Magazine article The Spectator

Nanny Trouble

Magazine article The Spectator

Nanny Trouble

Article excerpt

Theatre

Naked

(Almeida)

Much Ado About Nothing

(Barbican)

Henry VIII

(Young Vic)

At a time when fringe theatres all over London are fighting for their lives, the Almeida in Islington goes from strength to strength; like some infinitely trendy winebar, it is the place audiences go to check out each other as well as the stars, and the management have cannily allied themselves to the movies, the entertainment of choice for their particular crowd. Thus we've recently had Ralph Fiennes and Liam Neeson up there, and later this season we get Rupert Graves, Kevin Spacey, Tom Hollander and as many stars as you can catch on a good Oscar night.

The current guest star is Juliette Binoche, making her London stage debut as the mysterious nanny whose child-charge has just died in mysterious circumstances; not a bad forecast, for a play written in 1922, of recent events in Boston. But Pirandello was always expert at time games, and a wonderfully strong character cast brings his Naked to life in Jonathan Kent's characteristically subtle production.

True, Binoche lacks on stage much of her movie charisma, and will probably never do anything better in her career than the moment in The English Patient when she is flown up to view those amazing frescoes, a Peter Pan brought suddenly face to face with great art.

But Naked is an essentially feminist drama before its time, about how four very different men try to use Binoche for their own various romantic or professional purposes. The show is effectively stolen by Oliver Ford-Davies as the wonderfully ramshackle old novelist trying to turn the Binoche experience into a novel, only to have his plot dynamited every time yet another suitor crashes through the door. It might have been generous for the translator Nicholas Wright and the Almeida to have acknowledged a pioneering translation of Naked back in the 1960s by the actress Diane Cilento who also played it, but that to the Almeida crowd is doubtless already pre-history. Yet again they have given us the most chic revival in town; start queuing now, or await the inevitable transfer.

Talking of transfers, it has taken 16 months for the Much Ado About Nothing which opened at the Barbican this week to make the long journey in from Stratford, so weird is the current RSC scheduling policy, and, though the cast remains intact, Michael Boyd's production resolutely refuses to sparkle. Sure it's intelligent, and in the comic Christopher Luscombe we have the best Dogberry I have ever seen, an unusually eager-to-please night watchman forever tying himself in verbal and physical knots as he ransacks his tiny mind for just the wrong thing to say and do. …

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