I fell in love with theatre as a child and have been going now for over fifty years. I've seen hundreds of performances and I nearly always enjoy the experience but it's very rare that I recapture the excitement I felt when I first sat in a theatre and the lights went down and actors came on stage to tell a story.
But it happened last week at the Young Vic in London. The play was Arthur Miller's A View From The Bridge, which is brilliantly written of course but this was all about the production and the acting.
Mark Strong, Nicola Walker and Phoebe Fox played the three central characters- a husband, wife and the wife's teenage niece whom they had raised. The stage, with the audience on three sides, was completely bare. The actors were in bare feet. Everything in Ivo Van Hove's production was was focused on the words and the acting. And what acting.
Having great dialogue helps but you still need to be able to speak it with conviction. This company's deep understanding- of the words, the rhythms, the nuances, the silences, the looks- drew me into their world totally.
It isn't always so. Only the night before I had been at the Nuffield Theatre to see three short plays by Noel Coward. Coward is no Arthur Miller but he did write terrific dialogue and told good stories. Yet the cast seemed to have no sense of the rhythm and brittle brilliance of his language. As a marketer and businessman, I know that to do anything effectively, you need to research. The Young Vic knew Miller's Italian Americans in 1950s New York, the Nuffield didn't know Coward's Home Counties British in the 1930s. Vintage cocktails in the bar are no compensation. I've seen many excellent productions at The Nuffield so I genuinely hope they can step up their game.
At the Young Vic, I was completely absorbed in the underlying sexual tension between the husband and his surrogate daughter, the self deception and the looming inevitable tragedy. The only 'prop' was music, an emotional extension of the human voice, used to great effect.
If you are lucky enough to have tickets for this sold out production, stop reading here. When the end came, there was one coup de theatre that made my jaw drop. As all the characters drew into a huddle in the middle of which a fatal fight was taking place, what I first thought was water (like tears) began pouring on them from above. Then I realised it was red and soon the actors and the stage were soaked in blood.
It was a simple enough effect and may even sound over the top, but coming at the culmination of such a tense two hours, it was stunning. It was a moment when time stood still. It was everything that is best in theatre and why I have had a love affair with the stage for over fifty years.
This blog was written by Paul Lewis, owner of the marketing consultancy Seven Experience and former Head of Marketing and Operations at The Mayflower Theatre. You can connect with him on Google+ and LinkedIn.