The Unexpected Man

Previewed 8 April 1998, Opened 15 April 1998, Closed 9 May 1998 at the Barbican Pit Theatre Previewed 10 June 1998, Opened 15 June 1998, Closed 22 August 1998 at the Duchess Theatre

A major production of Yasmina Reza's comedy The Unexpected Man in London starring Eileen Atkins and Michael Gambon

Two strangers sit opposite one another on a train from Pris to Frankfurt. He is a famous novelist. She is a life-long fan, with his recent book in her bag. They do not speak to each other, but their thoughts pour out in dazzling monologues about their lives and loves, art and fiction.

This production transfers to London's West End following a sold-out run at the Barbican Pit Theatre.

The cast at both the Pit Theatre and the West End's Duchess Theatre featured Michael Gambon as 'Paul Parsky' and Eileen Atkins as 'Martha'. Directed by Matthew Warchus with designs by Mark Thompson, lighting by Hugh Vanstone, music by Gary Yershon, and sound by Mic Pool.

Yasmina Reza's other West End plays include Art.

Michael Gambon's London theatre credits include the roles of 'Tom Driberg' in Richard Wilson's production of Stephen Churchett's Tom and Clem at the Aldwych Theatre in 1997; 'Eddie Carbone' in Alan Ayckbourn's revival of Arthur Miller's A View From The Bridge at the Aldwych Theatre in 1987; 'Sergeant' in Harold Pinter's production his play Mountain Language at the National Theatre's Lyttelton Theatre in 1988; the title role in Michael Blakemore's revival of Anton Chekov's Uncle Vanya at the Vaudeville Theatre in 1988; and 'Jerry' in Peter Hall's production of Harold Pinter's Betrayal at the National Theatre's Lyttelton Theatre in 1978.

Eileen Atkins's London stage credits include the roles of 'Virginia Woolf' in Patrick Garland's production of her own play Vita and Virginia at the Ambassadors Theatre in 1993; 'Hannah Jelkes' in Richard Eyre's revival of Tennessee Williams' The Night Of The Iguana at the National Theatre's Lyttelton Theatre in 1992; 'Elderly Woman' in Harold Pinter's production of his own play Mountain Language at the National Theatre's Lyttelton Theatre in 1988; the title role in Toby Robertson's revival of Euripides' Medea, in an adaptation by Jeremy Brooks, at the Young Vic Theatre in 1986; and the title role in John Dove's revival of George Bernard Shaw's play Saint Joan at the Old Vic Theatre in 1977.

"Michael Gambon plays a disgruntled novelist and Eileen Atkins is elegantly poised as the bereaved woman who can't decide whether to get her book out and read it in front of him. The pair wander about voicing thoughts to the audience, unheard by each other. Gambon is a wonderful brooding, hunched presence (no one can swear quite like him) in a designer suit and Atkins is terrific at implying an undertow of middle-aged melancholy. It's worth seeing for the occasionally dazzling duet between these two stars. But the play's container-load of Gallic philosophising finally sends it up a dull siding." The Daily Express

"Whatever edge this funny, sad 80-minute piece may have in psychological subtlety and shadings of sorrow can't compensate for the fact that we seem to have gathered here to watch a radio drama. Yasmina Reza would object that this calculated perversity is what makes The Unexpected Man an intriguing theatrical proposition, and certainly, in Michael Gambon and Eileen Atkins, she is lucky to have two actors whose faces are full of suffering and humour, and hints of a complex hinterland you could go on reading for ever. The chance to stare at them silently staring is, to be sure, abundantly on offer here... The technical trick is that most of the piece is conducted as interior monologues: the drawback in a stage version is that the embarrassing constriction and the absurdly tense and still mutual watchfulness of the real-life situation are dissipated as the characters deliver their thoughts, not in voice-over but in direct-to-audience routines, and move around the stage to physicalise the relationship going on in their heads... it creates an irritatingly over abstract insubstantial world where, you feel, Godot would arrive sooner than a humble buffet trolley." The Independent

"A man and a woman are travelling - not together - by train from Paris to Frankfurt. He is a novelist. She recognises him as the author of the book, The Unexpected Man, in her handbag. They don't speak. Well, not to each other... They circle each other with respective theories and fantasies of identity and motivation, fuelling a brief public encounter with a history of private detail... They make new fictions for themselves. The eventual out-loud confrontation explodes the fragile, anonymous trust between an artist and a consumer This is where the play reverberates most movingly, and the actors suggest a world of mutual dependency that stalls only on the vanity of the writer. When Parsky invokes a phrase of Borges that puts himself genuinely in his own inadequate place, Martha cites moments in all of his novels that have made her weep. No writer could ask for more. The great Gambon heaves a mighty sigh and slumps in tearful confusion. The spell is broken but the magic remains." The Daily Mail

The Unexpected Man in London at the Duchess Theatre previewed from 10 June 1998, opened on 15 June 1998, and closed on 22 August 1998