Review by Julian Blake
Let me open by saying something about the play itself. In a sense there is nothing that you as a company - actors, director and so on - can do about it. The script is the script. However well you perform it, if the script is not good enough, you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. Nevertheless, of course, you chose the play and you have to account for that choice.
Beaton is clearly Old Labour and not happy with what he sees as this Government’s betrayal of traditional labour values. He places the blame for this pretty squarely at the door of the unchecked ‘spinmeisters’ – Press secretary, strategists and special advisers - but also the elected politicians who have surrendered authority to them.
By Act 2 Scene 2, I had started to feel that I was being hectored. The problem is that these direct political satires go out of date very quickly. One of the best satires of the 1980’s was Steven Berkoff’s “Sink the Belgrano”, a play that you simply couldn’t perform now. Thatcher is long gone and people have forgotten the reasons we went to war over the Falklands. Similarly, and after only 7 years, “Feelgood” is starting to feel dated. Blair has gone, Alistair Campbell has gone. It is an interesting piece of political polemic,but in my view a play that will not last. Having said that, it does have redeeming features. Principally it is an “actor’s piece”. What does that mean?
I often think that Tom Stoppard’s plays are “actor’s pieces” in that they are so dense and extraordinarily witty. The actors and director get all the jokes but it is virtually impossible to get the humour across to an audience who see the play only once. “Feelgood” is not in the same league as Stoppard, but still has well drawn characters that give the actors scope to express themselves. There will be more on this subject when I talk about the individual performances.
The room was simply not “grand” enough. The balcony was good with the sliding doors and net curtains, which obviated the need to paint the back wall. Recliner was also good. The desks were the major problem. You just would not find that sort of cheap office desk in any sort of “grand” hotel, however faded and past its best. You might have been able to get away with it - I had read the script and knew that it was set in “a suite at a grand hotel”, but you then repeated that phrase in the programme, and so the audience were entitled to expect something rather more “grand” than you offered them. The script called for “gilt & chintz”, and the set delivered neither.
I would not have bothered with the TV set, which was outdated and in the way. It should have been placed on the “fourth wall” which would have given the actors a chance to come to the front of the stage and act directly to the audience.
Act 2 Scene 1
I liked the clutter on the bed, but I was not so keen on the bed itself. At one point Liz fell to her knees on the bed and it went “clunk”, and I thought, 1. “bruised knees!” and 2. “bloody hard beds in this grand hotel”!
In addition, I was not sure about the positioning of the bed. Could it not have gone on the back wall? As a director, you need to get the actors in front of the furniture – so I would have put the minbar DSL and a chair for Eddie DSR.
Act 2 Scene 3
This worked for me. I liked the curtains but would not have bothered with the fold back flaps. This would have given us the opportunity to see DL come further across the stage.
As a general point on the set, I would have gone for a more minimalist approach on the basis that “less is more”. I would have kept the sliding doors and the mini-bar and had two good quality desks and the recliner for Act 1 and a bed and easy chair for Act 2 Scene 1. Basically, you should do what ever you have to do to keep the scene changes to a minimum. Scene changes inevitably break the mood of the play and the break between scenes 1 & 2 in Act 2 was simply too long, even despite a very slick performance by your stage management team.
The lighting is always best when you don’t notice it. It was fine in Act 1. In Act 2, it was not right because it was supposed to be afternoon, but the dim lighting suggested late night. I liked the “flashbulbs” effect in Act 2 Scene 3.Sound
I would like to congratulate the great effort from the sound team; not just in the putting together of such a complex sound track, but also to the operators who performed with such facility and skill. The only comment is that the voices from the conference sounded too similar. I had read the play and knew what was going on, but I’m not sure that the audience would have been able to distinguish between the conference Chair and the heckler from the floor. This is a directorial point really, and should no way detract from an excellent job from your sound team. Very well done.
The costumes generally, being modern dress, were fine. I would have put Paul in a white shirt and tie as a counterpoint to the nerdy Simon. In addition, the paint on George’s suit was overdone (the back was OK!) though I liked the MCC tie. The girls were fine – similarly prim and business like for Asha; jeans and boots were appropriate for a reporter from “Red Bollocks” for Liz.
