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Posts Tagged ‘Andrew Garfield’

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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Another show I had no plans to see until I saw Jumpers for Goalposts, a lovely new play which feels much like it, which prompted me to catch this 20th anniversary revival of Jonathan Harvey’s play before it closed. I’d seen the premiere of this heartwarming, funny and moving play at the Bush and the 2006 outing at the Sound Theatre and I enjoyed this one just as much.

Nikolai Foster’s new production keeps the setting in early 90’s Thamesmead. Single mum and barmaid Sandra is devoted to her teenage son Jamie. Her latest man is socially clumsy but charming artist Tony. Spiky teenage neighbour Leah is obsessed with sex and Mama Cass and has been expelled from school. Other teenage neighbour Ste lives with his dad and brothers; his reward for looking after them is to get beaten senseless. He takes refuge at Sandra’s where his friendship with, and comfort from, Jamie develops into first love.

It’s a timeless story which doesn’t feel the slightest bit dated. You can’t help but love all of the onstage characters, whatever their irritations and quirks; each struggling to make their way in the world or find themselves. The tough life of a singe parent, a dispossessed child, parental and sibling abuse and most importantly coming to terms with your sexuality are all explored sensitively in what is one of the great life affirming feel-good shows. The dialogue crackles and it holds you in its grip from the off.

The Beautiful Thing alumni is impressive. Sophie Stanton played Sandra in both 1993 and 2006. At the Bush, we had Philip Glenister and Jonny Lee Miller no less. In 2006, Leo Bill and Andrew Garfield picked up the baton. Here we have one of Coronation Street’s finest, Suranne Jones, a terrific performance which makes Sandra a bit more feisty and a bit more loving. Oliver Farnsworth’s excellent Tony seems to be a touch cooler, a hippy out of time and in the wrong place. Zaraah Abrahams’ Leah hides her loyalty and warmth underneath bucket-loads of attitude. Above all though, a totally believable journey for Jamie and Ste played with great delicacy and sensitivity by Jake Davies (also great in London Wall at the Finborough recently)  & Danny-Boy Hatchard (an astonishing professional debut).

I’m so glad I caught the last night of this finely cast and beautifully staged revival. Happy Anniversary – see you at the next one no doubt.

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Contemporary Music

I’ve been to enough Ben Folds concerts to know that they can be can be hit-and-miss affairs. He often fools around so much, at the expense of musical quality, but at his February Hammersmith Apollo concert he got it just about right. The songs from Lonely Avenue (penned with novelist Nick Hornby) worked as well on stage as they do on record, but it was the older stuff which really came alive – and he has the most tuneful fans as the choruses proved conclusively!

Classical Music

The classical month started with a lunchtime concert at Wigmore Hall, part of the YCAT season dedicated to providing early recital experience for young artists. This one showcased soprano Caroline MacPhie accompanied by Joseph Middleton and you’d never believe it was her first recital if you didn’t know, such was the quality of her singing and her confidence. It was a hugely ambitious programme  that packed in 21 twentieth century songs by Rodrigo, Poulenc, Britten and Bridge in Spanish, French, Russian and English! In truth, I thought it was a little heavy for lunchtime and a little less volume and more subtlety would have helped, but the ambition and talent is unquestionable. One to watch.

Opera

Lucrezia Borgia sees the ENO missing another opportunity to encourage talented young opera directors in favour of film director opera virgins. As if uncomfortable leaving his comfort zone, Mike Figgis framed his opera debut with four films, which were frankly more dramatic than anything on stage. With cardboard cut out sets and static singers, it looked dreadfully old-fashioned. The English libretto was occasionally silly (perhaps not surprising as it was translated by the conductor, Paul Daniel – is ENO determined to cross disciplines!), but thankfully there was some good singing.

Dance

It’s taken me 10 years to see Ballet Black (on their 10th anniversary!) and very impressive they were too. The four short pieces in the first half showed off their style and range, but it was Will Tuckett’s Orpheus one-act ballet that followed that was the highlight. It was in the Linbury Studio, so by law it had to have a Tuckett work, obviously.

Film

Brighton Rock was better than the reviews, but there was still something missing. Both the city and the period looked great and with a cast like Helen Mirren, Andrea Risborough, John Hurt and Phil Davies it was watchable, if a little slow at times.

True Grit is an extraordinary piece of film-making, even if it isn’t really my sort of film – too violent, I’m afraid. The cinematography is gorgeous and the performances are terrific, with Jeff Bridges better than he’s ever been and Matt Damon unrecognisable; the young girl, though, stole the show.

I hadn’t read the book of Never Let Me Go. I decided to go and see it despite the reviews because it had two of my favourite young actors – Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield. It’s very John Wyndham, but I’m afraid I found the basic premise a bit preposterous and the film was very slow and very dull.

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Contemporary Music

Another gem at the lovely Union Chapel – The Carolina Chocolate Drops – absolute joy! Since I first saw them at Bush Hall a couple of years ago they’ve grown – and so has their audience. They play an eclectic mix of bluegrass, country, blues and jazz on fiddle, banjo, kazoo and percussion (including bones and jugs!). The between song chat between and by Dom and Rhiannon is charming and you feel you’ve got to know them as well as their music. Thoroughly uplifting.

Gem followed gem with John Hiatt delivering a glorious set at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire one week later. The new band is great, though it did seem to limit his song choices meaning there was less light & shade than we’re used to from Hiatt. That said, it was a terrific 2-hour rock / blues set with the second encore – Riding with the King – a magical five minutes in a lifetime of concert going.

