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The Old Vic and National Theatre Live

​The Old Vic used to send me updates on their productions, adding that they noticed I hadn’t booked to see anything there for a while. But it’s been so long since I have even accepted an invitation to review there. Kevin Spacey was artistic director there for a decade, though that wasn’t why I haven’t been – he had stepped down a couple of years before miscellaneous assertions of abusive behaviour became public knowledge. It’s partly because I’m usually already down to review elsewhere on the same night as an Old Vic press night as and when the invitation lands, and partly because I never book to see anything there these days as their ticket prices to sit anywhere half-decent (by my standards) are not worth paying. For the record, the last thing I saw prior to this production of All My Sons was Art, in December 2016.

It is probably true that they receive no public funding whatsoever, which explains why it is so heavily slanted towards sponsorship from private enterprise – their sponsors include American Express, the law firm Pinsent Masons, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, the Canary Wharf Group, PwC and Royal Bank of Canada. Fair play to them for whatever it is the Old Vic does, but I have not felt inclined to darken their door with my presence in recent years. For instance, I had a look at hypothetically booking tickets on their website for a forthcoming run of Present Laughter, the Noël Coward play. There are £12 seats upstairs, granted, but I would have to sit on a “severely restricted bench”, or for £8.50 I could stand all evening at a “listening post only”. In both cases I may as well not be there. £21 seats: “rail in eyeline” – no, thank you. Downstairs, I could sit “behind slim pillar” for £65 but for a clear view, it’s £125 before booking fee, restoration levy and whatever else, and even then, the rake in the Old Vic isn’t steep, so if there’s someone tall sat directly in front of me, it’s still (from my perspective) a restricted view in any event.

But I had an evening free. Had I left it a few hours more I may have found myself at the press night of a touring production of American Idiot The Musical, the press night invite from the New Wimbledon Theatre coming through even later than normal (it’s walking distance from my front door, but I am hardly ever review there, as I’m booked up to review other productions by the time ATG bother to send out invites). While the Old Vic itself was out of the question, the National Theatre Live broadcast appealed, and so I settled for a premium seat at the local Odeon (the local Curzon cinema, my first choice, had sold out), a 7pm start and a walk home.

It’s been a while since I’d sat through an NT Live broadcast as well! Emma Freud, who used to present the broadcasts, has now been replaced by Kirsty Wark, who I just about recalled from the days when I had time to watch Newsnight (invariably, I am writing a review when it comes on these days, or otherwise still coming back from the theatre). The broadcasts are also subtitled these days, a service I use heavily on the rare occasions when I watch television, because too many television people mumble. Either that, or I am too used to listening to actors project their voices on stage, which just comes across as unnecessary shouting on screen. Or maybe it’s a bit of both.

Anyway, it’s a very, very good production. Sally Field and Bill Pullman may seem, at face value, like ‘celebrity casting’, inasmuch as there are many British actors that could have performed their roles in the show without the Old Vic choosing to import from the United States. But Field in particular shines as Kate Keller. Colin Morgan, probably still best known for playing the title character in the BBC Television series Merlin, puts in an impassioned and engaging performance as Joe (Pullman) and Kate’s 32-year-old son Chris. At times it was exhausting to watch, and in one scene came close to melodrama, but he never overdid it.

The production is, ostensibly – and without going into details – a criticism, maybe even a refutation, of the so-called American Dream, and raises questions about what defines love for one’s family. What does it mean when a parent says they would do ‘anything’ for their offspring? What if ‘anything’ includes something morally dubious at best and a contributory factor to loss of life at worst?

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