The Prisoner of Second Avenue, Vaudeville, London
Aspects of Love, Menier Chocolate Factory, London
The Critic/The Real Inspector Hound, Minerva, Chichester
The Hollywood star engages auto-pilot in a lame Neil Simon revival
Sunday 18 July 2010
Jeff Goldblum's Mel is pounding on the wall of his Manhattan apartment.
He's hollering from his balcony. Now he's tearing at his shirt, writhing on the carpet, clutching his ribcage. Clearly, the guy is having a panic attack because he can't get out of Neil Simon's 1971 comedy, The Prisoner of Second Avenue.
I know how he feels. This West End revival – directed by Terry Johnson and co-presented by the Old Vic – is so lame that it's tempting to fall in the aisle, foaming at the mouth and feigning hysteria, just to get oneself carted out early.
All right, to be precise, Mel is throwing a wobbly because he's stressed by an economic downturn. When he loses his job, he tips into mental breakdown. Obviously, in today's recession-hit Britain, we can identify with that. However, he is also just a stereotypical New York neurotic, getting in insomniac tizzies about all the little things spoiling his American Dream, starting with uncontrollable air-con.
In spite of his Hollywood track record, Goldblum isn't half as droll as Woody Allen in NY'eurotic mode. He was entertainingly high-octane in Mamet's Speed-the-Plow at the Old Vic in 2008, but here none of his bug-eyed funny business is inspired. This is panicking-by-numbers. Nor does he plumb any genuine depths of despair. The husky Mercedes Ruehl does her best as his wife, Edna. She's more likeable and hearty, until the strain gets to her, too, and schematically drives her nuts.
As for Andrew Lloyd Webber, we know l'amour fou never dies, and now – at the Menier – Trevor Nunn has reunited with Lord Lloyd-Webber's Aspects of Love, which he staged so lavishly in the West End in 1989. This time, he's directing it on a smaller scale, though it remains the same saga of entanglements.
Alex (Michael Arden) is an English chap abroad, post-Second World War, who becomes fixated on a boho French actress, Rose (Katherine Kingsley). What begins as romantic naivety rapidly progresses to melodramatic pistol-waving after she elopes with his roué uncle, George (Dave Willetts). More than a decade later, Alex becomes their house guest, but he's only superficially platonic, and he catches the eye of their pubescent daughter.
It's hard to see why this piece, for Sir Trevor, exerts a fatal attraction. Aspects certainly feels as if it's going to last forever, if only in that it outstays its welcome (running at over three hours). Charles Hart's book, even so, compacts the convoluted narrative quite ludicrously. Truckloads of plot twists – a bankruptcy, a wedding, a lesbian kiss, and a birth – tank by in seconds like jack-knifing juggernauts. The audience occasionally titters, but Nunn's production displays no sense of humour.
Kingsley's Rose is a ghastly conniving vamp one minute, and the next is romantically torn. Aspects of Love also feels sexually uncomfortable when it touches, hesitatingly, on paedophilia and incestuous possessiveness – seemingly determined to cover every possible permutation of affection. Thank heavens Rose and George have no pets, or we'd be here all night.
On the upside, Nunn's staging is fluid, with a simple set of shuttered windows (spoilt only by needless, location-setting projections overhead). Arden and Kingsley both have fine voices: his mellifluously warm; hers pellucid. The seven-strong orchestra is an asset too, with a lone violin reprising a lovely folk melody amid pastiche operetta and marching songs.
Finally a double bill of parodies, both satirising thespian types: Tom Stoppard's The Real Inspector Hound paired with Richard Sheridan's The Critic. In Stoppard's early short (1962), two pontificating reviewers – Richard McCabe's toad-like Moon and Nicholas Le Prevost's dapper Birdboot – are ensconced among the audience. Indulging in their own murderous and lecherous fantasies, they suddenly find themselves sucked into the preposterously creaky whodunnit on-stage, looking down the barrel of a shotgun.
It's amusingly surreal, like Agatha Christie coming over all Pirandello. Still, it's pretty slight and – in Jonathan Kent and Sean Foley's joint staging – it seems a mite creaky itself. Only Joe Dixon is killingly funny as a moustachioed cad, darting around on tiptoe.
In Sheridan's 1770s send-up of luvvies and hacks, everyone's putting their oar in during a shambolic rehearsal of a cod-Elizabethan Armada drama. Alas, McCabe's performance seems merely slack as the failing playwright Puff, and Derek Griffiths barely lives up to his name, Sneer.
Still, Dixon is again splendid, lurching into the audience with his ball and chain as the swashbuckling Don Whiskerandos. And the finale is spectacular chaos. Foley's Sir Fretful, cast as Britannia, is scarcely able to keep his thong on, let alone rule the waves, while Le Prevost's Mr Dangle – a hanger on – is hoist aloft on a giant orb.
'The Prisoner of Second Avenue' (0844 412 4663) to 25 Sep; 'Aspects of Love' (020-7907 7060) to 26 Sep; 'The Critic' and 'The Real Inspector Hound' (01243 812917) to 28 Aug
Kate Bassett will catch director Michael Grandage's NT debut, Danton's Death, with Toby Stephens
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