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Posts Tagged ‘Anne-Marie Duff’

Directors are often afraid of messing with classic musicals and they end up way too reverential, failing to show them through contemporary eyes. Well, you couldn’t accuse Josie Rourke’s revival of Sweet Charity of that. Her 60’s New York is sleazier and edgier, which seems to me a more honest way to portray the life of a dancehall hostess in search of love, something her degrading profession makes it harder to find.

From the minute you take your seat, you realise you’re in the New York of Andy Warhol. The metallic walls and furnishings of a warehouse littered with painted Brillo boxes, Lou Reed playing in the background, uber-cool people dressed all in black, chilling and posing. The Warhol references continue throughout in Robert Jones’ clever design.

We meet Charity Hope Valentine straight away, in the park, where her latest flame steals her handbag and pushes her into the lake, the police rescue her and she heads back to the Fandango Club where her colleagues greet her with sympathy but little surprise; they’ve got used to her endless disappointments with men.

After a brief encounter with Italian film star Vittorio, her next flame is mousy, nerdy accountant Oscar, and it looks like she may have found ‘the one’. Their whirlwind love-at-first-sight romance takes us via evening classes, the Rhythm of Life church and Coney Island, to her farewell party at the club, but this is one musical comedy without a happy ending.

This is Anne-Marie Duff’s first musical. In truth she doesn’t have a strong voice, but she makes up for it with a performance that perfectly combines gullibility, charm and vulnerability, interpreting the songs rather than just singing them, a sort of sung-speech style – think Judi Dench Send in the Clowns – which actually works, and with a real talent for comedy. Arthur Darvill superbly captures the nervous innocence and fear of Oscar.

In a fine supporting cast, Martin Marquez is excellent as Vittorio, as is Debbie Kurup, who could easily be in the lead role, as fellow hostess Helene. The guest ‘priest’ on the night I went was Adrian Lester (a wonderful Bobby in Sondheim’s Company on the same stage 23 years ago), which was a real bonus for me.

There’s no room for the ten-piece band, who have taken over the stalls bar and are heard through speakers in the auditorium. The pace is occasionally slow, but the strength of the production is to bring the lives of these exploited women to the fore with a truth I’ve never seen before, without losing the comedy, somewhat surprisingly perhaps. The pathos of the ending said it all.

Traditionalists might not like it, but I thought it was a fresh and inventive take on a 50-year-old show. Oh, and I want Adrian Lester’s glitter shirt. A bigger size, obviously.

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Reading his biography in the programme, it appears this is the National Theatre’s Director Rufus Norris’ first Shakespeare production. Perhaps he should have asked one of his predecessors for some coaching. He’s fallen into the trap of swamping it with concept and directorial conceit, losing the essence of Shakespeare’s play in the process.

His two big ideas seem to be to set it in some sort of dystopian present / future and to ramp up the magic; the latter works better than the former. In the process he’s lost the psychological depth of the story, the subtlety of the characterisations and much of the verse is chewed and spat out rather than spoken, sometimes competing with the soundscape. It’s dark, bleak and relentless and actors of the calibre of Rory Kinnear, Anne-Marie Duff and Patrick O’Kane struggle to shine.

Rae Smith’s design has an arc platform on the revolve which is used to great effect; otherwise it’s all hanging black plastic, concrete rooms, tacky furniture and grubby clothes. There are a lot of severed heads in clear plastic bags. The soundscape has eerie wind instruments. The lighting is striking, but ever so dark, so that you are sometimes straining your eyes trying to work out who’s speaking.

It’s not all bad – some scenes work well, like Macduff learning of the fate of his children, Macbeth finding his dead wife and the weird sisters during the final battle, but much of it was un-engaging. When it ended some 20-25 minutes before the published time, the shortest Macbeth I’ve ever seen, I wondered if they’d lost confidence in it themselves.

A big disappointment.

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Yes, it’s a play not a scientific theory. You can always rely on Simon Stephens for something different – he must have the most diverse body of work of any playwright. Here, he uses the concepts of uncertainty and unpredictability to tell the story of the most unlikely relationship between a 42-year-old woman and a 75-year-old man. It’s a very intuitive piece that I wasn’t sure about at first, but it drew me in and I left the theatre with a warm glow!

