A Composer Faces Death in ‘Bach & Sons’

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LONDON – Few players could see the death rate better than Simon Russell Beale.Bach and Sons“A troubled new play that benefits from a piercing central performance at the Bridge Theatre.

Writer Nina Raine has produced a research-heavy play that can be described as “Amadeus lite,” which chronicles the often complicated relationship between composer Johann Sebastian Bach and two of his 20 children who are musicians. Like this play, Peter Shaffer’s famous rendition of Mozart, “Bach & Sons,” features lengthy debates on the nature of mediocrity and also tends towards the scatological one. In the middle of a very heavy script, a character makes a tentative reference to “a jerk in the bowl.”

Nicholas Hytner’s production boasts Vicki Mortimer’s evocative design, with cascading keyboards hanging above the stage; As in “Amadeus,” the dialogue is often cut to make room for quotations from the composer’s output.

Over time, Bach Sr. He loses his sight and gives land to his son Carl (a lively Samuel Blenkin), whom his father mocks as musically “fertile”. a visionary who likes his art to be more complex and more inspiring. Still, all Carl just wants is to be loved. (Another son, Wilhelm, is played by Douggie McMeekin as an artistic genius doomed to fail.)

Family conversation is largely about praising the power of music, when you can’t help but really feel like they’re going to keep doing it. A culminating speech on dissonance reminded me of Georges Seurat’s search for harmony in the musical “Sunday in the Park With George”, quoting a more poignant depiction from “Bach & Sons” with their joint statement about the value of the creative process. Art.

Even so, Beale is noted for the disappearance of the aging and weathered Bach. The composer’s canon, we are told, can be characterized as a meditation on the “variety of mourning,” and Beale communicates with a man who has experienced this grief himself: the actor cuts off the sensuality of the writing to capture the heart directly. .

“You can’t go on living and living and living,” a character at the beginning of Nick Payne’s “Constellations” says, so it’s no surprise that he returns to face death in the second half of this 70-minute game.

Payne’s one-act two-handed First seen at the Royal Court in 2012 Before transferring to the West End and then to Broadway. Director Michael Longhurst’s elegant staging now Revived at the Vaudeville Theater Until September 12, designer Tom Scutt’s vibrant bubble cloud is intact.

This time around, there are four cast members returning throughout the run, and London theater audiences have had the opportunity to see two so far. (Among the upcoming ones is a gay pairing that will show Russell Tovey and TV.) The changing cast reveal wildly contrasts in an accessible text, where major and minor events are replayed with different outcomes. According to Payne’s interest in the existence of a “multiverse”. The idea of ​​alternative worlds coexisting alongside ours fuels a game that explores the infinite variability of every moment of life, except the last, which is always death.

The oldest duo of the four, Peter Capaldi and Zoe Wanamaker, are also actors of the two more ever seen: you feel Wanamaker stands apart, in particular, Marianne, a Cambridge genius who excels in quantum mechanics and string theory. . The pieces don’t feel like a natural fit for either actor, but Capaldi, who was once on TV Doctor Who, makes up for it with plenty of charm.

A much younger company brings together Sheila Atim (who won an Olivier for her role in Girl From the North Country) and Ivanno Jeremiah, who has an inner connection on stage. Jeremiah is instantly enamored as Roland, the beekeeper who meets Marianne at the barbecue and has an awkward conversation with her. about licking your elbow – to be honest, such exchanges work much better with younger players.

And when Marianne confronts her possibly shortened life, the astonishing Atim conveys the gravity of the situation, even though Payne’s play makes it clear that his destiny could be rewritten in a parallel universe with a happier ending. These two are so good that the fourth time I watched the game, I felt like I was seeing “The Constellations” again: Atim and Jeremiah are replaying familiar material, so it looks new – a virtue in a game that does so much repetition.

If “Constellations” is too late to awaken the ghost that the lead woman will die too soon, we know from the start that this is what will happen to the protagonist of “The Constellations.”last Easter,” Bryony Lavery’s 2004 play at the intimate Orange Tree Theater through August 7 (The Show, Streamed live on the theater’s website On July 22nd and 23rd.) Director Tinuke Craig’s agile production finds a surprising amount of comedy (excellent Naana Agyei-Ampadu) in this tale of June, a lighting designer with terminal cancer on a pilgrimage to Lourdes, France with three friends. , because — well, why not? Maybe a miracle will happen.

It seems like June especially loves the painter Caravaggio, and the first act gravitates from maudlin one minute to art history lessons, to a festive snippet or two from the song “Easter Parade” the next. The tone is unexpectedly airy and the friendship between June and her friends who are theater practitioners is beautifully crafted. These friendships keep June’s spirits high, even as her body begins to disappoint her.

After the break though, the writing becomes more self-conscious as June’s condition worsens. June’s loyal friend Gash (Peter Caulfield) calls her “cliche warning” twice, and many events are described as “non-dramatic”, an unusual choice of adjective for a playwright. (The quartet also includes the character of a heavy-drinking actress who quickly exhausts her welcome, both as written and as performed.)

The imminence of death seems to defy this talented writer, who goes to the kind of deathbed scene seen many times on stage and in movies. Whatever the reason for the mundane closing scenes of “The Last Easter”, they share with the “Constellations” the sense that mortality comes in good company.

Bach and Sons. Directed by Nicholas Hytner. Bridge Theatre, until September 11.
Constellations. Directed by Michael Longhurst. Vaudeville Theatre, until September 12.
last Easter. Directed by Tinuke Craig. Orange Tree Theater until August 7.

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