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SST Productions presents

CHARLATAN

A memoir of the Ballets Russes

Written, directed and performed by Tony Tanner

King’s Head Theatre

12 – 20 Sept 2010

 

 

 

 

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1uzens

A review by Barry Grantham for EXTRA! EXTRA!

 

Tony Tanner presents a vivid portrait of Diaghilev, the legendary creator of the Ballets Russes at the King’s Head Theatre. The piece is billed as ‘CHARLATAN’ – a title with which I was initially uncomfortable.  I felt that there was only one person who would be justified in referring to the great impresario as a charlatan, and that was Serge Diaghilev himself. And so it proved to be.  Partway through the performance Mr Tanner quotes Diaghilev as describing himself as a charlatan.  Is this a quote (not one I am familiar with) or an invention of Mr Tanner?   If these are the impresario’s own words, were they originally in Russian, or French perhaps? I cannot help thinking that Diaghilev’s  understanding of the word ‘charlatan’ was more likely to be that of the sorcerer, the creator of dreams, than ‘one who falsely claims a special knowledge’.  That out of the way -  you will be relieved to know that I shall now take off the pedant’s gown, and view the performance as an enthusiastic member of the audience.

Mr Tanner is writer, director, and performer and each serves the others well. The writing is tight, the subject extensively researched, and the acting skilful; so much so, that a director’s hand seems superfluous. Noticeable, is his delivery, which includes direct eye contact with his audience; enough to make one believe he is addressing you personally  Among the monologue with its incidents and humour, there are several most touching moments. One, the famous moment when Diaghilev and Lifar take the, by then comatose Nijinsky to see his former partner, Karsavina in Petrouchka, who greets him with a kiss and calls him by his pet name - Vatza   For a flickering moment he seems to recognise her, but then sinks back into the inner world of his madness.   And the final death scene - ‘leave the window open, just in case’ he says – the lights change so that there is only a flood of moonlight from the window. Diaghilev sits still and silent. From the audience there is long silent pause...And we know what will happen – unfortunately the strains of Invitation to the Waltz came in just a moment too late, and the effect was spoilt by the inevitable applause. (my only criticism of the production!)

One feels that one has been in the presence of charming and erudite gentleman, whose company you have enjoyed, and valued. If this was not quite one’s own idea of Diaghilev, this is not to be wondered at, for we each have own interpretation. Of course the Diaghilev era was well before my own, but I worked with Massine, knew Beaumont and was trained by Idzikowsky, who took over many of the Nijinsky roles.  I knew Idzi over many years and valued a close friendship with him.  He would tell tales of the golden days but was strangely resistant when quizzed about both Nijinsky and Diaghilev, and would stop further enquiries by saying they were his friends. His partner, the equally diminutive Madam Evina was slightly more forthcoming. Somewhat surprisingly she said that Sergie Pavlovitch (Diaghilev) was ‘Very kind’…Though I also got the impression from her that he was somewhat aloof – an aristocrat propitiating the lower orders.  Tony Tanner is anything but aloof.  He might have found it difficult to hold our attention so well if he had been. 

 

 

Dates: Sundays 12th and 19th September. 2010
Mondays 13th & 20th September 2010

Venue: King’s Head Theatre, London, N1.

Times: Evenings at 7.30

Box Office:   0207 226 1916  www.kingsheadtheatre.org .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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