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A CurtainUp London London Review
Every Good Boy Deserves Favour

Would a Soviet doctor put a sane man into a lunatic asylum in your opinion?— Colonel
 Every Good Boy Deserves Favour
Joseph Millson as Alexander Ivanov and the orchestra
(Photo: Simon Annand)
Every Good Boy Deserves Favour is the mnemonic used to remember the notes on the lines of the treble clef, and with music composed by André Previn, and words by Tom Stoppard, this play comments on the imprisonment of political dissidents in the former Soviet Union. Stoppard dedicated the piece to dissident Vladimir Bukovsky who spent twelve years in Soviet labour camps, prisons and forced treatment psychiatric hospitals, and to Victor Fainberg who campaigned for Bukovsky's release.

Two men, both called Alexander Ivanov are sectioned in a psychiatric hospital. One, the psychiatrically deranged, is acted by Toby Jones who plays the triangle and hears music in his head, the other, a political dissident is played by Joseph Millson and dreams of freedom but not at the price of admitting that he was insane. Puns based on music and geometry (triangles) are sprinkled throughout Stoppard's writing which dates back to 1977. So you will be struck by the cleverness of the paronomasia: someone points to the collar bone or clavicle and asks the doctor about clavichords, the menu of Tagliatelli Verdi (not Verde) and Stuffed Puccini (not porcini) or Euclid is invoked when talking about percussion triangles as Stoppard impresses with his witty vocabulary.

A full orchestra, the Southbank Sinfonietta and the youngest professional orchestra in the UK is placed on the Olivier's circular stage with two prison type cast iron beds with grey prison blankets and caseless pillows and mattress ticking completing the scene. The musicians sit on black chairs stencil numbered in the manner of prisons. The Artistic Director of Punchdrunk, Felix Barrett has been brought in to co-direct with Tom Morris, and he choreographs into the piece, action threading between the rows of violinists and woodwind and brass as well as a thrilling ballet of kidnap and political torture.

We are first introduced to Toby Jones' Ivanov: when he hears music in his head and the orchestra bursts into life. I'm not really sure why this Ivanov needs to be locked up — he doesn't seem dangerous, just a little batty. It turns out that the prison doctor (Dan Stevens) is also an amateur musician and in another orchestra. As the doctor explains to Ivanov One that there is no orchestra, the musicians suddenly play vivaciously, a visual and aural defiance of the doctor's diagnosis which we the audience are witness to. While the second Ivanov is imprisoned, we see his son Sasha played by a girl,(Bryony Hannah) interacting with his teacher Bronagh Gallagher who takes the government line using the boy to persuade the father to conform. These scenes are accompanied by slow, soulful and sad music. The issue for Millson's Ivanov is that if he admits he was psychiatrically disturbed and that he is now cured, he can be released. As someone says, with a callow pun "Every good boy deserves a father!" The highlight for me was not Previn's classically Russian inspired music but Toby Jones' interestingly and quirky performance and the wonderful fight scenes when members of the orchestra appear to be taken from their seats, jackets stretched round their heads and and kicked and punched by the Secret Police. That sounds like a celebration of violence but it isn't — just beautifully orchestrated, dance that feels real! Bruno Poet's lighting too is very dramatic with blinding spotlights breaking out from the rear wall plunging almost everywhere else into contrasting shadow.

This production will inevitably remain something of a curiosity, a collector's piece, deeply satisfying neither to the play seeker nor I suspect the music lover and with a theme now dated in the annals of Soviet history. At only five minutes over an hour in length, it shows twice nightly for January only.

Link to Curtainup's review of a Philadelphia production of Every Good Boy Deserves Favour

Every Good Boy Deserves Favour
Written by Tom Stoppard
Music composed by AndréPrevin
Music Conductor: Simon Over
Directed by Felix Barrett and Tom Morris

Starring: Toby Jones and Joseph Millson
With: Bryony Hannah, Dan Stevens, Bronagh Gallagher, Alan Williams
And (non speaking): Finn Caldwell, Sarah Dowling, Conor Doyle, Jane Leaney, Rob McNeill, Emily Mytton, Fernanda Prata, Vinicius Salles
Design: Bob Crowley
Lighting: Bruno Poet
Sound: Christopher Shutt
Choreography: Maxine Doyle
Running time: One hour 5 minutes with no interval
Box Office: 020 7452 3000
Booking to 30th January 2009
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 16th January 2009 performance at the Olivier, National Theatre, South Bank, London SE1 (Rail/Tube: Waterloo)
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