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Posts Tagged ‘Alexander Hanson’

The four Florian Zeller plays we’ve seen here in London in the last few years have been in a different order to how they were written / first produced. We’ve had The Father, The Mother, The Truth and now The Lie in that order, but The Mother, The Truth, The Father and The Lie is how they were written. The significance of this is that The Lie follows The Truth, 18 months later rather than the three years after, and this, in my view, affects its welcome. I felt it was more of the same and I left the theatre disappointed.

The Lie concerns a couple, Paul & Alice, and their friends, another couple, Michel & Laurence (female). It’s a who’s-having-an-affair-with-whom concoction full of false trails and even a false ending, which to be honest I found irritating. It’s clever, but that’s about all. I felt I was being manipulated by a writer for his enjoyment rather than mine.

The whole thing is set in Paul & Alice’s apartment and we don’t know how much time has passed between scenes. It’s expertly performed by real-life husband and wife Alexander Hanson and Samantha Bond, supported by Tony Gardner and Alexandra Gilbreath, all of whom who also seemed to be enjoying it more than me.

There’s a fine, elegant apartment setting by Anna Fleischle and Lindsay Posner’s staging works like clockwork, but I’m afraid it left me cold. Cleverness for its own sake, it just seemed pointless. I have enjoyed this other three plays and I hope we have better to come as I’d identified Zeller as a real find. Hopefully a blip rather than a burst bubble.

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This is the third play by French playwright Florian Zeller that we’ve had in London in less than twelve months, all translated by Christopher Hampton. I worried when the second, The Mother, was stylistically similar to the first, The Father, that he might be a one-trick pony, even though I admired both. Fear not, the third is very different and quite possibly the best.

The first scene introduces us to Michel and his best friend’s wife Alice in a hotel room. They are having an affair. What unfolds over 90 minutes in seven scenes in six locations, each involving just two of the characters, is the unravelling of their infidelity, taking many twists and turns, keeping you guessing until the final moments. It’s a masterly piece of writing and it’s very funny. To say any more would spoil it. 

Lindsay Posner’s staging is as masterly as the writing and Lizzie Clachan’s design is as clever as the play’s structure, changing location with the slide of a screen. Alexander Hanson as Michel is onstage throughout, carrying the play, and he does so brilliantly, but the other three – Frances O’Connor, Tanya Franks and Robert Portal – are terrific too.

Apparently there are six more plays we haven’t seen, including a companion piece to this, unsurprisingly called The Lie. I can’t wait. Three plays in and I’m convinced he’s a find.

This is why I go to the theatre. I’ll be very surprised if this doesn’t follow The Father into the West End. Unmissable.

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I was traumatised before the play started. Jane Asher is old enough to play a seventy-something, her stage son is Alexander Hanson and her real daughter plays her 39-year old stage daughter. Once I’d recovered, I had one of the finest times at a new play in a long time.

After a short preface in 1964, the piece moves to Easter weekend in 1997 at the Pennington home. The family has gathered for William’s 75th birthday. He’s a recently retired judge, recently diagnosed with dementia. His eldest son Sam is autistic and lives in a nearby home. His second son Giles is a doctor with a 22-year-old son Simon, 19-year-old daughter Emily and a shaky marriage to Sophie. William is estranged from his youngest child Alice following the birth of her illegitimate mixed race daughter Aurelia 17 years ago, but she has returned for this occasion. What follows is an extraordinary yet entirely plausible series of re-opened wounds, revelations and some reconciliation. William is cantankerous, to put it mildly, preoccupied with the damage Tory sleaze is doing and with ensuring a male Pennington line. His long suffering wife Olivia is devoted to him and all of her children and grandchildren; a deeply sympathetic character.

Andrew Keatley’s play is beautifully written, brilliantly structured and plotted, without an ounce of flab. A captivating story that unfolds enticingly and oozes authenticity. The cast is extraordinary, with not one but two real life parent-child pairings, Jane Asher & Katie Scarfe and Alexander & Tom Hanson. Clive Francis is simply magnificent as William and Nick Samson plays late forties autistic son Sam with great skill and sensitivity. Both had exit applause after their most effective scenes. I was puzzled by the choice to play it front of the bare theatre back wall and frame, but it was so good it didn’t seem to matter. There were a few too many scene breaks which weren’t as slick as they could have been, but again the quality of everything else made that seem unimportant.

Unquestionably a highlight of the year and surely too good to end here, it’s crying out for a transfer and more deserving of one that anything I’ve seen of late, but you’d be wise to catch it in the more intimate Park Theatre while you can.

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I missed this at regular haunt The Finborough Theatre three years ago; it was hard to get a ticket because it had someone from the Archers in it! So gold stars to young producers Nicola Seed and Sarah Loader for bringing this first London revival of Emlyn Williams’ 1950 play to St James Theatre. Given the events since the Finborogh outing, it may well be even more timely.

Highly successful novelist William Trenting leads a double life as Bill Trent, with the full knowledge and support (but not participation) of his wife Rona. He has a bedsit in Rotherhithe where he engages in morally dubious practices, including orgies, with his drinking pals from the Blue Lion and others who may be paid to participate. The play opens on New Years Day when he adds a knighthood to his Nobel Prize (a touch implausible for a 50’s novelist with seedy themes?). People visit and call to offer congratulations, including Rona’s best friend Marian and Phyllis and Harold from the Black Lion, salt of the earth swingers! His world begins to fall apart three months later on the eve of his investiture when his publisher tells him his activities may no longer be private. Then a blackmailer arrives, but he’s far from being your average blackmailer.