It’s beautifully set and lit by Bunny Christie and Paule Constable within a box of light, like a James Turrell installation, that changes size, shape and colour from scene to scene. There’s a lovely soundscape too, with music by Nils Fram. In the first scene, London Butcher Alex Priest meets American school receptionist Georgie Burns at a train station. From here, their extraordinary relationship unfolds from a chance encounter, unravelling of the truth, a mutual fascination with some brittleness to a romantic liaison and a full-blown relationship. At first it seems implausible, but somehow becomes believable. I put this down to superb chemistry between two fine actors.

In Marianne Elliott’s delicate, sensitive staging, Kenneth Cranham and Anne-Marie Duff give the sort of uninhibited performances that deliver the believability of the relationship. Every time it turns a corner, implausibility returns but is then dispelled. Even though it runs less than ninety minutes, it does leave you satisfied.

I would have preferred to see it in a space more suitable, like the Dorfman, Royal Court, Donmar or Almeida, and more accessibly priced for a one-act two-hander, but in other ways it’s good that the West End can support work like this.

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The backdrop to D C Moore’s new play is the enclosures of the late 18th / early 19th centuries, the greatest land-grab in history, when power shifted from the many to the few (to coin a topical phrase!). Then he adds a layer of supernatural, magical, pagan stuff. Then he adds the story of Mary returning from London to her village to reunite with her former lesbian lover and whisk her off to the US. It has it’s moments but turns out to be a bit of a muddle, I’m afraid

Before the enclosure acts, all land was common, regardless of ownership. Anyone could grow, graze or rear to make a living and feed their families. The acts gave landowners exclusive use, and most didn’t even employ the disenfranchised. Mary returns to her former home as it is about to become victim to one such act. Her backstory and future plans are interwoven with the political events and the mysterious goings on. Everyone thought she was dead, Laura’s brother King hates her, the Lord fancies her but his henchman Heron loathes her, young boy Eggy Tom befriends her and she ends up as the Lady of the manor.

It does have a boisterousness and an anarchic quality and there’s a lot to like in Jeremy Herrin’s staging and Richard Hudson’s design. There are fine performances from, amongst others, Cush Gumbo as Laura & Lois Chiminba as both Eggy Tom and Young Hannah and a virtuoso one from Anne-Marie Duff as Mary. It lacks pace at times, and not everyone will like the fruity and somewhat incongruous dialogue. It’s biggest issue, though, is that it lacks narrative cohesion and doesn’t really go anywhere.

They’ve chopped some 30 minutes off the published time, which may indicate a troubled birth. Though I liked things about it, I couldn’t honestly recommend it.

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Shaw is one of my problem playwrights, too verbose for me, but I’ve enjoyed the two productions of Saint Joan I’ve seen. I’ve also very much enjoyed Gemma Arterton’s last two, albeit very different, stage performances. I’m very comfortable with modern settings of classics, I admire audacious productions and I love the Donmar. You can see the but coming, can’t you…….

The play covers the whole of Joan’s adult life, (offstage) death and a bit of an afterlife epilogue. It starts with a conversation between Roger de Baudricourt and his steward about the inability of his hens to lay eggs, except in this production it’s two men in a boardroom in modern business dress with a giant TV screen showing the movement of prices, including eggs, in the commodities exchange, with a backtrack of quietly ringing telephones (which, judging by the wandering eyes in the audience, many took for fellow audience mobiles!). This was my first groan. 

There are two other, smaller screens on the back wall and when the middle screen isn’t showing the news channel (this is a running gimmick) all three are showing paintings appropriate to the scene’s location and, most effectively in the final scene, they turn the space into a church. There is also one point, after the Dauphin’s coronation, when the side screens show a modern spin on his crest, a revolving crown above a dolphin!

The table on a blue fitted carpet is present throughout and the revolve is used continually, too often, sometimes effectively, sometimes irritatingly. There are also smartphones. Obviously. Though it is sometimes effective, notably the trial scene, I’m afraid I often found it incongruous and it didn’t really work for me, which is a shame because there are some great performance, not least Gemma Arterton’s passionate, defiant Maid of Orleans. For me, a lot of Josie Rourke’s modern spin seemed contrived and gimmicky, detracted from the dialogue and the drama and didn’t really serve Shaw’s play.

I’m afraid I wish I’d stayed with my memories of Anne-Marie Duff on the Olivier stage nine years ago.

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This is a hugely ambitious, inventive play about the connection of the human race with oil, spanning more than 150 years from 1889 to 35 years into the future. It also covers the changing place of women in society and the relationship between a mother and her daughter. Ella Hickson’s play has its flaws, but I greatly admired both the writer’s boldness and Carrie Cracknall’s production.

