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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the National (Olivier)


  Viviana Durante in Fram/Ph:Tristram Kenton

Shows don't come much more loopily self-serving than Tony Harrison's verse-play Fram, which has enough I-can't-believe-I'm-watching-this moments to justify three hours of your time and a sprint to the National's Olivier auditorium during its notably short run. On the other hand, those who don't collect theatrical lulus might want to give this pound10 Travelex season entry a wide berth - unless, that is, you can somehow manage to sneak in during the production's closing passages, in which case you'll see some scenic wizardry from designer (and, on this occasion, co-director) Bob Crowley at his most genuinely, here wintrily, brilliant. The play may be a barely dramatized lecture, at least some of the time, and a modern-dance showcase for the gifted Viviana Durante and ultimately a grim, cautionary fable for our eco-unfriendly age. But as it lurches from one shore to another, Fram is almost always fun to look at, and I can't recall a staging that has taken such a ticklish approach to the theater at which it is being shown: the National, truly, may never look the same again.

What, in heaven's name is this play? I've seen it and couldn't begin to say, though devotees of the apocalypse will find plenty to stoke their fires even as the script posits a world gradually entombed in ice. For one thing, though it is billed as a biography of sorts of the Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen (1861-1930), less than a third of its exceedingly leisurely running time is in fact devoted to Nansen's Arctic adventures. We start in Westminster Abbey, where we are greeted by Jeff Rawle's bespectacled, likably apologetic Gilbert Murray, the Greek scholar and friend of Bernard Shaw whose presence here at least links this production to the (infinitely superior) ongoing revival of Major Barbara, with which Fram is running in repertoire. Scarcely has Murray quoted Euripides before a shriek goes up and we meet a resurrected Sybil Thorndike in the camp, almost violently florid personage of Sian Thomas for what it's worth, this is the second play in as many months to give the late Dame Sybil pride of place following the critic Nicholas de Jongh's playwriting debut, Plague Over England, in which the actress was seen offering invaluable succor to a disgraced John Gielgud. Even odder: Both that play and this starred the excellent Jasper Britton, whose about-face from Gielgud to Nansen deserves some kind of award for toiling in the biographical field.

Sybil is in the play not to rhyme with quibble - that was Noel Coward's job in Private Lives - but to allow Thomas her own equivalent to Tamsin Greig's much-discussed projectile vomit in God of Carnage, Thomas capping a wild soliloquy at the end of t


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