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Posts Tagged ‘Amanda Lawrence’

It does seem timely, reviving Caryl Churchill’s ground-breaking 1982 play, which takes a look at differing views of feminism, but is it a modern classic or a play of its time?

The story centres on Marlene, a ruthlessly ambitious Thatcherite who gets the top job at recruitment agency Top Girls, beating Howard, who everyone expected to be promoted. In the first act, she’s celebrating at a fantasy dinner party to which she’s invited five unpredictable historical figures with differing perspectives on being a woman. We see her in action in the agency, where each of the historical characters has a contemporary parallel, before we travel back in time to visit her sister back home in Suffolk and learn what she’s really given up.

The first act is brilliantly inventive, but it outstays its welcome and becomes irritating, the second act’s first scene is a trip back to Suffolk with Marlene’s niece and her friend and seemed unnecessary to me, and the second scene of this act, in the agency, seemed a bit overcooked, a touch too caricature. The third act is the heart of the play, and its staged and performed to perfection.

Director Lyndsay Turner has assembled a fine cast of actresses, including many favourites of mine. Katherine Kingsley is terrific as Marlene and there’s brilliant support from Amanda Lawrence, Siobhan Redmond, Ashley McGuire, Lucy Ellinson and Lucy Black and an outstanding performance from Liv Hill as Marlene’s niece Angie.

It seems to be the first time the play has been performed without doubling up, and I wondered if the frisson this provides, given the historical / contemporary parallels, was missing. I was glad I saw it, but it seems more play of its time than modern classic to me.

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When I first saw these Tony Kushner plays 24-25 years ago, in the NT’s Cottesloe auditorium, there was a gap of more than a year between them; the second play, Perestroika, hadn’t been written when the first, Millennium Approaches, opened. I saw both parts of the only London revival, Headlong at the Lyric Hammersmith ten years ago, in one day, but then it seemed like recent history. I repeated that experience at the latest revival in the National’s Lyttelton theatre on Wednesday, but now ‘the AIDS plays’, as many called them, feel like much more than that, and in so many ways bang up-to-date.

Prior and Louis are a gay couple; the former hails from early English immigrants and the latter from more recent Jewish immigrants. Pryor has AIDS and his close gay African-American friend Belize is an AIDS nurse, who is reluctantly looking after a racist, homophobic, corrupt Jewish lawyer called Roy Cohn, who disguises his condition as liver cancer. Roy’s protege, object of his desires, and possible sexual partner, is a closeted Mormon called Joe, whose agoraphobic, depressive wife Harper and Mormon mom Hannah, who becomes Pryor’s unlikely friend, are also characters. Joe begins a relationship with Louis when the latter deserts his sick lover. Roy M Cohn was a real person, right-hand man to chief witch-hunter Senator Joe McCarthy, and sometime lawyer to Donald Trump, representing him in the now infamous racist rental case, who appears to have been a mentor, even role model, to the current president. Of course, it’s set in the reign of that other celebrity president Ronald Regan, but in lines written 26 years ago, we hear things we heard last year.

Marianne Elliott’s new staging starts intimately, with scenes stage front on small sets on three side-by-side revolves. This continues for two of the three parts of the first play and, though emotionally engaging, wasn’t as epic as I remembered, and for someone who needs visual as well as narrative stimulation, constituted a slowish start. From here, though, it opens out with small scenes in a giant space giving the epic feel I expected, with scenes in the second play changed by the Angel’s spider-like puppeteers crawling eerily. It fully sustained it’s 6.5 hour playing time, over a 10 hour period, to the point where the gaps felt like waiting time during which you became impatient to return. The inclusion of two intervals in each part was the right decision though.

It’s hard to imagine a better cast, packed full of favourite actors. I first saw a very promising Andrew Garfield eleven years ago in another theatre in the same building, but I had no idea he would grow into the extraordinary talent that plays Prior now. I’ve admired James McArdle’s stage work for years, most notably as King James, also next door, but his Louis is a new career high. Russell Tovey first wowed me at the opening night of The History Boys on the same stage and here he is owning it in a more difficult role as introspective Joe, whose eventual emotional explosions take your breath away. I’ve only seen (and loved) Nathan Lane in The Producers, so watching him create the monster that is Roy Cohn was a revelation. I’ve seen little of Nathan Stewart-Jarrett’s work, but now can’t wait to see more; he brings Belize alive by wordless facial expressions, then adds a delicious bite with his dialogue. Denise Gough continues to impress in another tough role in the shadow of so many larger-than-life characters, her restraint amplifying the emotional outbursts. In addition to Hannah, who Susan Brown navigates from conservative Mormon to loving friend, she plays three men – a Rabbi, a doctor, and an old Bolshevik – plus the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg, one of Roy Cohn’s victims, in a series of terrific performances. The ever wonderful Amanda Lawrence gives us our Angel, but also many others in another set of fine turns. What an ensemble.

