Rogues & Vagabonds

theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013…

Did You Know…? JANACEK’S SPECTRE AT WILTON’S • 2006

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Did you know about the outcry caused by the première of Brian Friel’s Performances at the Gate Theatre in Dublin?

“I’d love to see fisticuffs in the bar at Wilton’s,” said its director Lou Stein, according to Norman Lebrecht in the Standard. “This is not a conventional play for a conventional theatre. Brian uses words and musical quotations with a deftness we haven’t seen since Tom Stoppard wrote Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, three decades ago.”

Friel has taken as his starting point the unreciprocated love affair between the married 63-year-old composer and a much younger married lady, Kamila Stösslová, a relationship, or should one say obsession, revealed in copious letters which paralleled the composer’s best work.

Performances, which stars Henry Goodman, Rosamund Pike and The Brodsky Quartet, has a modern setting in which Pike’s student timeslips between an ensemble rehearsing Janáček’s second string quartet, known as Intimate Letters, to an encounter with Janáček (Goodman), who died in 1928.

When the play premièred at the Dublin Festival, it provoked an outcry between those who objected to Friel’s questioning of Kamila as the composer’s muse and those who lined up with the playwright.

Clearly relishing the thought of opposing passions being roused by the production in London, director Stein was full of praise for the way in which Friel “integrates music and drama”. He told Laura Barnett of the Daily Telegraph that it was “a great challenge, having musicians alongside professional actors like this, but the wonderful thing about Brian’s writing is that he has integrated the music in a playwright’s way. The quartet is not underscoring the action – they’re part of it.”

Sarah Vernon © 2006

Originally published on R&V 02-07-06

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