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Posts Tagged ‘Aiden McArdle’

This play, the UK debut of American playwright Sarah Burgess, is set in the sordid, parasitic world of private equity. The problem for me is that it doesn’t tell you anything you didn’t know already. The PE world is one populated by those who couldn’t give a damn about anyone else and don’t have an ethical bone in their bodies. So what’s new?

Jeff’s working on a deal to bag a luggage company in California. It’s a difficult time for the PE firm, and therefore an important deal, due to negative PR over senior partner Rick’s extravagant engagement party. The luggage company’s negotiator Seth is keen to retain manufacturing and protect jobs, but the PE guys have other plans. Jeff’s colleague Jenny muscles in on the deal, which makes Jeff side with the target (rather implausible, I thought), almost scuppering the deal – but everyone has their price.

It’s performed on an apron stage with a mirrored backdrop and just a perspex table and two chairs for props, everything shades of grey. This made Anna Ledwich’s production a bit static and somewhat perfunctory, though it did zip along. The four performances – Aidan McArdle as Rick, Hayley Atwell as Jenny, Joseph Balderrama as Jeff and Tom Riley as Seth – are all excellent, but I don’t think the material is worthy of their talents.

I’m getting a bit worried about Hampstead Theatre’s selection of new plays.

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The story of the first global spy network 400 years ago is ripe for dramatisation, and the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is the perfect place to stage it.

Sir Francis Walsingham was Elizabeth I’s spymaster. He had an international network of spies and double-agents. He spread false rumours on a wholesale scale. He sanctioned torture and execution. The master of manipulation. We don’t know whether he was doing the (possibly paranoid) Queen’s bidding or whether he was manipulating her, and the play suggests he may in turn have been manipulated himself.

Anders Lustgarten’s play, directed by Mathew Dunster, doesn’t hold back on the profanity or violence, even humour and cheeky modern references, which is where he shoots himself in the foot. Its flippancy hijacks the drama and the Queen’s language, perhaps intended to change our perception of ‘good Queen Bess’, just feels childish and tacky. Though they are funny, the cheap quips about our popularity in Europe and success at tennis, attempts at contemporary resonance, don’t help. It’s such a shame, because there’s a great story screaming to get out.

Designer Jon Bausor has created a brilliant two-story backdrop by putting screens at the front of the gallery that match the lower half, and inserting lots of drawers for Walsingham’s files. Apart from some light from the corridors, it is largely candlelit, though with fewer than usual, so its often very dark, in keeping with the story. I loved Alexander Balanescu’s music, played by a trio behind an the opaque left side of the gallery.

Only three actors play a single role, the other six playing between two and four, and this is sometimes confusing, particularly in the dark! Tara Fitzgerald has great presence but her profane dialogue weakens the characterisation. Walsingham is a big role, and he goes on a big journey, and Aidan McArdle handles it well. It’s a fine supporting cast.

A great idea, the perfect space, but for me misguided in writing and execution.

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The catch-up continues with this revival of Michael Frayn’s 9-year-old play (only 9?!) about Germany in the cold war and in particular the infiltration of Chancellor Willy Brandt’s office by a spy from the east and the relationship that develops between them. It’s not as dry as it sounds!

There aren’t many (any?) plays set in Germany in the cold war, so on that level it proves a fascinating insight into the time, but it’s the evolution of the relationship that is the most fascinating thing about it. Brandt and Gunter Guillaume are drawn to one another and become good friends, which gives the deceit and betrayal so much more impact.

It might sound odd, but I found the longer first half slow and less engaging, yet the story seemed rushed. The second half, as the deception is revealed, is a cracker though. Simon Daw’s design loses the first four rows of the stalls to provide more intimacy but perhaps too much extra space for director Paul Miller to consider in his staging. I was hugely impressed by an unrecognisable Aiden McArdle as Gunter and found Patrick Drury captured the man-of-the-people charisma of Willy. There isn’t a weak link in the suporting cast of eight actors (all men!).

It’s great to see something from Daniel Evans’ regional powerhouse in Sheffield finding its way to London (but why not Othello or Company?!) and it was well worth taking another look at one of Frayn’s best plays.

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