LINGUA FRANCA To 7 August.

London.

LINGUA FRANCA
by Peter Nichols.

Finborough Theatre above The Finborough Road Brasserie 118 Finborough Road SW10 9ED To 7 August 2010.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat & Sun 3pm.
Runs 2hr 10min One interval.

TICKETS: 0844 847 1652 (24hr – no booking fee).
www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk (reduced full-price tickets online).
Review: Timothy Ramsden 25 July.

The usual Nichols ingredients are here, but they don’t mix so well at the Finborough.
If a cast like this is the fringe, where’s the centre? Probably at places like the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre – places where Peter Nichols premieres would have happened a generation ago. Now, despite sporadic revivals of the best-known, the number of his new plays languishing unproduced is reaching double-figures. Can they all be that unactable? A brief flurry by Bristol’s Show of Strength theatre company a few years back suggested not.

Once again, Nichols has raided his own life as breeding-ground for a fiction. In this case, his time teaching English at a tutorial college in Florence during the 1950s. Tutors from post-war Europe bring disparate expectations, while jealousies arise after new Englishman Steven transfers his affection for Peggy (Charlotte Randle, pinpointing upper-class English mindset and manner) to desire for Heidi (lusciously sexy Natalie Walter). Personal feelings and cultural differences make a Babel out of this supposed breeding-ground of mutual understanding.

There are the usual Nichols ironies, and Steven’s unlikely singalong method, used to reverse the upset he initially causes through not appreciating the sensibilities of Italian students and their more volatile family members. Though less improbable than the songs in Alan Bennett’s The History Boys, this remains just the other side of any benefit-of-the-doubt dividing-line.

And overall, Michael Gielata’s production doesn’t create a thread for this fine cast. Performances seem to exist on their own, or within the relationship immediately before us. Somehow, the excellent work doesn’t fuse into a believable whole.

This should be one of the simpler pieces to stage in the Finborough’s intimate space, compared with some recent staging challenges. Yet location and space stay ill-defined. It hardly seems the fault of James Macnamara’s minimalist settings, though perhaps this is a script whose fluid shifts need more things, and more indications of location changes. Meanwhile, despite the fine individual performances – Chris New’s Steven, Ian Gelder, maintaining an apt reserve as an older tutor whose secret finally emerges, Abigail McKern’s outspoken Aussie, Rula Lenska’s Irene with her memories and Enzo Cilenti’s smartly business-like owner – the impact of Lingua Franca remains muffled here.

Gennaro Manetti: Enzo Cilenti.
Jestin Overton: Ian Gelder.
Irena Brentano: Rula Lenska.
Madge Fox: Abigail McKern.
Steven Flowers: Chris New.
Peggy Carmichael: Charlotte Randle.
Heidi Schumann: Natalie Walter.

Director: Michael Gielata.
Designer: James Macnamara.
Lighting: James Smith.
Sound: Will Jackson.
Costume: Emily Stuart.
If a cast like this is the fringe, where’s the centre? Probably at places like the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre – places where Peter Nichols’ premieres would be found a generation ago. Now, despite sporadic revivals of the best-known, the number of his new plays languishing unproduced is reaching double-figures. Can they all be that unactable? A brief flurry by Bristol’s Show of Strength theatre company a few years back suggested not.

Once again, Nichols has raided his own life as breeding-ground for a fiction. In this case, his time teaching English at a tutorial college in Florence during the 1950s. Tutors from post-war Europe bring disparate expectations, while jealousies arise after new Englishman Steven transfers his affection for Peggy (Charlotte Randle, pinpointing upper-class English mindset and manner) to desire for Heidi (lusciously sexy Natalie Walter). Personal feelings and cultural differences make a Babel out of this supposed breeding-ground of mutual understanding.

There are the usual Nichols ironies, and Steven’s unlikely singalong method, used to reverse the upset he initially causes through not appreciating the sensibilities of Italian students and their more volatile family members. Though less improbable than the songs in Alan Bennett’s The History Boys, this remains just the other side of any benefit-of-the-doubt dividing-line.

And overall, Michael Gielata’s production doesn’t create a thread for this fine cast. Performances seem to exist on their own, or within the relationship immediately before us. Somehow, the excellent work doesn’t fuse into a believable whole.

This should be one of the simpler pieces to stage in the Finborough’s intimate space, compared with some recent staging challenges. Yet location and space stay ill-defined. It hardly seems the fault of James Macnamara’s minimalist settings, though perhaps this is a script whose fluid sifts need more things, and more indications of location changes. Meanwhile, despite the fine individual performances – Chris New’s Steven, Ian Gelder, maintaining an apt reserve as an older tutor whose secret finally emerges, Abigail McKern’s outspoken Aussie, Rula Lenska’s Irene with her memories and Enzo Cilenti’s smartly business-like owner – the impact of Lingua Franca remains muffled here.

Gennaro Manetti: Enzo Cilenti.
Jestin Overton: Ian Gelder.
Irena Brentano: Rula Lenska.
Madge Fox: Abigail McKern.
Steven Flowers: Chris New.
Peggy Carmichael: Charlotte Randle.
Heidi Schumann: Natalie Walter.

Director: Michael Gielata.
Designer: James Macnamara.
Lighting: James Smith.
Sound: Will Jackson.
Costume: Emily Stuart.

2010-08-02 12:50:42

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