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Posts Tagged ‘Anna Madeley’

This is the fifth Florian Zeller play produced in London in just over three years, with a sixth scheduled before four years are up – no other playwright has achieved that, I suspect, though they were written over eight years. This French playwright has really caught the eye of both producers and audiences.

The previous four were in two stylistic pairs – The Father & The Mother and The Truth & The Lie – with this one closest to the former (as it appears will the sixth one, as it’s called The Son). They’ve all been translated by Christopher Hampton and the common feature is their inventive structure – he likes to mess with your head – and length (under ninety minutes), oh, and two word titles (with the exception of this one!). I loved the first three, but I think I might already be tiring of the somewhat smug cleverness, as I eventually did with Stoppard.

This one features an elderly couple, wonderfully played by Jonathan Pryce and Eileen Atkins, and their two daughters. We’re in their country home outside Paris, but just about everything else is left for you to work out. At various points, either or both parents might be dead, ghosts or in other characters’ imagination. The themes are love, grief, death, dependency, dementia (again), secrets, legacy and the obligations of children to their parents. I was intrigued and attentive, but it was too obtuse and left me unsatisfied.

Jonathan Kent’s production is very gentle, poetic and beautiful, with a lovely design by Anthony Ward. It’s superbly performed, with extraordinary chemistry between Pryce and Atkins, and fine support from Amanda Drew and Anna Madeley and nice cameos from Lucy Cohu and James Hillier. It has a very melancholic feel and works well at an emotional level, but on this occasion that wasn’t enough for me, I’m afraid.

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Though there have been numerous TV and film adaptations, there have been surprisingly few stage adaptations of Henry James’ late 19th century novella; possibly because of the difficulty (more so in the past than now perhaps) in pulling off the ghost stuff effectively. That’s actually the major strength of this production, though it still doesn’t match Benjamin Britten’s opera; conclusive proof of the power of music?

Playwright Rebecca Lenkiewicz has been faithful to her source, though perhaps more explicit, and Director Lindsay Posner and his designer Peter McKintosh have been just as respectful with their staging and design. James’ story starts with Sackville interviewing a new governess for his nephew and niece, orphaned by the death of both their parents and left with a housekeeper and governess in the family home (with infrequent visits from their uncle). As the play unfolds, we learn about the death of the previous governess and another employee, who now seem to be haunting or even possessing the children. There is more than a suggestion that in life they may have preyed on them sexually.

McKintosh’s design is excellent and Scott Penrose’s effects, Tim Mitchell’s lighting and John Leonard’s sound design are all terrific – the staging of the apparitions was good enough to get a lot of gasps and a few squeals from the audience. The performances are excellent, led by Anna Madeley’s governess (who seemed to have a cold, which somehow added something to her more emotional scenes) and Gemma Jones’ housekeeper Mrs Grose. The children, Laurence Belcher and ANO (there are three alternating as Flora!) are exceptional in what are big roles with lots of lines.

The major problem is the pacing. It’s slowed down by a lot of scene changes, despite their slickness using the Almeida’s revolve, though ironically the second half – with more scene changes – is better paced! In the end, I felt that despite the quality of it all, it doesn’t transfer well from page to stage (without music, anyway) but in all fairness, I’m not really a ghost story fan and it is, after all, an up-market ghost story.

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After an awful lot of revivals, at last here’s the first good new play of the year – and an original, often surprising & often funny one it is too.

The first half’s two scene set up is a bit long, but the second half’s five scenes snap and crackle. We’re with a somewhat dysfunctional family soon after husband / dad’s demise. His widow has MS and a toy boy (who we never see) and her daughter a complex but close relationship with someone her dad took in after his mother died. After a whirlwind romance, she marries the opposite of her ‘friend’ (a penchant for younger men like her mum), then springs a blind date on the ‘friend’. At this point we meet the Becky of the title and begin a whirlwind of unexpected events which is where the play really takes off.

I suspect this production benefits from Director Peter DubBois’ experience with its original US production(s), because its slick but very believable. Jonathan Fensom’s set, with revolve borrowed from the NT (good to se Nicholas Hytner’s sharing strategy in action) enables the action to move between seven locations without slowing it down. The play flows well and there’s a roundedness about it that is very satisfying. As one might expect from a playwright (Gina Gionfriddo) who also writes about rock music, the snatches of music between scenes are well-chosen.

American import David Wilson Barnes is excellent as Max (and a real double for Kevin Spacey), but he does have the best lines, and I loved Daisy Haggard’s hapless Becky. We don’t see much of Haydn Gwynne except in the first and last scenes, but she’s very good as the acid-tongued mum. Anna Madeley and Vincent Montuel do well with much drier parts.

It’s not in the Jerusalem and Clybourne Park league, but its a very good play and a return to form for the Almeida. I smell a West End transfer…..

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