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Posts Tagged ‘Alex Baranowski’

This is the second time this week that I’ve seen a stage adaptation of a film I haven’t seen. This one is Ingmar Bergman’s autobiographical three-hour film, which was also a five-hour TV series, adapted by Stephen Beresford, best known for The Last of the Hausmans at the NT and the screenplay for the film Pride. It’s an everyday tale of theatre folk in Sweden, well at least initially.

In the first act, we’re with the theatrical Ekdahl family, theatre owners and performers. Husband and wife Oscar and Emilie, Oscar’s mother Helena, brothers Carl and Gustav and their wives Alma and Lydia, Gustav & Lydia’s daughter Petra and Fanny and Alexander themselves, Oscar & Emilie’s children. We’re onstage, backstage and at home in what seems to be an idyllic world, until Oscar dies suddenly. There was plenty of character development, but not enough story in this first part and I went into the interval a touch underwhelmed.

The second act is very dark, as Emilie marries the widowed Bishop, a frightfully stern bully into whose austere and joyless home Emilie, Alexander and Fanny arrive. His sister Henrietta is unwelcoming, fearing her loss of power in charge of the home. Alexander is a bit of a fantasist and gets on the wrong side of the Bishop very quickly, resulting in brutal punishment. Emilie, by now pregnant, wants to leave, but the law and societal conventions prevent this.

In the third act, with the help of Oscar’s brothers and Helena’s friend Issak and his nephew Aaron, they plot to free them all from the Bishop’s tyranny. These latter two parts are much more satisfying and feel almost Dickensian, sweeping along at a fast pace, drawing you in to these characters lives. I haven’t seen much of director Max Webster’s work, but his staging here is impressive, helped by Tom Pye’s excellent set, Laura Hopkins’ lovely costumes and atmospheric music by Alex Baranowski, played live on piano and cello.

It’s a tribute to Kevin Doyle’s performance that there was palpable hatred in the audience for the evil Bishop. Penelope Wilton is wonderful as a seasoned thespian and the head of the Ekdahl family. I loved Catherine Walker, an actress who hasn’t been on my radar before, as Emilie and it was great to see Lolita Chakrabarti again in a pair of contrasting roles as Alma and Henrietta. Jonathan Slinger’s role was relatively small, but he almost stole the show when the Ekdahl brothers confront the Bishop in the third act – the whole audience were willing him on. The actors playing Fanny & Alexander were brilliant, in what are big roles for child actors, especially Alexander.

It was a slow burn at first but it won me over, oozing quality in every department.

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This was apparently the first play Shakespeare wrote for an indoor theatre, the Blackfriars, to be performed by candlelight. How fitting then that it should be staged at the Globe’s new(ish) indoor playhouse, by candlelight, and the venue really suits the play.

Like other late plays, Cymbeline is an odd concoction. Though anchored in British history, it’s such ancient history (Roman period) that we know little about these times and they feel, and may even be, mythological. Lots of themes from other plays appear and it has an other-worldly, somewhat fairy-tale quality. The central character is not King Cymbeline but his daughter Innogen, who is banished for marrying Posthumous instead of Cloten, the queen’s son by her former marriage.

She returns from Rome disguised as a man, encounters some feral chaps who turn out to be her lost (stolen) brothers who have beheaded Cloten, gets pursued by Iachimo seeking to prove her infidelity, then by Posthumous’ servant Pisanio seeking to punish her for it but unable to bring himself to do so and befriended by invading Romans led by Caius Lucius! Of course it all ends happily (well, not for Cloten, obviously). We even get a visit from goddess Jupiter from above, literally.

With no props, the production has a storytelling quality which didn’t settle until the second half for me; the first half seemed a bit rushed and perfunctory, though in all fairness to director Sam Yates, that’s as much to do with the play’s elongated set-ups. The second half is a cracker, though. There’s great incidental music from Alex Baranowski and excellent costumes by Richard Kent. With some doubling up, the whole thing is delivered by a cast of fourteen, including particularly good performances from Trevor Fox as Pisano, Brendan O’Hea as Belarius and Paul Rider as Caius Lucius.

