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Posts Tagged ‘Alec Newman’

It’s not often that you leave the theatre feeling privileged to have been in the audience, having witnessed something captivating, stimulating and entertaining. A fascinating story, brilliantly told, evocative design and performances you won’t stop talking about for some time. Something that can only happen live. You may have gathered already that this is a superb evening of theatre.

Andy Warhol’s career is flat-lining, stuck in one style, prices in decline. Jean-Michel Basquiat is the new kid on the block, a street artist who’s become the contemporary art world’s new poster boy. They are thrown together by Bruno Bischofberger, the art dealer they share, to create an exhibition that will hopefully add value to both their careers and become the talking point of the art community.

At the outset, Warhol is less than enthusiastic about the wildness of Basquiat and his work, whilst Basquiat is contemptuous of the decline of Warhol’s work from art to product, copying corporate logos and making silkscreen prints of celebrities. Though the collaboration happened the detail we see is of course somewhat speculative, but it seems both plausible and very real. Warhol is deeply conservative and Basquiat seemingly out of control. Over the three years they work together, the relationship evolves into a strong bond, but this is a multi-layered piece which looks at their respective personalities, backgrounds and inspiration as well as their relationship, but also covers the impact of business on art and how this can promote or derail it, or both. It held me in its grip throughout.

Anna Fleischle’s design takes us right into the warehouse and loft spaces of New York City’s artists, with superb projections by Duncan McLean. Paul Bettany is uncannily like Warhol in appearance and goes on to inhabit the character in a stunning performance. Jeremy Pope, in his UK debut, is mesmerising as Basquiat, a live wire pacing around his studio. There were moments in the second half when the magnetic presence of both resulted in an extraordinary silence. There’s fine support too from Alec Newman as the art dealer and Sophia Barclay as Basquiat’s sometime girlfriend; well, one of them!

Though he’s written 12 or so plays, most in his early career, Anthony McCarten is better known for some superb screenplays in recent years (The Theory of Everything, Darkest Hour, Bohemian Rhapsody & Two Popes) which has clearly made him a master at characterisation and storytelling. The Young Vic’s AD Kwame Kwei-Armah has marshalled his actors and creative team to produce something very special, one of the best new plays I’ve seen in some time.

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Snap crackle & pop. Rice crispy theatre (theater)! This US import, with a British creative team and 40% UK casting, oozes NYC from every pore. The expletive count of the naturalistic dialogue is higher than you’ve probably ever heard, but it’s not gratuitous. It remains electrifying and unpredictable throughout.

Jackie is a Hispanic ex-con, small time dealer, ex-addict. We meet his highly-strung girlfriend Veronica, drying-out sponsor Ralph & wife Victoria and cousin Julio as he struggles to stay clean and manage his suspicions and jealousy over Veronica’s faithfulness. The play moves back and forth between three apartments – Jackie & Veronica’s central Manhattan rooming house, Ralph & Victoria’s cool home in gentrified mid-town and Julio’s cosy space in Hispanic Washington Heights. Jackie’s relationships with his girl, his sponsor and his cousin are tested as he navigates an emotional roller-coaster. Playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis is a modern day New York Mamet or Shephard with a very distinctive voice.

Robert Jones’ design sees the apartments glide in from the back, sides and above to a loud soundtrack, with iron fire escapes hanging above, anchoring the play in NYC, making the scene changes watchable in themselves. Director Inhu Rubasingham’s high-energy, fast-moving staging gives the play its own unique rhythm. I was blown away by the five performances. Ricardo Chavira as Jackie is onstage throughout, forever on the go, never still. Flor De Liz Perez as Veronica matches his spikiness, adding another level of emotional energy. Yul Vazquez’ Julio provides some welcome restraint and much gentle humour. It’s hard to believe Alec Newman and Nathalie Armin aren’t also American, both with authentic personalities and accents. Newman’s interaction with Chavira is just as electrifying as Chavira with Perez.

I felt it could have been trimmed a little – there are a few minor longeurs – but it’s a great addition to the NT repertoire as it refreshes under Rufus Norris.

 

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Bloody families…..

A King Lear that comes in at under 3 hours! I have to confess, I can’t see where the cuts are and it makes a big difference to the pacing – this Lear races along. It’s a difficult play for me because I find it hard to understand why Lear rejects Cordelia and don’t find the subsequent relationship breakdown with the other daughters entirely plausible, but it’s still a fascinating and complex play

The Donmar has planks covering the floor, ceiling and all four sides; they’re a distressed white, though it doesn’t take long before there’s blood on the walls – literally (well, stage blood). The only props are the map and a chair; the costumes are excellent. Michael Grandage’s staging and Christopher Oram’s design allow the drama to unfold and the verse to breathe.

This is an exceptionally well cast production. I was particularly impressed by all three Gloucesters – Paul Jesson’s believable journey as the Duke, Alec Newman’s positively evil Edmund and Gwilym Lee’s sympathetic Edgar. The daughters – Gina McKee as Goneril , Justine Mitchell’s Regan and Pippa Bennett-Warner as Cordelia – took a while to get into their stride but in the second half McKee and Mitchell were appropriately vituperative.

I think Derek Jacobi is my 7th Lear – an illustrious list that includes Anthony Hopkins, Robert Stephens, Brian Cox, Ian Holm, Ian McKellen & Pete Postlethwaite – and I’ve liked them all. He’s particularly good at anger – going bright red, croaking and breathless – and grief, but less convincing in the early scenes of madness.

I still haven’t forgiven the Donmar for abandoning the performance one week earlier just 15 minutes into a power cut and then offering no alternative. I owe my second chance to Judith, who knew of my disappointment when offered her cousin Jan’s spare ticket. Huge thanks to both!

I wonder who will be my next Lear……

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