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Posts Tagged ‘Alexi Kaye Campbell’

This is the second Alexi Kaye Campbell play to be revived relatively soon after its premiere, eight years ago at the Bush in this case, both at the Trafalgar Studios, both directed by Jamie Lloyd, and I for one am glad they have been as I missed the first outings of both, despite the fact they originated at regular haunts.

Kristin is an American who has been living in the UK most of her adult life. She’s a product of the late sixties – idealist, feminist, liberal, even socialist, who believes everyone should be promoting change and giving back. She divorced her husband when their two sons were young, but took them with her to Italy, pursuing her career as an art historian – until her husband took them from her, something she seems not to have fought, even acquiesced to. The title means a formal defence of one’s opinions or conduct; in this case Kristin is about to be held to account by her sons for not mentioning them in her recent memoir.

It’s her birthday and sons Peter and Simon, their girlfriends and gay friend Hugh are coming to lunch. Peter has taken a contrasting career path as a banker specialising in Africa. He is besotted with his American girlfriend Trudi, a somewhat vacuous evangelical Christian, something Kristin doesn’t really approve of, though she turns out to have more depth than first appears. Simon’s girlfriend, soap star Claire, another career Kristin disapproves of, arrives before and without him. Hugh is her close friend, and her defender. There’s a lot going on here, and I loved the richness of the story and the narrative, and the very well drawn characters.

Soutra Gilmour’s design is conventional (for her) but anchors the play in a British country cottage. Jamie Lloyd gets great performances from his terrific cast, led by Stockard Channing as spiky Kristin, who navigates the complex combination of arrogance, determination and guilt with great skill. Joseph Millson’s challenge is to characterise two very different brothers, which he does very well. Laura Carmichael was a bit of a revelation as Trudi, with what seemed, to these Brit ears, a spot-on American accent. It appears to be Freema Agyeman’s stage debut and impressive it was too. It’s lovely to see Desmond Barit in a role which so suits him and he relishes some cracking lines, milking them for all they’re worth.

This exceeded my expectation by a big margin and now I’ve seen four good Alexi Kaye Campbell plays, he enters my list of must-see playwrights.

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Another occasion where the critical reception lowered my expectations so that the experience exceeded them. Alexi Kaye Campbell’s play is a lot better than I was led to believe.

It’s set on the Greek island of Skiathos in 1967, just as the coup which installed the Colonels is about to happen. We’re on holiday with budding British playwright Theo and his actress wife Charlotte. They’ve befriended / been befriended by an American couple in a local bar and they invite them over to their rented house. It’s an unlikely friendship, with an even more unlikely sexual tension between Harvey and Charlotte. Harvey is on leave from his US government posting in Athens with his wife June, who is a bit of a dumb blonde caricature, overly fond of the booze. Harvey is a highly persuasive control freak and by the end of the evening, he’s persuaded Theo & Charlotte to buy the villa for a song from it’s owners, who are about to emigrate to Australia.

In the second act, we move forward nine years. Greece has recently returned to democracy. Harvey is a successful playwright and he and Charlotte now have two children. The Americans have been posted to Chile, but are briefly back in Athens en route to Zaire (spot the pattern here?). They visit for a few days and we learn more of the bidding Harvey does for his government to keep communism at bay, and the guilt he carries, but the Brits have reason to be guilty too, albeit on a smaller scale. Their relationships disintegrate. Underneath the personal stories, we explore the ethics of power – big countries clandestinely dominating small ones and little people exploited by bigger people. Nothing changes, of course, and Greece today suffers the same, albeit economically.

Hildegard Bechtler has built a brilliant two-story whitewashed house on a rocky promontory; it’s very imposing in the Dorfman space. I was very impressed by Ben Miles as Harvey, particularly his American accent (well, to this British ear), forceful and larger than life. Elizabeth McGovern’s June was a bit too much of a stereotype for me, though very funny. Pippa Nixon is excellent as Charlotte, initially submissive but eventually defiant, and Sam Crane is very good at navigating Theo’s more complex journey. Characters seemed to have their backs to a significant chunk of the audience much of the time, but otherwise Simon Godwin’s direction was good.

