After Agincourt by Peter Mottley. John Cuffe directed by Liz Bradley. National Multicultural Festival at The Street Theatre Studio, February 12-17, 2008, 7.30pm
Peter Mottley, much loved Oxford Theatre Guild writer and director for many years, died suddenly in August 2006. How poorly served is his memory by actor John Cuffe. Maybe it is a brave thing indeed to take on the performance of an hour long monologue, but a professional actor should have had the wit to take his courage in both hands and refund patrons who are asked to pay $20 for such a shambles.
After perhaps five minutes, Cuffe fell into silence, tried repeating a line or two, broke out of role, apologised, called for the line and received a non-committal hard to hear reply. Somewhat aggrieved, he demanded the line, only to be told by someone in the dark that she didn’t have a script. So he told us he would back track a bit and start again, which he did until the next embarrassing silence. He struggled on regardless, through perhaps a dozen such theatrical moments of death, so often repeating himself in attempts to find his place that it became impossible to know how much of what we heard were Mottley’s original words, how much we never heard at all, and how much was blather to fill in the spaces.
What a shame. The speech, ostensibly by Shakespeare’s character Pistol seven years after Henry V foolishly fought the battle of Agincourt, is a great indictment of war. Originally a radio play on BBC3 in 1988, it works not through a superficial reading of Pistol as a coarse cockney but by a flow of language and musicality which creates in one speech the whole range of emotions from comedy to tragedy. Enough bits of Mottley’s writing escaped mangling to give the audience the basic idea, but as we all know, timing is everything in theatre. But much of the time I had to look elsewhere, hiding my head in shame.
Only afterwards was I further embarrassed to read in the program, over John Cuffe’s name, about Mottley’s death and that “to him these performances are respectfully dedicated”, and, as a final insult to the audience, “My apologies for any unintentional omissions”! There is no other explanation. So he knew he wasn’t up to the task. So he shouldn’t have gone on stage. Refund please.
Return to Frank McKone's Home Page