Krapp’s Last Tape (Leeds Playhouse)
Verdict: Buggy has Beckett taped
Dr Blood’s Travelling Show (touring; imitatingthedog.co.uk)
Verdict: Schlock horror in the car park
Say a prayer for Leeds Playhouse. After opening last year following a £16 million makeover, they ran straight into lockdown.
And just when they thought it was safe to come out of hibernation, they may yet run into Boris’s traffic lights.
With a little bit of luck, however, their autumn season will keep running, starting with the wonderful Irish actor Niall Buggy.
He’s gently warming the theatre’s gaskets in Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape — a short sketch about a 69-year-old codger listening to audio tapes made by his 39-year-old self. My wife refuses to go near the half-hour play, which she judges to be 30 minutes too long.
I, however, am more forgiving of its slender pleasures and its pursuit of what the characteristically sardonic Beckett calls ‘unattainable happiness’. The play chimes with the mood of our times almost too well.
Staged in a below-stairs bunker, Dominic Hill’s production has the atmosphere of a secret police interrogation room. Some amusement is created by the Minion-like squeal of tape spools, rage is directed at biscuit tins housing Krapp’s old recordings, and there is small entertainment with a discarded banana skin.
Beckett with a banana: Niall Buggy in Krapp’s Last Tape – a short sketch about a 69-year-old codger listening to audio tapes made by his 39-year-old self
It may not sound like a bundle of fun, but Buggy finds flecks of affection in a play that’s as autobiographical as Beckett gets — scoffing at his literary ambition, ruing lost love and trying to master a weakness for bananas.
Buggy — defiant in his misbuttoned cardie, stained trousers and carpet slippers — is a jaundiced old bugger, taking solace in his misery. ‘The best years are gone,’ he snarls, ‘and I wouldn’t want them back.’ Between temperature checks, masks and carefully monitored social distancing, at least the show feels safe, if not joyful.
If you want something warmer this winter, keep your fingers crossed for Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads (Imelda Staunton and Maxine Peake, taking their Bridge Theatre monologues on tour) next month; and A Christmas Carol in December.
More boisterously, the Playhouse have also co-produced Dr Blood’s Old Travelling Show: a macabre and gleefully bizarre car park production being staged at Salford’s Lowry before heading to Lancaster Arts and Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre.
Also clocking in at 30 minutes, it’s a fairground-style show about small-time crooks planning to abduct the mayor from the town hall for nefarious purposes.
Audience positions are marked out with football training cones — which feels like we are all being lined up for an identity parade.
Imitating The Dog, the company producing the show, are the academic punks who lovingly recreated the schlock horror film Night Of The Living Dead at Leeds Playhouse last year.
Dr Blood is more subversive, with our chief villain (Matt Prendergast), got up in a leather jacket, latex head mask and a Boris wig, relishing the prospect of bloodshed and the fleshy delights of his female accomplice.
It’s cleverly done, with edgy music (including from legendary Leeds punk band Gang Of Four) and video projections, plus live action puppetry using Ken and Barbie dolls.
I was amused by our revolting crims having a dinky-sized Evoque Land Rover as their getaway vehicle. And it has all the sophistication of a car boot sale but, hey, at least it’s happening.
Peer through the Perspex and enjoy the show
The Last Five Years (Southwark Playhouse, London)
Verdict: Musical peep show
Andrew Lloyd Webber may want to take a look at the resourceful Southwark Playhouse after all the concern this week about his social-distancing arrangements at the London Palladium.
Last Sunday’s one-off show, Songs For A New World, ran at 50 per cent capacity with some people worried they weren’t a metre apart.
Southwark Playhouse’s solution has been to fix Perspex panels between seats of those who haven’t booked as part of a bubble. Squashed into your plastic nook — and with the obligatory masks and one-way system — it’s the most radical social-distancing gimmick I’ve been part of so far. I guess it’s a bit like being at a peep show.
Molly Lynch in ‘The Last Five Years’, a two-person musical about a young couple’s five-year relationship, told from start to finish in 90 minutes
As for the actual performance, it’s a two-person musical about a young couple’s five-year relationship, told from start to finish in 90 minutes.
It was one of the last things I saw before lockdown, and I remain impressed by performers Molly Lynch (above) and Oli Higginson, who belt headlong through Jason Robert Brown’s score (which fans claim is a creative fusion of Billy Joel and Stephen Sondheim).
My problem remains the story, in which neither character risks much for the other.
But it’s bringing young audiences to their feet night after night, making me wonder if those Perspex panels need to be a little higher.
And if that sounds too risky, you can now stream it to watch at home (via stream.theatre).
Glyndebourne sets out its stall…
In The Market For Love (Glyndebourne Festival Opera)
Verdict: Billingsgate and Covent Garden were never like this
The Glyndebourne Opera House reopens with its first venture into Jacques Offenbach’s frothy sphere of operette bouffe, an English version of his 1858 one-acter Mesdames De La Halle with plenty of cross-dressing.
Premiered outdoors in August before a very select clientele, it makes a virtue of the social distancing the audience has to observe: Stephen Langridge stages it in the wake of an epidemic, with topical gags — my favourite is the purveyor of second-hand masks.
The fountain of the original market becomes a public hand sanitiser.
The Glyndebourne Opera House reopens with its first venture into Jacques Offenbach’s frothy sphere of operette bouffe
Some names given to characters by Offenbach and Armand Lapointe have been cleverly adapted.
The kitchen boy Croute-au-pot is now Harry Coe (get it?) and the fish seller Madame Poiretapee morphs into Mademoiselle Bouillabaisse.
That the adaptation was made by Stephen Plaice is too good to be true. Rupert Charlesworth (right) is Madame Beurrefondu.
Fruit seller Ciboulette, whose parentage is in doubt until the last moment, is charmingly sung by Nardus Williams, and Kate Lindsey is a sparky Harry — they have the best melodies but all the music is vintage Offenbach and the lyrics are tolerably Englished by Marcia Bellamy.