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Thursday, 31 May 2012

The Passion: Week Two and a Bit...

The second week, where the second half is blocked and we start going over ground we've been over before.  It was a tough week, where the hot weather took some toll on the endurance of the company.  Despite the swelter the shape of the show is looking great and set us up for week three (which is going really well so far!) and the adding of layers to the show.  More on layers in the future.

Tuesday 22nd May 2012.  7.30pm.  The Jetty.  Act Two - first half.

Jesus is brought before Herod, the attractive chap seated
It was a limited call for this rehearsal, only the main speaking parts rather than the whole company.  It was a chance to go over these scenes in relative textual detail, rather than focusing on where the ensemble is standing.  Even so, it was a bit of a struggle to get through the whole section by the end of the rehearsal, it's a knotty bit of text.  The first half of Act Two is all about the struggle to get Jesus arraigned - and for the priests Annas and Caiaphas it is a struggle.  Jesus goes from them, to Pilate, who sends them on to Herod (a cameo part for yours truly), who sends them back to Pilate who finally has Jesus condemned.  By the end Annas and Caiaphas are palpably desperate to get their way, in a blackly comic way, which contrasts with the quiet dignity of Jesus who has a number of ordeals to go through.  Next time we cover this section we'll add the chorus, which ups the stakes in the scenes and adds more impact for the audience.

Thursday 24th May 2012.  7.30pm.  The Jetty.  Act Two - second half.

Placing the crown of thorns - just prior to the Road to Calvary
The second half of Act Two is a bigger, ensemble based part of the show.  We actually started the rehearsal with an earlier section - the Road to Calvary - and then, skipping the crucifixion again, moved onto the close of the show.  It's made of a number of short scenes following the crucifixion - starting with the death of Jesus - which is performed as a communal act, the whole company standing and bearing witness - and ending with his resurrection - which brings most of the cast onstage at the end in what looks suspiciously like a proto curtain call.  You'd almost think I planned it that way.

Friday 25th May 2012.  10am.  The Auditorium.  Get in - part one.

It's a little early to get in a show - some six and a bit weeks prior to first night - but we had a good reason (and permission) to add something to the Quay stage early.  These were two bits of wood which are to guide the cross (to be made of two ladders) up the back wall of the stage.  It took a bit longer to do than Keith (our stage manager) and I planned, primarily as we lacked rawle plugs and had to pop out to get some.  I hope our budget will stretch to such extreme spending.

Sunday 27th May 2012.  11am.  The Auditorium.  The Crucifixion.

Note the two bits of wood, top.
This was our second crucifixion rehearsal - but the first with the prototype cross (i.e. two ladders lashed together) and the first with all four soldiers at the rehearsal.  You've probably seen the footage I've posted (see earlier blog) of rehearsals so far, but I also record scenes for those who miss rehearsal (and for myself to transcribe blocking into the prompt script) and the absentee from last weeks rehearsal (victim of a dodgy curry) had a chance in advance to watch a run of the scene with the blocking.
This rehearsal was split into two parts - the running of the words and basic actions (complete with a coned off safety cordon and high visibly jackets for the workers) and then the physical work of raising the cross.  This involved a lot of discussion, practice, debate and general mulling over the practical problem of getting something from the horizontal to the vertical. We came up with a number of proposals as to the final lifting, to be put in place for the next dedicated crucifixion rehearsal in a fortnights time, for which the finished cross will be ready.

Tuesday 29th May 2012.  7.30pm.  The Jetty.  Act One - first half, again.

Back to the beginning again - well nearly.  God wasn't available for today's rehearsal so we skipped the first page and went straight onto the Angel Gabriel.  This rehearsal was about two things - consolidation of blocking, lines, actions (the nuts and bolts), to see how much everyone remembered from the first rehearsal.  It was also about the playing around with back projection - or more properly, Over Head Projection OHP.  And, whilst the effects were only prototypes and used cut up serial boxes and other basic tools, they came out rather well for a first attempt.  The only exception to this was the prototype dove puppet, which was too geometrical and so looked more like a bat from popular horror fiction - rendering a powerful moment at the baptism into a desperate struggle by John the Baptist to escape being attacked by Count Dracula.  Happily this was just to rehearse the basic principle, so that I can go away and make a proper puppet.  I was surprised it survived the rehearsal - the last rehearsal puppet I made kept being ripped apart.  (It was the child in The Caucasian Chalk Circle, which is placed in a circle and used as a tug of war between parents, the 'true' parent letting go and thus proving her worth.  Sadly child puppet had its arms torn off on three separate occasions before I took the hint and embedded them with steel cable for the final show version.)

