Cut, but not forgotten

I've been having a very good time reviewing theatre for the Sunday Times this spring (interesting things to see, nice editors: we don't take these things for granted). But the word count is tight, and that presents difficulties: especially if, like me, one of your pleasures is collecting gemstone performances in smaller roles.

These are often cherishable - partly because the part isn't heralded, and the actors may be less well known. And you may not have read about them in the reviews - because, hello - so they feel like your own personal treat. They may not carry a play, but they nuance it, colour its atmosphere in almost imperceptible ways.

Last week, for example, I loved Becky Hindley in Lorca's The House of Bernarda Alba in Southampton. She has done tons of great work on British radio, so it was great to attach a (strong, resolute) face to the name. But there wasn't room for a mention - she wasn't playing the terrifying Bernarda or one of her cowed daughters, or even the household's principal servant, all of whom had apparently more significant roles. But Hindley's maid, dog tired and raw with resentment, did much to establish the play's atmosphere of seething entrapment - everyone hates Bernarda, but no one dares defy her. Hindley's wordless cleaning and pacing before the play proper begins makes this clear.

Servants often get cut out of short reviews. It perpetuates vile class inequalities, but how do you judge between a supporting role and a set design (I often aim to mention the lighting designer, but there's another frequently lost cause)? Come the revolution, I'll be sorry (though on that blessed day, we'll also remember that the poshest character doesn't necessarily deserve the greatest stage time and the rewrites will begin). In the meantime, I wish I'd had room to hurrah Stephanie Jacob's lovely performance in Burnt by the Sun at the National Theatre: another maid who brought on atmosphere along with the tea, this time as a lachrymose retainer, subject to titters from the genteel family she worked for, her soft face creasing with tears, neglect and shy smiles.

Ensembles are another worry. His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman's earnest, fantastical epic now touring in Birmingham Rep's production, had some weak performances in vital roles. But some of the hardworking ensemble deserved medals, especially Nicholas Asbury and Emma Pallant. He brought an unpredictably comic gleam to the baggy story (especially when voicing a pint-sized spy), while she gave it a hollow-voiced solemnity (memorably as a vicious, lonely harpy). Their every appearance, however brief, was vivid, and extended the show's emotional range.

None of these plays would have been the same with other actors in these smallish but vital roles. But at least audiences who encounter them in the theatre will have the thrill of seeing these performances wholly fresh, and of feeling that they are, yes, a personal treat.

May 3, 2009 11:52 PM | | Comments (2) |


Thanks for adding context to my admiration for Becky Hindley, Roger. Can't deny that London theatre gets more than its fair share of coverage in Britain. And whole productions, never mind individual artists, aren't discussed in the depth they deserve. But I do think supporting roles present space-strapped reviewers with a particular problem. As we get better at noting the creative contributions made by design, lighting and sound, we have ever less room to pick out interesting work beyond the leading roles.

Theatres don't help, either - and this is particularly true outside London, for some reason. They increasingly rarely announce casts on their websites, which I find frustrating and disrespectful. The Nuffield, Southampton's site looks attractive - but it doesn't credit any of the cast of Bernarda Alba - or indeed mention that the production is currently playing anywhere on its home page, which is a missed trick of pretty vast proportions.

Glad you appreciate Beck's talents. I've seen her in excellent productions at the Stephen Joseph including some of AA's kids shows, for the in-house company and for Northern Broadsides. But aren't there a lot of actors out there delivering quality work in the 'provinces' and largely unsung because it ain't the West End?

Leave a comment


About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Performance Monkey published on May 3, 2009 11:52 PM.

Wet dreams and their discontents was the previous entry in this blog.

And the dagger rolled is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

AJ Ads

AJ Blogs

AJBlogCentral | rss

About Last Night
Terry Teachout on the arts in New York City
Artful Manager
Andrew Taylor on the business of arts & culture
blog riley
rock culture approximately
critical difference
Laura Collins-Hughes on arts, culture and coverage
Richard Kessler on arts education
Douglas McLennan's blog
Dog Days
Dalouge Smith advocates for the Arts
Art from the American Outback
Life's a Pitch
For immediate release: the arts are marketable
Mind the Gap
No genre is the new genre
Performance Monkey
David Jays on theatre and dance
Plain English
Paul Levy measures the Angles
Real Clear Arts
Judith H. Dobrzynski on Culture
Rockwell Matters
John Rockwell on the arts
Straight Up |
Jan Herman - arts, media & culture with 'tude

Foot in Mouth
Apollinaire Scherr talks about dance
Seeing Things
Tobi Tobias on dance et al...

Jazz Beyond Jazz
Howard Mandel's freelance Urban Improvisation
Focus on New Orleans. Jazz and Other Sounds
Doug Ramsey on Jazz and other matters...

Out There
Jeff Weinstein's Cultural Mixology
Serious Popcorn
Martha Bayles on Film...

classical music
Creative Destruction
Fresh ideas on building arts communities
The Future of Classical Music?
Greg Sandow performs a book-in-progress
On the Record
Exploring Orchestras w/ Henry Fogel
Harvey Sachs on music, and various digressions
Bruce Brubaker on all things Piano
Kyle Gann on music after the fact
Greg Sandow on the future of Classical Music
Slipped Disc
Norman Lebrecht on Shifting Sound Worlds

Jerome Weeks on Books
Quick Study
Scott McLemee on books, ideas & trash-culture ephemera

Drama Queen
Wendy Rosenfield: covering drama, onstage and off
lies like truth
Chloe Veltman on how culture will save the world

Aesthetic Grounds
Public Art, Public Space
Another Bouncing Ball
Regina Hackett takes her Art To Go
John Perreault's art diary
Lee Rosenbaum's Cultural Commentary
Modern Art Notes
Tyler Green's modern & contemporary art blog
Creative Commons License
This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.