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Posts Tagged ‘Adam James’

Anne Washburn is an original and interesting playwright, but after a third exposure to her work, this juror’s still out on whether she’s a good one.

Jools & Jim have invited five friends to their new remote country home. They’re not experienced in country living and they’re not particularly good hosts, so as the weather deteriorates and the power is cut off, their supplies run out. They don’t run out of conversation, though, as they reflect on life in Trump’s divided America and how they got there. These are the liberal Americans – a wealthy gay couple, New York lawyers Andrew & Yusuf, a struggling straight, somewhat alternative couple, Richard & Laurie, and singleton Allie. The conversation widens to all sorts of apparently related subjects including the Jonestown massacre, racism & colonialism and Lord of the Rings!

We’re occasionally visited by Mark, the adopted black son of white parents who appear to be the former inhabitants of the house, who tells us his story. We also get a meeting between Trump and George W Bush as president, and towards the end a surreal version of that infamous confrontation between Trump and FBI chief Corney. There’s an awful lot of ground covered but at almost 3.5 hours it didn’t sustain its length (there were a conspicuous number of empty seats after the interval). Often thought-provoking and fitfully gripping, it was too much of a ramble, wordy and undramatic, lacking coherence, a download of thoughts and ideas, trying to say so much that more became less.

It’s staged in the round, in a design by Miriam Buether which has a partly revolving stage and a platform against the back wall on which there are projections. There was one row of audience sitting in chairs close to the stage as if at a dinner table, who participated in the surreal scene. There are lovely performances from Justine Mitchell, Fisayo Akinade, Adam James, Elliott Cowan, Tara Fitzgerald, Khalid Abdalla, Raquel Cassidy and Risteard Cooper, but these and Rupert Goold’s production are a lot better than the material.

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Some time ago I was involved in a (civil) legal case where two eminent QC’s were pitted against one another in what turned out to be a grudge match. I soon realised the case was more about the competition between them than the facts. That’s one problem with our adversarial legal system. Another problem is that friends and colleagues can advocate against each other; in any other sector this would be prevented lest it lead to collusion. Early in this play it raises another problem in criminal law. No-one represents the victim. The defence represents the accused and the prosecution represents the crown. No-one represents the victim of a crime.

This excellent new play examines the issue of consent in rape cases, and the legal system in general, by juxtaposing a case where two barrister friends are pitted against one another with the infidelities going on in their own lives. The competitiveness issue is much greater in rape cases because it leads to completely unacceptable, bullying behaviour by barristers which is psychologically damaging to victims (with no representation) and leads to fewer cases being brought. In other words, our legal system allows rapists to walk free.

New dad Ed, married to Kitty, prosecutes and friend / colleague Tim is the defence. Victim Gayle (brilliantly played by Heather Craney) is all on her own. Ed exploits her defencelessness to win his case. Whilst this is happening, Ed’s best friend Jake and his wife Rachel (both lawyers) are riding a relationship roller-coaster due to Jake’s infidelity, with Ed and Kitty taking sides. Much later Ed & Kitty ride a similar roller-coaster through Kitty’s more surprising infidelity, with Jake & Rachel involved as if they were pitted against each other in court. Tim and Kitty’s best friend become embroiled. It’s a superbly structured and brilliantly written piece, simply staged with the audience on all sides. 

There’s a real authenticity to the characterisations with superb performances from Ben Chaplin, Anna Maxwell-Martin, Adam James and Priyanga Burford as the two couples and Pip Carter and Daisy Haggard (just about the only sympathetic character) as those drawn into their lives.

Such a good blend of current issues and a personal story, unquestionably a candidate for Best New Play and as fine a set of performances as you’ll see anywhere.

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Mike Bartlett’s play about corporate bullying packs quite a punch given that it runs under an hour, perhaps proving less can be more. Verbose playwrights take note.

We’re looking down into a space not unlike a boxing ring, the audience on four sides on six or seven levels including ‘ringside’ standing. There’s just a water cooler in the space with Thomas, Isobel and Tony. They are on edge, waiting for the boss to come. He’s going to choose who stays and who goes. The process isn’t entirely clear (well, not to Thomas anyway). One of them won’t survive. Isobel and team leader Tony play psychological games on Thomas. Tony has withheld information from him, so he’s unprepared. The taunts get personal and more vicious until Carter arrives to confirm the cull.

The tension starts before the play begins, with loud rock music, a bit like the build up to a boxing match. It gets ever more taut and cruel as it progresses and the bullying continues, pointlessly, after the deed is done. There’s a coup d’theatre towards the end which ratchets it up one final notch and we’re left with a tragic image of defeat. It would be funny if it wasn’t so real – in my experience of modern corporate life, this isn’t the slightest bit implausible – but there are laughs, some uncomfortable, some relieving tension. As I was thinking ‘is this what we’ve become?’ I looked around the audience and was a bit horrified by the lack of compassion on others’ faces. As I walked through the bar at the end, it appeared to be full of people who could have been characters in the play.

It’s brilliantly staged by Clare Lizzimore within another of Soutra Gilmour’s extraordinary ‘environments’. Adam James and Eleanor Matsuura are so believable as the bullies I wanted to enter the ring and come to Thomas’ aid. Sam Troughton is outstanding in his emotional roller-coaster ride as Thomas and Neil Stuke is cool and unemotional as Carter.

The play affected me more than I thought it would or could. I wasn’t laughing as much as others because it was making me angry, sad and disillusioned. It’s essential theatre though, putting the ugliness of the corporate rat race on view. If only the audience reaction was more compassionate.

 

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The first of two Mike Bartlett plays in seven days, and the seventh in five years – you can’t say he isn’t prolific. What I like most about his work is that each piece is so very different. You identify them by their quality and imagination rather than their style. This one, ‘a future history play’, is like none of the others, except that’s imaginative and very very good.

