DC Moore’s Common at the National Theatre is described as an epic tale of England’s lost land. The revolving stage is covered in earth and the background is a huge cyclorama of sky. Jeremy Herrin’s production, designed by Richard Hudson and lit by Paule Constable, looks good on the vast, wide-open space which is the Olivier stage. The action takes place at the turn of the 19th century when rich landowners are appropriating public land for their own private benefit. England is in the middle of the Industrial Revolution and numerous Enclosure Acts (pure robbery) are being passed. The villagers are up in arms.
I have a sneaking suspicion that I might have enjoyed it more had I been watching it in a foreign language I did not know, with sur-titles. The basic problem with Common is its lack of focus. The leading roles are under-characterised and the artificial language they speak doesn’t make it any easier to understand what they are saying or know what is actually going on. I was not surprised when some members of the audience did not return after the interval. But Anne-Marie Duff, cast as a London prostitute, looked splendid in her red riding dress.
Anthony Biggs takes his farewell as artistic director of Jermyn Street Theatre with the British premiere of Maxim Gorky’s play about police corruption. Written in 1908, The Last Ones was banned in Russia and had only one performance in Gorky’s lifetime. So this powerful and well-acted revival is a major coup.
The drama is set in Kazan (Russia) in 1907 in the aftermath of the 1905 revolution. The characters are victims of the corrupt and evil times in which they live. Gorky concentrates on the head of one family, a former Tsarist police chief (Daragh O’Malley), forcibly retired. A vile, inhuman, ruthless, lying brute, he hasn’t the money to pay for the bribe which is absolutely essential for him to be reinstated.
In 1974, the noted American oral historian and broadcaster Studs Terkel published Working, his landmark play in which, casting his net wide, he interviewed a great variety of working people and got them to talk about what they do all day and what they feel about what they do.
Stephen Schwartz and Nina Faso turned the interviews into a musical in 1977 and it has been constantly rewritten ever since. The 90-minute show, directed by Luke Sheppard at Southwark Playhouse, is a thoroughly enjoyable mixture of songs and monologues, offering slices of life: humdrum lives, proud lives, jobs well done. There are regrets too, of course, along the lines of “I could have done something with my life.”
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