It must have been a real shocker in 1950 and its surprising it even got through the Lord Chamberlain, the censor of the time. Less racy fare by people like Terence Rattan had cuts, but Welsh playwright Emlyn Williams seems to have cleverly steered his play to acceptability. It feels pretty contemporary today, covering themes of privacy, celebrity and exploitation of the young. It you updated the costumes and dialogue, you could probably pass it off as a new play, which is extraordinary for something that’s 64 years old. Blanche McIntyre’s impeccable production manages the changes of tone and mood extremely well.

A faultless cast is led by Alexander Hanson as Trenting, a fine performance in a role that suits him very well indeed. Abigail Cruttenden makes you believe Rona’s love for him withstands what other wives wouldn’t tolerate. Jay Taylor and Olivia Darnley are so lovely as the Harold and Phyllis, you rather wish they frequented your local. Jay Villiers is excellent as stern, humourless but loyal publisher Thane and Bruce Alexander is wonderful (and surprisingly funny) in the key role of ‘blackmailer’ Daker. Daniel Crossley is great as retainer Albert – secretary, chauffeur, butler & more – who many years ago found his way from the pub to the home and has loyally served the Trenting’s since. There’s a lovely cameo from Claire Fox as Marian and a hugely impressive performance from Sam Clemmett as son Ian. It’s hard to imagine a better cast.

I’ve so enjoyed the Finborough finds and was very disappointed to miss this there, but I’m delighted to see it transfer and to see such a good play get such a fine production further west, if not completely ‘up west’. More Emlyn Williams revivals, please!

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Having failed to revitalise his flagging career with the Phantom sequel, Lloyd Webber returns to the docu-musical style of Evita, which was probably his best show. Sadly, Stephen Ward is nowhere near as interesting as Eva Peron and the music isn’t a patch on the earlier show. That notwithstanding, the creative team and performers do their best and there’s enough to enjoy to keep you interested for a couple of hours.

ALW’s premise is that Ward was the fall guy for those more powerful than him. The show takes a swipe at politicians, police, lawyers & the gutter press which is fine by me as they’re amongst my least favourite people. I don’t know how true it is, but it sounds plausible and is interesting but hardly fascinating or riveting.

I never thought I’d hear an ALW score containing a reggae song or a chorus number set in a sex party. It’s good that he’s moved on from the pompous pucciniesque pop opera mush (though he can’t resisit an overuse of ‘incidental’ music behind dialogue), but he’s replaced it with a score that’s a ragbag of musical styles. Wheras his music used to sound like other people’s (you know what I mean!), it now sounds like he’s re-cycling his own tunes. Christopher Hampton & Don Black have provided some witty lines and sharp lyrics, but they don’t rescue it.

A lot rests on Alexander Hanson’s performance as Ward, on stage virtually all of the time, and he is very good indeed. In an excellent supporting cast, Joanna Riding’s huge talent is underused in a small role as Profumo’s wife with just one song, though possibly the show’s best, and Ian Conningham is great as Yevgeny Ivanov, a journo and a copper.

I’m enjoying Richard Eyre’s late flowering as a director of musicals (Mary Poppins, Betty Blue Eyes & the Pajama Game) and he stages this very well, with choreography by Stephen Mear & excellent designs by Rob Howell featuring Jon Driscoll’s projections. The 24 scenes on 15 different locations are slickly handled.

For me, a great production of mediocre material. It has just extended by three months though on a Friday night with best seats discounted by over 40% (one of the reasons I went!) it was a far from full house, so it’s difficult to see why.

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When I first saw this play, in a production by Peter Hall c.15 years ago, it fizzed; so much so that I went back to see it again when it returned to London after an extensive tour. It seemed to me to be so much better than the play most consider his best – The Importance of Being Ernest. For reasons I cannot fathom, in Lindsay Posner’s production the first half is ponderously slow – one of the longest ‘set up’s’ I can remember – whilst the second half zips along.

Oscar Wilde’s play may be 115 years old but if you ignore the settings and costumes, its thoroughly modern – unlike contemporaries like Chekhov or Ibsen, it has hardly aged. The story is rather timely – a corrupt act in the past comes back to haunt a rising star politician. The morals of the case are explored as the events unfold, but with Wilde’s usual sharp wit, satirising the upper classes along the way.

Stephen Brimson-Lewis’ opulent gold set becomes three different rooms in the same house and with the insertion of a simple green wall transforms into a room in another house. With superb period costumes, it looks gorgeous and seems to me to capture the time and the society of the protagonists perfectly.

What makes this revival is brilliant casting. Samantha Bond is a suitably icy Mrs Cheveley, Rachel Sterling (looking mote like her mother than she ever has before) a moralistic Lady Chiltern and Alexander Hanson a somewhat ernest archetypal politician with an ability to change his stance and rationalise it seamlessly.  The star of the show though is Elliott Cowan’s Viscount Goring, a brilliant and witty creation in full flight, and there are lovely cameos from Charles Kay, Caroline Blakiston and Fiona Button.

Such a shame the first two acts didn’t have the pace of the second two, but worth a look nonetheless.

 

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