bicycles, the creative team is asked in the programme for their own top tip on being eco-friendly.

Natalie Dormer in After Miss Julie. Photo credit: Richard Hubert Smith
Natalie Dormer suggests boiling a kettle less often and using the water that has already been boiled for your next cuppa.

The director Natalie Abrahami — and how many shows have had two Natalies involved before? Does that count as "saving" on name tags? — recommends a book about carbon consciousness.

And author Patrick Marber takes the prize of a year's supply of green marrow and manure for simply declaring: "My contribution to this eco-project is to have recycled the play."

We critics become expert in recycling opinions, too, and there's a chance this lunchtime to hear Dominic Cavendish of the Daily Telegraph and Whatsonstage.com contributor and Guardian blogger Matt Trueman kick around their already well formulated views on The King's Speech, The Master and Margarita, and the afore-mentioned After Miss Julie in the latest of the "Critics at the Cri" series at the Criterion Theatre.

Dominic and Matt will be joined on stage by novelist Kate Mosse to discuss these shows with an audience, so do please pop along if you're in the Piccadilly Circus area. I much enjoyed the experience when I took part in the launch event last year.

One question I'd ask apropos of both The Master and Margarita (which is not, as I've often said, about Noel Coward having a cocktail) and After Miss Julie: does a critic necessarily have to have read the original work in order to comment on the adaptation?

In the case of Bulgakov's novel, it's a daunting question, but my own answer would be a categorical Yes. How on earth can a critic comment on what Simon McBurney has done without a knowledge of what Bulgakov wrote? Of course he or she can, and I can also see the argument for saying it really doesn't matter if that knowledge is forfeited. But it's still a good question.

And it explains why I'm making sure I read a chunk each day at the moment of Jung Chang's Wild Swans, a fantastic monster of a book about China as refracted through the lives of three generations of women, which will be opening in Alexandra Wood's adaptation at the Young Vic later this month. I'm half way through and I've got the general drift, but I can't leave it alone, it's become that compelling.

And what else this Easter weekend? Let me wish my Whatsonstage.com colleague Theo Bosanquet all best wishes as he gets married in Warrington to Kate on Saturday. And I'm looking forward to tomorrow night's reunion concert of Cast at the Shepherd's Bush Empire, which I'm attending for reasons of family connections.

To come absolutely clean myself on this, I've never even heard a Cast song in my life. But the bass player, Pete Wilkinson, is married to my son's wife's sister, so I'm making an effort.

I'm not nervous, though: when I told the freelance arts journalist Laura Barnett last night at the Arcola that I was going along, she was dead envious and indeed started singing one of the group's best known numbers in my ear. Sounded pretty good to me. I'll report back in due course. Happy holidays.


Tagged in this Story