Opera

ENO’s Radamisto was a musical treat with six well-matched performances (though Ailish Tynan almost stole the show) and the orchestra sounding lovely. The production / design, however, was often baffling. The first half had giant walls covered in black and red flock wallpaper and Prince Tigrane was played for laughs by the aforementioned Ailish Tynan in padded suit, false moustache and fez. Why? A rare lapse in intelligence from director David Alden.

Another lapse at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, I’m afraid. Spinalba is a rarely performed early 18th century opera by an obscure Portuguese composer with Italian influences. Stephen Metcalf has set it in a contemporary old people’s home where the residents are rehearsing the opera. It’s a similar story to Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and this production idea makes it virtually impossible to follow. To be honest, most of the time I didn’t know who was who or what on earth was going on in the opera within the rehearsal – I accept its innovation and cleverness, but at the expense of a complete loss of a story and characters? The music was pleasant if undistinguished and there was some good singing and particularly good playing, but it was all lost in ‘the big idea’ and I’m afraid I couldn’t drag myself back after the first 100-minute half.

Film

I found Social Network a fascinating insight into the extraordinary story of Facebook. It unfolds like a thriller, draws you in and keeps hold of you for the duration. Free of gimmicks, it’s beautifully filmed and edited with great performances. It’s great to see a young British actor (the excellent Andrew Garfield) get a Hollywood lead (playing an American too!), no doubt thanks to executive producer & honorary Brit Kevin Spacey CBE

Mike Leigh’s Another Year is charming and poignant, and a lot better than his last film Happy Go Lucky, but I still think he does edgy better than wistful! A study of loss and loneliness, each character is well developed and each performance is beautifully judged; Lesley Manville is simply terrific.

Filming the last part of Harry Potter was always going to be difficult but I’m not sure splitting into two, with the first half merely a long set up for the conclusion, was wise. Much of it is desperately slow, there aren’t enough ‘wow’ moments and the absence of scenes in Hogwarts and other iconic locations leaves you feeling a bit cheated. Of course, I’ll have to see the final part – let’s hope it’s a hell of a lot better. 

Art

I adored the Glasgow Boys exhibition at the Royal Academy, Unknown to me (and I suspect many others) these late 19th century artists stand up well against their contemporaries, the impressionists and post-impressionists. Their style is sort of Pre-Raphaelites meets Arts & Crafts and I loved it.

I learnt more from the British Museum’s Egyptian Book of the Dead exhibition than I did in two weeks in Egypt! It’s brilliantly curated; looking at lovely objects and learning about the practices of a great civilisation are given equal prominence and are equally rewarding – possibly the best of their big Reading Room exhibitions. 

Those wonderful people at Artangel have done it again with Surround Me, a song cycle for the City of London by Susan Philipsz which consists of pieces of appropriate early music broadcast at six locations across the city. Walking between them when The City is empty on a Sunday added to the pleasure. I sincerely hope she wins the Turner Prize, because the other three at the Tate Britain exhibition are dire! 

I’m afraid Treasures from Budapest at the Royal Academy was too full of things I don’t like – Madonna’s, Christ’s, still life’s and dimly lit drawings – to be at all enjoyable. With hindsight, I should have raced to the last three rooms and given the rest a miss.

James Turrell’s exhibition at the Gagosian includes a light installation for one person at a time. You enter it laying down on a sliding ‘tray’ and stay in there for 15 minutes. I’m not sure if I could have coped with that, but all the ‘slots’ are booked anyway, so I didn’t have to decide! Fortunately, the other two pieces – particularly the elevated ‘room’ you walk into where colours change and your perceptions are manipulated – are well worth the visit without it.

Kings Place is becoming completely indispensible and when I went this month there were no less than four exhibitions, plus interesting sculpture all around the atrium and outside. Developments in Modern British Art was a small but fascinating selling exhibition which included Sickert, Hodgkin and Riley amongst others. Face to Face was a captivating selection of c.60 British self-portraits from Ruth Borchard’s extraordinary collection. Jazz Legends was a superb selection of Sefton Samuels B&W prints of musicians from the 50’s through the 90’s. Norman Adams paintings had been hidden away so you had to hunt for them, but when you found them they proved to be a pleasant surprise. Amongst the sculpture, there was a terrific revolving water screw feature on the canal side. I didn’t go to either of the two concert halls on this occasion, but all the exhibitions are free and we had a great lunch in their restaurant. As I said, indispensible.

Visits

A visit to Sands Film Studios in Rotherhithe with the V&A Friends proved to be absolutely fascinating. It is an extraordinary place (think Dennis Severs House) over three floors of a former warehouse housing film stages, scenery costume and prop stores & workshops, a unique screening room / cinema and a picture research library. It’s run by two characters – Christina & Olivier – whose respective families also live there. Their most famous production is probably the brilliant 2-part 6-hour Little Dorritt made in the mid-80’s; the entire film was shot in 9 months inside these studios (no external filming) with every set, prop and costume handmade here too. There can be nowhere else like it and I feel privileged to have visited it as I suspect it won’t be able to survive this modern world; today they spend most of their time and effort making and hiring out period costumes – if you catch the forthcoming Treasure Island on Sky (I won’t!), it will be their craftsmanship behind the costumes.

I visited the new Supreme Court, again with the V&A Friends, and as much as I loved the building and found briefly sitting in on proceedings interesting, I could have done it all a lot cheaper and at my own pace by just turning up and moving between the three public galleries and wandering around the building; the guide added little. It’s a lovely restoration of the Middlesex Guildhall with original ceramics and woodwork alongside Peter Blake carpets and modern drapes and glass. In Court Two there were 5 judges, 13 barristers, 2 solicitors and 5 clerks hearing a case about knitting factory noise in the 70’s and 80’s – all that expense from my taxes rather wound me up!

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