Over the last two weeks, I have seen two very different English Touring Theatre productions, one a comedy and the other a tragedy. The thing about English Touring Theatre is you do know you’re on safe ground, and the story will come first and I feel with these productions that there is little ambiguity.
All of a sudden there are lots of Molieres around. There was The Miser at Manchester Royal Exchange, The Tartuffe at York Theatre Royal, The Misanthrope about to open in London and this English Touring Company production of The Hypochondriac. This is great because with Moliere we know that we will be laughing in the theatre.
I like the aesthetic of the English Touring Theatre production of The Hypochondriac, and it made me think of all those eighteenth century French painting such as Watteau and Chardin. It was very funny as well, though I am starting to understand the Moliere structure and finding it easy to work out will happen. This was a good night out at the theatre. For me, it was entertaining and not something that made me think about the issues raised. I think what the company are aiming for is about good storytelling in the theatre and so there are no frills or risks taken, which can be a good thing at times, because a production can feel clean and clear.
In comparison to The Hypochondriac, The Grapes of Wrath at the West Yorkshire Playhouse was also a very good example of storytelling on stage, and it was bleak and sad rather than funny like Moliere. The approach to The Grapes of Wrath reminded me of the Brecht I’d seen a couple of weeks ago in that it is episodic and we follow characters through lots of different situations. I’ve never read the novel, and so I don’t know the story well, but I just felt that I knew where this was going. As we followed the family on the journey and I felt that, like the Moliere, I could guess what would happen at the end, but I didn’t want to know because it would be heartbreaking. The stage was fairly bleak with an interesting use of multimedia to portray the American Dream, which was an ironic commentary on what was actually happening. The stage started as a wheat field and became a road, a barn and the camps. The car which moved around the stage representing the long and difficult journey where death visits the family on the way to a kind of promised land which is really an illusion.
I think English Touring Theatre’s approach has its place, but I feel it needs to be alongside other types of approaches to text-based drama such as Belt Up and Kneehigh, and what is happening at the National Theatre, Donmar and RSC.
Reviews and Previews: The Hypochondriac
Reviews and Previews: The Grapes of Wrath