Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Travelling Light (Preview) , 14th January 2012

Who's in it? Damien Molony, Anthony Sher, Paul Jesson, Lauren O'Neil, Abigail McKern and Sue Kelvin
Where did you see it? Lyttelton, National Theatre

Happy New Year, everyone! I slacked a bit when it came to theatre/comedy in December but I am BACK with a whimper at least. It seems apt to see play that combine my interests of film and theatre (and old country East Europen Jews) in Nicholas Wright's new play Travelling Light. Wright also wrote Last of the Duchess, which I saw back in October and it was totally amazing and should have got a West End transfer etc etc.

Sue Kelvin (Tsippa), Lauren O’Neil (Anna) & Antony Sher (Jacob Bindel). Photo by Johan Persson

When an audience member screeches in the stalls of the Lytelton, barely ten minutes into the show, "Where's Anthony Sher?" you know you have a problem. The problem being that Anthony Sher, as Jacob Bindel the illiterate timber merchant who funds the young Motl (played by Damien Molony in his Eastern European youth and by Paul Jesson in his later years as a studio mogul named Maurice Montgomery) is far from the star of the show and yet is probably the main reason this show is practically a sell out (which is incredible for a new play at the Lytelton) as well as the subject matter. His accent is distracting, he sounds like Pop from the League of Gentlemen and is hardly an interesting part for any actor; let alone one of Britain's finest. Where he does shine is the odd look or during his lengthy monologues.

That is another problem; this play just isn't enough about the early days of Hollywood. It is about some young man (who has a very uppercut British accent in his youth but VERY East European Jewish accent in his later years, despite spending 30 years in Hollywood) who lives in some nameless small town near Russia and inherits a camera from his late father. When we do get to Hollywood the film industry is settled and there's even talkies.

Damien Molony (Motl Mendl) and Lauren O’Neil (Anna). Photo by Johan Persson

What we do get is love, love rivalries and lots of film. Yes, lots of film in a theatre production and this is either its strength or its downfall. It is a very good distraction during scene changes but also leads to some of the worst blocking I have ever seen in a theatre production; backs to the audience, awkward neck turns (that could have been my cheap seats) and the films in question weren't always easy to see. I expect better from Nicholas Hytner, who has extensive experience in film and theatre, I wonder if he has spoiled by the staging of Collaborators at the Cottesloe and thinks he can replicate something similar in the Lyttelton? I desperately hope this is a preview glich that will be sorted by press night (18th January 2012).

Paul Jesson (Maurice Montgomery).
I think Damien Moloney as Motl has the most difficult job a theatre actor can have. Leading a play and not being the 'name', though I expect this will change when he takes over from Aidan Turner as the new vampire Hal in Being Human (which begins on BBC3 and is also an uneviable task; Turner was brilliant) soon. To be honest I struggled with his performance, he's not particularly playing a charming character and he's not particularly interesting to watch. He also did that annoying "No tears crying", which is fine if you are trying to get sympathy on a reality TV programme but not acceptable from an actor leading a National Theatre play. I also struggled with Lauren O'Neil. Not because she isn't a good actress, far from it. She's perfect as Anna, the beautiful film assistant and object of Motl and Jacob's affections and utterly stunning, except on film. Which is the whole point of the character, who is meant to be this stunning actress in the making. Pretty on film, yes but not breath-takingly beautiful as she is on stage. For those unfamiliar with O'Neil she appears on the advert as the 'Girl on the platform'. Devastatingly pretty on film, yes but worthy of being Motl's obsession when we do see her on film; sadly not and I can't fathom why she doesn't photograph as well as she looks in real life.

Wright's strength's lay in his female characters and when they do have things to do they are brilliant; usually behind many of the play's shamefully low comic moments. The play's real gem is Paul Jesson as Maurice and he is hardly in it (he even shines in the plays awful ending) but this play is not a gem. This play might have worked better as a film and if it is to be a play should have been in the Cottesloe, not in the Lyttelton.


  1. Just at the end I finally figured out the accents which were incredibly iritating. They all speak in their own langiauage without an accent, so Sher has one because he explains that he was an immigrant. The young director therefore speaks without an accent; but when he gets to Holywood he speaks in English, so then he gets an accent.......clear?

  2. Yes! That would be the only way to excuse the variety of accents in a very small town. Thanks for your comment, Peter Though that does beg the question; were Motl's father and aunt immigrants (based on her accent)?