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Friday, 5 March 2010

(Confused) Review of Andersen's English at The Library, Manchester

Well I'll start with dinner; I'm on safe ground there. Tickets to see a play at The Library Theatre in central Manchester always mean dinner at one of two places - Livebait if my husband isn't with me (fish-phobic), Brasserie Gerard if he is. As the carnivorous one was indeed my theatre date, we went to the latter.

Brasserie Gerard is unremarkable but pleasant company - a cheerful French bistro, although I'm fairly certain it's not remotely authentic as French people are generally thin and certainly would not be if they ate here regularly. Still, the welcome is always warm, and they always give you the best table available rather than save the booths for some better, imaginary customers who might perhaps turn up later.

Last night's gut-buster consisted of pate for starters and then burger with frites for main; they really do extremely good frites here, although the burgers are a touch drier than at Grinch. I also had a large glass of red wine, a foolish move for someone who was already half-asleep, and this may possibly explain my confusion over the play that followed.

Andersen's English is a new play by award-winning novelist Sebastian Barry, and is on at The Library until tomorrow night. It tells the story of Hans Christian Andersen's visit to Charles Dickens and his family in Kent, and incorporates the following elements to a greater or lesser degree:
- huge hilarity at funny foreign man's attempt to speak English
- huge pathos at funny foreign man's great love for Charles Dickens, despite great success of own work
- huge dramatic irony at funny foreign man's supposed failure to see the cracks in the Dickens household - son being sent to war, wife going mad, young floozy actress waiting in wings, pregnant housemaid etc etc.

It's not that the play is bad, exactly; it is enjoyable enough, and the cast are largely impressive, particularly Niamh Cusack as Mrs Dickens and David Rintoul as the great novelist himself. Whilst enjoying the traditional interval occupation of browsing the programme to see how many members of the cast have been in The Bill, I learned that Rintoul played Mr Darcy! In the TV adaptation of Pride and Prejudice! Oh no wait, the 1980 TV adaptation... how he must HATE Colin Firth.

What else? Well, there are scary life-size dolls instead of real live child actors, and the set is cleverly designed, and the songs are good. But is it set to become a classic? Maybe, but somehow I doubt it.

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