She's in the wrong play too. Marguerite Duras's brooding portrait of marital infidelity and loneliness ( previously played by Eileen Atkins and Susan Hampshire) is ponderous and portentous. It demands someone expert at teasing us with the fluctuating anxieties of her privileged life. As ruses for enlisting an audience's sympathy go, she has one of the trickiest. Christie plays a millionaire's wife agonising whether to rent a winter apartment in St Tropez. It's an expensive place ("works out at 33,000 smackers a night"). This spacious, sparsely furnished property, overlooks (in Johan Engels's bleakly grand set) the rocks and the sea. Here Christie is joined by her lover Michel (Aden Gillett) a thinly written role that needs an Alan Rickman to supply some erotic subtext. Here too Christie waits for a phone call from her husband, whom we never meet.
Each move Christie makes in this tremulous, self-analysing role - whether pulling off her glove finger by finger, arching an eyebrow, or swinging her handbag behind her back - has a calculated deliberateness. They are the isolated gestures of a film actress, and you keep expecting someone in a baseball cap to shout "Cut!". The low water-mark in Lindy Davies's production comes with the phone call as we watch Christie on the sofa, crossing her legs, rubbing her fingers, tilting her face one way, then another, as she listens to what her husband is supposedly saying to her from the other end. As she does so, we tire of listening to the Mediterranean sea waves on the soundtrack, and wonder whether we could go and make a few calls of our own.
Nothing could be further from this claustrophic artfulness than Once Upon a Time, Very Far From England. When the action calls for a change of scene the audience are asked to pick up their belongings and move to another location: there the next scene has been set up. This entertaining ramble through the Raj, a playful adaptation of Kipling's Plain Tales From the Hills, marks the 25th birthday of the touring company London Bubble.
It's an ambitious exercise. Farhana Sheikh's play draws on the series of very short stories, written by the young Kipling in the late 1880s, then freely invents around the stories, adding scenes, characters, dances, and snatches of songs as well as - this being 100 years later - an ironic perspective. Given its source material, Once Upon a Time was always going to be a fragmentary experience, and presenting it as a promenade production heightens the sense that we are on a guided tour.
After a prologue, presented on trestle-tables outside the box-office tent, the chirpily deferential narrator (Aaron Husain) leads the audience into Greenwich Park, and we embark on the central story, based on "Miss Youghal's Sais", of the policeman Strickland (Peter Glancy) who turns native so that he can remain close to the demure Miss Youghal (Bethan Morgan). Sheikh liberally embroiders the tale: Strickland's cover is blown when a lecherous general hassles Miss Youghal. In Sheikh's saucier version, the general tries to force Miss Youghal to stroke a phallic statue.
The cast of six compete with the other users of Greenwich Park - rollerbladers, cyclists, families, dogs and squirrels - which leads to an easy-going complicity between the actors and the audience, who trail along with rugs, wine, cigarettes and onion bhajis. The good humour is reflected in the broad, unpompous storytelling. When an actor exits he sometimes has to walk a couple of hundred yards before disappearing from sight. Director Adrian Jackson cleverly disperses the scenes round the Park so that each new one comes as a surprise. After the interval, sunlight gives way to candlelight and we listen to the rich dialect of Kipling's soldiers with the warning light of Canary Wharf blinking in the distance.
Outdoors again: 20 minutes into Kiss Me Kate at the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park a voice over the loudspeakers asked the actors to leave the stage. Rain had stopped the play. The Met Office said the drizzle would last five minutes. After several drinks in the bar the audience went back in. "We are going to plough on," said the director Ian Talbot to very British cheers. But the wind changed, bringing another band of rain which wasn't supposed to come near NW1. It's the first time since 1964 that the Open Air has cancelled a press night. Those of us there still saw enough Cole Porter (42 minutes) to want to see the rest.
'Suzanna Andler': Chichester Minerva (01243 781312), to 9 Aug. 'Once Upon a Time': Greenwich Pk, SE16 (0171 237 1663), to 23 Aug. 'Kiss Me Kate': Open Air, NW1 (0171 486 2431), to 1 Sept.Reuse content