Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Orson's Shadow - Southwark Playhouse

Three stars

IN a clash of theatrical titans it surely doesn't come much bigger and better than one between Orson Welles and Laurence Olivier.
The pair are thrown together in a play about them doing a play together back in 1960. Written by American actor and writer Austin Pendleton, Orson's Shadow is part fact, part fiction.
It imagines what happened when Welles was persuaded by theatre critic Kenneth Tynan to direct Olivier in the English premiere of Eugene Ionesco's Rhinoceros at the Royal Court.
At the time Olivier was riding on the crest of a theatrical wave having wowed everyone in The Entertainer. Welles meanwhile had the weight of his classic film Citizen Kane on his broad shoulders, something that he couldn't shake off.
Indeed when the play begins, we see him in Dublin, playing in a howler of a production of Chimes Of Midnight to an almost empty house.
And so he is persuaded - perhaps against his better judgement - to meet Olivier and direct him in London.
What actually happened is that somewhere along the line Welles ended up not directing it afterall and Pendleton's story tries to imagine what might have gone wrong.
There is much backstage theatrical sparring to be had between the two great men who clearly had big egos, but it also a chance to see their perceived flaws.
Welles, is a colossus of a man who is still clearly frustrated at the fact the movie bosses in Hollywood have ditched him.
Olivier, recently hooked up with future wife Joan Plowright whilst still married to Vivien Leigh, doesn't take direction well. And while he blossoms like a flower unfurling when praise comes his way, he is also being outshone by Joan, and his petulance shines through.
The six strong cast are great. John Hodgkinson as Welles and Adrina Lukis as Olivier put in well-observed performances. They are ably supported by Gina Bellman as a vampish and fragile Vivien Leigh and Louise Ford as a gentle but determined Joan Plowright.
It is a piece full of gossip, bitchiness and wicked humour, but there is also a lot of sadness within it. As such the play makes a decent stab at what might have happened between the great men and is both entertaining and interesting. However, the characters are so fascinating I was left wanting more!

Orson's Shadow is on at the Southwark Playhouse, Newington Causeway until Saturday, July 25. Tickets cost £18. Visitwww.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk or call the box office on 020 7407 0234.

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