Well, that's us up to date with rehearsals - more to come soon as the adventure continues.  More rehearsal snaps below - in no particular order.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Genesis of The Passion

Scenes from a director's table...
I mentioned in my last post that The Passion was six years in the making.  The start point of the script was seeded by a rehearsed reading of various medieval mystery plays in 2006.  But perhaps it should be said to have started in 2005, when I was in a production of Two Planks and a Passion by Anthony Minghella.  Actually, it probably started even earlier, but for the moment, let's start there.
Sudbury Dramatic Society likes to throw the odd curve ball play each season - between a pantomime, a comedy / farce and the obvious greats of theatre history there will be something more modern, less well known.  Two Planks and a Passion is a play about the mystery plays, set during the reign of Richard II, who visits York with his wife to watch them.  It's broadly speaking a comedy, though leavened by the Queen who is dying (quite literally) to see the plays, with the various guilds of the city battling to show off their productions to the best.  There is a brief scene where the cast rehearse the crucifixion.  Irritatingly the scene was rewritten in a mock modernish version of the original text and wasn't anything like the original script of a mystery play.  However, there was a bit of a spark for me to delve a little deeper into the mystery plays.  But what is a mystery play, I hear you ask?
Here's the history bit, concentrate:  what we tend to call the mystery plays were almost certainly never called mystery plays, except by the French, so it doesn't count.  Like most things in history the plays got a label by future people that had no real connection with the thing they supposed to describe.  We think of the mystery plays as being about the mysteries of Christianity - it fits well - except that it probably derives from a term for the guilds of the city, or from the French, or from any old thing, and was almost certainly never used to describe the plays themselves.
The history of modern English / European theatre was kick started in the church from the 11th Century as an increasingly dramatised version of part of the liturgy - specifically the Easter liturgy and the approach of the three Mary's to the tomb of Jesus who meet an Angel who tell them he has risen.  It isn't until the creation of a new festival, Corpus Christi, in the 14th Century that the creation of extensive cycles of plays based on the Bible began to be staged.  By this time the drama had left the church and was in the hands of the trade guilds of the various cities that staged plays.  The plays would cover an episode from the Bible, (the fall of man, Noah, the end of the world etc) and could collectively cover the whole history of the universe, from creation to destruction, played back to back over the course of a whole day, several days, or more piecemeal over the years.  The Corpus Christi Plays (as we more properly should probably call them) were major civic events that ran most years for a good two hundred years in different forms.  It wasn't until the break from Rome that the tradition was killed off and professional playing took over, leading to the theatre world that Shakespeare came to bustle in.
The texts we have are mostly from four cycles of plays, in differing states of completion, from four different towns, though there is debate as to which.  For my version I've culled bits from all four, choosing a fairly orthodox selection of episodes for the bulk of the play, with a few bits that the hardcore fans (if there are such a thing) will find interesting.
But this isn't the first time I've edited some 'mystery' plays.  In 2006 I put together a reading of plays that covered the nativity for, appropriately enough, Christmas.  It was a nice 90 minute show, covering the Annunciation through to the death of Herod.  It was my first real taste of the medieval scene and I couldn't get enough of it.  I loved the texture of the words, the roughness, the sound of it all.  These were plays written for ordinary people to perform, not actors, not professionals - they have an earnest power to them that I loved.
Wind on a few years and I had the idea of doing a grand extravaganza; doing, if not a whole day of 'mystery' plays, then a two part version over a couple of weeks, ending with a gala night at the end to fit the gap between the Jubilee and the Olympics.  This idea was taken up by SDS and I prepared a two part play, each act covering part of the life of Jesus - Nativity, Betrayal, Passion & Resurrection.  Nativity was easy, I'd done that one before, but the others took much longer - the script evolved over a good two years.  Sadly, this two week plan had to be pulled for a series of dull and tedious reasons, and what would have been The Sudbury Mysteries became The Passion last year.  What we're rehearsing now covers Betrayal and Passion as written in my original draft, with a reworked Prologue and Epilogue covering Nativity and Resurrection. 
That's the outline of how I got to edit together the text of The Passion, and why this show has come about.  We're just entering week three of rehearsals and my next blog will tell the tale of week two - which covers the last of the blocking.  The first brush strokes have been thrown onto the canvas.  From now on I'm working on the detail.

