Theatre: Proof that money can't buy you love

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The old version of Martin Guerre centred on a man, Arnaud, who returns from war to the village where his friend Martin had lived, meets Martin's wife, moves in with her, secretly becomes a Protestant in a Catholic community (like his wife), and fathers her child, who will become the heir to the land the Catholics want to retain. Then Martin returns. Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg, the musical team that brought us Les Miserables and Miss Saigon, used this story to tell us - somewhat in the style of a Benetton ad - that we are all imposters, religion equals bigotry and love is better than hate. Most people lost the plot but got the message.

The new Martin Guerre, which opened this week, relies on a more traditional Broadway plot. This story is about a show that gets mauled by the critics, but which returns, at the cost of a further pounds 1m, to face its detractors one more time. Big fanfare. Lots of publicity. Will there be a hap- py ending?

This version has several advantages over the old one. The plot is simple. There's a commanding central performance, in the tireless, beaming, obstinate figure of Sir Cameron Mackintosh. The one number you need to remember is the box-office's.

There's no denying that in relaunching Martin Guerre, Mackintosh and director Declan Donnellan have made substantial improvements on the show that opened in July. Act One has a stronger, leaner plot. The story centres more on the wife Bertrande (Juliette Caton, played with a touching virginal sobriety), who has to choose between the husband she doesn't love and the imposter she does. As Arnaud, Iain Glen looks just as dashing as he did in July; his voice, though, which was never strong, has become more confident and relaxed. Stephen Clark has joined the team as lyricist, and we appreciate more quickly what people are thinking. This is largely because, as we hurtle through what often feels like an extended synopsis with songs, plot points are made with telegraphic baldness. "I'm a Protestant," Caton confesses to Glen. "I don't judge other people by their faith," replies Glen, quickly. For economy, this stands comparison with "Me Tarzan, You Jane". Donnellan's staging now has greater urgency. The men and women no longer circle the stage as if they play for rival hockey teams. Bob Avian's energetic choreography - the chorus of Artignac villagers have stirring, foot-stomping numbers - dovetails better with the rest of the action. David Hersey again provides beautifully dappled, seasonal lighting for the forest. If only musicals succeeded by virtue of having improved.

It's true, too, that Schonberg has written several strong tunes, which will sound even better when they are recorded by names we have heard of. The sweeping orchestrations - all those violins churning away in the pit - keep assuring us we are experiencing something emotional. But we just aren't. It's still a big, sprawling, bombastic show. It's hardly surprising. There are no stars; no great scenes that draw us in; no characters we take to our hearts; no sense of humour; no director like Hal Prince to make sense of it all; and no helicopter.

A very different kind of musical arrives at the Dominion, after several seasons of touring. It's the Leslie Bricusse version of Scrooge, first seen as a film with Albert Finney (in 1970), and here starring the former child actor, cabaret singer, and ex-husband of Joan Collins, Anthony Newley.

There he stands, head sunk into his shoulders, crinkly hair, thick eyebrows, narrow sunken eyes, muttering away, drumming his fingers on his waistcoat pocket (as if practising his scales) and lapping up the applause. There are the other actors, dutifully standing upstage, shivering in the dark. As the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future visit Newley's Scrooge, we wonder yet again whether the old codger will have a change of heart? Is this a man, who even at Christmas time, is going to share any of the limelight?

Scrooge is unashamedly a star vehicle. And the only spirit that has visited this very traditional production is the one of Christmas Past. Newley spends an hour-and-a-half on stage. He's consistently watchable, he can sing and act, in an old, hammy way - and would probably chew gum too, if it would help pull the focus. The old pro deserves whatever he's getting paid. Tudor Davies's production has an attractive pantomime atmosphere, Paul Kieve's illusions - of figures disappearing into mirrors, and so on - bring an innocent charm, and Paul Farnsworth's Dickensian sets conjure up a nostalgic world of chestnuts sold in high, narrow streets. Only Bricusse's soapy music, that keeps sounding like the softer sections of a 1970s Bond movie, seems out of place.

Jason Donovan's recent flop in Night Must Fall would have left the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, dark for two months before Jessica Lange's arrival in A Streetcar Named Desire. To fill the slot, producer Bill Kenwright has imported a superb one-woman show from America, Shakespeare For My Father, by Lynn Redgrave - Michael's daughter, and Vanessa and Corin's sister.

Redgrave threads passages from Shakespeare in and out of the story of her childhood and life in showbiz: auditions, first role, rehearsals with the famous, etc. She delivers sharp impersonations of Edith Evans, Noel Coward and Maggie Smith (all from rehearsals of Hay Fever at the National). She mimics her future brother-in-law, Tony Richardson, directing her in A Midsum- mer Night's Dream ("I want you to be a giraffe") and offers childhood memories of Vanessa, Corin and, repeatedly, her father.

All this would be enjoyable enough - one of those Sunday-night entertainments thrown together by famous actors, where you expect a glass of wine to be included in the ticket price. But Shakespeare For My Father is in quite a different league. Troubled, confessional, ironic, it's closer to the sort of cool-eyed memoir you might read in Granta.

For Lynn Redgrave, her father was more alive onstage than off, easier to understand as Lear, Richard II or Shylock than as himself. Over and above the inevitably arch reminiscences, Lynn Redgrave brings a surprising frankness - tart and rarely self-indulgent - to her descriptions of the child in search of the parent. Early on, she looks up the day she was born in her father's diary, to discover references to lunching at the Garrick and who came backstage after his performance, yet no mention of her arrival. This sense of exclusion, from her birth to his death (when her flowers were left off his coffin), fuels the show, giving it a compelling tenderness. Lynn Redgrave tracks this fraught relation-ship - his disregard and aloofness, her inability to reach out - back to her father's own relationship with his parent, Roy, an errant, itinerant actor, who died in an unmarked grave in Australia.

It's an absorbing, touching performance: Redgrave sketches in scenes and charac- ters with lightness and wit. The piece is very well constructed, and sparely and evocatively directed by her husband, John Clark. Dressed simply in black vest and black trousers, Redgrave employs only a few props - hats, scarves, a trunk, a baronial chair - to move us fleetingly from scene to scene and character to character. It's a delight to watch. In this respect, as in many others, Shakespeare has been her father.

Theatre details: Going Out, p14.

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