"why don't you go fuck a play" Boy George, by Twitter 18.7.2012

Friday, 1 April 2011

Catch Me ... Don't dare miss it

I’m typing this at the desk of my friend, a NYU literature professor, in the study of her 3000sq ft apartment watching tiny flakes of snow dress the back gardens of some low rise but high end white brick mansions here on the Upper East Side. I feel extraordinarily privileged.

I also feel extraordinarily privileged to have been in at the beginning of something great on Broadway. Hot off the plane on Wednesday afternoon I scored a brilliant centre stalls house seat for the soon-to-open ‘Catch Me If You Can’, the musical by the creators of 'Hairspray' made on the back of the successful Leonardo di Caprio movie about the life of serial and successful con-man Frank Abagnale who eventually parlayed his capture and arrest into an almost equally lucrative career as fraud advisor to the FBI.

Funnily enough, on the plane I’d read a Vanity Fair snippet of an article by Abagnale himself about how proud he was to have been impersonated by both di Caprio and the star of CMIYC on Broadway, Aaron Tveit.

I’ve swooned over Tveit before, a couple of years ago when ‘Next to Normal’ blew me away as the most original modern piece to hit town since Rent, and although his presence lit up the stage and his effortless rock voice carried the best tunes, as the imaginary son of Alice Ripley’s character, he wasn’t the lead.

Then he may have been a counter hand but now, he’s bought the store and owns the stage too. Never before have I seen such a big show carried on the shoulders of such a young man. The structure of CMIYC begins with Frank’s arrest at Miami International Airport by his reluctantly-admiring nemesis Lt. Carl Hanratty in a multi-dimensional performance by Norbert Leo Butz that paired with Tveit’s extraordinary winning presence cannot help but put you in mind of Leo and Max from The Producers. It continues as though Frank is the impresario of a big-production TV show, and demands his constant presence on stage.

Not for a second in two and a half hours does his confidence or concentration lapse, and he carries 2500 people in the audience with him every step of the way. Even those who are jet-lagged from a tube journey on which someone died and the points failed, an urgent 90 quid taxi dash to Heathrow, seven weird hours in the hands of British Airways sitting across the aisle from a client I sued this time last year, and the unusually disjointed world vision of a Bangladeshi taxi driver.

For this show, and this young man, I’d have swum here.


Michael Grandage’s production of Lear has had so many accolades from its run at the Donmar it’s unnecessary to chronicle them here. What is important is to say that if you want to see it you need to scoot to the Richmond Theatre before it disappears off to Cornwall and Brooklyn.

It’s not Shakespeare’s most accessible play, and being neither a fantasy nor a history falls in an almost unique category of being as realistic as possible about an ancient King of Britain without historical fact. Since it features a Duke of Cornwall inheriting much of the monarchy you could say it begs for updating but the conversational modernity and mediaeval-by-way-of-All-Saints costuming seems to suit the text. ‘Illuminated’ is a good adjective for the production because every actor strives for the meaning in the lines, and the setting is a fine bright white-scraped timber box beautifully lit by Neil Austin and underscored with atmospheric sound by Adam Cork.

There’s so much good in it: taut performances, a spanking pace (2h30 plus interval) some sexy effects both mechanical like the storm and acted when the putting out of Gloucester’s eyes is vivid, sadistic and totally thrilling theatre. The subsequent scene where he’s led to the brink of the cliffs is made even more touching by the intensity of his torture.

Does the central performance crown the effort? Yes and no. Because (apart from I, Claudius) Derek Jacobi has largely resisted television and film exposure and clung firmly to the boards this is possibly your last opportunity to see one of England’s finest theatrical knights strut his stuff in the tradition of Gielgud or Olivier. And it is quite strutting. His Lear captures the foolishness is his decision-making, his vanity and constant need for approbation and foregrounds the peevishness making it hard to see him as a great man, rather one in a high position marred by many human frailties. Again, you’ll be able to make modern comparisons from an historic, in many senses of the word, performance.

This review written for Londonist