Since my post about Barbershop Chronicles I have made a few more trips to the National. Yes, from the outside it looks like a catering establishment with a theatrical theme. Yes, inside, the carpets and fittings are looking very tired and worn. Yes, the foyer areas are a bit cold and unwelcoming. For sheer consistent brilliance in its productions, however, the place is unbeatable.
I was in the Lyttelton a week or two ago when artistic director Rufus Norris was speaking to an audience of teachers and youth theatre directors who were taking part in this year’s Connections festival. His words on the importance of the arts in education, and the danger that they are currently in, were inspirational. His passion for theatre and his belief in its vital role in a healthy society were clearly heartfelt and his audience were visibly moved by his kind words about the importance of their work. He is exactly the kind of guy we need in charge at the NT.
In August I went to one of the all day Saturday performances of Angels in America. I saw the original production here many years ago and have never forgotten it but this year’s much more lavish and high profile treatment was breath-takingly good. Nathan Lane’s performance was entrancing. Andrew Garfield wore his role like a snug glove. What a great idea this revival was.
In September came Follies, a Sondheim musical I was not familiar with, although a couple of the songs are well-known. Again, what a brilliant idea to revive this show on a big budget. I was slightly worried by the appeals that went out for people to support the production financially. I didn’t want the NT to bankrupt itself. Whatever it cost, the money was well spent. The four leading roles ( or is it eight leading roles ? ) were brilliantly cast and performances were superb across the board ( but, of course, Imelda Staunton is something special ). Adventurous, risky, unusual programming. Where would this happen outside the NT ?
I came back in October for St George and the Dragon. I had seen a few lukewarm reviews for the show and was disappointed because author, Rory Mullarkey, had written an excellent short play, The Grandfathers, for NT Connections a few years ago. These reviews, however, were WRONG. This is not just my opinion but that of the audience who rose as one at the end to give the show a standing ovation. It is a beautifully written piece. It is witty and clever, unusual and perceptive. It is, to some extent, a state of the nation play and gets it exactly right. Over and over again during the evening the current political situation was woven into the fantastic, mythological world of the play. It is a patriotic play and, in the same way as Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem, blends that patriotism with a sharp, satirical dose of criticism of the way things are going. John Heffernan was warmly engaging as George and it was great to see youngster Reuel Guzman doing so well in an unusually large and significant role for a young actor.