THEATRE / Edward Albee: a revenger's tragedy

Tall Women - Wyndhams; Dream - 6th-Form College, Barrow-in-Furness; Pea ches - Royal Court Upstairs

IF HAROLD PINTER were to boost a revival of The Caretaker with the announcement that it was based on the life of his Uncle Wilf, it would hardly come as more of a shock than Edward Albee's true confessions in the case of Three Tall Women. This piece, famously, has won Albee a Pulitzer Prize and returned him to critical favour after 25 years in the cold. Would it have done so, I wonder, if Albee had maintained his usual invincible reserve over his source material (give or take acknowledgments to Samuel Beckett and the occasional Brandenburg Concerto), instead of identifying its subject as the adoptive mother who darkened his childhood and threw him out of the house at the age of 18?

If that sounds malicious, I can only say that it springs from sheer bafflement at the success of what strikes me as a mean and technically lazy piece of work. Albee has described it as ``a kind of exorcism'', written in a spirit of objective enquiry rather than revenge. But from the portrait that emerges - first a gloating study of the physical indignities of extreme old age, followed by a charge-sheet of the moneyed arrogance, sexual betrayals and family feuding that led up to it - it is hard to see what further wounds revenge could have inflicted.

Structurally, the play seeks to impale its protagonist from two angles. In a naturalistic first act, she appears as a nonagenarian invalid, revolving in an infernal cycle of tears, rage, emergency trips to the lavatory, and bitter yearning for the absent young Albee. She is attended by a wise-cracking secretary-companion (extremely well played by Frances de la Tour), and a young lawyer (Anastasia Hille) who is there simply to register appropriate outrage at the old woman's references to wops and uppity nigras. Apart from the question of how much all this is costing in legal fees, there is no forward drive. Dramatic interest centres wholly on Maggie Smith as the old monster; not so much for her display of the breakneck transitions of a collapsing mind (amazing as these are) but for her success in conveying some human substance behind the mask of senility.

Albee then lays her low with a stroke and proceeds to a non-naturalistic second act in which the three actors reassemble as the protagonist's separate selves in youth, middle, and old age. The dramatic possibilities of this device have been wonderfully explored by Michel Tremblay in Albertine in Five Times, which achieved a purposeful narrative and composite portraiture through a five-part division of the self, each with its own story to tell. Albee's tall women have only one story: namely that youthful hope began its slide into lies and despair with the experience of revulsion against oral sex. All the rest of the play has to offer is the voice of experience telling youth that the bad times are coming. Through no fault of Anthony Page's cast, at no point do you see how one self grows into the next. Let's hope Albee has managed to lay his ghost; he has not created a character.

The second American folly of the week, Peter Sellars' production of The Merchant of Venice passed through the Barbican as a lunatic coda to the Everybody's Shakespeare festival. Reset in Los Angeles on a stage fetishistically garlanded with TV cables and monitor screens, the show featured a black Shylock (played with Robesonesque weight by Paul Butler) and sought to draw a parallel between anti-Semitism and Californian race riots. As the rest of the company (from Chicago's Goodman Theatre) consisted of Latinos and Chinese Americans, the scheme never stood a chance of making sense, even if the actors had been capable of speaking the text. From the sight of Bassanio and Antonio hotly embracing during the trial, to Portia's speech on candle-beams, obliterated by her car's headlights, you sat through the show's four hours confident that every detail was going to be wrong. What alarms me is that somebody chose this for London.

Dean Clough, Halifax, is officially listed as an industrial park, but with its galleries, restaurants, enterprise campus, and Henry Moore Studio, it is more a city inside a city. All it lacked was a theatre; and that lack has now been made good with a 280-seat underground venue - the Viaduct Theatre - launched by the Northern Broadsides company with Barrie Rutter's touring production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

With its Victorian brickwork and tunnel exits, the Viaduct is a fine addition to Rutter's chosen circuit of ``non-velvet spaces''; and this lovely show conjures magic from a defiantly unethereal environment. A carpet is laid for the forest, and the immortals arrive as beribboned morris men, for whom the rusting girders become trees, a workshop trolley Titania's bower, and who finally signal the triumph of Hymen with a fairy pas de deux that takes clog-dancing to the boundary of flamenco. In that sense they are directly related to the mechanicals who open the show with rhythmic hammering that asserts the dignity of their craft. Fairies and artisans alike are creatures of the earth.

Rutter himself, automatic casting for Bottom, leaves that role to the excellent John Branwell and doubles masterfully as Theseus and Oberon in a challenging partnership with Ishia Bennison's fiery Hippolyta / Titania. Come the play scene, and - as happens when the magic really strikes - class divisions dissolve into a vision of social harmony as the lordly spectators and humble performers invade each others' space. Next week Barrow-in-Furness, then the Richmond Theatre.

In Peaches, we follow Frank and his student friends from Leeds to London on a non-stop gossiping jag. Whatever they are talking about, they are thinking about sex; but whenever it comes to the point, Frank (the irresistible Ben Chaplin) either blows his chances or can't make up his mind. Absolutely nothing happens, and to hilariously truthful effect. A notable debut for a new writer, Nick Grosso.

'Tall Women': Wyndhams, 071-369 1736. `Dream': 6th-Form College, Barrow-in-Furness, 0229 820000. `Peaches', Royal Court Upstairs, 071-730 1745.

(Photograph omitted)

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

music
Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
News
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Yaphett Kotto with Julius W Harris and Jane Seymour in 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die

film
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment

film
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

    The secret CIA Starbucks

    The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
    Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

    How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

    The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
    One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

    One million Britons using food banks

    Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

    The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
    Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
    Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

    Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

    They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
    Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
    The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

    The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

    Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
    How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

    How to run a restaurant

    As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
    Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

    Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

    For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
    Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

    Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

    The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
    10 best tote bags

    Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

    We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
    Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

    Paul Scholes column

    I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...