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The Lemon Table
23rd November 2021 - 27th November 2021
Wiltshire Creative, Malvern Theatres, Sheffield Theatres and HOME, in association with MGC present
Ian McDiarmid in
THE LEMON TABLE
By Julian Barnes
Directed by Michael Grandage
Wiltshire Creative, Malvern Theatres, Sheffield Theatres and HOME in association with MGC announce Ian McDiarmid in the world première of Julian Barnes’s The Lemon Table, directed by MGC’s Artistic Director Michael Grandage.
A play in two parts, The Lemon Table celebrates a love of music, live performance, and life itself. In the first half we are introduced to an obsessive concert goer who goes to unorthodox lengths to enjoy his evening. In the other, the concert’s composer reflects on the music he has created – his successes, his failures, and the life he has lived.
A darkly funny and beautifully written piece that celebrates our return to live performance and the artists that make it.
Running time: Approx 70 minutes (no interval)
Suitable for ages 12+ contains very strong language
★★★★★ West End Best Friend
★★★★ The Observer
★★★★ The Times
★★★★ Broadway World
★★★★ The Telegraph
“Ian McDiarmid is outstanding” The Guardian
“Ian McDiarmid entertains” The Stage
“This must be one of the most exciting theatrical events to have emerged from lockdown.” British Theatre Guide
Directors Michael Grandage and Titas Halder
Designer Frankie Bradshaw
Lighting Designer Paule Constable
Sound Designer Ella Wahlström
Associate Lighting Designer Ryan Day
Production photographs by Marc Brenner
Rehearsal photographs by Marc Brenner
Main image photography by Johan Persson. Design by Aka.
The View From The Stalls
The Lemon Table, which is staged in conjunction with Malvern Theatres, is based on the book of the same name by Julian Barnes published in 2004. The book is a collection of short 11 short stories, two of which have been selected for this one-man show with actor Ian McDiarmid.
The first of these is "Vigilance", first published in 1998, in which a theatre-lover (more specifically a lover of classical music) bemoans the behaviour of various audience members who are spoiling his pleasure of the performance. Not a man to simply let things pass him by, his vigilance leads him to verbally and physically berate those who displease him by, amongst other things, offering the person a cough sweet or pretending to be a member of staff which gives him a certain air of authority. His hope is that the audience member in question will see the error of his way and change his behaviour although clearly the response is not always what he wanted. The other character he introduces here in the script is his partner Andrew, who doesn't necessarily follow his thinking. Anyone who has had to sit through a show whilst enduring someone continually rustling sweet papers, coughing or using their mobile phone will easily relate to this scenario! (fortunately the audience were perfectly behaved through the short show, which runs at just 70 minutes with no interval).
The second story is from 2001 and is entitled "The Silence" (the titles are displayed large on stage at the start of each segment). This entails portraying the musings of the composer Sibelius, getting on in years and struggling to complete his Eighth Symphony.
On stage, there is just one long table and two chairs, in front of a backdrop of a stage curtain through which he exits after the first segment. In his jacket pocket, a cough sweet and a lemon, the only props other than a bottle of whisky. The lighting is simple and there is the occasional piece of music played.
Both stories are linked in the sense that they are about old-age and the loss of power. As he explains, Chinese culture has the lemon as the symbol of death and he meets his elderly friends at a café to discuss life and death, sitting around ‘the lemon table’. Given that McDiarmid is himself 77, the choice of him to play these dual roles would seem to be particularly appropriate. Holding an audience's attention for 70 minutes without a break or at least a sparring partner is no mean feat at any age with McDiarmid doing it faultlessly with apparent ease and conviction.
Apart from anything else, having the actor who played Emperor Palpatine, the main villain in Return of the Jedi, on stage in front of you is something to be celebrated!
Malvern has done it again!
In July Ralph Fiennes gave us a peerless solo reading of T.S. Eliot's major work "The Four Quartets", and now we have that fine actor Ian McDiarmid bringing a one-man show encompassing a fascinating new piece adapted by McDiarmid from a short story by the author Julian Barnes, the author (if my memory serves me correctly) of that delightful novel: "Flaubert's Parrot".
The programme biographies bristle with glittering achievements in several facets of contemporary theatre. Michael Grandage (who directs McDiarmid) has moved among the top echelons of theatre direction for a dozen years and more, presenting amongst much else a piece called "Peter and Alice" with such luminaries as Judi Dench and Ben Wishaw, a type of production I must say most of us who live north of the Watford Gap never get a chance to see.
Thus it happens that this kind of rarified theatre is not likely to get sell out houses. McDiarmid opens the roughly 90 minute performance with a waspish diatribe against the kind of irritating concertgoers who rattle sweet papers during a performance thus fracturing his private concentration, sometimes they even commit the cardinal sin of talking at the same time. He shakes with suppressed rage at the indignities offered to performers and conductors and happily uses four-letter words to underline his indignation.
A complicated personality begins to emerge.The ethics incumbent on a serious theatregoer are underlined sharply and then these things drift elsewhere as he tells us of his lover and the slow collapse of a love affair. He describes his lover's outrage, when he seen chatting up another man in a theatre bar, and how this leads to a break-up in their marriage. The poignancy of this sorry tale of betrayal, loneliness, sexual frustration and pain leads you to wonder if our bitchy, self-righteous protagonist is moving into a total breakdown. If Alan Bennett had written the piece, it would have come under the "Talking Heads" category but it is at all times a superb piece of writing and acting.I welcome it at a time when "dumbing-down" seems to be the fasion in contemporary theatre--I can assure you there is none of that pathetic drivel here.
With barely a pause to ponder over what we have just witnessed, the actor re-appears in a buttoned-up dark overcoat, as the composer Sibelius in his last days. Here again, McDiarmid is hypnotic. His reach-out to his audience ( sparse I am afraid) is skilful and intense, something only a fine actor can achieve. I saw Olivier do it in "Titus Andronicus"and I experienced it again with McDiarmid.
Sibelius is losing control, old age and creative frustration have taken their toll, and he is hitting the whiskey bottle. Grandage deserves all our praise for bringing this final scene to a point of extreme tragedy.Journalists pester the compos asking when he will produce a new symphony. He tries to explain, that the creative instinct cannot be taken down off a shelf like a box of this or that. But people have expectations and these are set against the physical torment of cancer. New work did not materialise.
In the days before his death a lone crane circled over his house. It was an omen. The Chinese reckon that a lemon placed in the hand of a dying person, helps to speed him (or her) into the afterlife.
McDiarmid gave us a master class in fine acting and thus he upheld a time-honoured tradition currently at risk of being side-lined by trivia. For this he has our thanks, not to mention Nic Lloyd at Malvern Theatres who continues to bring wonderful theatre to a public who can only be grateful.
The Lemon Table is a tour de force by the extraordinary Ian McDiarmuid alone on stage to present two halves of a show he devised himself from short stories by Julian Barnes. The second of these, a bleak excavation of Sibelius’s later life, gives sense to the overall title. I found the first too protracted and with an unnecessary (and gratuitously crude) character also related by McDiarmuid. Two ideas linked the stories: obsession and loneliness within a partnership. Michael Grandage’s and Titas Halder’s direction and designs by Frankie Bradshaw, lit by Paule Constable, evoke Hammershoi’s Northern paintings. Gripping.
Great to see a wonderful actor and the ultimate Malvern accolade a standing ovation!