Girl With A Pearl Earring, Theatre Royal Haymarket, London
Creditors, Donmar Warehouse, London
Waste, Almeida, London
The play of the book of the painting lacks lustre
Sunday 05 October 2008
The jewel is nestled in the half-shadow of her neck in Vermeer's famous portrait, Girl with a Pearl Earring. It catches a spark of light as she glances over her shoulder. In that blue turban, she is poised between a Madonna's purity and electrifying sensuality, her large dark eyes harbouring apprehension – or is it a teasing glint of desire? Novelist Tracy Chevalier became intrigued by this Mona Lisa of the North, imagining her a maid in the artist's household, infatuating him with her beauty.
Nothing scintillates, however, in the West End's lumpen dramatisation of that story (quite different from the film). Spotlights glaringly fail to recreate anything like Vermeer's gently side-lit Dutch interiors, and scriptwriter David Joss Buckley seems to be as clueless as the director Joe Dowling about the fine arts. Kimberley Nixon as the serving-girl, Griet, learns a cock-eyed lesson about her master's camera obscura, concluding that it contains a picture of his picture. Meanwhile, Adrian Dunbar's Vermeer throws a large crumpled cloth over his wet canvas. Presumably he had to call that one "Maid a Pig's Ear". To give him his due, Dunbar has a gentle magnetism, but Nixon is acting by numbers. Very dull.
In Strindberg's chamber play, Creditors – staged by Alan Rickman – Tom Burke's Adolph is a painter having a mental breakdown in a mouldering seaside hotel. Visited by a virulently misogynistic patriarch – Owen Teale's Gustav, who poses as a physician –Adolph veers between adoration and jealous fury regarding his free-thinking and fast-rising wife, Anna Chancellor's Tekla. The start and finish are slightly stilted. Teale's Iago-like destructiveness could be more creepily insinuating. Nonetheless, the black comedy bites when David Greig's new English version hits its stride. Chancellor is mercurial – tough and tender, really complex flesh and blood – and the slippages are disturbingly subtle between slice-of-life marital rows and possible hallucinations.
Watching Harley Granville Barker's 1920s drama, Waste – about a visionary statesman and a ruinous sex scandal – I didn't always care about Henry Trebell's crusade to disestablish the Church of England. Yet, all in all, this is another forgotten gem unearthed by the Almeida and it makes a welcome change – presenting a historic political argument without a directorial update to highlight its topicality.
Will Keen is riveting as the weirdly cold, cynical yet passionate Trebell. His private scenes – with Nancy Carroll as his coquettish amour and Phoebe Nicholls as his spinster sister – range from the witty and sexy to the distressingly bleak, and ultimately suicidal despair. Sam West's production is superlative, with space-defying mansions on a mini-revolve (designed by Peter McKintosh) and a 15-strong cast without a weak link. This group portrait of a Cabinet in formation – where ideals are brought down by sleaze, blunders, cunning power games and sheer pragmatism – is sharp-eyed and, in many ways, timeless.
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' (0845-481 1870) to 1 Nov; 'Creditors' (0870 060 6624) to 15 Nov; 'Waste' (020-7359 4404) to 15 Nov
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Woman 'suffocates newborn baby in plastic bag and puts it in her desk minutes after giving birth'
- 2 I've been called an abusive and dangerous parent, when all I did was listen to my transgender child
- 3 Company breaks open Apple Watch to discover what it says is 'planned obsolescence'
- 4 Teaching profession headed for crisis as numbers continue to drop and working lives become 'unbearable'
- 5 Chinese student carries disabled friend to school every day for three years
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins
Al Pacino admits he was nearly fired from The Godfather and it's still his most 'difficult role'
Warner Music owner Len Blavatnik tops Sunday Times Rich List
London Marathon: Best running songs from Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar to 'Uptown Funk'
Oldest footage of London landmarks released
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Migrant boat disaster: Ukip candidate mocks victims in sickening Twitter post
Nigel Farage wants the BBC to stop making programmes like Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, and Top Gear
Global warming: Scientists say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100 and call for action ahead of UN meeting in Paris
General Election 2015: Britain would become a 'communist dictatorship' under Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon, claims wife of Michael Gove