Review: Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, National Theatre

I was pleased with myself when this play was announced because I paid attention in my piano lessons when I was 10 and I knew that the title was the mnemonic used for the notes of the treble clef (although I remembered it as football). Not being familiar with Every Good Boy Deserves Favour though, I found it quite a refreshing thing to watch, being something completely different to anything I had seen before. That said I am not sure if it was a complete success.

Joseph Millson plays a political dissenter locked up in a Soviet mental institution and shares a cell with another patient, played by Toby Jones, who believes he has a full orchestra in his head. The set-up with the orchestra being right there on stage is quite effective, and the sections where the characters interact with the orchestra were very funny, and the players played on very gamely in the face of some severe distractions. Where I felt this didn’t work however, was when the acting was just front-stage, the orchestra ended up being a distraction or vice versa. This was no more apparent than in a very moving speech given by Millson about the treatment of his fellow dissidents. During this, members of the orchestra stood and proffered their instruments from their seats which was an extremely striking visual, and very moving too. For me though, the combination of the two was too much, maybe I need to learn to multi-task but I found I could not concentrate on both things at the same time. But this didn’t happen too often fortunately.

The staging and lighting was deceptively simple and highly effective, and the acting, as always at the National, was extremely good; Dan Stevens gave strong support as the violin-playing doctor, and coming in at under two hours, it did not overstay its welcome. However, I struggle to recommend it too heartily. Perhaps my ambivalence comes from the final scene: again a powerful visual of the orchestra leaving one by one, but swells of orchestral music continue to play and you soon realise we’re listening to a recording. Whilst I don’t doubt the orchestra really were playing for the majority of the play, it just left a funny taste in the mouth.

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