Judgement Day (Almeida 08/09/09) 9 September 2009

We're back in adaptation land. I pointed this phenomenon out to my friend and it's now beginning to hit home. Originally I wasn't going to say anything about Judgement Day due to two issues that I faced while seeing it, but after a chat with a work colleague today who saw it the night before I thought it may be worth giving it a go.

As a preface, it's another adaptation but to it's credit, it's a play and a playwirght that don''t really get seen or performed (I had never heard of either). I did have an issue with either the adaptation or the direction, not sure which, but I'll come to that in a minute.

FIrst performed in Germany in 1945, Judgement Day is presented in a new version by Christopher Hampton (adaptations and translations include: God of Carnage, Art, Les Liaison Dangereuses, Sunset Boulevard; Screenplays include: Atonement, Dangerous Liaisons; Original work includes: The Philanthropist which was just revived on Broadway with Matthew Broderick)from the original by Odon von Horvath. The story takes place in a small German village in the 1940's. After a train crash which leaves many dead, the villagers speculate on who was to blame with the results of the trial leaving many in doubt. That's all I will say, I know it sounds somewhat vague, but saying any more would give too much away I feel.

So, what were my reasons for not wanting to discuss this initially? Firstly, it was a preview performance. I find there are two types of previews. One is where a production has been performed at another theatre already so those previews are ususally just ironing out issues with being in a new space, or it's in very good shape already (although I think the preview aspect should still be taken into consideration). The second are previews in which the production is still finding it's feet. I find writing about a performace viewed during the second set of circumstances unfair to all involved. Although productions do grow and mature during a run, those first performances should not be used as a measuring stick for its success or failure.This particular performance fell into the latter category as it was evident that there were alot of kinks that needed to be worked out, and performances that may not have found the right tone yet.

The second issue was the cast. We were greeted by the Almeida's Executive Director who explained that the actress who plays the part of Frau Leimgruber - Sarah Woodward - was unable to be there that evening and that the part would be played by Susan Brown. It was explained that since the Almeida don't employ undersudies Miss Brown only came on board at 4.30pm that afternoon and shet would be on book. (After I returned home ad properly read my programme I discovered it was slipped with Susan Brown's bio and a note stating that Sarah Woodward was granted compassionate leave. My best goes out to her).

So, here we are, a preview performace where one of the actors is a last minute substitute. My friend pointed out after the performance (we were seated behind the director James Macdonald - Dying CIty, Blasted, 4.48 Psychosis, Drunk Enough to Say I Love You - so there wasn't any discussion about the production, on our parts, inside the theatre) that it was quite possible tthe last minute change in cast effected the cast and crew.

The set is a real star. Part of it is a train platform complete with smoke when trains arrive and depart. The platform then, throughout the production, moves back and forth as well as rotates to give the whole production a very cinematic feel. Unfortunately things didn't really go all that smoothly. Nothing outrageously bad but just off kilter enough to notice - things like doors not sliding or closing correctly, missed cues for light fixutres to move - just a bit messy.

The perfomances were somewhat uneven, some more mannered than others (I'm not a fan of mannered performances). Here we are at an adaptation issue, or a directing issue i'm not sure. The entire play takes place in Germany in the 1940's. I think it's fine that decided not to have German accents but everyone was speaking with their natural British dialect. We had accents from Northern Ireland to the East End of London. I found that odd. I wonder what the reasoning was behind that. I kind of gave me the feeling that not enough effort was made athough I'm sure that's not the case. Just a strange decision.

To the play itself. I could see what teh playwright was getting at (clue in the title) but at times it seemed very vague in delivery, tmoving into predictable, then into a place no one could see coming. That was also the place where I lost any understanding of what was going on. My initial thought was that the play itself was not very strong. The circumstances surrounding it that evening didn't help.

I briefly discussed this with a work colleague the next day. She had seen it the night before, with full cast intact. From her description the perfomances were as different as night and day. In particular we discussed the end. Her take on it all made sense. Although I'm not sure if it's meant to be open to interpertation. She also thought it was a shame I didn't get to see Sarah Woodward peform the role of Frau Leimgruber as she gave a wonderful performance.

After all that I have concluded that due to unforseen circumstances, I was witness to an off performance and the production does deserve people's attention. That's not to say if I went back later in the run, all would be forgiven. There are still elements that I know I would have a problem with, such as characters ramdomly changing thier points of view. But, at a little over 90 minutes, I would say that it's worth giving it a shot. And with such theatre pedigree behind it, you will definitely get something out of it.