Travelling Light, Lyttelton, NT, London
Thursday 19 January 2012
Nicholas Wright is one of my favourite dramatists. I love the way that he can take vastly heterogeneous subject matter - from Melanie Klein to Vincent Van Gogh, from James Mossman to Terence Rattigan and Nijinsky -- and excavate acutely fresh and sharply researched plays that nonetheless have very distinctive finger marks on them. This reminds me a little of the relationship between Simon Russell Beale and his roles. It is furthermore wonderful that, at seventy one, Wright seems to be more productive than ever. So how to account for the mis-step that is his latest play, Travelling Light, premiered now at the Lyttelton in a nothing-if-not-charming production by Nicholas Hytner.
The best thing about the show, in my opinion, is the brilliantly punning title which makes me shiver with delight each time I ponder it. It beautifully blends the idea of emigration and of cinematography, bringing out the projection-room shimmer in the phrase.
Departing from his customary practice of dealing with real-folk, Wright has written a piece that would seem to have been inspired by the fact that so many Hollywood luminaries were East European Jewish emigres. His leading character here has certain affinities with Billy Wilder and Ernst Lubitsch.
Successful movie director Maurice Montgomery (Paul Jesson) looks back from Thirties Hollywood at his younger days in a shtetl when, as an artistic photographer who went by the name of Motl Mendl (Damien Molony) he discovered, on returning to his remote village, that his deceased father had bought an 1896 Lumiere Brothers cinematograph. A wealthy local timber merchant (played by Antony Sher who seems to be auditioning for The Life of Topol ) becomes as crazed as Mendl about this new way of telling stories. All the world's a film set, or becomes so.
Because of the arbitrary radiance of her face on screen, Mendl's nubile assistant become his star. He stumbles upon new editing technique. The village becomes Los Angeles avant la lettre.
Great subject matter but the play -- and the production --- fail to rise to their own piquant occasion. The ironies are handled with a limp obviousness (you couldn't cite this piece in the same breath as, say, Christopher Hampton's play about emigres on the west coast, Tales from Hollywood). Though the Lyttelton is more like a cinema than most theatres, the physical production is bafflingly duff. The twee shtetl skyline in Bob Crowley's design is so dinky and endearing that it makes Barbra Streisand's (rather brilliant) Yentl look like Le Chagrin et La Pitie.
I kept thinking that I would like to see this subject explored in the Old Vic tunnels by Robert Lepage.
film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat
Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challengeTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Three-year-old boy shoots pregnant mother and father in New Mexico
- 2 Stephen Fry explains what he would say if he was 'confronted by God'
- 3 Jewish community urged to boycott Cornwall village after residents vote for 'Hitlers Walk' sign to be reinstated
- 4 Benedict Cumberbatch's Alan Turing gay-rights campaign snubbed by Prince William and Kate Middleton
- 5 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
Daniel Radcliffe deemed 'not marketable' without his English accent
Gorillaz Phase 4: Cartoon supergroup is back as new artwork is unveiled
Venezuela Expo Tattoo 2015: Extreme body art from 'Vampire Woman' to 109mm earlobes
As Better Call Saul launches, here are the other spin-off shows we need to see
Game of Thrones season 5 trailer: The first full-length look is here
Stephen Fry explains what he would say if he was 'confronted by God'
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse
9 reasons Greece's experiment with the radical left is doomed to failure
President Putin is a dangerous psychopath - reason is not going to work with him
Have we reached 'peak food'? Shortages loom as global production rates slow
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign