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Posts Tagged ‘Amanda Drew’

This is the fifth Florian Zeller play produced in London in just over three years, with a sixth scheduled before four years are up – no other playwright has achieved that, I suspect, though they were written over eight years. This French playwright has really caught the eye of both producers and audiences.

The previous four were in two stylistic pairs – The Father & The Mother and The Truth & The Lie – with this one closest to the former (as it appears will the sixth one, as it’s called The Son). They’ve all been translated by Christopher Hampton and the common feature is their inventive structure – he likes to mess with your head – and length (under ninety minutes), oh, and two word titles (with the exception of this one!). I loved the first three, but I think I might already be tiring of the somewhat smug cleverness, as I eventually did with Stoppard.

This one features an elderly couple, wonderfully played by Jonathan Pryce and Eileen Atkins, and their two daughters. We’re in their country home outside Paris, but just about everything else is left for you to work out. At various points, either or both parents might be dead, ghosts or in other characters’ imagination. The themes are love, grief, death, dependency, dementia (again), secrets, legacy and the obligations of children to their parents. I was intrigued and attentive, but it was too obtuse and left me unsatisfied.

Jonathan Kent’s production is very gentle, poetic and beautiful, with a lovely design by Anthony Ward. It’s superbly performed, with extraordinary chemistry between Pryce and Atkins, and fine support from Amanda Drew and Anna Madeley and nice cameos from Lucy Cohu and James Hillier. It has a very melancholic feel and works well at an emotional level, but on this occasion that wasn’t enough for me, I’m afraid.

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The preview buzz was a bit negative and the first reviews were too, so I wasn’t expecting to laugh so much. I thought Anthony Neilson’s new play, which he also directs, was rather good. 

Film director Maxim is a prima donna ostensibly in search of the right light for his new film. He did win the Palme d’Or for his last movie, after all. The film’s producer Anastasia just wants to get the film made on time, on budget, as does Lighting Cameraman Carl and leading lady Natasha. Extra funding comes with strings called Eva to keep an eye on things. Then the leading man is replaced with Ivan, nicknamed ‘the brute’. It’s an everyday story of film folk. I thought it was a hoot.

Matt Smith is very good as the film director and Amanda Drew the perfect calming influence as the producer, and Carl’s clandestine lover. I thought Tamara Lawrence, in what appears to be her second stage role, was terrific as the matter-of-fact ‘it’s only a job’ actress and Richard Pyros is excellent as the seen-it-all Lighting Cameraman. I loved Genevieve Barr as the deaf Eva who confounds expectations, then Jonjo O’Neill turns up and steals the show as the most actorly of actors, a performance that instantly propelled itself into my Best of list for 2016. It was so good that the rest of the cast (and him!) struggled not to corpse.

Designer Chloe Lamford appeared to have an easy job – just lighting screens and kit cases – until a coup de theatre at the end. There were too many short scenes that slowed it all down, but I forgave that for the laughs. 

Good to be having so much fun at the Royal Court again! 

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This ‘version’ of Turgenev’s 1869 play is set over three days in mid-19th century Russia on the estate of Arkady and his wife Natalya and young son Kolya. Arkady’s mother Anna, her companion Lizaveta and Natalya’s ward Vera also live with them, but its a small family unit for the place and time. Turgenev was more of a novelist than a playwright (the only other piece of his I’ve known staged in modern times was actually adapted from a novel) and somehow it shows here; it felt at times like a reading.

The recent arrival of assistant tutor Belyaev seems to have worked wonders on Kolya, but caused havoc amongst the ladies as Vera, Natalya and maid Katya have all fallen for him. This puts a couple of noses out of joint – family friend Rakitin, who has carried a torch for Natalya for some time, and manservant Matvey, who loves Katya. Add in two sub-plots of neighbour Bolshintsov seeking to wed Vera and the doctor, Shpigelsky, proposing to Lizaveta (one of the highlights of the play) and you have a lot of love and relationships to unfold in three stage days (a month in Turgenev’s original), under two hours playing time, and it turns into an eighteenth century soap opera.

This is all played out in front of a giant painting (design Mark Thompson), the canvas of which appears to continue to cover the stage, ending in rough edging at the front. The wings are exposed and the actors often sit at the back and sides when not performing. There is some furniture, but it feels like a oversized space much of the time, perhaps intentionally, representing the vast estate.

The evening’s chief pleasure is a uniformly excellent cast, though they appear to have been directed to play in a less naturalistic, somewhat old-fashioned way. Amanda Drew is exceptional as Natalya, able to instantly convey passion and emotion. John Simm impresses in the role of Rakitin, unlike any other I’ve seen him in. Mark Gatiss provides much of the comedy as Shpigelsky, particularly in scenes with the superb Debra Gillett as his love interest. Though the role is a bit underwritten, John Light is great as Arkady and Royce Pierreson gives a fine performance in the pivotal role of Belyaev.

When a writer directs his own work, I worry where the creative tension will come from. Patrick Marber has directed three of his own plays here at the NT (though not The Red Lion, currently running next door https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2015/06/15/the-red-lion) but not his other two adaptations, both at the Donmar. I found the seated actors a bit passe, pointless and distracting and the I found the playing style a bit quirky, so I did leave wondering what another director would have made of the material, which was indeed well written. A more conventional period staging may have served it better.

It was a pleasant enough evening, and I enjoyed it more than The Red Lion, but it didn’t wow me and I left feeling that it was a bit unfair giving over two of the three NT stages at the same time to the same playwright for plays which may not be entirely worthy of them.

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Gosh, what a dull and frustrating evening this is.

Simon Gray’s 40-year old play really has only one character; the rest are mere foils. The trouble is, this character has few redeeming features. He’s self-obsessed, misogynistic and contemptuous of all around him. He’s sexist, homophobic and just a little bit racist. Given that he is a university lecturer, written by Gray at the time he was also a university lecturer, some think it’s autobiographical – if that’s true, Gray must really have hated himself.

In one day, Butley learnes that his wife is leaving him for another man, his protege / colleague / flatmate is moving out of both office and home and his alleged ‘poaching’ of a student whilst drunk has caused a rift with another colleague. He smokes, drinks and snipes at everyone and everything. It’s clear why this is all happening to him – who’d want to be married to / live with / work with this man? – and you have no sympathy, just loathing. 2.5 hours in this man’s company seems like a sentence.

Dominic West is an excellent actor and he gives the role his all. The talents of other excellent actors like Paul McGann, Penny Downie and Amanda Drew are wasted on paper thin supporting roles. Peter McKintosh has created a realisitc university office with the wall of books on Butley’s side of the office looking like it will collapse any minute. There’s really nothing wrong with the production except that everyone’s talents are wasted on a terrible play. The only reason I can think of for going to see it is to see how much we’ve moved on in 40 years – but you can do that by watching one episode of Ashes to Ashes.

Avoid!

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This is an adaptation, by the prolific Richard Bean (whose new play The Big Fellah also opens this week), of David Mamet’s excellent film about con men.

It’s staged at the Almeida on a clever two-tier set by Peter McKintosh in an interval free 100-minute production with atmospheric electric guitar music by Django Bates played live.  Lindsay Posner’s production is well paced. There are eight good performances, with Nancy Carroll and Amanda Drew particularly effective (the latter in two roles).

I enjoyed the evening and I admired the skills of all involved, but I can’t really see how staging it adds anything to the film, so I’m left with the question ‘why?’. That’s all really!

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