Royal Exchange: autumn/winter 2004/5

This is well over due and, I guess, of limited use to readers, but it does fulfil this blog’s original purpose, which is to help me remember stuff I’ve seen, stuff I’ve heard and stuff I’ve read. And that’s something I’ve neglected only to remember as I booked my season ticket to the Royal Exchange, which I’ve already explained is the best theatre space in the UK. It’s pretty much a last minute booking too as the first play – Antony and Cleopatra – finishes this Saturday.

The thing is I left last season well satisfied, as always, but feeling that the Exchange has been erring a little too much on the side of costume drama. I can see how it happens: they’ve the budget to put on the big show, so naturally they show off. But for me the best play of the previous season was Six Degrees of Separation, which stunned by opting for a stripped down all-white set. It’s important to leave much to the imagination.

Anyway. Having said that, opener Kes did feed the imagination (kestrel SFX very well executed) and was no costume drama. It remained a grim, cruel, but compelling story. The boy doesn’t fit in, fails, is bullied, but finds an escape that gives life some meaning. But all that is doomed and somehow inevitably crushed. He’s destined to conform and be miserable: if he survives at all.

Volpone (or The Fox) was one of those costume dramas, but certainly didn’t feel like a something from the early 1600s. The scammer preying on others greed certainly makes for good fun. Yet, sympathy for Volpone is challenged as he’s complex character as guilty as anyone. It’s a given that he too must betrayed and punished, but good to see the evil doer also cast as others’ conscience (very spooky dream sequence).

Farce is the inevitable Christmas alternative to panto and the job fell to London Assurance. The thing is, while I don’t remember leaving disappointed, I don’t remember much about the play either. Memory’s faded. Oh dear…

The best was definitely saved to last, with Rutherford & Son. The in many ways heroic Rutherford has pulled himself out of the working class he retains sympathy for and empathises with, to become the factory owner and patron of his town. But while he feels no shame at his own pedigree, he has that Victorian urge to better not himself, but his family. So the children are victims of their father’s success. His daughter’s still not good enough for the upper classes, but cannot disappoint her father by marrying the man from the town she loves. His son – to be betrayed by his father for the good of Rutherfords – has his own plans, incompatible with inheriting the family business. It seems Rutherfords, despite its undoubted success, will be a one generation business and all that gave meaning to its founder’s life is to die with it.

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