The Priory - Written by Michael Wynne (People are Friendy at the Royal Court and and co-writer of the film My Summer of Love), Directed by Jeremy Herrin (Tusk Tusk, The Vertical Hour and That Face - all Royal Court)
I thought I'd be checking into an evening of self-revelation and exploration with a group of thirty somethings spurred on by what by many consider to be one of the emotional stressful nights of the year - New Years Eve. I must have checked into the wrong building because I ended up stranded in limp sitcom land. Was it a matter of intent not living up to execution or simply the fact that the description oversold the production? Either way, I was disappointed. Don't get me wrong, I didn't hate it or have a miseable time, I just found it odd to be witnessing something with so little depth or originality at the Royal Court.
I suppose it comes down to what you expect to get out of a theatre performance. Irrespective of the production there will always be the shared experience between actor and audience as well as audience member and audience member. That's a given. Going deeper, there's the play's story and characters to hook and grab you then resonate in some way. Had I been watching this production in say, 1975, when there really wasn't that much on TV then this would have been a welcome diversion, urging me to consider how the passing of time and getting older affects everyone. However, we are in 2009, this sort of story has been done many times over and I expect to discover something new and interesting. At the very least, some good comedy.
Basic story - woman had previously rented The Priory for a getaway her boyfirend prior to breaking up with him. After the breakup she decides to invite a few close friends to see in the New Year. Things don't go as expected when each friend brings a partner the evening gets thrown out of whack. This is an amiable set up but wat we are left with are pretty stock characters and situations. There's the gay one (Joseph Millson - Judgement Day at the Almeida, Every Good Boy Deserves a Favour and Pillars of the Community - both National Theatre) , the married one (Rupert Penry-Jones - TV's Spooks) with the wife (Rachael Stirling - A Woman of No Importance - Haymarket London and TV's Tipping the Velvet) who only can talk about her kids and the one who has finally got his life together (Alistair MacKenzie - TV's Monarch of the Glen) - or has he? - and the host - the getting older single female (Jessica Hynes - TV's Spaced).
There's not much else I can say about this, the dialogue tends to go on and on without purpose (I tuned out during one exchange and I was in the first row). The comedy is pretty run of the mill and the performances competent but nothing to write home about. The play has many farcical elements but was directed in such a straightforward manner that the elements didn't have the punch they should have. I would say the whole production wasn't sure of what it was supposed to be - farce? Drama? Tragedy? Social observation? It had elements of each but ultimately they all cancelled out the other.To sum it up, it doesn't present or explore anything that the majority of theatregoers haven't seen done much better on stage, on tv or in film. I guess I ask alot from my trips to the theatre and this fell short.
On a positive note - there is a storyline involving the gay one and someone he met online that is really interesting. It's the one aspect of the play that rises above the mundane and shows real emotion and pathos. If only the rest of the play followed that cue.
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Coming in December - Cock at the Royal Court, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at the Novello and Red at the Donmar.