I went to the play because Julianne Moore was in it.
But I enjoyed the play because Bill Nighy was in it!
Somehow in all the hubbub over Julianne, I'd entirely missed the fact that Bill starred opposite her.
Ben and I just happened to watch Love Actually for the 687th time the other night, so Bill was fresh in my mind when I finally recognized his face glaring up at me from the program (if you don't remember, Bill Nighy plays the sleazy over-and-done-with rock star who makes a comeback with the Christmas song then strips naked on TV while performing on Christmas Eve). Seeing him live and in person (and, fortunately, fully dressed) so soon after viewing the movie again was a pleasant surprise.
The Vertical Hour is the first of writer David Hare's plays to premier in the US. The title references a military term used to describe the first hour after a disaster occurs, during which the most can be done to salvage the situation. The pertinence of this obscure title was only vaguely clarified by the time we filed out of the theater, but the associated connotations pack a wallop regardless of whether or not it is entirely relevant and in doing so, render it justifiable. The terminology crosses the lines between love and war, a ticking clock marking the time that remains to take action.
I wish I had a copy of the script; it would make reviewing this play much easier. Several poignant passages commandeered my attention throughout the show, but I hesitate to venture quoting them at length now. I didn't take notes this time (I didn't expect it would be necessary). Also, I would simply be intrigued with the opportunity to read the script because I enjoyed the dialog so much!
Hare had the audience right where he wanted them through most of the play. For a show nudging heated issues surrounding the Iraq war, the script surprisingly managed to avoid alienating any position while stimulating informed dialog on the topic (from my perspective anyway ~ I attended with one person I'd consider pretty liberal and another I'd consider relatively conservative and both survived and even enjoyed the experience and managed to conduct a civilized conversation afterwords; however I do allow that this could instead be indicative of the refinement of my friends rather than the nobility of the script). The writer doused us with plenty of well-constructed, humorous discourse, most of it seasoned with that delightful dry British wit that rarely fails to tickle me funny.
The plot surrounds an American professor and writer, Nadia (Moore) who goes with her British boyfriend, Philip (played by Andrew Scott whose most recognizable film credit is playing a soldier on the beach in Saving Private Ryan, but who proved quite capable in this role) to visit his somewhat estranged father in Wales, Oliver Lucas (Nighy).
Over the two days the three spend together in the Welsh border country, drinking wine and tea and nibbling toast, we learn intimate details of their lives and the reasons for the existing strife between father and son.
Finding herself alone with Oliver in the hours before dawn, Nadia slowly spins out tidbits from her past. We learn that she used to be a war correspondent and vocal supporter of the Iraq war. She shares with Oliver that President Bush invited her to the White House prior to the invasion of Iraq and it is implied that her consultation with him assisted in pushing the US toward war.
Oliver Lucas, who pshaws Nationalism and clearly detests the war, immediately targets Nadia's background, inciting delightful banter over the subject that I've unfortunately yet to find in occurrence between two people of differing opinions out here in the real world where the conversation usually dissolves into posturing and lip thrusting. Drawing her deeper into conversation as morning begins to break, Oliver's carefully posed comments infuriate Nadia. Smiling at her fervor, he proclaims, "It would appear that you are working yourself up to a drink." When Nadia agrees, he adds, "5am is a lovely time for a Chardonnay."
Hesitantly, Nadia's reminiscences become more personal. She reveals why she no longer works as a field reporter, remembering the love that she did not dare to risk and the loss that her heart was not strong enough to endure. She hints as to the safety and convenience of her relationship with Philip and her comfortable teaching position at Yale.
Through the night, Nadia and Oliver make more of an impact on the other than they'd expected, certainly more of an impact that Philip desired, revealing uncomfortable secrets and asking inappropriate and sometime awkward questions. Underneath their words lurk allusions to the ironically similar situations of love and war and the unavoidable decisions one faces while in their grip, of following through no matter the peril or turning your back against circumstances that threaten your safety, happiness and wellbeing.
Death is not a stranger to either Nadia or Oliver, nor is love, or some variation of what love can be. To risk one's heart can be a noble or foolhardy act, depending upon your perspective. Oliver's story reveals that he has taken the risks and suffered some of the more devastating blows that may come by following your heart. Nadia has made her choices too, but Oliver's boldness leaves her questioning her resolve. The directions their choices have carried these two characters affect not only themselves; the repercussions resonate in the hearts of those around them and those they have left behind.
Nighy excelled. I hung on his every word. Each note of the script he struck on key, provoking laughter, nods and a smattering of uncomfortable seat shifting throughout the audience. You want to see this play to witness Nighy's unequivocal performance. He is one of those actors who can slide from stage to screen without a bump.
Unfortunately, Moore is not. Her uninspired delivery did the role and her fellow actors an injustice from the very first line. I bought tickets for this show ages ago, precisely because I wanted to see her on stage. But her performance hovered on a single note throughout. Her lines resounded with all the emotion of a potato. Even her pauses lacked inspiration.
Moore churned out a performance far to subtle, minuscule against the void between stage and audience. I bet that if you stuck a camera up in her face, she was acting her little ass off, but I can assure you not a glimmer of that fine film performance made its way past the wings. Some techniques do not translate. What delights the lens, the eye may miss. I will continue to watch her movies with gusto, but I will think twice about attending a subsequent theater event.
Luckily the strength of the script and Nighy's abilities carried the show in spite of Moore's insubstinance. I recommend the play for the incomparable writing and for Bill Nighy's performance. But do not attend with high expectations for the headline performer.