Archive : LAST DAYS OF THE EMPIRE: till 30 August 
Posted by : Rod Dungate on Jul 29, 2003 - 08:08 PM
Watermill - West Berkshire Playhouse
THE LAST DAYS OF THE EMPIRE
By Alan Plater
Tkst: 01635 46044
Runs: 2h 15 m, one interval till 30 August
Review: Stewart McGill 28 July 2003
A play so dreadful and production so uncertain I can't believe it's at the Watermill
Without doubt The Watermill is one of the finest producing theatres in the country. It also must boast the most idyllic setting sitting by the river at Bagnor. A house for exciting work indeed, the Shakespeare revelations from Edward Hall and the ground breaking music theatre ensemble of John Doyle to mention just two unique strands of work here. Artistic Director and mentor Jill Fraser has a visionary role to play and makes this theatre an absolute must.
I wish I could stop here as it gives me no pleasure to continue discussing Alan Plater's The Last Days of The Empire. This play is quite dreadful in a production that is so uncertain and lacking confidence that I cannot believe it is playing at the Watermill.
The crumbling variety theatre set to close at the end of week houses the blacked up Pedro Gonzales and his Caribbean Rhythm. Problems arise when their singer and two nude acrobats The Janakek Sisters vanish from the bill and a real black singer direct from the Caribbean arrives to fill the gap. I see why Plater wanted to recall the dying days of variety, the early threat of television and the end of an era in theatre in this country. There is a certain nostalgic folk-memory that is rekindled in this show but how Doyle and his actors have staged a piece with so little animation, so little belief is a question hard to answer.
The actors are frankly so insecure in their roles that one fears for their ability to deliver. Lines fluffed, pauses over long and a tension in me that I have rarely known in theatre never this one.
John Dankworth's music only really comes into its own in the finale and is instantly forgettable is this really Dankworth?
The evening remains intact only because the Watermill itself transcends this dire show and as one who has been ecstatic over much of the work here I can say this with all confidence that the autumn season will deliver and all be well, once more.
Yet I cannot find a redeeming feature in this play and write this with no joy whatsoever.
Cast: Jim Bywater
Susan Jane Tanner
Director: John Doyle
Designer: Sarah Jane McCellen
Music: John Dankworth