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The Unexpected Man
-- London Review by Darren Dalglish
Unexpected Man -- yet another cast-- in LA
Following the success of Art at the Wyndham's theatre, director Matthew Warchus and translator Christopher Hampton have got together again for another Yasmina Reza's play The Unexpected Man., produced by The Royal Shakespeare Company.
I have to admit to have been looking forward to this production in the anticipation and hope, that it would be as good as Reza's Art. First thing that has to be said is that it is not another Art and it will not appeal to a large audience as that play does. Since the play is based on two monologues and not dialogue it is an acquired taste. However, for me it lived up to all expectations.
While travelling on a train a woman (Eileen Atkins), by chance, ends up sitting opposite a novelist (Michael Gambon) she admires. What will she do? Will she speak to him? Will she get out the novelist's latest book from her bag and start reading it and see if he reacts?
Instead of any of these actions, the play takes us inside their minds as they ride in the carriage together. Both wallow in memories of their respective lives as they look for ways to break the ice and speak to one another. There is some beautiful writing by Reza which captures the mood and connects us to the familiar situation of nervously seeking a way to make conversation with a complete stranger.
The stage design by Mark Thompson, who also did the design for Art, is again very simple yet effective.. A few wooden chairs stand on a glass floor through which you can see a railway track, and there is a side of a carriage at the back of the stage. Of course it does not look anything like a carriage but, with the sound of a train in the background, it feels like one.
The play has received a mixed response from the popular press. John Peter of The Sunday Times called it "cool and elegant" and went on to say "The writing is witty and suave, brittle and muscular.quot; Nicholas de Jongh of The Evening Standard liked it and was particularly impressed by Eileen Atkins performance saying, "She's sheer theatrical delight." Charles Spencer of The Daily Telegraph wrote "No one could describe The Unexpected Man as great drama, but it does offer two of our greatest actors in a work of beguiling wit and charm." However, Bill Hagerty of The News of the World was not impressed calling it "Less than captivating" and going on to declare that the combined skills of the actors "cannot craft anything substantial out of Yasmina Reza's fragile piece."
As years pass one acquires a select band of actors to admire, respect and warm to. Nothing beats the excitement of seeing one of these appear on stage again. To have a play with two actors from your "select band" list is a dream come true. At 80 minutes, without an interval, Gambon and Atkins made time flew by as I was mesmerised and transfixed. Their standard of acting that is of the highest order -- it is quite simply bliss.
Unexpected Man (L 'Homme Du Hasard)
by Yasmina Reza
Translated by Christopher Hampton
Sets by Mark Thompson
Barbican Pit, Barbican Centre