Sudbury Dramatic Society Presents...
The Passion
Based on the English Medieval Mystery Plays
Adapted and directed by Robert Crighton

Before Shakespeare there were the mysteries, the first great dramas ever produced in English.  The original mystery plays were based on stories from the Bible, telling the story of the world from the creation through to doomsday and written to be performed on city streets over the course of a whole day.  This specially prepared version tells of the life of Christ focusing on his betrayal and what follows.  A powerful story told for all peoples, involving storytelling, music, drama and a community company open to all comers.

Performing Tuesday 10th to Saturday 14th July at 7.45pm
The Quay Theatre, Quay Lane, Sudbury, Suffolk, CO10 2AN
Box Office: 01787 374 745

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

The Passion: Week One

At last, it has begun: the biggest production I've ever staged, the most ambitious, the longest prepared.  The Passion is, arguably, some six years in the making in terms of inspiration - though in practical terms I've only been planning this production for two years.  (What's two years?)  We had a read through a few weeks ago, in the bar (a most civilised way to read a script) of the Quay Theatre and last week we began in earnest.  Here's the first week in prose, pictures and video.

Sunday 13th May 2012.  11am.  The Jetty.  Act One - first five scenes.

The first rehearsal was part muck about, part company get together, part workshop, part... well an actual rehearsal (I told people where to stand and everything).  We started with a few exercises, just to warm people up and introduce a few techniques which, time permitting, will be used in the show.  The cast is currently standing at 26 people, which means getting everyone together, getting them to work together as a unit, is very important... and incredibly difficult.  In thirty minutes of exercises we made a start - then I threw them into the play.
The text of the play is my edit of lots and lots of material from the Corpus Christi Plays which were performed in late medieval England.  It's full of weird words, rhyme, energy, humanity, humour and great sadness.  I have, for the most part, not re-worded anything - just rearranged the material into a single play.  However, I couldn't resist adjusting one little bit to create a mobile phone warning at the beginning of the show.  Naturally, God asks the audience to switch off their mobile phones (see video, below).
We didn't go into detail with the text, as the video for that rehearsal shows, I mostly ordered people around - stand here, do this, pull down imaginary objects - so that there is a lot of running around and little detail.  Detail comes later.
The most important thing to me, as a director, was to make sure the first rehearsal was fun, active and gave everyone the sense of the show.  I think the video carries that across.

Tuesday 15th May 2012.  7.30pm.  The Auditorium.  Annas & Caiaphas in Act One.

Ignore the plastic sheet - it will not hang so...
The next rehearsal was a very different beast, as we were rehearsing with a smaller selection of the cast, working more on the words of the text than on spectacle.  But we were also rehearsing in the Auditorium of the Quay, the biggest space we have, because the scenes we were rehearsing moved to all corners of the space.  In emulation of the original open air plays this is a production that will burst from the seems of the stage, out into the auditorium, into the foyer, the bar... in fact, though the play starts on stage at 7.45pm, the production will begin around the Quay from about 7.25pm.  More on that in a future blog.
The scenes we were rehearsing were the conspiracy scenes - the plot to get Jesus by the local leaders Annas and Caiaphas, aided by a couple of busy bodies Doctor 1 and 2.  (Doctor 1 and 2 are terrible names for characters, especially as they are rather interesting figures in the play, but I can't really start calling them Gerald and Frank now).  These scenes, short, cut into the action featuring Jesus (specifically the Last Supper) in the second half of the first act - so that as we watch Jesus we are constantly aware of the threat against him.  The two plot strands then come together for the betrayal in the garden - with Judas' betrayal. 
Judas gets his spotlight - just before his end.
The rehearsal was also my first chance to test out materials for the set.  We're planning a fair amount of projection / shadow play throughout the play - so it's important to find material which is thick enough to be opaque in normal lighting, see through (ish) with bright directed light.  So, in the photos you will see a rather ugly bit of sheeting hanging limply from a washing line.  It will not look like that. 

Thursday 17th May 2012.  7.30pm.  The Jetty.  Jesus in Act One.

