Every Good Boy Deserves Favour

January 19, 2009 § Leave a comment

Toby Jones and Joseph Millson in Every Good Boy Deserves Favour

Total theatre … Toby Jones and Joseph Millson in Every Good Boy Deserves Favour. Photograph: Tristram Kenton

This extraordinary “play for actors and orchestra” marked a turning point in Tom Stoppard’s work in 1977: it showed him moving away from exuberant extravaganzas towards engagement with the world’s injustice. Now the piece, which attacked the Soviet practice of treating political dissent as a form of madness, has been given a new lease of life by Punchdrunk’s Felix Barrett and the National’s Tom Morris. They have added a physical bravura to the work’s moral passion and musical inventiveness, so that in 65 minutes we get an all-encompassing piece of total theatre.

The situation is classic Stoppard. Two men share a cell in a psychiatric hospital. Alexander is a political prisoner, Ivanov a genuine mental patient who hears an orchestra in his head. Around this Stoppard weaves a work, reconciling wit and anger, that reminds us that one of the worst features of tyranny is its ability to reorder reality. The perfectly sane Alexander will only be released once he admits he is mad, and his plight is worsened by the fact that he has to coexist with an orchestral fantasist and that his future depends on a colonel who is a doctor of philology. Catch-22 meets Alice in Wonderland.

André Previn’s score, which punctuates the action, always had an edgy, Shostakovich-like quality. Here, the on-stage orchestra, the Southbank Sinfonia conducted by Simon Over, is fully integrated into the action. As Alexander charts the cruelty that led to the incarceration of his friends, individual musicians rise protestingly to their feet and are then subjected to violent beatings.

Maxine Doyle’s choreography creates an atmosphere of barbaric frenzy. Joseph Millson (Alexander), Toby Jones (Ivanov) and Dan Stevens (a violin-playing doctor) perform with perfect pitch in a play that brilliantly counters Soviet iron with Stoppardian irony, and shows the terrors of living in an orchestrated society.

  1. Every Good Boy Deserves Favour
  2. Olivier,
  3. London
  4. SE1 9PX
  1. Until 25 February
  2. Box office:
    020-7452 3000
  3. Venue website

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