December 5th, 2009

La Loge

Nightingale

Lynn Redgrave, alone on a stage, telling the story of her mother's mother woven in with scenes from her own remarkable life, with meditations on mortality and family and sex and love. She's a very smart woman, a very good writer, an excellent and subtle reader, with a fine grasp of the differences between a rural Devon accent and an upper-class Home Counties one from the early 20th Century. She's a real professional, and it was a pleasure to hear her work and I'm very glad we went.

But.

I don't adore one-person shows.

We've seen a bunch of them--mostly autobiographical, mostly written by the actor, mostly at least clever if not as polished and accomplished as Miss Redgrave, mostly by women with interesting lives and family histories. I was uniformly interested in the subjects and the women, and uniformly slightly disappointed by the performances. I always thought it was because the pacing was off (a problem endemic to one-person shows, even the excellent A Boy and His Soul), or the actor wasn't quite up to the challenge of holding our interest for 80 minutes. But Thursday night, I pretty much decided that one-person shows don't deliver, for me, on what I go to the theatre for, which is dramatic interaction. Dramatic things happen in a monologue, sure, but there's less of a sense of conflict, less of a sense of drama when there's only one actor physically present, one voice in my ear. For me, anyway.

That said, Miss Redgrave's grandmother sounds like an unpleasant enough piece of work, a snobbish, disappointed, bitter woman who endured her husband, resented her children, loved no-one but her youngest son, who was killed in WWII. It is very much to Miss Redgrave's credit that she made this prickly and difficult character human and bearable for 80 minutes. And I'm very glad to have been able to watch her do it, with that strong, mobile face and that warm, flexible voice. But I can't say that I was stirred to the roots or moved enough not to notice that the ac was blowing down the back of my neck and the points where the pacing dragged.