5 July 2021
BACH & SONS (Bridge Theatre) Review

Having seen Simon Russell Beale on stage in two productions before, I was glad to find out that, even though the 2021 run of John Gabriel Borkman at Bridge was cancelled, I would get to seem him in another play.

This is Nina Raine’s fifth play, and I’d only seen a recording of the earlier four.  All of them have been well-regarded, so I had high expectations.  Unfortunately, this was a miss for me.  Somewhere between the play’s text and Nicholas Hytner’s direction (which has always been a bit of a mixed bag for me), the overall production wasn’t a moving one.

Beale’s Bach is unbelievably camp; so much so, in fact, that it detracted from the performance.  It’s definitely not a Beale thing, so I must put it down to writing/direction.  If one didn’t know that Bach fathered 20 children, one might as well think that both of his marriages were for reasons of convenience and appearances, not procreation.  There is a lot of musical lingo that goes unexplained.  I benefited from some knowledge of musical theory vaguely bubbling up to the front of my brain from childhood times, but several people next to me were looking confused and asking each other what the actors were on about.

Given the title, as well as brief description of the play provided by Bridge, I expected the play to be about the relationship between Bach and, well, his sons.  Unfortunately, relationship implies some kind of growth or deterioration or change of sorts, and that’s not what happens in the play.  The lines are drawn from the start:  Bach’s eldest son Wilhelm (charmingly and heartily played by Douggie McMeekin) doesn’t seem to care about what his father thinks of him yet can do no wrong in Bach’s eyes, whilst Bach’s younger son Carl (movingly delivered by Samuel Blenkin, who I enjoyed here more than in Ocean at the End of the Lane, play itself notwithstanding) is desperate for his father’s approval, but is never able to get it.  Time goes on, sons grow up, more children come along, everyone gets older, but this status quo never changes.

I had a quick look at the entry for Bach in Wikipedia (after the play).  It seems that the play takes some liberties with a couple of stories and sequence of events compared to the documented version (if the internet info is to be believed).  Whilst I am not terribly fussed by that, it does appear that the overwhelming majority of Bach’s scores has survived to the efforts of Carl.  If nothing else, I thought it would’ve been prudent for Rayne to find a way to allude to this somehow…

Pandora Colin and Racheal Ofori play the first and the second Mrs. Bach.  The latter has a bit more drama written into the character than the former, but neither of them seemed particularly hard done by having to bear children after children.  It would have been nice to see this angle come through a bit more.  Ruth Lass as Maria Bach’s sister who’s helping with the children, as well as Pravessh Rana as Prince Frederick add some structure to the play, but are purely decorative.

I think I’d be happy to keep watching Beale in more plays, but maybe Nina Rayne is just not for me.

Cheapskate enjoyment value: £3.

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