USER (10Jun04): The Old Masters, A New Play by Simon Gray
Birmingham Repertory Theatre, 10 June 2004
Starring Edward Fox, Peter Bowles, Barbara Jefford with Sally Dexter and Steven Pacey.
This production directed by Harold Pinter opened last week and is yet another prestigious production for Birmingham Rep. At today’s matinee a near capacity house enjoyed playwright Simon Gray at his finest. The opportunity to see this play prior to its opening at the Comedy Theatre, in the West End later this month is a feather in the cap for the Rep and Birmingham and patrons have been treated to a play of excellence and a cast to dream for. I also have to mention that seeing the play in Birmingham has saved the pocket and that is good for all theatregoers in the region.
Set in a villa outside Florence in 1937, the play is about the validity of a painting and a lot more. The dialogue between BB (Bernard Berenson) played excellently by Edward Fox and his terminally ill wife Mary played so believably by Barbara Jefford is all about marriage, commitment, his long term mistress/secretary Nicky played by the elegant and beautifully attired Sally Dexter, as well as truth, deception and the impending war. Steven Pacey has a pivotal role in Act 1 as the messenger, the setter upper and failing to arrange what his boss Joseph Duveen wanted brings Peter Bowles to the front door late at night in his homburg hat and long dark coat. Right from the start the dialogue between Fox and Bowles, two great actors, is sparkling and witty. I got the sense of the merchant Duveen bartering with the academic Berenson and as the play unfolds we see both defeated, beautifully.
The set designed by Eileen Diss who has an impressive number of television, film and theatre productions to her credit is impressive giving an idea of the style in which the Berensons lived. Dany Everett is the costume designer and a wealth of theatre experience has produced immaculate costumes for the entire cast, which capture the period so well. Lighting designer Mick Hughes started lighting back in 1962 and since then worked his way around the world resulting is a perfect balance from start to finish. John Leonard is the sound designer and with over 30 years experience it could be heard right down to the chirping of the birds outside the villa. All in all an impressive play, beautifully directed and immaculately acted.