the year of magical thinking

My boyfriend keeps asking me why I repeatedly go to the theatre to see plays that are no good.
I asked myself the same question 1 hour into Vanessa Redgrave’s interminable monologue at the National this afternoon.
I haven’t read the book but you could tell from the text that Joan Didion is a marvellous writer. Humorously, humanly groping for sense after the death of both her husband and her daughter in one year.
When after 100 minutes Redgrave finally stopped talking they put up a huge picture of Didion and her family. The warmth of Didion in that picture brought into fatal focus what was wrong with casting Redgrave in that role.
She’s such a cold, mirthless actor that her rendition of Didion’s words – complete with skin-of-the-teeth accent – just seemed vampiric.
The book is the perfect format for this mecurial exploration of grief. I’m sure it’s a wonderful read. But since when does having a grey -haired woman, dressed in grey, sitting on a grey stage for one hour forty constitute theatre? I can only see theatrical cash registers behind it. David Hare, Redgrave, tear jerking memoir – it’ll be Amy’s View all over.
But Redgrave is too mannered, too mirthless to be credible and it’s just a bore.

I’m going to give up buying tickets for the National for a while. I can’t remember the last time I saw something worth the ticket price.


  1. rr

    May 10, 2008 at 11:22 pm

    Oh NO! What a nightmare! I’m so sorry. On the other hand (she says, in Panglossian mode) it makes all the wonderful theatre one has seen return and be gorgeous on the tastebuds of the memory.

    I can recommend “God of Chaos”, which *isn’t* at the National. Not great, but good. And some seriously cracking performances.

  2. Duane

    May 11, 2008 at 12:12 am

    Typically, a better time’s had at community theatre. No disrespect to Ms. Redgrave and the National. Hope the slump is short-lived. Attended one production there years ago; Anthony Hopkins,”Pravda”, at the Olivier. My Londoner friend Kathy and I snored through the last hour. We enjoyed the backstage tour, though. A group no show’d – we were treated to a private, extended complex tour in their place. Our escort said even he was embarrassed about the production. I’d hoped Stoppard’s “The Real Inspector Hound” had been on bill.

  3. Jeff

    May 11, 2008 at 12:18 am

    Ugh. I hate when that happens. More than the money, it’s the time wasted that grates. My partner and I recently, though, had just the opposite experience when we went to see the Met broadcast of La Fille du Régiment at our local theatre. It starred Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Florez. The whole opera is a delight from start to finish. It was fulfilling in every respect. (Not to mention that JDF is VERY easy on the eyes.) It was rebroadcast today and I would have gone to see it again had we not had other commitments.

  4. Addison DeWitt

    May 12, 2008 at 3:04 am

    If Trevor Nunn booked the Chippendales into the National Theatre.
    Would you go and see it ? Answer truthfuly now, Alistair.

    Ps. That is my real name, honestly it is.

  5. Valerie W.

    May 15, 2008 at 3:15 pm

    Just because your a friend of the author, doesn’t mean you
    are the perfect casting to portray her words.But not
    knowing either woman maybe they are very similar and the
    casting was correct. Who knows!

  6. PJH

    May 24, 2008 at 5:12 pm

    You should definitely read the book. It’s an absolute joy.
    There is a precision to the research and feelings that blends
    exquisitely. If you have ever lost someone to death, it is
    one of the greatest comforts.

  7. Sam

    May 28, 2008 at 1:07 pm

    I think it is a great shame that you are relinquishing the National Theatre (at least for the time being). It is a shame that you can’t remember the last time you saw a National Theatre production worth the ticket price.

    I remember reading your glowing review of The Hour We Knew Nothing of Each Other at the National Theatre which you posted here on 15 February ( and your effusive 2006 blog entry about the National Theatre production of The History Boys ( for which you mentioned you paid just £10 for your ticket).

    If you haven’t already seen the play, I would recommend you look ahead to the autumn and book for the return of War Horse (; the wonderful DV8 production of To Be Straight with You (; or perhaps look out for Juliette Binoche and Akram Khan and in collaboration (

  8. Tammy Denitto

    June 17, 2008 at 1:42 pm

    Thanks for the review – I was disappointed that I missed the performance, but I guess I was lucky.
    If you want to borrow the book, you’re welcome…

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