Tag Archives: Michael Grandage

Theatre Review: The Chalk Garden

20 Jun

Plot: Raised in a manor house beside the sea, where the flowers struggle to grow, sixteen-year-old Laurel (Felicity Jones) runs wild. As her eccentric grandmother (Margaret Tyzack) tends to the garden, Laurel’s need for love forces her into a world of fantasy. But things begin to change with the sudden appointment of a governess (Penelope Wilton) who brings a mysterious new presence to an already dysfunctional household.

The last time I was at the Donmar was spring last year when I saw Ibsen’s John Gabriel Borkman which also starred Penelope Wilton who was brilliant as Ella Rentheim, Borkman’s erstwhile lover. I fell in love with Miss Wilton then and I have seen a lot of her in films and telly and totally loved her playing the role of Harriet Jones in Doctor Who. So when the Donmar announced their productions for this year, I have booked The Chalk Garden a good few months ahead and I am pleased having done so as the production have already sold out way early since critics have given it very good praises indeed. The West End Whingers, whose blog I religiously follow claims that it’s one of the best productions they have seen this year, and I only have to agree.

Who said that there is not enough good roles for older women to play, whether in film or in theatre? Here’s an example of a play that celebrates just that, and to have talented actresses playing equally interesting characters, Wilton’s Miss Madrigal and Margaret Tyzack‘s Mrs St Maugham you are promised a very entertaining evening of brilliant acting and witty dialogues. I’d say let’s have more of Enid Bagnold please!

The Chalk Garden: 4/5

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Theatre Review: John Gabriel Borkman

9 Apr

A play by Henrik Ibsen in a new translation by David Eldridge
Directed by Michael Grandage

Synopsis: Disgraced and destitute following a fraud scandal and imprisonment, John Gabriel Borkman (Ian McDiarmid) paces alone in an upstairs room. Downstairs, his family are trapped in the claustrophobic atmosphere of a household bound for explosion. A scorching indictment of 19th century capitalism, Ibsen’s penultimate play paints a devastating picture of selfish ambition.

It was my first time at the Donmar and was looking forward to this evening mainly because I am watching Ian McDiarmid. It was a very intimate theater which sits about just 200 people and we were right there literally breathing the same air as the actors. This is my second Ibsen play, the first one being Pillars of the Community at the National Theater last year. It made sense that since John Gabriel Borkman was written in 1896, almost twenty years after Pillars (written in 1877) that you can see and feel a different Ibsen in his later work. Although author Paul Binding who has written many articles about Ibsen says that in JGB, he was also probably revisiting his first prose-drama of contemporary life in Pillars.

From Peter McKintosh’s production set of birch trees, snow falling relentlessly outside the Borkman’s estate and the continuous hiss of wind, you can immediately sense the bitter and cold atmosphere of a Norwegian winter that doesnt seem to be any different from what is inside the house – the drawing room is dimly lit by lamps and with very little furniture, and as soon as we see the characters of Gunhild Borkman (Deborah Findlay) and Ella Rentheim (Penelope Wilton) you can easily cut the tension between these two women with a knife. And understandably so as Ella, who was once Borkman’s lover, has been looking after the Borkmans’ son Erhart (Rafe Spall) post-scandal and both women want the Erhart for themselves.

This is not a very easy play to watch, because Ibsen’s Borkman is dark and depressing. I was surprised to find a few humorous moments between McDiarmid’s Borkman and David Burke’s Vilhelm Foldal. One scene that I wished I was sitting somewhere else was to see Penelope Wilton’s reaction to McDiarmid’s “a woman can be easily replaced”, after she just told him how he killed every feeling of love in her heart since they parted. In this scene the theater was so silent you could hear a pin drop.

Ian McDiarmid was brilliant as Borkman, as he was pacing the room all that I could think of was this is Darth Sidious and we are in the same room! Penelope Wilton was outstanding, I loved her in Calendar Girls and as Simon Pegg’s mom in Shaun of the Dead but it’s her powerful performance as the scorned and ailing spinster Ella that will always remind me of what a great actress she is. I still can’t get over how the play ended, a dead man, and two shadows.

I am definitely looking forward to watch my third Ibsen.

John Gabriel Borkman: 4/5

Playing at the Donmar Warehouse until April 14.