Do your New Year's Resolutions include seeing more of London's fantastic cultural events? Then you should catch Every Good Boy Deserves Favour: a play for actors and orchestra at the National Theatre, and kill two birds with one stone.
Strapped for time and cash? Well, with one £10 ticket, you get both a great Tom Stoppard script, and a fantastic André Previn score performed live, on stage, by the Southbank Sinfonia. And it lasts just 65 minutes. Provocative play, classical music, bit of culture: done.
Facetiousness aside, there's lots to recommend this pretty extraordinary evening's entertainment.
Every Good Boy Deserves Favour is the haunting story of two patients in a Russian asylum. One suffers from genuine mania; he can hear an orchestra his head. (The one we can see and hear on stage.) The other is sane, and has been imprisoned (as well as tortured) for his political statements against the government. He'll be released once he admits he's ill; which he won't. "What about the other mothers and fathers?" he asks, when his son pleads with him to lie.
Julian Bleach is wonderfully credible as the schizophrenic Ivanov, his whole body, fingers, hips, twisting to the spiralling sounds in his head. Adrian Schiller's brutally steadfast Alexander makes a fantastic foil; even when weakened by hunger strike, he remains harrowingly rigid.
Stoppard's darkly comic script had us gulping back laughs: how could we find such terrifying subjects as institutional corruption, schizophrenia, and false imprisonment funny? And yet, the playwright's unstoppable taste for word-play and the absurd shines through this bleak-sounding set-up.
And behind this violin-string tense scenario, André Previn's score is a sumptuous Shostakovich pastiche. (Think sweeping Russian strings, folksy melodies bordering on grotesque, lots of big Romantic tunes.) When members of the orchestra stand up as dissidents like Alexander, and others strip away their concert dress to reveal KGB uniforms and beat up their fellow musicians, the lines between reality and lies, and sanity and the insane are further blurred.
As you'd expect from two of our greatest living creative geniuses, Every Good Boy Deserves Favour is a rich, multi-layered piece of theatre. It'll make you laugh; it made us cry; and it'll make you think. And given the complexity in actually staging the show, it's quite rare you get the chance to see it. So make sure you do.
Every Good Boy Deserves Favour plays at the National Theatre until 17 February. Evening performances are at 7pm & 8.45pm, matinees at 3pm, Sundays at 2.30pm & 4.15pm. Tickets cost £10, £15 and £30. Call the box office on 020 7452 3000, or visit www.nationaltheatre.org.uk.