When I look back at my lifetime of theatre-going, this will be another of those days that justify my obsession with the stage. No other art form could provide such a dramatic feast that leaves you exhausted and emotionally drained, but energised, thrilled and deeply satisfied at the same time. I woke up the following morning feeling completely blessed.

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The cast list for the 1979 Trevor Nunn production for the RSC reads like a who’s who of British actors, including Zoe Wanamaker, David Suchet, Juliet Stevenson and the now departed Richard Griffiths and Ian Charleston. Suchet also featured in Edward Hall’s 2001 NT revival. It’s no co-incidence that it’s the RSC & NT that have staged this 1930 Kauffman & Hart comedy, the first of their eight collaborations, in London – it requires big resources. The RSC production famously ended with 15 minutes of song and dance by the full ensemble plus band, which sent you home hopping and skipping. This is a scaled-down, shorter adaptation by Hart’s son for 13 actors playing 22 roles. Mind you, it still needs 8 costume makers and 5 wig technicians!

So here we are another 15 years on, and its the turn of contemporary powerhouse The Young Vic in a fine production by Richard Jones with designs by Hyemi Shin, featuring Harry Enfield’s stage debut. He play’s silent film mogul Glogauer, who finds himself competing with the talkies which he first turned down. As soon as he sees the first talkie, Vaudevillian Jerry Hyland is inspired to sell his act with May Daniels and George Lewis to head West for part of the new action, initially running an elocution school (to teach the formerly silent to talk), until Glogauer comes under the spell of George, who ends up running the studios, himself under the spell of the pretty but talentless Susan Walker, who becomes an unlikley star.

It’s a satire on Hollywood and it’s great fun. Enfield is very good, as indeed is fellow comedian Kevin Bishop as Jerry (though he does have stage acting experience). Favourites Claudie Blakley and John Marquez are on fine form as May and George. Amanda Lawrence gives us another of her show stealing turns as Glogauer’s secretary Miss Leighton and there’s great work from Lucy Cohu as columnist Helen Hobart, Lizzy Connolly as Susan and Adrian Der Gregorian in no less than four roles. The star of the show, though, is Nicky Gillibrand’s magnificent costumes and Cynthia De La Rosa’s wigs, hair and make-up!

Huge seasonal fun.

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This was my sixth and last visit to The Globe this year, and my favourite. Playwright Jessica Swale follows her brilliant Blue Stockings, one of the best new plays staged here, with this hugely entertaining one about Charles II’s mistress.

We first meet sometime prostitute Nell as an orange seller. She is befriended by actor Charles Hart who offers her acting lessons and then suggests the King’s Company cast her, now women are allowed on stage, much to the consternation of their regular male leading lady, Edward Kynaston. Charles’ obsession with her begins with visits to see her perform but it’s not long before she’s doing private performances and is provided with a home and ultimately two children. The relationship lasted some 17 years and the play covers that whole period. What makes it so successful is its humour, cheeky, bawdy and irresistible.

I loved Hugh Durrant’s simple design – a few giant gold tassels and plush curtains (most of it takes place in a 17th century playhouse after all) and superb costumes. The play really suits the Globe stage. Christopher Luscombe’s irreverent, nifty staging teases out great performances all around. Gugu Mbatha-Raw is sensational as Nell – feisty, sexy, cheeky – clearly relishing this terrific role. Greg Hastie is brilliant as Kynaston with a wonderful array of actorly strops and speeches about role motivation which bring the house down. Amanda Lawrence gives us another of her scene-stealing turns as Nell’s dresser Nancy and there are two delightful cameos from Sarah Woodward as Charles’ Portuguese queen and Nell’s mum (a performance one groundling with a beer in hand will never forget).

All hail la Swale. This was one of those joyous occasions that make The Globe unique and indispensable. Proper entertainment. Go!

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I was cursing the education system at the interval of this play last night. I studied history for 4 years, for things then called O & A levels, and all we covered was the 125 years between 1814 and 1939. I was also cursing not reading the programme before the start. In my view, this 1976 Caryl Churchill play about mid 17th century English history needs, or at least benefits from, some prior knowledge.