Charles has at last succeeded to the throne and within days he’s started interfering in government. He provokes a constitutional crisis, divides the country and his family and in no time unleashes a series of events which have profound personal, constitutional and political impact. Somewhat ironically, it’s a privacy bill that triggers his involvement, just before his family is on the receiving end of things the bill was trying to prevent.

It’s quite a cerebral and weighty play, but staged with a lightness of touch that ensures its always entertaining as well as thought-provoking. Charles does have form, which means it’s in no way implausible and though the debate is often funny, it is underneath rather profound. I found myself drawn in quickly and gripped throughout.

It’s not a typical Rupert Goold production; the staging is much simpler, relying on the writing and the characterisations more than inventive staging, but it is very effective. Tom Scutt’s design is dominated by a large dais, surrounded by parquet flooring throughout the auditorium and a huge semi-circular panel of fading faces suggesting history, heritage and tradition. Actors enter from all sides and through the auditorium, which provides for grand entrances in keeping with grand people and grand occasions.

Tim Pigott-Smith is terrific as Charles, capturing the essence of the man rather than giving us an impersonation. Oliver Chris and Richard Goulding are very good as contrasting princes, with just enough caricature to provoke smiles but not so much that they become joke characters. Camilla and Kate are presented as power behind the throne and Margot Leicester & Lydia Wilson provide excellent characterisations. The PM and leader of the opposition are called Mr Evans (Labour) and Mr Stevens (Conservative) respectively and Adam James & Nicholas Rowe seem to emphasise the similarities we see in our politicians these days.

This may prove to be prophetic, but for now it’s fascinating and entertaining speculative ‘future history’ and certainly a candidate for 2014’s best new play. Catch it if you can.

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This is a bit like going to two linked plays, such is the difference between the two halves.

The First Half

Tom Scutt’s extraordinary giant moving cube dominates the Olivier stage after a smaller cube has disappeared into the flys. A series of interlocking scenes are played out in and around this as it changes shape. There are protests and riots; an ‘osbornesque’ defence solicitor; an advisor to the American president, his wife and daughter and an atheist academic. We have a woman again as (Conservative) PM, her dead son’s friend has returned from his travels as some sort of Messiah (Welsh, obviously) and everyone appears to be having the same dream. Oh, and we’re about to declare war on Iran.

There’s no doubting the inventiveness and stagecraft of this first half – but it comes at the expense of clarity, coherence and obvious purpose. You’re left thinking ‘ well, that was clever, but what are you really getting at here?’.

The Second Half

That question is answered soon in the second half, which is a debate between the PM, the academic and the new messiah, who now seemingly controls a crowd of 500,000 in Trafalgar Square. New politics (the public rising up with the help of social media and the charismatic messiah John, who has now become an almost supernatural being) meets old politics in the form of a liberal Tory about to do what she thinks is right, encouraged by the islamophobic academic who is dying of cancer. We end with the cast stage front each with a monologue; the last of whom is a soldier in recently invaded Iran.

Simply staged, the second half allows the narrative to breath and the debate is rather compelling….but it does feel like another play involving some of the same characters, pulling in some of the narrative threads of the first. I’m not sure whether this is intentional or not, but for me it led to an ultimately unsatisfying experience and left me thinking it was more work in progress than finsihed article. There’s a great play there waiting to be let loose, hampered by a sometimes thrillingly theatrical but relentless & confusing first half and a more intimate second half that’s a bit lost in this giant space.

The three central performances – Geraldine James as a very believable PM, Danny Webb as the angry academic and Trystan Gravelle as a charismatic John are all excellent, and there’s fine support from a cast of 19, including Nick Sidi & Genevieve O’Reilly as the American diplomat and his wife and Adam James as the solicitor.

Playwright Mike Bartlett seems to be struggling as his work scales up from minimalist gems like Cock to epics like this. If director Thea Sharrock had created a cohesive whole from this material it could have been very special indeed, but it frustratingly falls short. Worth the ride, though.

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This play about Afghanistan during the 80’s started as one of the Tricycle’s Great Game playlets a couple of years ago; it has now become a very interesting and satisfying full length play.

It was the decade when the then USSR occupied this troubled land whilst the US, with British help, sought to undermine them by funding and arming Pakistani security forces and Afghan militias. It followed periods of western influence and was followed by the rise of the Taliban and subsequent US / British invasion and occupation. The geopolitical history is absolutely fascinating and playwright J T Rogers achievement is to make this so entertaining! It unfolds like a thriller and is packed with irony and humour, without ever debasing the seriousness of the events it presents. It also weaves in the stories of the home lives, and in particular the sons, of the three main players which adds an important personal dimension.

Designer Ultz use of sliding screens enables Howard Davies production to have real pace, moving quickly between the many short scenes without losing impetus. The central character of CIA agent James Warnock is excellently played by Lloyd Owen, who is onstage throughout, torn between his country’s pragmatism and his personal idealism. His British counterpart has been around longer and is therefore more realistic and cynical; also well played by Adam James. These performances are well matched by the other two key characters – Russian Dmitri (Matthew Marsh) and Afghan Abdullah (Demosthenes Chrysan) and there are fine supporting performances from Gerald Kyd as the representative of Pakistani security and Philip Arditti as Abdullah’s son (whose obsession with Western music and quoting of their lyrics is hysterical) and excellent cameos from Simon Kunz as James’ boss and Danny Ashok as the Pakistani military clerk.

I liked this play a lot; it explains so much about how we got to where we are in Afghanistan and the hopelessness of it all – but above all it’s a deeply satisfying evening modern drama.

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