Clayton Littlewood writes about his continuing education in the world of London theatre from the renowned critic Nicholas de Jongh.
Sir Nicholas is my theatrical teacher and every month he endeavors to educate me on ‘what’s hot’ in the theatre world. Over the past year he’s taken me to see plays by (amongst others) Shakespeare, Chekhov, Rattigan and Hare. Invariably we’ll email each other in a Victorian style (I’m not really sure why). So a typical email from Sir Nicholas will say:
Nicholas de Jongh is pleased to invite Sir Clayton Littlewood to a playhouse performance of a serious dramatic piece in the city of London, the West End district. Dinner will be served at 10.15 at a nearby hostelry. Carriages at midnight.
It has been many months since I last clapped (forgive that noxious verb with its distasteful associations) eyes on you. Maybe next week? It could be that I have a visit to the playhouse set for Wednesday – would you be in a position? I remain your bemused friend.
A typical reply from me will be:
Dear Sir Nicholas,
I am Sir Littlewood’s man servant and he has asked me to confirm that he would be delighted to attend Wednesday evening’s theatrical entertainment. Now I must get back to Sir Littlewood’s Gentleman’s Room. He has asked if I could soap his lower regions and he’s insistent that I must soap quite rigorously.
Yours affectionately (on behalf of Sir Littlewood)
I always look forward to these theatrical nights out. I sit on the edge of my seat, taking it all in, savoring every word. This is partly because Sir Nicholas’s choices are always very good, but also because at the end of the performance he often asks me what I thought of it. When we first started ‘theatering’ I was a bit nervous about this. After all, Sir Nicholas was a renowned theatre critic for many years (and has written a number of books on the subject), whereas I am still a theatre virgin. I think my first responses went something like, ‘Oh I loved Lady So-and So’s ball gown,’ or ‘What comfy seats!’ But now, a year later, I feel I can just about hold my own and I’m able to offer feedback on how the play could’ve been improved.
Last week we went to see London Road at the National. This has been a well received play (both critically and commercially), transferring from the Cottesloe to the Olivier. It’s also a unique play in both its subject matter (the murder of five women in Ipswich in 2006) and its dialogue (Alecky Blythe recorded interviews with a cross-section of residents to create this work). This authentic dialogue was then put to music (by Adam Cork) to great effect. Obviously it’s moving in places (there was one scene where the prostitutes stare silently at the audience for a couple of minutes), but it also has it’s comical moments (which caught me off-guard, trying to stifle a laugh). But it was the dialogue which made the biggest impression. People repeat themselves when talking (I do it all the time). They also say, ‘Um’ a lot. So to hear this naturalistic way of speaking delivered on stage, coupled with real dialogue, was interesting. And when you add colloquial speech and choral singing into the mix, it made for a very powerful piece. I would recommend you see this if you can. It’s on until September 6th.
Next Friday we’re off to the Finborough to see Cornelius by J B Priestley (and it’s my turn to buy the chocolate twirls).
Yours, until then, Sir Littlewood