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Posts Tagged ‘Anna Mackmin’

After an excellent debut with Mammals eight years ago at the Bush, I thought we’d lost playwright Amelia Bullmore to TV & radio (and her other job, acting), but here we are with a second stage play that had me spellbound.

After a somewhat staccato first scene where the three characters, newly arrived at University, give us a series of short one-liners which add up to form their first term / year, we see then move into a house together and the following act forms the play’s core – the development of their friendship. It’s funny, warm, charming and you get to know and like these three very different characters.

Di is a cockney lesbian, sporty and butch. Viv’s a more earnest, studious and serious Geordie. Rose is a country girl whose flightiness and sexual promiscuity contrasts with her home-making and domesticity. Just when you feel safe with this cheerful and charming nostalgia, you get the first of a number of tragedies and it breaks your heart.

The play becomes so much more unpredictable from here. We spend a while watching them make their way in the world, their careers and their other relationships, before we jump forward ten years or so, then another ten to see how their lives have unfolded and their friendships have fared. There’s a fascinating debate about kindness – selfish or selfless? – along the way and it has the uncanny ability to switch from hilarity to tears (them and us) on a phrase or an action.

I can’t think of a better play about friendships, their ups and downs but above all how crucial they are to us all. These characters are so real you want to be with them, and at times be them. I was desperate for the interval to end because I just wanted their story to continue. The performances of Tamzin Outhwaite as Di, Gina McKee as Viv and Anna Maxwell Martin as Rose are all so good, the gap between character and actor blurs completely and they become Di and Viv and Rose. I have rarely witnessed such chemistry in more than thirty years of play-going.

I think casting older actors to play 15-25 years younger for much of the play pays off as I doubt younger actors would have the (real life) experience to make it so real. Anna Mackmin’s staging is masterly because she obtains a cohesive flow and a deeply satisfying whole from multiple scenes spanning 27 years.

Last night was one of those nights you know you could never have in a cinema or watching something on TV. This is a live theatre experience that I have no doubt will prove to be a highlight of the year and may well prove to be a highlight of my theatre-going life. Very special indeed.

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As an antidote to reviewing early performances, I find myself seeing this in the last week of its run. To be honest, despite the inclusion of three favourites in the cast (Sheridan Smith, Adrian Scarborough and Anne Reid) I couldn’t really get up the enthusiasm, but eventually felt it had to be done before it was too late!

Well its another case of first-half-dull-second-half-good; though I don’t recall that being the case with previous Hedda’s. Not enough happens in the 90 minutes to the interval, which for me is way too long for scene-setting, character development and plot set-up. Ill-matched couple Hedda and George return from their elongated honeymoon and she proves to be a bit of a control freak and a bit of a bitch. After the interval, it’s action packed as Hedda’s encouragement of Eilert’s suicide results in her own, presumably through guilt.

Les Brotherston’s design is a beautifully elegant 19th century Norwegian home, but a bit clumsy – with a glass room inhabiting the middle of the stage meaning a lot of unnecessary door opening and detours on foot (and challenging sight lines at the sides). Brian Friel’s translation and Anna Mackmin’s staging seem very conservative when compared with the Young Vic’s recent fresh take on A Doll’s House, though Sheridan Smith’s take on Hedda is different (a more manipulative ice queen) as is Adrian Scarborough’s George (a more lovable buffoon).

I did enjoy the (shorter) second half and admired all of the performances throughout. It’s particularly enjoyable to watch Sheridan Smith extend her range yet again; she really is proving to be one of our finest young actors. The length and dullness of the first half does prove fatal though, and I left feeling it was yet another revival rather than something special.

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Based on his plays that preceded this one, which I first saw 28 years ago, I always thought Tom Stoppard was too glib for his own good – he always seemed to be showing off, clever clever and knowing in a way that frankly irritated me. This was the first of his plays where he seemed to be portraying real people, relationships and indeed love! I don’t know whether it is, but it did seem to be autobiographical, then and now.

Playwright Henry leaves his wife for the wife of her colleague / their friend and later finds this new relationship strained by his new wife’s relationship with a younger colleague. It’s cleverly structured with terrific sharp and witty dialogue and the character development is excellent. You really feel you know Henry very well two hours later.

Anna Mackmin’s staging is slick and fast paced, aided by Les Brotherston’s set which moves between four flats with the rise / fall of panels. It’s very well cast, with Toby Stephens a particularly good Henry (I preferred him to Roger Rees in the original production and Stephen Dillane in the Donmar’s revival some time back).

This is the Stoppard play to see even if you don’t like Stoppard, because it’s the least Stoppardian(!) and you’d be hard pressed to find a better revival.

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