It was clearly a fascinating period, the closest England came to revolution (a century before the French!). Charles I grabbed absolute power, provoking a thirty year period of unrest and civil wars until the establishment of the constitutional monarchy which still survives. Just the names of the groups involved makes you smile – in addition to the Roundheads and Cavaliers, we had the Ranters, Diggers, Levellers and the New Model Army! More recent history plays, like last year’s James plays, present historical events in a much more accessible way than this, though, which is very 70’s and very wordy, in a G B Shaw way. Too much of it is people talking direct to the audience and the endless debates about who’s side god would be on, though historically accurate I’m sure, just muddied it all for me.

Director Lyndsey Turner has added 40 or so ‘extras’ to the 18 strong cast (and it is strong, with actors like Leo Bill, Daniel Flynn, Alan Williams, Steffan Rhodri, Joe Caffrey and Amanda Lawrence in relatively small roles) which gives it an epic sweep. Es Devlin’s brilliant design starts as a giant banquet, before becoming a bare wooden stage, the boards then removed to reveal the earth. The audience wasn’t considered enough, though, as the sight lines (well, at the front of the stalls, at least) are dreadful. Soutra Gilmour, more usually a sole design credit, provides excellent costumes.

Notwithstanding my lack of preparation, I think we’ve become used to history presented more clearly and lucidly, so despite a spectacular production, I suspect it’s impact 40 years on has been watered down significantly.

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It’s hard not to be affected by so much negative buzz but I tried to approach this with an open mind. I’m partial to a bit of Spanish Golden Age, though I’m more of a Lope de Vega man than a Tirso de Molina man (the latter wrote this) and have fond memories of the RSC’s mini-season eight years ago. Then I remembered that Tirso’s contribution, Tamar’s Revenge, was the weak link in that season…..

…..but nowhere near as weak as this, though I have to confess I only survived the first half; if they were offering free Rioja in the second half, you couldn’t have dragged me back.

It’s one of the tackiest and ugliest sets ever to grace the Olivier stage – a big plastic mountain with three white petals. The opening monologues of Frank McGuiness’ translation / adaptation are forced and turgid.  The worlds of hermit Paulo, intent on penance, and gangster Enrico, destined to burn in hell, collide in one of the most implausible and preposterous set-ups you’ll ever see. After fifty minutes of clumsy staging and histrionic performances, you are thankfully handed an escape manual AKA an interval.

It’s hard to know where the blame lies – writer, adapter or director – but I suspect it’s a bit of all three. I’ve had a bit of a downer on director Bijan Sheibani who’s ‘credits’ include that travesty Greenland, the beyond dull Our Class and a surprisingly flat The Kitchen. You have to question why he’s an NT associate director and why Nick Hytner didn’t pull this before it was too late.

I feel really sorry for the cast, including talents like Bertie Carvell and Amanda Lawrence, who have to suffer this 32 more times to half full houses (with a top price of £32 and most seats at £12). They can’t do a runner like me!

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Ubercreative director Richard Jones’ latest makeover is Gogol’s 19th century farcical satire on Russian corruption, where an entire town ingratiates itself with what it believes to be a government inspector.

David Harrower’s version certainly makes it fresh, with some great dialogue which doesn’t jar at all with the setting and period. Miriam Buether has re-configured the Young Vic again with a wider than wide and deeper than deep stage, though I’m not sure why they have to go to the expense of building false walls at the sides of the auditorium. It’s size and shape does, though, add to the surreal quality of the proceedings, as do Nicky Gillibrand’s extraordinary costumes. Amongst the many clever coups, we have running rats, helium balloons seemingly turning up from nowhere and walking through walls. I could have done without the turd, though.

When it’s motoring, it’s great, but it sometimes lags – particularly in the first half – and some of the monologues outlive their welcome; this makes the pacing uneven and detracts from the undoubted success of the adaptation and staging. Julian Barrett is fine as the mayor, though he seems a little unsure of himself at times, which isn’t entirely in keeping with the character. Doon Mackichan is excellent as the mayor’s wife, helped by a series of panto dame costumes and French pretensions. Amanda Lawrence gives us another spectacular cameo as the postmaster, complete with false moustache and belly! It’s Kyle Soller’s tour de force as Khlestakov that steals the show, though, developing from a man who got lucky to an exploitive, manipulative monster.

If they tightened up the first half, this would be a cracker; though there’s much to admire and enjoy as it is and the Young Vic continues its role as an indispensable populist theatre.

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