Arts

Theatre: The thrilling story of a historic handshake

Philip Arditti, Lydia Leonard and Toby Stephens in the witty Oslo

Oslo is JT Rogers’s award-winning Middle East politics drama at the Harold Pinter Theatre. It records the clandestine peace process which led to Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO chairman Yasser Arafat shaking hands on the White House lawn in 1993, in front of a beaming President Clinton. The play, big yet intimate, wittily written and brilliantly directed by Bartlett Sher, with tremendous pace and energy, has a first-rate cast, headed by Toby Stephens and Lydia Leonard, as the disarming Norwegian couple who initiated the talks, and Peter Polycarpou and Philip Arditti, volatile as the seemingly intractable foes. The sparring is highly entertaining and not to be missed.

The last time Juliet Stevenson was at the Young Vic she was buried up to her neck in soil, in Beckett’s Happy Days. Now, in Arthur Kopit’s Wings, she is in a harness and flying. She is cast as a former aviator and daredevil wing-walker who suffers a stroke; her sense of time and place, and self are shattered.

Generally the only chance an actor gets to fly is in revivals of Peter Pan – Stevenson’s toes rarely touch the ground. But the focus should be entirely on her inner self. Instead, the focus in Natalie Abrahami’s production is on the aerial gymnastics and the actor’s acrobatic prowess.

Clarke Peters’s Five Guys Named Moe at the Marble Arch Theatre is a lively tribute to the black American musician, songwriter and bandleader Louis Jordan (1908-1975), the “King of the Jukebox”. The production, choreographed by Andrew Wright, celebrates his music, not his life. There is no story as such, just cues for songs, which are sung, danced and acted with worthwhile brio. The show is great fun.

The audience at Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond, is mainly in the same age bracket as the characters in David Storey’s The March to Russia, and they identified immediately with the elderly bickering couple (Ian Gelder and Sue Wallace), celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary with their neglectful middle-aged children. There are lots of laughs to be had from winding everybody up, but Storey’s drama is essentially sad. I suspect that a lot of people are going to feel terribly guilty on leaving the theatre, and will be soon making phone calls and arranging long-overdue visits.

Robert Lindsay gives a bravura performance in Prism, Terry Johnson’s play at Hampstead Theatre. It is a role specifically written for him. He plays Jack Cardiff, the great British cinematographer, famous for his dazzling use of light and colour, now in his old age and suffering from dementia.

Howard Brenton’s Blinding Light, strongly acted at Jermyn Street Theatre, is about dramatist August Strindberg (played by Jasper Britton) and his three wives. Obsessed with alchemy and the occult, the author of Miss Julie is in Paris in 1896, having a mental crisis. He would later exaggerate and fictionalise it in his novel, Inferno.

The success of Jack Rosenthal’s The Knowledge on television in 1979 was in great part due to filmed sequences by bike and motorcycle through London’s streets. The Knowledge is the hardest taxi test in the world and without the streets as a backdrop, this stage version at Charing Cross Theatre is a non-starter. Watch the original TV version on DVD instead.