Theatre: Two Thousand Years

Tempting a bit of luck I decided on Wednesday to head to the National's box office to see if there was any chance of getting any ticket for Mike Leigh's first play in 12 years. This play has had an enormous buzz around it and has completely sold out its run. Interesting for a play that until two weeks before the opening didn't even have a title or any information on what it was about. Now that is buzz…

Such is the pulling power Mike Leigh has nowadays, although he is more famous for his films such as Vera Drake and Topsy-Turvy, and Secrets and Lies. As luck would have it there were returns, so I snapped one up to the matinee performance. Leigh is famous for his use of developing characters with actors and making them improvise the subsequent scenes over an intensive period of rehearsal and workshops. Through this process the story and the narrative takes shape.

As it turns out the play is a slice of life story about a middle-class secular Guardian-reading Jewish family in Cricklewood. Cricklewood is an area of north-west London not too far from Finchley Road / West Hampstead so one could get all the location jokes. The play initially focuses on the reaction of the family when their layabout son decides to take up the religion, but then moves to focus on other matters that bring all the family members back together. The family home is full of Ikea furniture and Joan Baez albums and captures perfectly a slice of life in north-west London.

The play is also fairly economical with the dialogue in the first scene setting up the whole scenario that is about to unfold for the next two hours, so you have to listen carefully. Being a matinee this can be a bit problematic with the elderly audience forgetting that they are not watching television and so any comment such as "ooh he looks just like my son Dave" reverberates throughout the theatre. Another distraction came in the second half when someone's hearing aid kept whistling throughout and interfering with the sound system. I was half expecting someone to shout "Turn your hearing aid down Agnes!" but it didn't happen. But these distractions still couldn't diminish the interest on what is happening on stage. It was a fantastic play and definitely one of the best I have seen while here. I suspect this play will have a future life…

Incidentally there was also the added bonus of seeing Nitzan Sharron bent over in the second act and showing a bit of plumber's posterior. Live theatre can always have some cheap thrills, and I don't think the blue rinse set were quick enough to pick this little bit up…

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