I’m now very much looking forward to the other late plays in the same theatre.

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It seems you have to go to The Cut if you like your drama intense and your productions cutting edge. Across the road at the Old Vic there’s an extraordinary interpretation of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and now here at the Young Vic there’s this thoroughly modern version of Tennessee Williams’ most famous play. It seems as if there’s a game of ‘mine’s longer than yours’ going on (which the Old Vic wins by about 15 minutes!) as both productions lengthen the originals by their staging, without adding anything to the text, but both sustain their length and succeed spectacularly.

Benedict Andrews presents us with a chlaustrophobic apartment (kitchen / living area, bedroom and bathroom – designer Magda Willi) which revolves continually so that the audience which surrounds it sees the action from a constantly changing perspective. It intensifies the voyeuristic experience as we peer into these people’s lives. It’s better at showing the opressiveness inside the apartment than the oppressiveness of the neighbourhood where people live on top of one another, but the space around the revolving apartment and a metal staircase at one end (which aligns once per cycle and makes for some exacting entrances and exits!)  link the two. The atmosphere benefits from excellent lighting by Jon Clark and brilliant music from Alex Baranowski.

It’s great at polarising the world of Blanche, Southern belle on her uppers, and the rough and ready world that her sister Stella has joined by leaving Belle Rive and marrying Stanley. The culture clash is clearly defined and there’s more of an emphasis on how torn Stella is between her sister and husband. It seems to me this Stanley is even less sympathetic than usual; as he reveals Blanche’s true story there isn’t an ounce of empathy and in the end he revels in her humiliation. When he becomes violent it’s intense and as Blanche leaves his callousness comes as a shock to his poker playing friends, one of whom has of course become close to Blanche.

I’ve been lucky enough to see Sheila Gish, Jessica Lange, Glenn Close and Rachel Weisz as Blanche, but Gillian Anderson took my breath away with her range of emotions and the depth of her characterisation. It’s no star vehicle though; Ben Foster is brilliantly intimidating as Stanley and Vanessa Kirby makes much more of Stella and her divided loyalties. These are three fine performances that together provide a fresh perspective and a truly great interpretation of this 20th century classic.

The Young Vic continues to provide world class theatre that’s about as accessible as you can get and this is another feather in their feather stuffed cap! A triumph.

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Another neglected gem at the Finborough – this time a passionate 100 year-old play by St John Ervine about the sectarian divide in Northern Ireland.

Influential orange man John Rainey is persuaded by son Hugh and his catholic friend Michael to speak in encouragement of unity against employers exploiting the sectarian divide, but when he overhears his son expressing his love and intention to marry catholic Nora, he turns and reverts to anti-catholic rhetoric. This deepens the divide and starts riots in which the family is caught up.

The personal and political are played out together very successfully in Sam Yates’ excellent production. The writing is a bit idealistic, which makes it occasionally preachy, but it certainly packs a punch in its 80 minute running time. Though the political landscape may seem to have changed, personal attitudes like John’s clearly still exist, which gives the play a contemporary resonance. Richard Kent has created a very evocative one-room set with equally evocative period costumes. Aklex Baranowski’s terrific sound design effectively conjours up the off-stage riots towards the end of the play.

It’s beautifully played by a faultless cast. I don’t know how many of them have Northern Irish blood (if any) but the accents seemed to me to be spot on. Daragh O’Malley has huge presence and charisma as John, balanced by his more tolerant wife, beautifully played by Fiona Victory. Christopher Brandon’s Hugh and Damien Hannaway’s Michael are every bit as passionate as their roles require.  Joel Ormsby as younger brother Tom and Nora-Jane Noone as, well, Nora, complete the fine cast.

Yet another find and another deeply rewarding visit to the Finborough. If ever a theatre punched above its weight, this one certainly does.

 

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