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Posts Tagged ‘Aisling Loftus’

I haven’t read Andrea Levy’s book, but I did see the TV adaptation ten years ago. Now Helen Edmundson has adapted it for the stage where she had her greatest triumph with Coram Boy.

It starts in Jamaica when young Hortense is sent to live with relatives, and we glimpse her childhood with her god-fearing adopted parents and her cousin Michael, who becomes a playmate and close friend. We move to wartime London and meet our other protagonist, cheery cockney Queenie. The rest of the first half moves between Queenie’s story, Jamaicans in London joining the forces and Hortense back in Jamaica, now grown up. I thought this first half was overlong and structurally weak. It lacked cohesion and clarity, though it ended brilliantly as we see people boarding the now infamous Empire Windrush, bound for the UK.

The second half opens as Hortense arrives in London six months after her husband Gilbert, who came on the Windrush, shocked by the conditions in the boarding house Queenie now runs after her husband Bernard’s failure to return from the war and her father-in-law’s death. This shorter second half is absolutely brilliant as we see what these immigrants have to put up with and the trials and tribulations facing Queenie before, when and after Bernard returns. This second half, though, covers less than a year. It’s very uncomfortable listening to the racism of the post-war period.

Small intimate scenes sometimes seem lost on that vast stage, but it’s used to great effect when the whole cast of over 40 populate it and when Jon Driscoll’s brilliant giant projections shrink it. Director Rufus Norris marshals his cast well, with excellent movement by Coral Messam. There’s superb incidental music from Benjamin Kwasi Burrell. It’s a fine ensemble with particularly good performances by Leah Harvey and Aisling Loftus as Hortense and Queenie respectively. If only the first half had been tighter and shorter.

The warmth of the reception was a striking contrast with the period racism on show. We have come a long way, even if the journey’s not over and may never be.

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Playwright Martin Crimp has been very loyal to theatres and they to him. His first seven plays were staged at Richmond’s Orange Tree Theatre, who appear to have nurtured him. The next nine were at the Royal Court, where he was writer in residence. Another one back at OTT and one at the Young Vic and that’s it. He’s been more promiscuous with his eleven translations / adaptations, including one here at the Almeida. His plays are rarely revived here in London, with the NT’s Attempts On Her Life a notable exception ten years ago. This one was his first Royal Court main stage play in 1993 and I think this might be the first major London revival.

Anne is bullied by her husband Simon, who tapes her mouth, amongst other things. Somehow she gets to tell her story to husband and wife Andrew & Jennifer who are in the business of developing films. They may live in the same big city but Anne’s and Jenifer’s worlds are far apart. They bring on board writer Clifford and big name John and Anne’s story gets changed beyond recognition. Anne has a fling with Andrew and their sex is observed by Clifford, which makes her so mad she returns to Simon and draws him into her plan for revenge. The film gets released, but by now Anne isn’t involved, and its not her story any more. On the night of the premiere Andrew goes looking for her and Jennifer follows. Along the way the play takes a surreal turn when Anne gets a blind cab driver, who turns up again later when Clifford needs a cab! It’s a satire, but it covers a lot of other ground too.

It’s played out in a series of short scenes moving from Andrew & Jennifer’s office to their favourite Japanese restaurant to the street and the subway and eventually to Anne & Simon’s home. Fifteen ‘extras’ populate the office, street, subway and first night party. It’s a pretty bland design, so the extras brought a bit of life to the stage. It is very well performed, with Aisling Loftus and Matthew Needham excellent as Anne & Simon and Indira Varma hitting just the right satirical note as Jennifer. Gary Beadle has hot-footed it over form the Royal Court Upstairs for fine turns as John and a New York cop. The original was directed by Lindsay Posner who has passed the baton to Lyndsey Turner for this revival.

I appear to have wiped the Royal Court production from my memory, so it was good to see it again. It hasn’t dated, though it isn’t a classic, and it may provide an illustration as to why Crimp is rarely revived.

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