What is it about the X-factor?
Put the X-Men in a production of Waiting for Godot at the Haymarket and it’s impossible to get a ticket. Put Scully from The X Files in A Doll’s House at the Donmar and up go the “queue here for returns” signs*. Perhaps a clever producer should put lippy X-Factor judge Simon Cowell in, well, lippie for La Cage Aux Folles and wait for a stampede to the box office**.
Harris has transferred the action from Norway to Edwardian London which was a bit of a mistake given Norway’s unexpected, new-found cultural status following their foot-tapping triumph in Saturday’s Eurovision Song Contest. But by changing the profession of Nora’s husband (now called Thomas) from banker to that of a significant MP*** the story of thrift, deceit, lies and fraud finds itself part of a Zeitgeist almost as satisfying (“As politicians, trust is all we have to give”).
Gillian Anderson (so fabulous in Bleak House) who stars (as Nora, obviously) was less red-haired than we were expecting whereas Toby Stephens (as Thomas) was redder of hair than we remember. Much more about Mister Stephens we can not say as whenever the Whingers see him on stage their minds immediately drift into wondering what it must be like to grow up with Maggie Smith as your mother. Andrew wondered if Miss Smith still dutifully turns up to all of his productions as she presumably did to every school play (when she wasn’t on stage). Well, she wasn’t there Monday night but she did turn up a day later for the opening night much to Michael Coveney’s excitement.
Anyway, if you’re going to see this show in order to see Scully from The X-Files you’ll be pleased to hear that you get an awful lot of Gillian Anderson for your money. Not only that but she’s very impressive in the role. Ex Doctor Who Christopher Eccleston seemed rather mis-cast as the very fidgety northern blackmailer and poor Tara Fitzgerald had precious little to do at all really.
Cast aside, there is much else worthy of mention including a very impressive real Christmas tree which doesn’t appear to have any roots. The Whingers worried what state it will be in by the end of the run or whether the Donmar buys a new one every few days and if so from where at this time of year. Also, how would they recycle the old one – surely Camden only collects Christmas trees in early January? There’s also a pleasing amount of macaroon eating.
Instead of the usual flat back wall there is a rather impressive curved bookcase set by Anthony Ward which Phil interpreted as hinting metaphorically at a cage. Andrew tried to remember ever seeing a curved cage with empty shelves in it but failed.
The problem for the Whingers was that while they found the whole thing very absorbing some of the characters’ motivations did seem a bit odd but the Whingers’ memories not being what they were at a loss as to whether the blame should be lain at the door of Mister Ibsen or Miss Harris. Thomas’ shift of attitude towards his wife at the end seemed rather sudden even by the capricious standards of the Whingers.
But what about the fight? What fight? Exactly. We notice that the ubiquitous Terry King is credited as “fight consultant”. Now maybe we weren’t paying attention but we don’t recall any swordplay in A Doll’s House. Is this a health and safety thing that if someone is called upon to slap a fellow actor on the back or look daggers at them, a qualified professional must now be called in to co-ordinate it? What do they teach people at RADA these days? Surely the basic skills of pretending to slap someone and falling over are still taught? If not, what are they teaching? It surely isn’t projecting your voice to the balcony or turning up eight times a week to sing in a musical. Anyway, we digress.
Finally, we can not let pass the problem of the old thrust staging whose inadequacies are brought into sharp relief if you’re sitting at the side as the Whingers were (the Donmar always seems to seat them there these days – we bet Maggie Smith wasn’t peering round a Christmas tree to get a glimpse of the action). Too many key scenes were played out looking at the back of an actor’s head which in turn blocked the other actor’s face. Perhaps there is a Euclidean inevitability to that but director Kfir Yefet could at least arrange the actors in a v-shape for the curtain call so that those of us on the sides get to see more than one of the actors’ faces. Were they happy? The Whingers couldn’t tell apart from the little girl who played Emmy who beamed with delight.
* It doesn’t harm things that it also features a Doctor Who, but this didn’t really fit in with the “X-factor” theme of the introductory paragraph. Although you could close the loop with the news that X Files star Gillian Anderson is supposedly going to appear in Matt Smith’s first Doctor Who adventure.
*** Historical advisor: Ffion (Mrs William) Hague! Really!