Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Andrew Upton’

Jean Genet’s fame is surprising given his limited output (five books and five plays). His plays are rarely revived here and this 1947 play has been given a rather radical makeover by Benedict Andrews & Andrew Upton. It originated at the Sydney Theatre Company in 2013 (with Cate Blanchett and Isabelle Huppert as the maids!) but now has two black actresses as the maids, giving it another twist in Jamie Lloyd’s visceral production.

The setting has moved to the US. The time is contemporary. Mistress is a rich woman, perhaps a celebrity (think Kardashian!). Her two black maids are sisters and they have a bizarre ritual where one dresses as Mistress and they act out scenes between her and a maid. The conclusion is meant to be Mistress’ murder, though it never seems to get that far. Mistress’ husband is in prison following a tip-off to the police, which appears to have been made by the maids, though he is released on bail on the day / night of the action.

The relocation to the US with black maids works really well. The problem with the play is that the maids’ ritual takes a whole hour before Mistress arrives home, then we have a 30 minute scene involving all three, then she’s off again and we continue with the maids. At almost two hours with no break it’s way overlong (particularly sitting on seats that are amongst London’s most uncomfortable).

Designer Soutra Gilmour has created a clever structure, like a giant four poster bed made of wood with ornate gold decorations. The trouble is, the four large posts ruin the sightlines and from our top price third row side seats we were often listening to a character who we couldn’t see. Jon Clark’s lighting is just as striking as the design and Ben & Max Ringham’s sound design adds a suitably spooky feel. There are a lot of paper petals!

I was hugely impressed by Uzo Aduba as elder sister Solange, in her UK debut, particularly in the final scene where she was mesmerising. Zawe Ashton is much more physical and frenetic as Claire, perhaps a bit too frenetic, but it’s a virtuoso performance nonetheless. In her last West End outing, Laura Carmichael was heckled (perhaps unintentionally) on opening night by a theatre director Knight. Well, she proves her stage acting prowess here with an excellent performance as Mistress.

I much admired the production and the performances, but it’s not a great play and the length, sightlines and discomfort made it worse. Still, good to see such stuff in the West End .

Read Full Post »

Continuing my never ending, and I suspect pointless, search to understand Beckett with the Sydney Theatre Company’s Waiting for Godot at the Barbican Theatre just six weeks after seeing their Endgame in Sydney, also with Hugo Weaving. At three hours, it’s my longest Godot, but it’s also probably the best.

Each production finds something different and this one is funnier and crueler. It’s set in some huge abandoned industrial landscape. Vladimir and Estragon pass the time over two days waiting for Godot, interrupted only by two visits from the blind Pozzo and his dumb ‘slave’ Lucky and two from a boy bringing a message from Godot that he won’t make it until tomorrow. They feel a sense of achievement when they fill time successfully and a sense of hopelessness when they don’t. The attempted diversions are many, but time still drags them down. We see the warmth of companionship and friendship along the way, but pointlessness and despair predominate.

There is much more physicality to the performances, whether it be the pantomime of removing and replacing shoes, changing hats, falling down and picking themselves and others up or the poor treatment of Lucky. They use the vastness of the stage well, but occasionally sit on the front providing intimate moments too. It’s funnier but it’s also more desperate. It seemed more full of contradictions, more expansive and more poignant. Director Andrew Upton suggests it’s creation was particularly collaborative as he had to take the helm at a late stage and somehow you really felt that.

Unlike The Elephant Man last week, but like Endgame six weeks ago, this is no star vehicle. A lot of people are clearly there for Weaving, and he doesn’t disappoint, but they get four fine performances and a much better, if obtuse, play. I’m used to seeing Philip Quast in musicals, so its a treat to see him give such a terrific performance as Pozzo. Richard Roxburgh is Weaving’s equal and the chemistry between them is palpable. Luke Mullins makes so much of Lucky, lurching around the stage and almost falling off twice.

For once my front row cheap seat was a bonus, giving me a close-up view of such thrilling acting. I’m not that much wiser, but it was a theatrical feast nonetheless.

Read Full Post »

Whenever people think of late 19th / early 20th century Russian drama, only one name usually crops up – Chekov. This means Gorky rarely gets a look in; we get 50 Cherry Orchard productions for every Summerfolk. Whilst Chekov was pumping up the introspective middle classes, Gorky was trying to raise the plight of the poor. Much more up my liberal street.

This play was written whilst Gorky was in prison and produced on the eve of the 1905 revolution. It revolves around scientist Protasov. He is being pursued by widow Melaniya whilst his wife Yelena is being pursued by artist Vageen. Melaniya’s brother Boris, a vet, is in love with Protasov’s emotionally fragile sister Liza. Their attractive young maid, Feema, is being pursued by lots of men! It’s open house at the Protasov’s, presided over by Nanny with Protosov himself eccentric, weak and somewhat otherworldly.

Whilst all this is going on in the house, disease begins to wreak havoc in the village. In the second act, things begin to unravel in their relationships as rumours begin to circulate that it’s Prosotov’s work and not cholera that’s the cause of the disease and the outside begins to threaten the inside, eventually leading to an invasion which ends with an extraordinary coup d’theatre. We spend a bit too long in the interior world of the fortunate before the events outside are introduced, but from then on it’s a great piece – more because of superb characterisation than story.

The unstarry ensemble is brilliant; not a weak link amongst them. Geoffrey Streathfield is every inch the mad professor. Paul Higgins as Boris and Maggie McCarthy as Nanny each turn in another fine NT performance and Lucy Black, someone who is new to me, was hugely impressive as the besotted Melaniya. It’s another of Bunny Christie giant wild sets; she really knows how to make the best of the difficult Lyttleton stage. Director Howard Davies continues to show his affinity with this Russian repertoire with a masterly staging of Andrew Upton’s accessible adaptation.

More of a treat than the press led me to expect & something only the NT could do.

Read Full Post »

Just four days after my return from Ukraine, and for the second day running, I find myself at a play set in Ukraine; and this was not planned!

This one covers events during the First World War when the country changes from a part of tsarist Russia to German occupation to independence to the pro-tzarist White Guard of the title to Bolshevik Russia in an alarmingly short period which must have seemed like anarchy at the time.

This is a terrific adaptation of Bugalov’s novel / play and a terrific production that only the National could do. It’s such a fascinating piece of history and the twists and turns of the play reflect the realities of the real events. It probably sounds heavy but it’s far from it – Andrew Upton, whilst being faithful to his source, has produced an accessible fresh adaptation which moves from tragic to cynical to funny seamlessly, but never lets up on showing the pointlessness of it all.

There are some great performances and it’s brilliantly staged by Howard Davies on Bunny Christie’s extraordinary sets that take you from apartment to palace to school to army camp and back to apartment – and there are special effects that make you jump!

What the NT is for…..

Read Full Post »