Looks let sinister when they're moving.
Back in the Jetty for another full cast call - though this was a more fragmented, workman-like affair.  We worked through the odd scenes (as opposed to the even numbered scenes) of the second half of Act One - featuring the Entrance to Jerusalem (which involved a fair amount of waving fists in the air - which looks fine live, but as a photo looks much less innocent), the Last Supper and the Agony in the Garden.  I was delighted to find that I actual had enough disciples for the Last Supper - I wasn't sure, with the doubling, I could get everyone together for the scene.  Unlike the Da Vinci/western art tradition of the Last Supper as being round a big table, ours is a more informal affair.  These are modest people who've been working together through difficult conditions, they are aware of great danger, they are having their Passover supper at a friends house - so a big banquet this is not.
Just say no to Python
Judas, naturally enough, turned up to rehearsal wearing a Monty Python t-shirt.  It will not feature in the show.
At various times in the rehearsal I sent away to work on smaller scenes / speeches separately.  With 20 to 30 people in the cast there are always moments when people aren't needed, so it's really helpful to get the most out of the time.  Today the Angel Gabriel worked with my glamorous assistant on speeches and the Doctors ran a little scene we'd started on Sunday - adding some nice detail, a few little moves.
As a director I do think it's important to try and get people to try things out away from me, to feel free enough to surprise me.  I love surprises.  I like to see people try out other ideas and at this stage there is nothing to be gained by being precious.  Try it out - if I don't like the idea, I can always say after ward.  Of course, saying this doesn't mean it always happens, but I do try to be open.  By week five I will be mostly focusing on getting it as rehearsed... but that's when we've gone over everything several times and the show will have formed itself into a clear shape.
Oh, and here's the snippets of video from Tuesday and Thursday.

And so, after a week, we have gone over the whole of the first half.  Now, baring the odd little look back, we go into the more somber Act Two.

Sunday 20th May 2012.  10am.  The Quay.  Act One, reprise of opening.

An early morning call to rehearse the back projection and shadow play for the opening of the show - as God delivers his opening oration, his thoughts appear on the curtain.  We covered this briefly the previous Sunday, but now was a chance to have a bit of a play.  It was a chance to see how effectively we could show Mary become pregnant and give birth as a shadow play, and to see whether Adam and Eve would work as shadow puppets.  Unfortunately I hadn't created proper rehearsal puppets for this rehearsal, so we just worked out the basic shape of the scene - fortunately, after the rehearsal I had a brainwave that would have negated the kind of puppet I'd planned anyway. 

11.30am.  The Jetty.  The Crucifixion.

Up till now the rehearsals, and the play, have been fairly light; this rehearsal was for the crucifixion and so was serious.  We went through the text carefully, we blocked the scene, we discussed the risk assessment.  From the first moment this production came to me I have been wrestling with the pragmatics of this most difficult act - how to raise, safely, a cross, with someone on it.  This rehearsal was about the text, primarily, we only talked about how the lifting will go ahead.  Next Sunday the cast will work with the cross itself and in the space - but without anyone on it.  Only once we know the precise dynamics of raising the object will we move onto the person. 

And so ends the first week of rehearsals - I'm off now to break into the second week, with another seven to go before the curtain goes up.  I hope you'll stay with us and follow our progress.  The next blog will be about the run up to this production and a little background to the plays themselves.  Till next time, enjoy the rest of the rehearsal photos below.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Onto the Island

