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Archive for the ‘Theatre’ Category

A hit new play at the Bridge Theatre? I’d say so. A proper play, too. Remember those? Stories, plots, characters. Something that takes you on an enjoyable journey to somewhere. It’s a stage adaptation of Harriett Lane’s novel by playwright Lucinda Coxon, and jolly good it is too.

Frances works for the arts supplement of a Sunday paper, specifically the Books section. She’s very put upon – fetching coffee, fixing couriers – someone always in the background. Returning home from Christmas with her family, she witnesses a fatal car accident, the last person to speak to its victim Alys, whose family ask the police if they can meet her. She declines at first, but when she discovers Alys’s husband is famous author Laurence Kyte, she changes her mind.

Frances’ boss Mary is surprised to bump into her at Alys’ memorial service where she is seen speaking to her family, as a result of which her currency at work rises sharply, and she gets books to review and functions to attend. At the same time, she inveigles herself into the Kyte family, at first as a confidante for Alys’ daughter Polly, but becoming much more. Underneath the cloak of invisibility lurks a rather cunning, determined, intelligent and somewhat manipulative person, who creates a future for herself and cleverly navigates the journey towards it.

Nicholas Hytner’s staging is very well paced, drawing you in and keeping you engaged with Frances’ story. Bob Crowley’s design, with video projections by Luke Halls, allows the action to move swiftly and fluidly from offices to rooms and gardens in a handful of locations. I thought Joanne Froggatt perfectly captured the seemingly unobtrusive Frances, revealing what’s really going on in her head by a subtle glance or a hint of a smile. The supporting cast are first class, with Sylvestra Le Touzel giving another of her nuanced performances as Mary, then turning up virtually unrecognisable as Audrey.

Five week run? I smell a transfer for this thoroughly entertaining tale.

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If you changed the title, and maybe the character names, you’d never know this was an adaptation of a 350-year-old French play. You’d think it was a contemporary farce set in North London with a touch of social satire. It’s jolly good fun, but it’s not really Moliere.

Making it contemporary stretches the plausibility of Orgon falling under the spell of imposter Tartuffe rather a lot, so suspending disbelief is mandatory. Here Tartuffe is some sort of guru, with a hint of religiosity and Buddhism, who looks like an ageing hippy and spends a lot of time in his pants. Both Orgon and his mother Pernelle worship him, believing he is the antidote to the decadence of the family – wife Elmire and her brother Cleante, son Damis & daughter Mariane and her boyfriend Valere, plus housekeeper Dorine.

Orgon tries to marry Mariane to Tartuffe, who is trying to bed Elmire. All are concerned about Orgon’s wealth and Orgon has a bit of a secret that looks like its going to come back to haunt him. The family seek to entrap Tartuffe in order to avoid Mariane’s marriage and keep the money in the family. With the exception of a changed ending to accomodate the updating, the story is intact, though John Donnelly’s new version dispenses with the rhyming couplets, but it does go into verse at the denouement.

Robert Jones superb design is tasteless nouveau riche. The performance style in Blanche McIntyre’s production of John Donnelly’s adaptation is uniformly broad and loud, which does suit farce. Denis O’Hare plays Tartuffe very physically, a larger than life figure, which suits the role well. Kevin Doyle is the perfect foil as Orgon. As Elmire, Olivia Williams proves very adept at the comedy, also becoming very physical as the play progresses. I loved Kitty Archer and Enyi Okoronkwo as the spoilt kids. There’s great work from Kathy Kiera Clarke as the all knowing housekeeper, Hari Dhillon as an indignant Cleante and Geoffrey Lumb as lover & poet Valere, and a delightful cameo from Susan Engel as Pernelle, who gets the show off to a terrific start.

Just go for some fun and you’ll enjoy it, just don’t go expecting a faithful revival of a French classic.

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For the third Arthur Miller play this year we move forward to 1980, to his biggest Broadway flop – just 12 performances after opening night – which six years later, revised, was an NT hit, moving from the Cottesloe to the Olivier. We’re back in the 30’s, continuing his examination of the aftermath of the Great Depression.

