Went back to work today. I have had a wonderful two weeks off; I didn't actually go anywhere much, just met people and did interesting things. Lilydale visited my chic London pad *snerk* and dragged me out to the theatre twice in three days, which hasn't happened in an age. I had a fantastic time.
So we went to see What The Night Is For, which I believe may have been mentioned *g*
I promised I would write something about it. *Much* rambling follows. However, if you think there's any chance you'll be able to get over to London to see the play, don't read this. It's a work best left unspoiled.
The role that duty, deceit, coincidence, over-caution and cowardice play in love is the theme of What The Night Is For, a straightforward two-hander which takes place over the course of one night in one hotel room. An ingenious set aids the movement of the action through the long, talky night.
Adam Penzius (Roger Allam) has contacted Melinda Metz (GA) by email. Years ago they were lovers, but chose to return to their respective spouses in a spectacular failure of nerve on both sides.
Neither has any idea what the other thought of the encounter -- was it a fling, an affair or the greatest opportunity both ever missed?
Both seem, ostensibly, to have made a success of their lives in the years since their first heady encounter at a book group meeting in New York. Adam has realised his dream of becoming an architect and is married to a successful businesswoman, Lindy is a teacher married to a prospective Congressional candidate from a wealthy family, with two sons of whom she is very proud.
Scratch the surface though, and misery roils underneath. Adam is rattling around inside the cold, wide spaces of a failing marriage in which his wife, a perfectionist workaholic, has abdicated most of the responsibility for raising their son; Lindy's bluff ex-jock of a husband, Hugh, is a controlling failure who leaves her bored and numb.
The writer, Michael Weller, succeeds admirably in investing their early sparring with all kinds of double meanings that only acquire resonance as the play goes on. Neither is quite telling the truth but the audience doesn't know which the lies are or which way either will jump.
Both of them are flawed and believeable too -- I liked the way that Weller kept honours even between them and certainly didn't set up either Adam or Lindy as "right" or even as the identification character. Our sympathies swung between them as the night went on.
Adam and Lindy begin as bitter, brittle strangers but soon slip into an awkward intimacy as they recall their salad days in New York. The dialogue is mostly sharp and funny and occasionally deliciously filthy. There's a bit of business in which a toy cow is used to illustrate several points not intended by its manufacturers which got a whoop of laughter the night I was there.
What is clear is that both Lindy and Adam loved each other more than either realised when their affair ended abruptly and that neither is telling the whole truth now. Weller succeeds in allowing the characters to reveal the heady, careless rush of their first encounter while showing these two damaged, cautious people edging around each other in a crablike fashion, wondering whether it's worth disturbing their current situation in the hope of finding something better.
So far so simple. But Weller chucks in a huge monkey wrench in the third act, counting on GA to plant the clues through the first half of the play: Lindy has a manic depressive illness that was present when she first met Adam but undiagnosed. It has only been exacerbated by her miserable life with the dullard Hugh, who, she claims, uses it as an excuse for the fact that he has failed in anything he has ever tried. She is trying desperately to hide it.
I'm not entirely sure that Weller plants enough clues in the first two acts for Lindy's actions in the third to work. He's certainly heavily reliant on GA to suggest the beginnings of a manic episode. It leaves the actress awfully exposed, because her line readings occasionally seem soaringly OTT to compensate.
I wonder if this is something that will be played around with in these three weeks of previews before the premiere. It's certainly the most awkward part of the play and there is the odd clunking piece of dialogue around the transition into full-blown mania. I think Anderson occasionally mis-steps because of that.
I don't want anvils, I don't want to be spoonfed all the answers, but I think a hint or two more wouldn't come amiss
However, in general, I thought both performances were excellent, though there's one huge barrier that the play has to get through -- Gillian Anderson is too young for the part. She's playing someone in her forties who struggles against tough odds to stay in shape, to put on a brave face to the world.
It's the kind of part I can imagine Jessica Lange or Glenn Close playing. Gillian Anderson doesn't quite seem battered down enough and she certainly doesn't appear old enough.
Having said that, she inhabits the role with great confidence, making me forget the objection almost as soon as I make it. It's a credit to her that Agent Scully is wiped from the memory for all but one line (which almost seems to be a nod to the fannish, but then everything takes on a warped significance to fit our megalomanical cosmology.)
Anderson is all fast gestures and swift moves, skittish and seductive by turns and it's chiefly her hard work that makes Act III believable at all. Lindy's disappointment when she realises that Adam did love her as much as she loved him way back when is heart-breaking as is her plea for understanding later.
She and her co-star have good chemistry and they make a believeable couple. Poor old Roger Allam, deprived of even a photograph on the publicity material for a play in which he gets half the lines, is suitably careworn and jowly yet sexy. The ambitious, dashing young man he was when he met Lindy still shines through now and then but now it's tempered by a sour cautiousness. Allam does a good job of making him likeable despite this.
One part of the play that I thought worked extremely well was the ending. It's beautifully ambiguous -- it may be happy on the surface but it's easy to see how either Lindy or Adam could chicken out of the deal they make and settle for the safe second-best of the status quo.
You can occasionally see both stars reaching for their lines but that's only to be expected at this stage of previews. I think it's going to be quite something to see this when it's less of a work in progress
* * *
On a CHarcy note, both our principals have the sexy and there is much, much good hair, particularly from GA who has gone a ruddy sort of blondy brown with waviness. The raffish Mr Allam, with whom I was quite taken, has the whole flippy fringed jowly thing going on.
Also, I am told he moons the audience during the bed scene if he is not careful with his boxers.
Speaking of which, I imagine the people sitting in the ashtrays at the side get *quite* the view during the bed scene. GA later graduates to silk PJs (insert ficcish smirking here)
The night I was there, GA appeared to be first disconcerted, then a little dischuffed, by the wildly enthusiastic reaction of the fannish element of the crowd, who did the three-standing-ovations-plus-loud-whoopi
GA was ambushed at the back door both nights the intrepid L was there (I was embarrassed and hung back, something that simultaneously annoys me because I wish I could make up my mind about whether I think such an encounter would be a good idea for me.) She seemed quite happy to sign autographs, though I've heard from various sources and Yelling Man At The Stage Door that she won't sign XF stuff any longer.
I am told that an encounter is somewhat similar to being whacked on the head with the charisma stick *g*
Hmmmm. Don't think I want to meet anyone on shows I like a lot. I think I like the distance, weird though that sounds, though I'll probably change my mind again tomorrow.
Allam was seen legging it out of the theatre at the front as GA was ambushed at the back -- your humble correspondents surmised that he had buggered off to the 7-11 on the corner of McDonalds in Leicester Square for some fags to smoke with his meal at Le Piaf. So -- if you want a sleb encounter with him, go to Le Piaf.
If you go, have the chicken and mash or the red snapper. They rock the house. *g*