“A Life in the Theatre” – Helen – Featured Fan Review
January 29, 2005 – UK Preview
Thanks to Helen for letting us post her review and photos from her attendance of the play!
I just got back from seeing the play and as I have a notoriously bad memory I’m going to write down my thoughts and reactions before I forget the details. My thoughts cover Josh, Patrick and David Mamet because I was looking forward to all three. Skip the bits that don’t interest you.
I really enjoyed the play. It was smart, it was funny and the character development was very interesting. Josh’s character is initially an inexperienced actor compared to Patrick’s and at the start, much of the talking was dominated by Patrick. The gradual change saw Josh’s character progress, have more independent thoughts and become more experienced.
Patrick Stewart was excellent. He has such a broad range of talent and played the increasing number of character insecurities and weaknesses very well. I thought he was well-suited for the role. He was using an American accent though and I think it took a few scenes for him to relax into it, but that may have been me not expecting the accent.
Initially I’d thought the theatre audience was fairly evenly split – those there for Josh, for Patrick or for Mamet. I revised my thoughts at various times during the play. Firstly there was a ‘Dawson’ reference from Josh and a loud murmur/giggle swept through the audience obscuring the next line. And then of course, Josh takes his clothes off* – totally didn’t see that one coming. Nor did most people judging by the excited squees from a large number of people. I’m not kidding, there were actual squees and giggles and sharp intakes of breath. And it happened the second time he took his clothes off too. By the third time, people were getting more nonchalant, but it was as if you could hear the audience break out into grins at the sight.
The play was much funnier than I had anticipated. The humour mainly related to conversations and spoken word, and this is where Josh truly excelled – his comic timing was superb and he never missed a beat. The nature of the relationship between Josh’s character and Patrick’s is such that Patrick gives Josh his long thoughts about a certain something and Josh reacts, often needing to hide bemusement or simply ‘smile-and-nod’ which is represented as a series of ‘Mmm’s. There was also a lot of tongue-in-cheek physical action between the two characters.
I saw David Mamet’s last play in London with Julia Stiles and Aaron Eckhart and I liked that too. A Life in the Theatre had the same style – there’s a lot of talking and a lot of deconstruction. I don’t think there’s any such thing as ‘normal’ theatre any more but Mamet has a style of his own and in this play, as the title suggests, it’s theatre itself that Mamet is deconstructing.
In one of the recent Josh articles, Josh mentioned that you can’t deviate from a Mamet script, and from what I’ve seen, that’s true, so I can imagine that the tight script and restricted movement (not using his hands/arms to accentuate a funny point or something) was initially a challenge for Josh. If it was, it didn’t show. He was natural and spot on with the delivery, timing and tone – crucial to a conversation-driven play.
If money allowed I would really like to see the play again. There were a couple of points when I wondered whether they were deliberately going for the ‘oops, that wasn’t supposed to happen’ reaction because they were doing a play within a play or if the lines did get messed up. Seeing it a second time would be the best way to figure that out. Towards the end of the play’s run I would also be interested to see what Josh’s ‘Mmm’s sound like – they’re a big part of his character’s reactions and when you have to say the same word so many times each night I’m curious to know if they take on a sarcastic tone after a while.
I would highly recommend the play to anybody that likes deconstruction or talky plays. I think the humour means most people could enjoy it but you have to go prepared to concentrate, it’s not like a West End musical or any of the large stage productions that it illustrates within. I’m very interested to hear what the critics think of it though and how they rate it compared to similar productions.