We follow the Baum family from 1929 through the loss of their money and home, moving to Brooklyn to live with relatives. Son Lee’s hopes of college disappear. Finding a job is tough. Navigating the welfare system is humiliating. Hopelessness seems to be around every corner. Robertson, a Wall Street professional, who’s prophesied the crash, narrates the story. Miller nicknamed it a Vaudeville after the revised version in Britain added thirties songs.

Director Rachel Chavkin’s big idea is to have three Baum families of different ethnic backgrounds – Jewish, South Asian and African American – sharing the three roles. This is confusing and distracting, particularly as the nine all also play other roles, as does just about everyone, and derails the first part of the play. She’s also made the music more eclectic and added dance, with one of those dance marathons people enter for money running through it. For me, this didn’t really work, and got in the way of the story.

The onstage seating and Chloe Lamford’s design detract too. There are huge trading floor indicator boards on both sides and the stage is elevated which, even from the 5th row of the stalls, seemed to be rather remote, making it hard to engage with the play. There’s a fine ensemble who work very hard, giving it their all, but the effort and passion dissipates because it’s not involving the audience. There’s so much going on that the story gets lost.

I saw the NT production at the Cottesloe and Phil Willmott’s excellent revival at the Finborough in 2012, and both served the play much better. it cries out for a simpler staging in a more intimate space, which the vast Old Vic can be, but isn’t on this occasion. I rarely leave a Miller play disappointed, but I did here.

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French Playwright Florian Zeller’s work has become a staple of London’s theatre in the last five years. Six of his play’s have had productions here in that period, all translated by Christopher Hampton. This seventh is the third in his family trilogy, following The Mother & The Father which, both first seen in this theatre, we saw the other way round to the order in which they were written. Though I liked the other three, those two stood out for me, and this is a very welcome companion piece.

The son, Nicolas, a teenager, seems badly affected by his parents separation. His dad Pierre has a new wife and baby son and he asks to live with them after his mother Anne struggles to cope when she discovers he hasn’t been going to school. If anything, it’s even more of a challenge at his father’s and he spirals into depression and despair. What at first seems unhappiness at the split proves to be severe depression.

It’s hard to say more without spoiling it, but it is a harrowing journey that shows the damage that can be done at a vulnerable point in a young person’s life, and the agony of the parents who have to deal with it. It doesn’t take sides, and Zeller doesn’t mess with your head as much as he did in The Father, about dementia, and The Mother, who struggles with empty nesting, but he does have a trick or two up his sleeve.

Michael Longhurst’s sensitive production features a career defining performance by John Light, at first unsympathetic, but whose pain you come to feel intensely as he lets go, and a stunning performance that oozes authenticity by Laurie Kynaston as Nicolas. Though the male leads carry the emotional weight of the play, there are excellent contributions too from Amanda Abbington as Nicolas’ mum Anne, who struggles to cope with it all, and Amaka Okafor as Pierre’s new partner Sofia, torn between supporting her man in his support of his son and focusing on their new life and new child.

It’s not an easy watch, but it’s an insightful piece which rewards you with a sense of understanding and appreciation of mental health, as the other two plays had done, and the impact marital separation can have on children.

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American playwright Martin Sherman rose to fame with the play Bent, about the treatment of homosexuals in the holocaust, which starred Ian McKellen in London and Richard Gere on Broadway, then became a major film. He settled in London, where he had five high profile premieres over fifteen years in the 80’s and 90’s, attracting actors like Vanessa Redgrave and Olympia Dukakis to star in them, but he hasn’t been particularly prolific. It’s taken ten years since Onassis to get this new play, though in all fairness he is now 80!

It’s a reflection on the changes that have impacted the gay community over the years, told through the life of Beau, an American cocktail pianist who’s moved from New Orleans to San Fransisco and Paris, settling in London. In a series of monologues, we learn about the changes in gay life through his life, over forty or fifty years. These are interspersed with contemporary scenes, over another twelve years, from when he meets his much younger partner Rufus to when Rufus has left for a new life with his new younger partner Harry and Beau becomes a father, and grandfather, figure.

It’s a warm, gentle, understated piece, even when its reflecting on tough, challenging times. Rufus is somewhat conservative and loves all things retro, including his lovers it seems, so we get references to films and music from the middle of the 20th century when Beau’s career was in full swing but Rufus wasn’t even born. In particular, we hear about a British singer called Mabel Mercer, apparently a real life character, who’s career took her in the opposite direction to Beau, to cocktail bars in NYC, where Beau played for her.

