Branagh Gets Ovation
Time Out, 18 July 2003
Kenneth Branagh's return to the London stage, after a decade's absence, in the title role of David Mamet's play Edmond, won him a standing ovation from a (largely female) section of the audience at the National Theatre last night, Thursday July 17.
Those who didn't actually stand gave him a very vocal reception along with the applause, and although the play featured twenty actors in a superb ensemble performance, the evening clearly belonged to Branagh. In an interesting case of a career travelling full circle, Branagh made his name twenty years ago in Another County, where he undressed in front of (but with his back to)the audience in a dormitory scene: his return to the stage and debut at the National was marked by his removing his pants in a sex scene and giving the audience a full frontal as well as side and rear view.
Sex is very much at the centre of Edmond, a play about a 37 year old New Yorker who suddenly leaves his wife, goes on a drinking binge and looks for sex in the pre-clean up New York of the early 1980s, where every street corner seems to have a massage parlour, pimp, or card trickster. Along with various rip-offs and botched attempts to have (affordable) sex for money, Edmond eventually finds a more straightforward one-night stand - but this, too, goes horribly wrong.
To say much more about the play would give away too much of the plot, but although Edward Hall's production has been very well cast, and has an effective, atmospheric (and minimalist) set by Michael Pavelka, the play, though essentially plausible, doesn't ultimately go anywhere, and its denoument, in a prison cell, doesn't ring true. You come out of the National admiring the acting but unmoved and uninformed by the play itself. However, as it only lasts for an hour and a quarter, you do at least come out into sunshine and in plenty of time for supper, over which you can wonder what Branagh's next stage role should be. On the basis of his acting in Edmond, it's high time he was back in the West End in a classic play.