There are five scenes, starting with a Cornish farming family in the late nineteenth century, bickering as they struggle to get by. Our central character May is married to one of three brothers, pregnant with their first child. They are visited by an American, who demonstrates his newly developed kerosene lamp and makes an offer for their farm where he wishes to set up his fledgling business. May wants them to accept, but her husband doesn’t. In the second scene we are in Persia at the beginning of the 20th century where the British are seeking to exploit their oil resources. This May is a waitress. For me, this was the least effective scene. The third section leaps forward to the 1970’s. May is an oil company executive who is visited by a Libyan minister informing her his country is going to sequestrate a share of the company. Her relationship with her 15-year-old environmentally conscious daughter Amy is fraught.

In the second half, we’re taken five years into the future. May, a former MP who voted for the war, is in Iraq trying to persuade her daughter, Amy, doing voluntary work in a hospital, to return home. Their relationship is fraught too. In the final scene we’re thirty-five years in the future, back in the Singer family home in Cornwall. Our energy fears have become a reality as May and Amy struggle to keep warm. They are visited by a Chinese saleswoman (the new colonists) selling a personalised nuclear solution with as dubious environmental credentials as oil.

I struggled a bit with the implausibility’s – why would the American want to locate his business on a Cornish farm? Why would a Libyan minister come to her home? – and the fact that each May and Amy must be different characters given the timescales, but I eventually let go of my literalism and went with the flow. Though the relationship between mother and daughter aids the narrative, I’m not sure the emancipation issues do.

There’s something very compelling about the production that holds your attention. Lucy Carter’s lighting, sometimes very dark, and Luke Halls’ oil-related projections are particularly effective. Both Anne-Marie Duff as May and Yolanda Kettle as her anagram daughter Amy are excellent, creating a very believable mother and daughter relationship, and there’s a fine supporting cast.

The Almeida set an early 7pm start for this production, but it’s only 2.5 hours long. I suspect it has reduced in length since the draft on which they programmed it and it did sometimes feel as if there were missing bits. Despite its flaws though, it’s a very welcome, brave and epic play which I would definitely recommend.

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Husbands & Sons is actually three plays by the very prolific early 20th century novelist, poet and playwright D H Lawrence – The Daughter-in-Law, The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd and A Collier’s Friday Night; his first three, but never produced in his lifetime. They’re all set in the Nottinghamshire mining village of Eastwood, where Lawrence was brought up, but that’s really the only connection. What Ben Power has done is to create a ‘mash-up’. They’re interwoven to create one play rather than played as three separate plays and it works brilliantly.

The Holroyds, Lamberts and Gascoignes are all mining families. Lizzie Holroyd is trapped in a marriage to philandering drunk Charlie, whose young son even hates him. Lydia Lambert is married to a dinosaur who gives her a portion of his wages for which he expects her to live in slavery, keeping home and bring up two children. Minnie Gascoigne has only recently married Luther when its revealed he’s fathered a child by a neighbour’s daughter.

It’s an evocative picture of life in this early 20th century mining community, largely from the perspective of the women at home, and you can tell its writer knew this world very well indeed. Lizzie and Lydia have better relationships with their sons than husbands (and daughter, in Lydia’s case), Luther and his brother Joe are closer to their mother than Luther is to his wife and Charlie’s mother Sue looms large too. Lydia (Lawrence’s mother’s name) is devoted to her son Ernest, an autobiographical character I suspect, who is educating himself to escape this world (he even, somewhat ironically, calls his mother mater) which sets him against his deeply traditional dad, whilst his sister Nellie is destined to stay. Lizzie can barely hide her attraction to local electrician Blackmore, who is pursuing her.

The footprint of the ground floor of all three homes is laid out in the Dorfman Theatre, with the audience on all sides, and in a clever twist we change seats for each act. As it begins, a huge rectangular lighting rig rises like a giant mining cage and underfloor lights represent the underground world. The rooms are realistic but the actors mime actions like putting on coats and opening doors. I thought Bunny Christie’s design and Marianne Elliott’s staging were stunning.

The big draw acting wise is Anne-Marie Duff, and she’s great, but it’s a faultless ensemble with a whole load of really fine performances. The whole thing is faithful to the writing and the setting, yet inventive in adaptation and staging. Only the National could do this. A theatrical feast.

 

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