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Posts Tagged ‘Alex Waldmann’

This play teaches us three lessons that still hold true. The first is that people will quickly follow anyone who pushes the right buttons – setting out their belief, engaging emotionally and laying out the supporting facts (or lies, as appears to be the case today) – and switch allegiance just a quickly. Secondly, when power goes to their head, or they derail for other reasons, leaders are dealt with by their own (the Tories dealt with Thatcher before the electorate had a chance, and are circling May as I write – and hopefully the same is happening in Washington!). The third is that you may think you’ve got rid of a tyrant or a tyranny, but another one, even worse, may come along soon – think Arab Spring. Shakespeare is often timeless.

The people willingly follow the charismatic orator Caesar, but the conspirators assassinate him to protect the republic and prevent permanent autocracy. Mark Anthony then woos the people with his rhetoric, joins forces with Octavius, and before you know it you’re back where you were before you despatched the last dictator, only this one seems worse.

It’s a relatively conventional, classical production, devoid of modern references and gimmicks, so its all about the verse and the performances. I didn’t engage with the first half, up to the point of the assassination, as well as I did with the second, the aftermath, political turmoil and battles, but that’s as much to do with the play as the production. This part of the story is much more thrilling, though it’s difficult to do war and death at close quarters with twenty or thirty people. In this production, though, when it comes to the murder of the boy Lucius, the audience were traumatised by its realism.

There are two cracking performances at the centre of this production – Martin Hutson’s Cassius and Alex Waldmann’s Brutus, and their combined passion creates a powerhouse combination. Andrew Woodall’s Caesar, James Corrigan’s Mark Anthony and Jon Tarcy as Octavius also impress. This fine ensemble has been very watchable in all four plays.

I’ve enjoyed the Romans season, particularly seeing them over an eight-week period, albeit in the wrong order. Adding the contemporary Imperium plays in Stratford, covering the same period, turned it into a real theatrical feast. This is what the RSC is for.

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The first Arthur Miller play I saw was Death of a Salesman, in Bristol, in a National Theatre touring production featuring Warren Mitchell, directed by Michael Rudman. It played a big part in my addiction to Miller and indeed theatre in general. Now here I am more than 35 years later seeing Rudman’s terrific revival of All My Sons in Kingston. It was like intravenous theatrical re-energising fluid. 

This was Miller’s third play, the first as a professional writer and his first hit. Every time I see it, it feels current and today the themes of business ethics and morals are as relevant as ever, if not more so. There’s a line where someone responds to a suggestion they’ve deceived for gain, to which they respond along the lines of how that makes them clever. Trump used that line in the first presidential debate a few weeks back without even knowing it.

The Keller family are stalwarts of the community, with a successful manufacturing business and one of those homes the neighbourhood revolves around, everyone forever popping in. Both of their sons fought in the Second World War but only one came back, though his mother won’t accept that her son is dead. During the war the factory produced aircraft parts and when a faulty batch results in deaths both business partners are arrested. Keller is eventually freed and partner Deever takes the rap. Youngest Keller son Chris now wants to marry Anne Deever who has disowned her father, but Chris’ mother won’t have it. Anne’s brother George turns up. He too had disowned his father but after a reluctant visit to see him in prison he makes revelations that start a chain reaction that brings the world of the Keller’s tumbling down. It unfolds like a Greek tragedy, it grips throughout and its conclusion is devastating.

Designer Michael Taylor has solved the Rose Theatre’s problem of a lack of intimacy for this kind of drama by bringing the stage forward to house the Keller’s garden, where the whole play takes place, and building a three-story wooden house with patio behind it, with high level trees coming out of the theatre’s back wall; it’s a superb design. It’s also a superb cast, with David Horovitch as Joe Keller, living with his lies, wracked with guilt, and Penny Downie as his wife Kate, in denial, still grieving three years on. I was hugely impressed by Alex Waldmann as son Chris and Francesca Zoutewelle as his intended Ann, and in an excellent supporting cast there’s a great performance from Edward Harrison as her brother George. Rudman’s direction is impeccable.

This is my fifth production of this play and it’s as good as any. World class theatre in Kingston. Go!

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I don’t really understand why Shakespeare takes as fascinating a short slice of British history as any, but fails to make it as interesting as any of his other history plays. It’s rarely staged and though you can see why, this is a good production and rather timely given that I saw it on the eve of the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, which King John will forever me remembered for but which hardly gets a mention in Shakespeare’s play.

John’s secession is challenged by his father’s illegitimate son, who he buys off with a knighthood. That doesn’t stop the bloody French trying to replace him with his young nephew Arthur. The Pope interferes via his legate and the people of Angiers (in John’s realm) suggest he marry his niece to the French Dauphin to make peace with them. John captures Arthur and the consequences, and his fate, forms the core of the piece. The English nobles flip-flop their allegiance between John and the French (how dare they!). Somehow it doesn’t come together to create as compelling a story as we’re used to from Will, but it has its moments.

I’m not sure I fully understand why religion is so prominent in director James Dacre’s production. It’s set on a red cross which extends into the groundling space and sideways to steps leading to the exits and there are monks chanting all over the place. John is apparently poisoned by a monk, but I wasn’t clear why. It also places the interval very late which, given the uneven quality of the play, makes the first part a real challenge to the attention span. It finds some unexpected humour and The Bastard’s engagement with the audience is fun. Overall I liked the production.

Jo Stone-Fewings gives a very good performance as a troubled John, somewhat out of his depth and perhaps less interested in ruling than a king needs to be. I also liked Alex Waldmann as The Bastard and Laurence Belcher as both Arthur and John’s son and successor Henry. Tanya Moodie is terrific as Constance.

A good production and timely staging of one of Shakespeare’s weaker plays.

 

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This play starts well. We are in the home of North London kosher caterers on the eve of  the funeral of their son who has died fighting for Israel in Gaza. The Rabii calls to warn the family that he anticipates protestors – other Jews angry at the boy’s sisters’  involvement in the UN investigation of that very same conflict. The trouble is, playwright Ryan Craig then throws in the kitchen sink!

The play has its moments, but it is too contrived and therefore often implausible. We move from the set-up to soap opera to a serious political debate to melodrama. Along the way, we get business problems, relationship issues and a few too many patronising history lessons. The only unpredictable thing in the evening is the arrival of daughter Ruth’s boss Stephen  – though this is also somewhat implausible, it does provide an opportunity for a reasonably objective political debate. The best drawn characters are the sister and other brother, both played well by Susannah Wise and Alex Waldmann. The problem with the rest, particularly Henry Goodman’s father and Tilly Tremayne’s mother, is that they are stereotypes.

You’d think the staging in-the-round (you’re a fly on the wall of the living room with visible corridors leading to the rest of the house) would provide an intimacy and heighten your engagement with the story and its characters, but I’m afraid it doesn’t. I wasn’t in the slightest bit moved or emotionally engaged, even from the front row in its most heartfelt moments. I found the frequent Jewish words and references a rather clumsy way of engaging a largely Jewish audience whilst making the non-Jewish audience feel excluded.

Yet another disappointing new play at the National, I’m afraid.

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