I've not posted anything for a while as I've been a little poorly.  (Cough, cough, kersplot.)  Illness came at a particularly bad time as I was supposed to be finishing The Shakespeare Delusion (as well as sorting out all the publicity for the tryout in Suffolk) at the time and now have had to postpone.  I hate postpone, it's a mean word, and I do normally try to keep the show on the road, but it had been a pretty horrendous Easter and I refuse to perform a not-quite-ready show to a not-very-big audience for the sake of being stubborn.  So scratch 18th May from your minds - it's gone back to October, date tba.  I have been indulging from my sickbed in a lot of Shakespeare for research purposes and I'm fascinated by how the silliest of notions can be given credence and respect.  A rant on anti-Stratfordians will come in a further blog - for the moment I will only rant on the subject of the BBC "documentary" Shakespeare in Italy for which commissioner, programme makers and researchers should get sacked.  Whilst a well researched, expert led documentary series on Shakespeare and King James, The Playwright and the King, languishes on BBC Four (where no one will watch it), a stupid, badly researched and, frankly, idiot led holiday programme pretending to be a documentary is placed on prime time BBC 2.  It made claims without evidence, paraded partisan nobodies as experts and ignored decades of scholarship in favour of generalisations which are just plain wrong.  As I emailed a friend of mine who teaches Shakespeare - one day your students will tell you that some of this nonsense is true.  My anger is oddly palpable.
Bestilling my heaving breast and putting aside The Shakespeare Delusion for a month or two, I'm now focused entirely on my production of The Passion, which I've edited from the medieval mystery plays and which I'm directing for July - it's going to be epic, in all senses of the word, and I'm really excited about it.  For the next two months expect posts mostly about that.
But back to my illness - the monkeys of fate were riding my back all through the hacking, sweating and wobbliness as, despite my malady, I still had to attend most rehearsals of The Admirable Crichton which I was directing at the time.  You know you must be doing something right as a director when the cast send you, not a get well soon card but a get well NOW card.  I was touched.  Now that both play and vomiting are past I thought I'd have a little look at the play itself for the bulk of this post.  It is a curious little beast.  As previously, I won't precis the play for you, if you don't know it go to wikipedia for a breakdown or read the text - it's available on Project Gutenberg for nothing.

