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Posts Tagged ‘Anna Chancellor’

I’m struggling to understand why the Royal Court thought this was good enough to be staged there (mind you, it isn’t the first time I’ve thought that in recent years). Four very good actors in a very mediocre play.

Rory Mullarkey’s tale of armed insurrection in the UK starts with a meeting between a black boy and a posh woman on a deserted train platform. He appears to be some sort of Messiah and he’s not unexpected. Catherine, a Lady in the titled sense, invites him home. It isn’t for sex, as Leo at first thinks. She’s going to engineer his journey to power through uprisings of the most unlikeliest of groups like the Women’s Institute. It starts with a couple of murders and follows it’s absurdist trajectory from there to a new Britain.

Given the number of (short) scenes and locations, it is by necessity staged on a simple square platform with a projection screen behind and a couple of tents on either side, but Tom Pye’s design still seems a bit half-hearted, as did James Macdonald’s direction. Anna Chancellor is excellent, but why she took the role is beyond me. I was very impressed by Calvin Demba as Leo, who maintains his naive otherworldly expression throughout. Sophie Russell and Pearce Quigley provide excellent support in multiple roles, with some quick changes.

Maybe I’m missing something, but this all seemed a bit pointless. More like work-in-progress than a finished play. It was occasionally funny and often unpredictable but rather unengaging.

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It’s surprising how much you learn about Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor, from a play in which she’s a character who remains offstage. Nicholas Wright cleverly tells the story through her two biographers – Caroline Blackwood and Diana Mosley – and her lawyer & assistant.

The play takes place in the Duchess’  Paris home late in her life when she is a recluse guarded by the somewhat imposing lawyer / advisor / friend Maitre Suzanne Blum. Lady Caroline Blackwood is trying to get an interview with the Duchess for a Sunday supplement, dangling the carrot of a Snowden photo shoot. In the end, she opts for an interview with the secretive but fascinating Blum herself. The play happens before she writes her biography of the Duchess; indeed the events the play focuses on may have inspired her to write it. 

The characters and the play speculate on the relationship. Is she just a gatekeeper? Is she ripping off the Duchess by selling her possessions? Is she just an up-market groupie? Is she in love with her? The rip off theory seems to be dismissed by Lady Diana’s investigations and interrogations (she’s already written her biography) but the rest is left ambiguous.

I’ve seen some stunning performances in the last two weeks – Mark Rylance in Jerusalem, Douglas Hodge in Inadmissable Evidence and Tasmin Greig in Jumpy – and Sheila Hancock here as Maitre Blum is another one. With a very authentic sounding French accent, her performance is very nuanced and subtle. Anna Chancellor had less than two weeks between coming off the Minerva Chichester stage (well, floor actually) and her first performance here. I loved her in the first act, but felt she pushed it too far in the second. John Heffernan’s transition from mere assistant to protector was well played and Angela Thorne’s cameo as Lady Diana Mosley was terrific (though she did have some great lines, including some lovely references to her Nazi sympathies). Lord Snowden is another character who remains offstage.

Anthony Ward’s opulent Parisian drawing-room is perfect for both period and station and Richard Eyre’s direction as sensitive as always. I’m not sure its a great play – I suspect I won’t remember it as long as Wright’s best play, Vincent in Brixton – but it’s well worth seeing, for Sheila Hancock’s performance if nothing else.

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This is the sixth, and probably last, of my Rattigan centenary productions. His short one-acter, The Browning Version, set in a public school in the 40’s is usually paired with another one-acter called Harlequinade. Here it’s paired with a new play from David Hare set in a similar school 20 years later.

Rattigan’s play is a deeply moving tale of a school master with an unfaithful wife and unfair employer, but at its heart is an act of kindness by a pupil. A set of superb performances make Angus Jackson’s production shine like a gem. Nicholas Farrell as the master is initially pompous and irritating, but then almost breaks your heart. Anna Chancellor is icy cold as his unfaithful wife and Mark Umbers diffident but ultimately sympathetic as her lover. Liam Morton gives a very nuanced performance as the boy, a most auspicious professional debut. It’s a subtle and sensitive staging which benefits greatly from the intimacy of the Minerva space.

Hare’s ‘curtain raiser’ shows 60’s boys more questioning and challenging, but little else has changed in public schools with bullying a fact of daily school life. Older pupil Jeremy takes young John under his wing introducing him to his mother, Anna Chancellor now in a much more sympathetic role.  Again, an act of kindness is at the heart of the play, but this time we see things from the perspective of the pupil. The younger boys – Alex Lawther’s John, Jack Elliott’s Gunter (two more outstanding professional debuts) and Bradley Hall’s Jenkins are terrific and again the staging, this time by Jeremy Herrin, is subtle and sensitive.

Though they are very different plays, they sit very comfortably together and provide a deeply rewarding and very human evening, linked by these acts of kindness 20 years apart and 50-70 years ago, yet timeless.

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