Every Good Boy Deserves Favour

Posted on: 20 January 2009 by Gareth Hargreaves

Laurence Green reviews Every Good Boy Deserves Favour at the National Theatre's Olivier Auditorium.


Is denying the truth a price worth paying for liberty?

This is the issue raised by Tom Stoppard in his darkly funny and provocative play for actors and orchestra Every Good Boy Deserves Favour which is revived in a splendid new production directed by Felix Barrett and Tom Morris at the National Theatre’s Olivier Auditorium.

The play centres on the related fate of two prisoners in a Czechoslovakian asylum during the Communist era. Ivanov is mad and believes that he has a full orchestra to accompany his triangle playing. His cellmate Alexander is a dissident, imprisoned and declared insane after his involvement in political activities.

Throughout the play Ivanov labours to persuade his cellmate of the reality of his orchestra, a madness that extends to his insistence that Alexander must also be a musician, while Alexander’s son begs his father, who is told ‘your opinions are your sickness your disease is dissent’, to free himself with a lie.

This strange but compelling work by Stoppard, himself born in Czechoslovakia, was first produced at the Royal Festival Hall in 1977 with Andre Previn, who wrote the music. The latest production has been staged with the pioneering orchestra, Southbank Sinfonia, conducted by Simon Over, and their musical accompaniment, together with Previn’s dramatic score perfectly conveys the mood of the piece and stresses the irony of Ivanov’s delusion.

While this short but powerful production skilfully evokes the Stalinist labour camps, forced treatment psychiatric hospitals and show trials that were a hallmark of the Communist era without actually showing them, it in no way seems dated. Indeed is still has a strong resonance today in a world where oppressive regimes, political assassinations and arrests without trial are all too common.

On a stage comprising merely two camp beds in front of a large orchestra and a sinister door at the back, directors Barrett and Morris do much to bring out the ominous, chilling mood of the piece, aided by realistic performances from Joseph Millson and Toby Jones as Alexander and Ivanov, not to mention a fine NT ensemble.

Certainly every serious theatregoer deserves to see this production!

By Laurence Green

Show Details

Where: National Theatre Olivier Auditorium

When: Until 25th February 2009

Box Office: 020 7452 3000

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