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Movement in the Dock

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Good to see Arnold Wesker looking hale and hearty on a walking stick at the National Theatre opening of The Kitchen two nights ago. In his youth there used to be things called flying buttresses. Now he's probably astonished to see flying waitresses.

There's a lot of musical movement in this fine revival of probably Wesker's greatest play, but that's par for the course. The gap between staging and choreography is narrowing by the minute.

Three Ariels are flying all over the place in the new "aerial" Tempest at the Haymarket, and the the goddess Ceres actually slides down a rainbow.

Ralph Fiennes, it's true, doesn't do a little dance, except one of mischievous delight at his own magical evocations. It's a useful reminder that Prospero does indeed put on a show in order to suprise and disarm.

And in Rupert Goold's new 9/11 site-specific show, Decade, performed at St Katharine Docks by Tower Hill, all the actors shake a leg and brandish their booty in some nifty dance sequences created by Scott Ambler.

Actually, these are not so much dances as bursts of integrated and concerted action, most notably, perhaps, when a plane load of airline staff accelerate their safety procedure demonstration into a chaotic last ditch bid for survival, borne along on Rossini's "Thieving Magpie Overture".

The mobility of an audience is often a factor these days, too, and you certainly had to have your physical wits about you a) to find the entrance to Decade in the docks and b) to find the loo once you'd found the docks.

I was hilariously pointed in about ten different directions before being smuggled "backstage" -- you never knew quite where you were at all last night -- for a toilet. The audience wasn't allowed into the auditorium until the show was about to start -- which it did, about ten minutes late, much to the consternation of the "overnighters" -- and even then no-one pointed out that there was a loo right there behind the bar.

No doubt they'll sort out the ushering soon. At the moment it's the worst in London and hardly designed to put you in the mood for a mock-up of a customs immigration procedure on your way into the performance. Having endured the silliness of that, a waiter came to my table and explained the menu but then explained that I couldn't order anything! So much for participatory environmental theatre.

Good news about the Harold Pinter Theatre superseding the Comedy, and thereby confounding Tom Stoppard's suggestion that Pinter would have to change his name to "Harold Comedy" in order to have a theatre named after him.

But already other interested parties have started grumbling about the lack of a Terence Rattigan Theatre. Biographer Geoffrey Wansell has been batting on about this as a suitable gesture in the Rattigan centenary year.

I don't think theatres should be named as a result of any public campaign. It's the business of the theatre owners alone to re-name their theatres. I just wish they wouldn't do it so often, though not as often (so far, at least) as they do in New York.

I think it matters enormously what you call a theatre, and it's always best to stick with the original name. There's something gruesomely incongruous, surely, about Million Dollar Quartet playing in the Noel Coward. And I don't think you'd get many takers for a revival of French Without Tears in the Mark Ravenhill or Dreamboats and Petticoats in the Sarah Kane.

The first production in the new Harold Pinter, if they get the paper work done in time, and the front of house over-hauled, will be Ariel Dorfman's Death and the Maiden starring Thandie Newman. That will sound just right. But what happens when the next show is announced as the cast of X Factor in Half a Sixpence? Bet you half a dollar Harold will be spinning in his grave.

Pinter once flew into a rage and stopped an Italian production of his play Old Times in which one of the actresses powdered the bare breasts of another, a physical theatre elaboration he'd omitted to include in the stage directions.

I'm assured,though, that Arnold Wesker is very chuffed by the dance routines in The Kitchen. And Rupert Goold demonstrates again that concerted physical staging, with smart moves, is not inimical to fine acting: Decade is full of terrific performances, notably from Emma Fielding, Charlotte Randle, Tobias Menzies, Leila Crerar and Cat Simmons.


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