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Posts Tagged ‘Angus Wright’

You can spot a Robert Icke production within moments of it beginning. The use of live and recorded video, an atmospheric soundscape, contemporary songs placed appropriately, striking modern settings. It doesn’t always work for me, but on this occasion everything comes together to make this a brilliant Hamlet. Even the verse sounded like contemporary everyday speech.

We start and end with Danish news footage of the King and Hamlet’s funerals respectively. We’re with security staff watching the ghost in the castle on CCTV. Polonius is wired up when he goes to see Hamlet. When the players give us their play, the royal household join us in the audience where they are being filmed, so we can watch their reactions on screen as well as the play on stage. The same idea is used even more effectively for the fencing match. Ophelia’s burial scene is devastating. It unfolds like the Scandinavian thriller it is. Even the two intervals are perfectly positioned.

Andrew Scott’s soliloquies are restrained and understated, contrasting brilliantly with his rage and anger. It’s a stunning performance with an extraordinary emotional range, but he’s surrounded with a fine set of supporting performances too. Juliet Stevenson is superb as Gertrude, torn between her son and her new husband. Angus Wright is a brilliantly ice cold, defiant Claudius. Peter Wight is excellent as Polonius, with a fine Ophelia from Jessica Brown-Findlay and a passionate Laertes from Luke Thompson. This is a simply terrific cast.

At 3 hours 50 minutes it’s one of my longest Hamlets, but also one of the most gripping I’ve ever seen. The third of my late February four Shakespeare play binge. Probably sold out but look out for a transfer of a cinema relay.

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It’s clearly going to be my Year of the Greeks. We’re not even half-way through and this is my 5th, and it’s the first of 3 in the Almeida Greeks season. I’ve seen lots of Greek tragedies, but this trilogy has passed me by (apart from an adaptation of one segment recently). I never saw the iconic Peter Hall production at the NT as I’d only just moved to London, was unemployed and hadn’t really got into theatre-going anyway. Director Robert Icke’s new version is contemporary and radical, with a 3 hour playing time, and I thought it worked brilliantly.

This paragraph may be considered a spoiler (of a 2500 year old tale based on Greek mythology!) – Orestia tells the story of Agamemnon, his wife Clytemnestra and children Elektra, Orestes and Iphigenia. Agamemnon sacrifices his youngest daughter Iphigenia to the gods before leading the Greek army in the Trojan War. Whilst he’s away, his wife moves his cousin / her lover Aegisthus in and when he returns she kills him in revenge for the sacrifice of Iphigenia. Orestes, encouraged by his sister Elektra, returns from self-imposed exile to avenge the death of his father by killing his mother and her lover.

Icke appears to have added the pre-war events to Aeschylus, so we see a happy family before Iphigenia’s death, the torment Agamemnon goes through, the sacrifice itself and his departure to war. This gives the plays better context and the normality and happiness of family mealtimes heightens the subsequent tragedy. The ghosts of deceased characters occasionally return and Orestes appears throughout, even when in exile, being ‘interviewed’ about events now passed by what at first appears to be a counsellor or therapist, with a hint of false memory syndrome. This makes sense in the final ‘courtroom’ scene when everything unravels like a detective story. In this final scene, the references to the position of men and women in society feel ever so modern.

The production’s default style is cold, clinical and somewhat austere and there are many long pauses, which makes the outbursts of emotion much more dramatic, moving and occasionally terrifying. They even integrate the need for good timekeeping (it’s 3.5 hours with precisely 28 minutes of breaks!) with the breaks announced, clocks audibly ticking down and ushers issuing reminders. The use of music is terrific, with God Only Knows heard more than once and Nick Lowe’s The Beast in Me a real surprise (to a Lowe fan like me).

Angus Wright and Lia Williams are terrific as Agamemnon and Clytemnestra (Wright also plays his ghost and his cousin Aegisthus, which may be why I thought this character’s part had been reduced). Luke Thompson was hugely impressive as a very passionate Orestes. I could hardly believe it was Jessica Brown-Findlay’s stage debut as Elektra, such was her command of the role.  Young actors Eve Benioff Salama as Iphigenia and Ilan Galkoff as the young Orestes were marvellous.

When I booked this for the evening after Everyman I hadn’t thought that I was pairing two morality plays written 2000 years apart. Both have taken ancient material and made them completely relevant for a 21st century audience. Thrilling stuff.

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This Peter Nichols play with music (Dennis King) was first seen at The Aldwych Theatre in 1977, the then London home of the RSC, when the playwright was very much in their favour. A year before he became Artistic Director of the Donmar, director Michael Grandage  staged it there (with Roger Allam, Malcolm Sinclair and the relatively unknown James McAvoy and Nigel Harman). Now, he’s staging it back in the West End (at the very appropiately named Noel Coward Theatre) as the first in his 5-play season, just after leaving the Donmar.