Just a quick word on the props. There was a lot of messing around with drinks, phones, TV remotes, laptops etc etc... and it was all very well handled. The props were all suitable and all in the right places.
Many of the points that I have made before are directional, so I am not going to re-state them. Generally, the direction was extremely good. The technical issues were very well handled. The play was executed at a consistent pace and this only served to highlight the problems of the scene changes. The cast played as an ensemble. Therefore, although I have questioned a few of your choices, I felt that there was always “a firm hand on the tiller”.
Eddie: Mark Langham
This is a crucial role and sets the tone and most of the pace. This was an extremely assured performance. There was good variation in tone, although Mark did have a slight tendency to swallow his words which worried me early on, but I think it was just nerves. As the play progressed, he grew in stature. It is hard to criticize such a strong performance... However, Mark is the possessor of a voice of extraordinary power and I am not convinced that on the two or three occasions he turned it up to full volume these were the right occasions. This is a minor quibble in an otherwise outstanding performance.
Paul: David Stelfox
This was not the easiest part in the play, because on the one hand, you have a daughter and on the other, you are in a relationship with “Steve”. David did not fall into the trap of “camping it up”, but he needed to make more of a “moment” in the telephone conversation with Steve so your (his) disappointment came through. In addition, David needed to display a bigger reaction to Eddie’s blackmail. Apart from that, the part was very well played. It was a sensitive and thoughtful portrayal and a good counterpoint to Eddie’s domineering forcefulness. The character was entirely believable.
Asha: Liz Adams
Briskly efficient, if not quite the uber-bitch that the script calls for. My reading of the play had Asha as a female Eddie and I am not quite sure that this came across. A bit too “nice” if you like. As a director I would have worked a bit more on the scenes between Asha and Eddie to bring out the tension between them – mutual dislike. However, a good, strong confident performance nonetheless. Liz had excellent diction and a strong stage presence.
George: Foster Barnett
I always felt very comfortable with Foster playing this part. His outrage at the “posse of poofters” on the seafront and the “lesbians” in the dining room was perfectly presented and highlights another issue that occurs to me – generally speaking there was no over-playing. However, like Paul, George needed a bigger reaction to the blackmail. All in all, an excellent performance. Foster had good diction, clarity and was very comfortable in the role.
Simon: Marc Sardinha
This was an absolute gift of a part. Simon has all the great lines, gags, puns and gets to hide under the desk! An excellent performance. Marc modulated his voice perfectly to the part, but he still had good, clear diction and a strong stage presence.
Liz: Karen Rogers
I may be mistaken (I don’t know what you get up to in your private life) but I couldn’t quite see you as the hard-drinking, chain-smoking journo. However, you appreciate that this is a purely personal thing because you teach at my children’s school! This is not to disparage your performance. For everyone else in the auditorium it was an entirely plausible performance and you were particularly convincing as Eddie’s “ex”. In addition, the speech about what a reporter can achieve was one of the best in the whole play, delivered with clarity and complete conviction. Well done.
DL: Andrew Rogers
Has there ever been a bigger build up? I think I might have gone even further with this character. I would have been tempted to bring him in through the bar doors and down through the auditorium, shaking hands with the audience. I would have arranged for a couple of company members/friends of the company to start the applause as he came in and turned the soundtrack of cheering and applause up a lot louder. The effect would have been to make the audience even more complicit with the obvious fraud. Similarly and in contrast with my admiration for everyone else’s underplaying, I would have been tempted to push this a bit further. It was all there - the pseudo-chumminess, the well rehearsed “y’knows”. It was not that I wanted a more obvious Tony Blair impersonation, but rather a big build up and an audience-embracing entrance, then lay it on with a trowel - the “tragedy” of the journalists death etc etc.., so the audience who have been suckered into the big welcome end up thinking “What a bastard!”. These are directional points. From an acting point of view - I always enjoy watching Andrew – and thought he played it extremely well. Excellent with the fixed smile – you’re not thinking of going into politics, by any chance?
Overall, was it a success? Most assuredly. I have my reservations about the play but none about your ability to carry it off, despite my criticisms. My lasting impression is of a production in which the director had the whole team (on and off stage) performing as an ensemble. That is an impressive achievement and I congratulate you all.