I hope you had a chance to see that PBS special on the 50th anniversary of the National Theatre in London. I’ve only seen 40 minutes so far (Olympics Watching obligations, and all that...), and it’s tremendous. Lots of highlights already, but for me the best is archival tape of Paul Scofield as Salieri in the original production of “Amadeus.” He is mesermizingly good. I saw it on Broadway with John Wood (the professor in War Games), and he was utterly great. And he had replaced Ian McKellen, who I can only imagine how brilliant he'd be in the role. And F. Murray Abraham was great and deserving of his Oscar. But I suspect that Scofield gave a different interpretation from them all. From what I've seen and from what I presume of McKellen, they all portrayed Salieri with flamboyant, egotistical jealousy. Scofield played him as torn up inside. Mind you, this is just from one scene, and a scene where he was torn up. But then, Salieri is in distress most of the play. I wouldn't say Scofield was best, from just one scene. Just that it was, again, mesmerizing.
Also, seeing footage of Laurence Olivier on stage was revelatory. I'd always heard that that was his field, as great as he was on film. And he was as remarkable as his reputation. (Not to mention a treat seeing his wife Joan Plowright doing a monologue only last year at the age of 83 from Joan of Arc. She was great -- and seated in the audience of the live show.)
Fun, too, was seeing Derek Jacobi and Michael Gambon (my father’s fave from the trips he and my mother took to London) discussing not understanding Harold Pinter’s play No Man’s Land, but then being brilliant in a scene from it.
Almost everything was a highlight, and there’s still 80 minutes to go. I’ll only single out one scene, because I wasn’t expecting much from it. But I thought that Penelope Wilton and Nicholas Le Prevost showed so much amazing craft and ease-of-performance in such a simple scene from Alan Ayckbourn’s Bedroom Farce.
Here, let me show you what I mean --
After writing the above, I've since watched another 20 minutes. The show is spellbinging. What I saw -- and again, remember, this is just in 20 minutes - was:
Ralph Fiennes doing an amazing job as a Rupert Murdoch-like character in the play, Pravda, by David Hare and Howard Brenton.
Judi Dench in a scene from Shakepeare's Anthony and Cleopatra, and then re-creating her performance in A Little Night Music, with a heart-breaking, deeply human "Send in the Clowns."
Archival footage of Ian McKellen being riveting in Richard III, and a Nigel Hawthorne joyfully starring in The Madness of King George III (both of which they later re-created for the movies).
An utterly breathtaking Adam Scott (who plays Moriarty in the BBC's Sherlock) in an utterly breathtaking scene from Angels in America.
Again, this wasn't the full show, this was just the next 20 minutes.
There's still another hour to go...
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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