Review by David Munro
THE first question which springs to mind on viewing this touring
production of Michael Frayn’s Clouds is
why anyone thought it worthwhile reviving a polemical play grounded
in the 1970s and, having arrived at that decision, gave the leads
to two young actors who could hardly have been born at the date
of the play and who, talented as they may be, have no feel for
the period or its nuances.
First produced in 1976, at the Hampstead Theatre, with Nigel
Hawthorne and Barbara Ferris, and then revived two years later
at the Duke of York’s, with Tom Courteney and Felicity Kendal,
it sets out to show the effect which Cuba under Castro has on
two writers who are sent out by leading Sunday papers to do an
in-depth article on the country and the effects of the regime.
Mara (Tara Fitzgerald) is a romantic novelist, while Owen is
a professional journalist.
Their initial mutual antagonism turns into a romantic attraction
brought on by their proximity and the laisser faire attitude of
the country and its inhabitants.
They go on a tour of the Island accompanied by an enigmatic American-Cuban,
Ed (Rolfe Saxon), a guide/interpreter, Angel (Darrell d’Silva
and a Chauffeur (Ewen Cummings), which gives the author an excuse
to expound on the various aspects of a totalitarian State.
Mara’s presence acts as a catalyst on the men and the
play ends with the aftermath of a fight between Owen, Ed and Angel
with Mara extolling the beauties and joys of existence and Cuba.
Most of the play comprises set scenes where the characters discuss
themselves, each other, the state of the country and Life.
The examination of a country under a dictatorship is not a new
theme for a play but Frayn did not appear to have had, in 1976,
the craft to carry it off and make it either real or dramatically
There are a lot of funny lines and there appeared to be more
humour in the play than was brought out by the performances or
The play is described as a romantic comedy, so he must have
intended it to be an amusing commentary on Cuba at the time, an
intention not fulfilled from what I saw on the stage last night.
The flaws in the writing and construction of the play are not
helped by the direction of Jennie Darrall, who grouped the characters
about the stage which her designer, Mathew Wright, had flanked
with a low wall, which served as a good place for her to deposit
those not actually speaking.
She never seemed to inspire her actors to come to life and it
was as though she felt the words were more important than the
The result was a lot of individual speeches, which gave the actors
a chance to demonstrate their skills, but killed any dramatic
impetus which Frayn may have intended.
It was like watching a workshop /
audition for a play and not a play itself.
This impression might have been dispelled had the performers
given their speeches or scenes any semblance of reality.
Lloyd Owen has a good presence and an ability to deliver his
lines with conviction. Unfortunately, this ability only was exercised
on few occasions as, for the most part of the evening, he delivered
his lines forcibly but flatly killing any humour or humanity in
Tara Fitzgerald gave an impression of what her part must have
been like when played by Felicity Kendal; archly, breathlessly
and twittery in emotional scenes.
She failed to impress with her final rodomontade on the pleasure
of Cuba and life which seemed to go on forever and without much
It was a performance by a good actress schooled in drama but,
as yet, unable to adjust herself to the dramatic usages of lighter
I wish a fire in Richmond Theatre had not prevented
me from seeing her complete performance as Nora in The Doll's
House. What I did see of it, makes me feel she was better
suited to that part than Mara.
The other three men were mouthpieces for Frayn’s views
on Cuba in particular and life under a dictatorship in general.
The semi-sophisticated 'new' Cuban, with his veneer of American
culture who sees only benefits of the new system and condescendingly
joins in with the workers to show his spirit of democracy, is
a stock character in any culture.
As played by Rolf Saxon one recognised the insincerity of the
academic 'Hampstead' socialist even if the character is now somewhat
The writing seemed to indicate there was more to this character
than just that, but whatever it was Mr Saxon failed to share it
with the audience.
Angel was the stereotyped middle-class man who had a comfortable
background before Castro and was now forced to work in, and accept,
a culture alien to him. Darrell D’Silva, although inaudible
at times, did what he could with the part, although without ever
quite convincing me he believed in it.
The hedonistic Chauffeur, with a girl in every town, was clearly
introduced for light relief and local colour and, as such, Ewen
Cummins coped adequately.
However well, or badly, the parts were portrayed, the actors
seemed to be performing in a vacuum with no real resolution and
it was, for me, a frustrating and unfulfilled evening.
Interesting as a historical curiosity but when I want to be bored
by antiquities I go to a museum, not the theatre.
Clouds by Michael Frayn. Directed by Jennie Darnell;
Designer, Mathew Wright; Lighting, Tim Mitchell; Sound, Fergus
CAST: Tara Fitzgerald; Lloyd Owen; Daniel D’Silva; Rolf
Saxon; Ewen Cummins.
Presented by Richmond Theatre, The Green, Richmond, Surrey, TW9
Mon, Nov 8 – Sat, Nov 13, 2004
Evenings: 7.45pm / Matinees: Wed & Sat 2.30pm.
Box Office: 020 8940 0088.