I’ve written before here about my enduring appreciation of The Avengers (NOT The Marvel Avengers.) On June 25th of last year, an inevitable day came to pass when series star Patrick Macnee died at age 93 of natural causes after a long and full life. I held off from viewing any episodes for four or five months after that, as I wasn’t sure if knowing that Steed (the central character) was no longer with us would affect my perception of the many episodes he left behind and continuing to watch the show.
When I did pull out the DVDs again, I deliberately chose a Steed centric episode from what many fans consider the series’ best season, its last in black and white, to honor Macnee in my mind. To my surprise, the episode endured in nearly the same way as before, and I even felt I was looking at it with fresh eyes. This could have been because of a long gap in viewing episodes, the changed circumstances without Macnee, my long-lasting appreciation of British culture on the whole, or some other reason entirely. Whatever the case, not only did the episode continue to feel like “visual comfort food” – my occasional term for watching the show – it still felt fresh in the present day, now just over 50 years after it was first transmitted.
In the past couple weeks, for one reason or another, that appreciation has grown into a celebration, as I’ve watched more episodes in a month-long time frame (or so) than over the past five years. They all continue to be emblematic of the 1960’s era in which they were made. However, based on certain aesthetic choices of the series producers, perhaps centered around decisions to have limited extras and not too much rooting in that same era, the episodes can come forward in time and still remain just as entertaining and relevant. If Steed and his various partners were seen dancing in Swinging London or hanging out at a Stones or Beatles concert (which they may have done in their off-screen time), the impression would be more nostalgic and arguably dated.
As it is now, the shows stand on their own terms, and they are each like little mini-films within themselves, as more than one writer about the series has come to observe. And I know I’m not the only one for whom this continuing appreciation of this series endures.
In honor of the Hilberry Theatre‘s about-to-open production of Boeing Boeing, a look back at when I first saw the play:
The West End felt like a foreign land to me yesterday after nearly a week of commuting from the city to the country for filming. It was good to be back “in town”, even though I splurged a bit on food and theatre tickets for the day. Yesterday the British press was downright gleeful over the pound’s recent (Monday) cracking of the 1 pound=$2 barrier. I grimaced, but again, am grateful to be paid in the local currency.
Returned to the theatre scene after nearly a week’s gap for a double-bill of glitzy West End shows. First up was a new revival of Cabaret done in a socially conscious yet still very sexual and emotionalist style. The cast of the play has recently completely changed, which might have been a reason that their creative energy felt un-even to me. It probably didn’t help that the audience, at least in the stalls, was only ½ to 3/4 full and somewhat somber. In the second act, the ensemble built up to a powerful climax of the play that I didn’t remember having the same devastational feel when I saw the Hampshire version in 2004. Also, Honor Blackman, whose presence in the cast was the primary reason I went to see the show, gave a warm, thoughtful performance as Fraulein Schneider, and has an amazing amount of vitality. I waited outside the theatre in hopes of getting her to sign my program, but unfortunately she didn’t appear for the (short) break between matinee and evening performances. Will go back next week for another try, and if successful, I will have met 3 of the 4 Avengers leading ladies – and that’s important to me since that series was my first, endearing taste of Britain.
The second play, Boeing-Boeing, was the best comedy I have seen all year, and has attracted glowing reviews from critics and audiences alike since its February opening. The show is written as a French farce, and originally premiered in the West End in the mid-60’s. The slightly updated, but still dated-feeling plot concerns a bachelor who practices polygamy in Paris, juggling romantic lives with three different air hostesses who never intersect due to differences in their flight timetables. But when the man’s best friend comes for a visit and one by one, all three women’s work schedules get delayed, it creates a dramatic domino effect leading to a farcical, clever climax. Those type of plays can only really work if the cast members are “on” with energy and dramatic commitment, and that was clearly present with nearly all the actors here. Frances de la Tour (the female teacher in The History Boys, here playing the protagonist’s long-suffering maid in on the trick) and Mark Rylance (a British actor who used to direct the Globe Theatre, as the protagonist’s best friend) stood out amongst the six-actor ensemble. They were helped by an on-the-ball script, skilled comedic direction (from the same man who is now putting finishing touches on The Lord of The Rings: The Musical), opulent set design and a swinging sixties soundtrack that I wanted to buy in album form.