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Posts Tagged ‘Anna Maxwell Martin’

Some time ago I was involved in a (civil) legal case where two eminent QC’s were pitted against one another in what turned out to be a grudge match. I soon realised the case was more about the competition between them than the facts. That’s one problem with our adversarial legal system. Another problem is that friends and colleagues can advocate against each other; in any other sector this would be prevented lest it lead to collusion. Early in this play it raises another problem in criminal law. No-one represents the victim. The defence represents the accused and the prosecution represents the crown. No-one represents the victim of a crime.

This excellent new play examines the issue of consent in rape cases, and the legal system in general, by juxtaposing a case where two barrister friends are pitted against one another with the infidelities going on in their own lives. The competitiveness issue is much greater in rape cases because it leads to completely unacceptable, bullying behaviour by barristers which is psychologically damaging to victims (with no representation) and leads to fewer cases being brought. In other words, our legal system allows rapists to walk free.

New dad Ed, married to Kitty, prosecutes and friend / colleague Tim is the defence. Victim Gayle (brilliantly played by Heather Craney) is all on her own. Ed exploits her defencelessness to win his case. Whilst this is happening, Ed’s best friend Jake and his wife Rachel (both lawyers) are riding a relationship roller-coaster due to Jake’s infidelity, with Ed and Kitty taking sides. Much later Ed & Kitty ride a similar roller-coaster through Kitty’s more surprising infidelity, with Jake & Rachel involved as if they were pitted against each other in court. Tim and Kitty’s best friend become embroiled. It’s a superbly structured and brilliantly written piece, simply staged with the audience on all sides. 

There’s a real authenticity to the characterisations with superb performances from Ben Chaplin, Anna Maxwell-Martin, Adam James and Priyanga Burford as the two couples and Pip Carter and Daisy Haggard (just about the only sympathetic character) as those drawn into their lives.

Such a good blend of current issues and a personal story, unquestionably a candidate for Best New Play and as fine a set of performances as you’ll see anywhere.

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Maybe I’ve seen too many Lear’s (10). Maybe it was because I was tired, having braved the rain, wind & a tube strike. Maybe I was just over-excited about seeing a favourite actor climb this infamous acting mountain. Whatever the reason, I didn’t really engage with this Lear. I found myself in detached observation admiring it rather than being involved or moved by it.

I’ve heard the word ‘epic’ so many times in connection with this Sam Mendes production, but it didn’t seem that epic to me. I’m not sure why Anthony Ward’s design has blue-green abstract painted panels and stage floor, though it is attractive. Screens cut the stage in half for the more intimate scenes and sometimes when they rise the image behind takes your breath away. It works best in the storm scene when clouds and lightning are projected onto the screens as thunder claps, though I don’t know why a strip of stage with Lear & The Fool on it has to rise and move around.

I don’t have a problem with the modern setting, but I’m not sure the military concept works as well for this as it does for plays like Othello where the characters are military. I always have a problem believing he would divide the country, giving a third to the daughter who marries a Frenchman(!), and then cast out this favourite daughter just because she won’t match her sisters sycophancy, but here Lear doesn’t even look like a king. Simon Russell Beale may have concentrated so much on the madness / dementia that he neglects the other facets of this complex man.

There are some great performances, though. Anna Maxwell-Martin and Kate Fleetwood are excellent as Regan & Goneril, the former becoming vicious and the latter a bit of a vamp. Tom Brooke is a superb Edgar, particularly when disguised as Tom. Stephen Boxer invests Gloucester with great passion and Adrian Scarborough is a highly original and rather cool Fool. SRB completely transforms himself – not just shaving his head and growing a bushy beard, but his whole body seems to take on a new shape.

There is much to admire, but it didn’t wow me like I thought and hoped it would. I may have not done it justice, so I’ve booked to go back at the end of the run as I have to know if it’s me or the production!

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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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The last Shakespeare at the Almeida was a dreadful production I named ‘The Designer Macbeth’ which was devoid of any passion and the only occasion I’ve ever seen the talents of Simon Russell Beale wasted.

Fortunately, this is a fine interpretation of a very difficult ‘morality’ play. The modern setting works really well (it starts with lap dancers!) as the themes, including the abuse of power, are just as relevant today. Les Brotherston’s set allows the action to move swiftly between office, street, prison etc. and Michael Attenborough handles the ambiguity of the ending brilliantly.

Rory Kinnear as Angelo and Anna Maxwell-Martin as Isabella are both hugely impressive; it’s a pity Angelo is offstage for much of middle of the play as he’s enthralling when he’s on. Amongst a very good ensemble, I have to single out an outstanding Lucio from Lloyd Hutchinson. I was less convinced by Ben Miles’ Duke – he seemed distracted, resulting in somewhat idiosyncratic verse speaking! – though he did improve as the play went on.

Great to have such a good Shakespeare production anywhere, but particularly welcome at the Almeida.

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