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Posts Tagged ‘Alex Hassell’

David Hare can’t complain about his share of the National’s stages; this is his 17th play to premiere there. Over more than thirty years, he’s put up a mirror to Britain, from foreign press barons in Pravda (co-written with Howard Brenton), through institutions like the church and judiciary, politics, finance, war, rail privatisation and the Labour Party. Now he combines Labour and the NHS for his latest.

We follow Pauline Gibson from just before she goes to University through her work as a hospital doctor to standing and being elected as a single issue MP and the possibility of her bid to lead the Labour Party. Her university friend and sometime lover Jack takes a different path, following in his fathers footsteps as a career politician; he also has his eyes on the party leadership. Along the way a lot of other issues, both health service and party related, are brought in, most notably Pauline’s childhood, where her father’s abuse of her mother and her mother’s health loom large.

I felt that Hare lost focus by trying to cover too much (this may be a late career phenomenon, as Alan Bennett has done the same of late) and I feel that the premise that the Labour Party would elect someone who had only just joined and is still an independent MP is implausible. That said, it emphasises the political importance of the NHS, the Labour Party’s apparent aversion to female leadership and how it puts inward-looking concerns above the pursuit of power very well.

The three central roles are exceptionally well acted by Sian Brooke, Alex Hassell and Joshua McGuire as Pauline’s representative Sandy. I loved the humour of the press conferences and the projection of close-ups of the faces of those interviewed onto the walls of the revolving room which represents every location. Hare’s dialogue sparkles and there’s much humour. I wondered whether an Australian director like Neil Armfield brought more objectivity to it, but did not reach a conclusion.

Flawed perhaps, but well worth a visit nonetheless.

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When I first saw this play I was about the same age as Willy Loman’s youngest son Happy. Now I’m the same age as Willy Loman. Oh dear. In between I reckon there have only been two major London revivals, which given that it’s one of the ‘big five’ by one of the 20th century’s greatest playwrights, and given the number of Becket, Pinter and Chekov revivals of inferior plays in the same period, seems bizarre. So it’s a big welcome to the transfer of the RSC’s production in Miller’s centenary year.

This play has so much to say about father – son relationships, the compulsion to succeed (and the lengths people go to for success) and of course the American dream. Willy’s success as a salesman isn’t anywhere near as real as he believes, but he bigs himself up for his sons and in turn bigs them up to everyone else. When elder son Biff fails, it breaks his heart, but he’s oblivious to any role he might have played in this. When Biff returns years later, he’s at it again trying to make him what he isn’t. This time it coincides with his own downfall and it all comes home to roost. Wife & mom Linda and younger son Happy are caught up in all of this.

I have to confess I was disappointed at the interval. It hadn’t really got into its stride. An early mobile ringing had visibly unsettled Anthony Sher and from there things seemed somewhat perfunctory. His performance felt like a one-note grumpy old man. I also didn’t feel Greg Doran’s production was delineating the current and flashback scenes well enough (there were a lot of puzzled faces around me). It was all a bit flat. Things looked up significantly in the second half, with the restaurant scene and the following scene back in the Loman home brilliantly staged and performed, but I still felt I was watching acting, I hadn’t lost myself in the play and the characters, and it didn’t engage me emotionally in the way it should.

There was more chemistry between Sher’s Loman and Biff and Happy than there was between Sher and Harriet Walter’s Linda, who seemed too restrained to me; I thought Alex Hassell and Sam Marks were outstanding as the sons. It’s a high quality supporting cast and its good to have live music, in this case a fine jazz quintet playing Paul Englishby’s original score. I wasn’t convinced by Stephen Brimson Lewis’ huge set though – it seemed to rob the play of much intimacy when it needed it.

Maybe my expectations were too high or maybe it was just an off night, but I’m afraid it wasn’t the evening I was expecting or hoping for. A good rather than great Salesman.

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I saw this ‘lost’ Shakespeare play as Double Falsehood at the Union Theatre earlier in the year. This time it has been re-imagined by Gregory Doran with the resources of the RSC to help him. I still don’t know how much of a hand Shakespeare had in it, but I really enjoyed the play nonetheless.

I hadn’t realised that it was based on Cervantes. There’s an authenticity about the Spanish setting that’s created simply by Niki Turner’s costumes and Paul Englishby’s music. It has a passionate Andalusian feel and is staged with great pace.  Cardenio’s delay in obtaining his father’s approval to marry Luscinda means the Duke’s youngest son Fernando makes a move on her (but only after he’s slept with – raped? –  farmer’s daughter Dorotea). Thinking Luscinda has betrayed him, Cardenio disappears into the mountains for his King Lear moment. Fortunately, Dorotea searches for and finds him in order to pursue her claim against Fernando based on the fact that their sexual congress constitutes marriage and his marriage to Luscina is therefore invalid. It’s a good story and I’m now more disposed to believe Shakespeare was involved.

Oliver Rix makes an impressive professional debut as Cardenio. It’s easy to dislike Fernando as played oilily by an excellent Alex Hassell. Both Lucy Briggs-Owen and Pippa Nixon impress as the girls, as do a trio of dad’s – Nicholas Day and Christopher’s Ettridge and Godwin. The Swan is the perfect intimate space for this play; on this occasion with the bonus of fireworks and a superb coup de theatre involving a coffin!

Whether it is or it isn’t, it’s well worth seeing for what it is – a very good pay well staged and performed.

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