The Admirable Crichton is a play that naturally calls to me across the desert wastes of discarded plays that time has strewn across the path of a directors interest.  We share a name, albeit spelt differently, and the phrase is often, erroneously, used to describe myself (there is little to admire in my life).  When Mr Barrie wrote the play he made famous a not unknown phrase which had previously been used to describe, even more erroneously, a real Crichton from the sixteenth century, who was a bit of a wild card, dying as he did in a duel with six people - a subject I've long thought of writing a play about.
The play The Admirable Crichton is divorced entirely from its ancestor - it is light, frothy, fun and should be played with bold strokes.  At first glance, especially in terms of plot and structure, it looks like a play that Bernard Shaw might have written; it has hints of social comedy, satire, a sense of overturning accepted values.  Look again and Shaw would be appalled (though probably entertained) - he would have produced a play with a sharper, less forgiving eye and without the implicit acceptance of the status quo.  Ultimately Barrie says that class structures are inevitable, that society will only be reformed into variations on a theme - Shaw would never have allowed that idea to pass.  I haven't had a look to see if Shaw reviewed the original production, it would be interesting to see what he thought.
This isn't to say Crichton isn't entirely toothless, it has a lot going for it in terms of attack on hypocrisy and occasional hints at downright naughtiness (some of the dialogue appears, from our modern eyes, to border on double entendre and it is very difficult to decide if it's deliberate or not), but for the most part the play is played with a straight bat.
It is, despite the plot being about class and social distinction, a nice little comedy.  It doesn't aim for many big laughs, just an air of titters and general contentment from the audience.  That maybe considered complacent for a work of theatre these days, but it is generally what the audience of the time and, for much of the country, what the audience of today actually wants; gentle escapement, a few laughs, nothing to frighten the horses.
It is, therefore, perfect, tonally speaking, for an amateur company in a village hall in a rural setting.  That isn't to say it is an easy play to stage physically.  It's a four act play that careers from a house in Mayfair to an island and back again with alarming speed.  Both these major scene changes occur mid-way in each half, so you have to find ways a. of keeping the change short and b. do something to keep the audience happy while it occurs.  Originally these scene changes would probably have been genuine intervals, so Barrie can't be blamed for being unrealistic in his stage craft.  The play also asks for props and costumes in large quantities and requires a VAST chorus of servants who appear only in Act One - I believe Samuel French lists 17 parts - so not, on the surface at least, an easy proposition.
But the play does throw the producer a bone.  Whilst all of these places, props and costumes are needed to some degree, many of them are only ever referenced by the text - in the way Shakespeare and his contemporaries would speak out a scene setting rather than building it, Barrie will refer to the amenities of the island in dialogue without requiring them physically to be used.
This isn't always true, of course.  There are detailed stage directions throughout the play, discussing bits of business and acts that require props galore - but much of this we have reinvented as we went along.  The problem with Barrie is his editorship of the text - he produced a script rich in detail, but with little clear marking as to how to carry out his plans.  For example: he rarely gives a clear, straightforward indication of entrances and exits.  Often it is assumed, hinted at in a block of prose, or not mentioned at all.  And the vast amount of descriptive prose in the text makes it a task and a half for the cast to actually find their dialogue on the page.  Finally, and most annoyingly for the director, he doesn't even include a cast list - which meant I had to spend an hour going through the play figuring out who was in the play (which when you haven't even decided whether you want to stage the play yet is quite a punt).  Later editions may have corrected some of this issues - my copy definitely did not.
The tone of the play has been my over arching issue in rehearsal - the play appears relatively naturalistic at first glance, but after a couple rehearsals we all realised this was not the case.  It is a stylised piece, people play up to situations, performing all the time in a hyper real way.  I think the best way to describe it is... well, it feels more Broadway than West End.  To be mean - subtlety would be wasted.  That isn't to say there isn't detail to the performance, but the more I looked, the less there seemed to be inside any of the characters - just a series of surfaces reacting to their situation for comic effect.
The script also has a few dangling threads to it.  Rather than a tightly weaved blanket of brilliance, there are occasional passages that are a bit loose, there's a thread missing that would tie all the action together.  They are very minor issues that, were I to stage the play again, I would deal with by making a few minor re-writes.  Keyhole surgery only, but I don't think I would let some of the dialogue to pass muster without correction - sentences that come out of nowhere, thoughts that don't quite come across, solved with an extra word or two, a half sentence here or there to darn up the gaps.
There are a few more serious challenges - the issue of the character Tweeny, who is left at the end of the play without any kind of resolution.  The film version of the play (re-written from top to bottom, but faithful to the shape of the play) felt this absence and added clarity, but being a film it was essentially a sentimental version of the play and it's conclusion is similarly unsatisfactory.  Taking up the mantle of Shaw again, it's a play that could do with a sharper ending, and he would not have left Tweeny's fate unexplored - but I fear we're drifting into the territory of Pygmalion, so I will stop making these unfair comparisons.
The level of the play is not that of Shaw - it is not trying to score points or really make people think.  It isn't trying to say much, the shipwreck is a setup for a series of status changes - satire as a false front for a straightforward comedy of manners.  The play that Barrie wrote doesn't need to tie up all the loose ends because in it Tweeny doesn't really matter - even Crichton's departure from the household is fairly perfunctory, a mechanical plot necessity.  Sorting out what happens to Lady Mary is the primary function of Act Four, getting her across the obstacle course of her future mother in law and her (and her fiancees) indiscretions drives the comedy of the act.  So long as everyone gets married or moved on, then the play can end.
Lady Mary is the core of the play - whilst Crichton, title character, is more the catalyst of the action.  It is the reaction of Mary and the rest of the company to his changes that drives the comedy.  They all react with large, sudden changes of emotion; from haughty aristocracy to sobbing simpletons at the toss of a line.  Lady Mary, as the fawning love interest on the island, displays the greatest shift of character in relation to her status.  She goes from being distant and disdainful to a girl who'll do anything for her man and, with some temperance, back again across the play - but this isn't a love story.  The film thought it was, but the play always plays her love for Crichton as something deeply silly and comic - something fairly surface and reversible.
After leaving the island and returning to England she is all pragmatism - love for Crichton has gone, only respect is left.  The last impulses from the island life, to tell her fiancee the truth about her life there, are soon dashed when he confesses his own affair - one that was actually consummated (possibly the closest the play gets to controversy) - and she agrees to forgive him and keep quiet herself.  Lady Mary has learnt to play the game; she can see through the hypocrisy of her own life, but she will not make an effort to change it.  She will keep up appearances and marry and be dutiful to a husband she doesn't love, who is obviously unreliable and only of value for his money - the only difference between her proposed marriage before the island and after is that now she knows it will be a sham.
Similarly, her father Lord Loam has learnt by the end of the play that his views on equality were not based on his own views.  He was a blue blooded Tory who thought he was a socialist - it took the island to teach him to drop his own pretence.  Again, whilst he has learnt, he hasn't actually changed.  In fact, no one in the plat has deeply changed.
It is that lack of change that leaves Crichton in the nice and harmless category of plays.  Funny, fun and nice - but there is no bite, little depth and not even much length (it's a surprisingly short play) to raise this entertainment to a higher level of art or artistry.
As with my earlier post on A Woman of No Importance I've damned the play with faint praise - it has to be said that in performance the audience laughed, the house was full and the general feeling was that of contentment.  The play works and can be done very well - and is well known enough to draw an audience on its name alone (which always saves time, effort and money) - not many plays tick all those boxes.