Honour – Park Theatre
It’s not enough to call it a ‘midlife crisis’, that pull of the middleaged man away from the life he always wanted towards the life he thinks he wants now, a life of unknown but exciting delights. What happens to the long-married and apparently contented when passion has gone but love remains? Is it courage or selfishness to seek the adventure of a new, probably younger, companion and can it ever succeed and thrive on the back of the misery of those left behind? And does that matter when we only have one life to live for ourselves?
We all know the questions and each of us must respond to them in our own way, according to our age, gender, moral values, and personal experiences, but in Honour the Australian playwright Joanna Murray-Smith addresses them, and all the others that come with them – children, professional success, home, separation – from the perspective of the women in the life of the man in the grip of this turmoil.
This is just as good a play as it was when I first saw it some twenty years ago because the issues haven’t changed, although society has, and the women – wife, daughter, other woman – have taken on the coloration of modernity while still mired in the emotional stereotypes of our mothers and grandmothers.
I sometimes think that Henry Goodman can play anything. He seems comfortable in everything from Shakespeare (his Shylock was the best I ever saw) to the avant garde, and he was at home as Roy Cohn in Angels in America and as Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls. He is, in other words, a miracle of versatility so I wasn’t at all surprised by his sensitive playing of George, the husband and father who is so irresistibly drawn to a young woman (Katie Brayben) that he wilfully destroys the life that he himself has built with his wife (Imogen Stubbs) and grown-up daughter, to sample the joys of a newer model. You don’t want to sympathise with him but it’s a measure of how well the playwright has written him and how well the actor is playing him, that you do, even while wanting to scream at the stage “What ARE you thinking???” because he’s told us what he’s thinking and it’s perfectly clear. He’s in a ‘midlife crisis’ and it’s going to hurt.
Balletboyz – Young Men – Wilton’s Music Hall
The First World War, as has been pointed out many times by writers far better and better-informed than I, was long, vicious, and pointless. Thousands died needlessly fighting for a cause that was already lost, only for the same war, or a similar one, to restart a few years later. I found most of the recent celebrations of the signing of the Armistice mawkish and sentimental. But I went to see Young Men because it was the Balletboyz, the company founded by Michael Nunn and William Trevitt, who have revolutionised modern dance and given it heart and balls.
Young Men, a fusion of live dance and film about soldiers in that terrible war, is almost unbearably moving. Ivan Perez’ choreographic vocabulary becomes familiar after a while but the raw emotion of the movement does not and Keaton Henson’s score (I hesitate to call it music) exerts an almost hypnotic effect. Whatever you call it, Young Men is powerful, searing but unsentimental, and wonderfully well danced by a cast of, yes, young men who, in another time, would have been callously sent out to die by old men who should have known better.
Momma Golda – King’s Head Theatre
If I tell you that the veteran actor Thelma Ruby is 93 and still working, on television, on film and in the theatre, you may be surprised. But if I tell you that, in addition to performing in That’s Entertainment, her highly successful one-woman cabaret, and filming the second series of Bad Move, a television sitcom in which she has a recurring role alongside Jack Dee, she is currently appearing at the King’s Head in Islington in Momma Golda, a serious play about Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir in which she never leaves the stage, you may consider that an exaggeration. It is not.
Necessarily, her appearances at the King’s Head are limited by her breakneck schedule, but if you can catch her in one of her performances of the play, in which Golda directs the generals and politicians during the Yom Kippur war, don’t on any account miss it. She is simply marvellous, in every sense of the word, a marvel, who gives a master class in acting with every speech and who mines the text for every nuance. By the end, you would willingly entrust your war to her, knowing that she’d find a way to a ceasefire.
Fanatical – Playground Theatre
Fanatical reminds me of nothing so much as one of those terrible little shows in the village hall, usually around Christmas, where everything goes wrong. The brilliant series which started with The Play That Goes Wrong parodies these with spot-on comedic brilliance. The trouble with poor Fanatical is that it isn’t meant to be a joke. It actually IS a terrible little show, albeit not in the village hall. Enough said.
Ruth Leon is a writer and critic specialising in music and theatre.