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Posts Tagged ‘Adam Cork’

I am astonished that this is the UK premiere of this third Lorraine Hansbury play, unfinished when she died prematurely of cancer at 34, completed by her ex-husband, Robert Nemiroff, soon afterwards. It seems to me a masterpiece of 20th century American drama, but somehow we’ve had to wait forty years to find out – though part of me is pleased it’s waited for Yael Farber to give it such an extraordinary production.

Set in an unnamed African country, it moves between the home and hospital set up by Scandinavian missionaries and the village of the Matoseh family. Tshwmbe Matoseh has been living in Europe and visiting the US, lobbying for his country’s independence. He’s married a European and had a child with her. He returns to visit his sick father but he’s too late, except for the funeral. His brother Abioseh has stayed at home and, influenced by the missionaries, is about to become a priest, ‘one of them’. Their mixed race half-brother Eric is badly damaged by the consequences of his parentage in this society.

The colonial power is represented by Major Rice, who is trying to deal with an uprising which is escalating daily. The missionary minister is away, but his blind aged wife is at home with doctors from the hospital and a visiting American journalist, who observes and comments on events. The whites call the freedom fighters terrorists and are shocked when they learn some are in their own adopted communities.

The play looks at the situation from all angles as well as drawing parallels with civil rights in the US at the same time, in electrifying scenes between Danny Sapani as Tshembe Matoshe and Elliott Cowan as journalist Charlie Morris, two wonderfully passionate performances. In addition to commenting on colonialism, it looks at the differing attitudes of the indigenous people and the motivation of settlers, missionaries and medical staff – they appear well-meaning but they are not universally welcome, and being in the front line bear the brunt of the revolutionary anger, however benevolent and defenceless.

Yael Farber’s epic staging makes great use of the Olivier stage, often bathed in the beautiful bright light of Africa by Tim Lutkin. Soutra Gilmour’s simple impressionistic mission hospital building revolves on a sand covered stage, moving us to different parts, with the unadorned tribal home laid out stage front. A gentle soundscape by Adam Cork, wonderful music from a quartet of African Matriarchs and a silent semi-naked woman who seems omnipresent, moving slowly across the stage, all combine to create an evocative African atmosphere.

In addition to Sapani and Cowan, there is a superb, dignified performance from Sian Phillips – wonderful to see her continue to do such great work at this stage of her career. Clive Francis’ sends a shiver up your spine with a brilliant characterisation of The Major. I’ve seen Gary Beadle before, but here he’s a revelation, and unrecognisable, as Abioseh. Tunji Kasim beautifully captures the complexity of Eric, whose dead mother was very close to Madame Neilsen and whose father is shockingly revealed to us towards the end. It’s a terrific ensemble.

Like Mies Julie and The Crucible before, Yael Farber has again produced an enthralling, captivating and deeply moving production which burns an impression on you which I suspect will last a long long time. It must be seen!

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I can’t understand why everyone isn’t raving about this. It’s the best of the handful of RII’s I’ve seen and one of the best Shakespeare productions of Michael Grandage’s reign at the Donmar – better than his Hamlet & Twelfth Night and as good as his Othello & King Lear.

The intimacy of this theatre helps this particular play greatly, and the Donmar’s design ‘house style’ of elegant simplicity does too. On this occasion, Christopher Oram’s ‘pupil’ Richard Kent has produced a terrific two-tiered gothic structure of fading gold. There’s another one of Adam Cork’s atmospheric soundscapes and beautiful lighting from David Plater. As you enter, Richard is (somewhat appropriately) sitting in silence on his throne in a white gown and gold crown. Here begins Shakespeare’s eight play slice of British history.

The first half has great pace, with Richard showing us that he’s uncomfortable with his power and clumsy in the execution of it. You begin to realise that he’s in a job he doesn’t want without the competencies to do it; this makes it both logical and easy for an assured assertive player like Bolingbroke to challenge him. In the second half we get a lot more psychological depth as the coup unfolds and Richard (willingly, it seems) hands over the crown to Henry IV.

I thought Eddie Redmayne and Andrew Buchan were individually superb and well matched as Richard and Bolingbroke, the former conveying the complexity of Richard’s personality and his situation and the latter the determination fueled by his mistreatment, but they head one of the best casts ever put together at the Donmar with a brilliant John of Gaunt from Michael Hadley, a fine Mowbray from Ben Turner and Daniel Flynn excellent as Northumberland. Though it’s a small role, Pippa Bennett-Warner gave a lovely interpretation of Richard’s queen, lost in all this political shenanigans.

This is a great production of a very difficult play and a triumphant swan song for Grandage. I think it’s brilliant that he bows out with a particularly young ensemble, offering a fine young actor his first leading male Shakespearean role (he was Viola for the Globe!) and giving a budding designer a solo West End flight. Enthralling.

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This is ground-breaking theatre. We’ve got used to verbatim plays, where the actual words of interviewees on a subject are edited and dramatised to tell a story; well, here’s a verbatim musical – well, more a play with music. The subject is the Ipswich prostitute murders of 2006 and the story is told from the perspective of the residents of the street where they worked & where their murderer lived and the subsequent invasion by the media. Here I am seeing a musical about five dreadful killings just four days after one about one. Yet again, what seems to be a thoroughly inappropriate art form to tell true stories ends up confounding expectations.

Writer Alecky Blythe interviewed the residents over a period of 2.5 years from the time of the murders to a time when they were returning to some sort of post-trial normality. She tells the story through 11 of them, all members of the Neighbourhood Watch set up at the time of the killings. Every word in the play was said by them and many have been set to music, including the er’s, ah’s and um’s of everyday speech. This produces an extraordinary sung dialogue which occasionally becomes sung chorus. Composer Adam Cork is more used to creating soundscapes and incidental music and it seems to me this is why he’s so good at setting this everyday speech to music.

Rufus Norris’ sensitive direction if often highly effective – people enter in a group from the darkness behind the playing area, as Christmas approaches a giant singing santa turns up, police tape wraps around the residents at the time of the arrest and it ends at a London Road in Bloom contest with a riot of colour and hope as over 30 hanging baskets and window boxes fill the stage. The rest is conjured up with just 10 plastic chairs, 7 black sofas and armchairs and a table.

It must be incredibly difficult to deliver this sung dialogue, but eleven singing actors do so brilliantly. In addition to their main character, they share in playing 52 others – the prostitutes, policemen, councillors and the media. Kate Fleetwood is extraordinary as she morphs from one character to another. Nick Holder is unrecognisable as the Chairman of the Neighbourhood Watch. Hal Fowler, Paul Thornley and Michael Shaeffer’s characterisations of the media types who couldn’t give a shit about the lives of the people they invade are spot on.

There is a surprising amount of humour, though it misfires occasionally when you feel you’re laughing at these people (I’m not sure how I’d feel if I was one of them) but in a way that’s part of the unsettling, uncomfortable experience which gives the play its edge and ultimately its success in conveying the neglected and very real experiences of people whose lives were turned upside down, first by the use of their street by the working girls, then their murder, then the forensic attention of the world and his wife.

When I woke up early this morning, it was all still going round in my head. I couldn’t get back to sleep; I just had to get up and write about it. I think that’s good theatre for you. Not an easy ride, but one I certainly don’t regret making.

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