ANDERSEN’S ENGLISH To 8 May.

London.

ANDERSEN’S ENGLISH
by Sebastian Barry.

Hampstead Theatre To 8 May 2010.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 3pm & 28 April 2.30pm.
Audio-described 1 May 3pm.
Captioned (+post-show speech-to-text discussion) 4 May.
Run 2hr 10min One interval.

TICKETS: 020 7722 9301.
www.hampsteadtheatre.com
Review: Timothy Ramsden 13 April.

Tensions and pressures of the High Victorians, beautifully depicted..
Of course Hans Andersen wasn’t English. And his command of English was limited. Which didn’t help in 1857, when he suddenly arrived to stay with Charles Dickens and family.

Title apart, it wouldn’t be hard to edit Andersen out of Sebastian Barry’s play. His demands as a visitor used to being treated like royalty (often by royalty) are comic relief compared with the chronic tensions in the Dickens family. But he helps Irish playwright Barry establish another outsider’s view of English domestic bliss in its High Victorian complacency.

The Dickens family is first seen as if posed for a photograph. There are references to the home as paradise. So was Twicknam Garden for John Donne in his poem of that name. Except for the human emotions he brought, spoiling the natural perfection. Which is what Barry also shows.

Casting a Black British actor as Andersen certainly avoids any Scandinavian stereotyping. And Danny Sapani has a forceful, commanding awkwardness to match Dickens’ energy. In full, irate flow David Rintoul is the image of the writer explored in John Carey’s book The Violent Effigy.

He and Andersen have matching temperaments, but there’s enough distance between them to maintain friendship. Meanwhile the writer of David Copperfield inflicts family misery throughout. No wonder his younger children are played by puppets; apart from practical advantages, it also indicates how this paterfamilias treats his family – forcing one son to become a reluctant soldier, sidelining his nervous wife for her sister Georgie.

Kathryn O’Reilly’s steadiness sets-off Niamh Cusack’s diffidence even at moments of attempted self-assertion. Barry adds the servant Aggie, whose joy in being part of this earthly paradise is ruptured when her master, creator of multiple sympathy-inducing waifs and strays, dismisses her on learning she’s pregnant.

She, at least, determines her own future, Lisa Kerr mixing sadness and quiet determination as she does so.

Lucy Osborne’s set is aptly cluttered like a Victorian middle-class home, a setting director Max Stafford-Clark exploits in non-naturalistic ways, part of a precise, yet moving production which explores the contradictions in a writer and the ideals of his society.

Hans Christian Andersen: Danny Sapani.
Stefan/Walter Dickens: Alastair Mavor.
Kate Dickens/Ellen Tiernan: Lorna Stewart.
Charles Dickens: David Rintoul.
Catherine Dickens/Queen Victoria: Niamh Cusack.
Georgie Hogarth: Kathryn O’Reilly.
Aggie: Lisa Kerr.

Director: Max Stafford-Clark.
Designer/Costume: Lucy Osborne.
Lighting: Tim Bray.
Sound: Carolyn Downing.
Musical Director: Julian Littman.
Hair/Wigs: Richard Mawbey.
Dialect coach: Penny Dyer.
Associate director: Jessica Swale.
Assistant designer: Mika Handley.

2010-04-16 13:40:31

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