It’s an autobiographical piece set just after the second world war in a forces entertainment troupe in South East Asia. The rag-bag of performers is led by as-camp-as-they-come (Acting Captain!) Terri Dennis. We see them rehearse and perform, plus backstage relationships, banter and abuse. There are two mute locals whose sinister demeanor tell you they are more than servants to these extraordinary masters.

If you’ve got a decent seat it works well, though not quite as good, in a bigger space – though it has aged a bit and seemed a little overlong this time. It’s a fascinating period and situation though with all sorts of issues explored and the music is completely at home given the context.

The chief reason for seeing it is a superb cast and chief amongst those is Simon Russell Beale with yet another career high. He has the uncanny capacity to act with every part of his body, striking poses that bring the house down, breaking into facial expressions that have you laughing out loud. Angus Wright is perfectly cast as the pompous Major, as is Mark Lewis Jones as the somewhat unsympathetic Sergeant Major, and John Marquez is great as the unlikely Corporal. Joseph Timms, Sam Swainsbury, Harry Hepple and Brodie Ross make a great quartet of singing & dancing soldiers. 

Designer Christopher Oram appears to have re-cycled and roughed up his design for Evita, but it works well as the frame for various South East Asian locations. Grandage’s staging is as always impeccable and there’s a fine band under Jae Alexander hiding in the upper tier on the right.

If you’ve seen the play before, go again to see a fine cast. If you haven’t, go to see a highly original play by one of Britain’s most underrated playwrights. Whatever, you have to go to see Simon Russell Beale at the height of his powers – again!

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Well, Complicite have staged the unstageable! I still don’t understand it, but it’s a theatrical feast nonetheless, though at 3 hours 15 mins maybe a bit too much food!

Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel isn’t about a school teacher with a penchant for Mexican cocktails, though if that were also woven into the two stories of Satan visiting Moscow and Pontius Pilate’s remorse and regret, it probably would fit perfectly well. It is impossible and indeed pointless to offer much of a description, so I will just say it’s a fantasy and a satire and anyone who tells you they understand it is probably lying, or showing off, or both……

The reason for seeing it is that Complicite have chosen it as their most ambitious work yet and, lack of understanding aside, it is an extraordinary piece of staging. Much of this is due to the giant video projections of Third Company Limited, more used to projects like Elton John’s Las Vegas show, the Batman Arena event and  U2’s 360 tour. These amazing visuals sit comfortably with the more minimalist imaginative staging and performance style we have become used to from Complicite and Simon McBurney.

It’s great to see Paul Rhys again and there are some excellent performances from Richard Katz, Angus Wright, Tim McMullan, Ajay Naidu and Cesar Sarachu (who on Monday got into a pickle trying to get his loincloth on!) but I did find Sinead Matthews a little OTT as she was in A Dolls House at the Young Vic. There’s a puppet cat which looks like it walked out of a cartoon and the closing image of a projection of the cast on stage with chairs forming a giant horse is simply breathtaking.

Go for the stagecraft and inventiveness rather than for a good old yarn and you’ll probably spend a lot of the evening with your mouth open in wonder.

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If I could time-travel, one of the things I might choose would be to attend the first night of this play in 1933 to hear the tut’s and watch the open mouths. It feels completely modern today, so it must have been positively ground-breaking then, even though I’m sure some of it went right over their heads!

It’s a menage a trois between a female interior designer, a male artist and a male playwright that starts in an artist’s attic garret in Paris, moves to the elegant London flat of the playwright and ends up on the 30th floor of an art deco apartment in a New York skyscraper where the designer is living with her unloved husband.  It has a beautifully crafted rounded structure and the dialogue absolutely sparkles. It puts sex and sexuality centre-stage and is so much more than Coward’s trademark social comedies.

The three central performances – Lisa Dillon, Tom Burke and Andrew Scott – are wonderful and the sexual chemistry between them is electric. There is a superb supporting performance from Angus Wright (who has wasted so much time in Katie Mitchell deconstructions of late) as the used man who in the final act explodes a la Basil Fawlty. Amongst the rest of the cast, Maggie McCarthy makes an exquisite contribution as the second act housekeeper. I’ve only seen the play once before, but director Anthony Page makes so much more of it here. It looks gorgeous too, with three brilliant designs from Lez Brotherston, culminating in the NYC apartment that I actually wanted to move into after the show! 

Another wonderful night at the Old Vic.

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