An underrated play with a particularly good set of performances and a fine production.

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It’s rare something is revived after just five years. I’m glad this has been though as I somehow missed the premiere of Alexi Kaye Campbell’d debut play at its first outing at the Royal Court. Though I suspect it’s not intentional, given recent events in Russia, it turns out to be rather timely.

It’s a very good first play, and he has yet to better it. The stories of two gay relationships, many years apart, are interwoven, contrasting the old days ‘in the closet’ and more enlightened modern times. In one, Philip is having an affair with Oliver, the writer for whom his wife Sylvia is illustrating. Philip’s emotions are a complex bag of guilt, denial and anger. Of course, she knows really. This is set alongside the very modern open relationship of another Philip & Oliver, challenged by Oliver’s promiscuous addiction to sex, with another Sylvia who is Oliver’s friend and confidante.

It has a great deal of psychological and emotional depth and brings an historical perspective to both individual and society attitudes. The switches between periods are smoothly and speedily realised on the same set and the three actors are brilliant at changing to reflect the respective time. This is all helped by an uncluttered design by Soutra Gilmour with just a handful of props in front of a giant mirror wall.

The three central performances are all stunning. Al Weaver is superb as both shy, withdrawn Oliver and ‘out there’ open Oliver. Harry Hadden-Paton is just as effective at the slightly easier transition from repressed Philip to modern Philip, affronted by Oliver’s inability to be faithful. Hayley Atwell is wonderful as both the sad wife and effervescent best friend. Matthew Horn provides three good cameo’s though I thought the first, a ‘rent boy’ dressed as a Nazi, was a bit too much of a caricature amidst all these high quality performances.

Just so that we don’t get too complacent about our new enlightenment, at the second curtain call the cast come on with ‘To Russia, with love’ placards. With this third offering, Jamie Lloyd edges ahead of Michael Grandage in their respective West End seasons. How lucky are we to be able to compare.

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This is one of those thought-provoking stimulating ‘state of the world’ plays that are right up my street! It’s more about morality & ethics than faith in a religious sense, with two central issues explored through the lives of Tom, Sophie and her dad – abandoning your principles for success and the Anglican church attitude to homosexuality.

In three acts each of two scenes, Alexi Kaye Campbell’s play spans 13 years but doesn’t do so chronologically. We move between Tom’s first meeting with Sophie’s dad to a later visit when he’s ill, their break-up, their reunion at a friend’s civil partnership, another reunion when they’ve parted from their respective new partners and a final scene which I won’t spoil but provides the last jigsaw piece for you to complete the picture. It is both the story of people’s lives and an examination of issues of our time. It occasionally feels contrived, most notably when you realise Sophie’s ultimatum was rather belated, but it’s very good writing and stimilating debate that I’m still thinking about more than 12 hours later.

Kyle Soller has already impressed at the Young Vic in both The Glass Menagerie and The Government Inspector, and he impresses again here as a gangly, highly strung and clumsy bundle of energy. Hayley Atwell plays Sophie as a much cooler worldly wise moralist. My only criticism is that neither really age the 13 years on stage that they do on the page. Ian McDiarmid has a tough task to pull off the father / bishop struggling with his beliefs and his health, but he does so very well. In a uniformly fine cast, Bronagh Gallagher is terrific as the Ukrainian housekeeper / ex-prostitute who provides most of the play’s many funny moments and Jude Akuwudike as both a Kenyan bishop and a gay Nigerian Brit (with some playfulness about the double-up along the way). Jamie Lloyd’s fine direction gives the play great pace, though I’m not convinced two intervals were necessary.

Though it’s a stimulating debate, it’s also a fine personal story as well as being hugely entertaining. The Royal Court continues to lead the way with contemporary drama that reflects what’s happening in the world and this one complements others like The Heretic, Tribes, Posh, Clybourne Park, Enron and Jerusalem. I loved it.

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