Jonathan Hyde is excellent as Beau, with fine support from Ben Allen and Harry Lawtey. Sean Mathias’ sympathetic staging brings you slowly into these lives. It perhaps lacks some bite, but it tells its story well and really does make you realise how much things have changed in a relatively short time.

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Peter Shaffer’s play was 27 years old when I first saw it; for once I’d seen the film first. I enjoyed my second look in 2007 even more, when it featured a brave Daniel Ratcliffe with his screen uncle, the late Richard Griffiths. Here we are another twelve years on, when mental health is thankfully more talked about, with the premiere of a more radical ETT / Stratford East touring co-production which makes you realise how groundbreaking it must have been in 1973.

Seventeen year old Alan Strang is brought to child psychiatrist Martin Dysart by his magistrate friend when he appears before her for blinding six horses. His sessions with Dysart are interwoven with discussions with his parents (religious mother, atheist father), and flashbacks to events with them, his employer at the stables and Jill, the girl he’s taken a shine to. Dysart finds Strang elusive and challenging, playing games with him, but he eventually reciprocates and begins to reap rewards in his understanding of the case. The crucial moments of his interaction with the horses are played out in hugely dramatic scenes where other actors play the horses, culminating in the shocking event which led to his hospitalisation and treatment by Dysart.

It’s a gripping psychological thriller which needs a kind of electrical charge between the two main protagonists, and it certainly gets that here. I’ve been following Zubin Varla’s career since GSMD and this is one of the best things he’s done (even if he is looking and sounding more lie David Suchet these days!) and Ethan Kai is outstanding as Alan, highly strung, edgy, vulnerable, dangerous. There’s a fine supporting cast, with Ira Mandela Siobhan a particularly impressive horse. Though I liked the incidental chamber music there was maybe a little too much of it, occasionally too loud, competing with the dialogue. Otherwise Ned Bennett’s simple staging with white curtains on three sides, is effective in telling this complex story, and comes thrillingly alive in the memory scenes.

Great to see it again, and particularly good that a new generation can get to see it in these hopefully more enlightened times.

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It’s hard to believe that it’s 17 years since this had its UK premiere at the Donmar. In this terrific production it feels freshly minted, and I can’t help wondering why its taken so long to be revived. We’ve had three other plays by Stephen Adly Guirgis since, most notably 2015’s The Motherf***er With The Hat. which gave the NT’s marketing department an interesting challenge, so its good to look at the first once again.

Set in a New York prison, we meet Lucius, a serial killer waiting for extradition to Florida, where his killing spree started and where the death penalty exists. He has a benevolent guard Charlie in his solitary 23-hour lock up wing. Much younger Angel is awaiting trial for a shooting. He’s moved to the same wing for his own protection after an assault. Charlie leaves and the far from benevolent Valdez is sent to persecute them. The only other character is Angel’s lawyer Mary Jane who visits intermittently to discuss defence strategy and tactics.

The discussions between Lucius and Angel are the heart of the piece as we debate responsibility & accountability and redemption. We learn about the prisoners’ motivations and personal histories in what becomes a psychological sparring match. How much do the actions of the victims justify the crime? How much does a tragic past excuse a crime? It’s played out on a traverse stage with moving glass walls / doors with blinding lighting and deafening drums between scenes to keep up the tension. It shocks, though there are flashes of humour that relieve the tension. and your brain almost hurts as you decide what you think about these people and their actions. I found it riveting.

Oberon K A Adjepong (a very welcome visitor from the US) as Lucius and Ukweli Roach as Angel are mesmerising to watch, with great physicality, spitting out dialogue at frenetic speed. Dervla Kirwan is excellent as the Irish American lawyer Mary Jane who we learn a surprising amount about. Joplin Sibtain is terrific as their nemesis Valdez, prodding and provoking them for fun. Matthew Douglas’ Charlie is such a contrast, and comes back to surprise us towards the end.

Director Kate Hewitt and designed Magda Willi have done an excellent job creating the tension which the play needs. Yet more thrilling stuff at the Young Vic.

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