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Posts Tagged ‘Anthony Calf’

Walking into the Donmar for this is another one of those WOW moments. Rob Howell’s extraordinary set of ‘distressed’ planks draws you in like never before into this already intimate space. It really is like peering into these people’s homes.

Though it’s the same play, it’s a very different experience to the Michael Rudman production I saw at the National 27 years ago. Then, a young Ralph Fiennes was Arkady and Robert Glenister was Bazarov, with Lesley Sharp as Fenichka. In addition to the smaller space, the success of this revival is due to masterly direction from Lyndsey Turner and one of the finest casts ever to grace this stage well used to fine casts.

Arkady returns from university in St. Petersburg a nihilist, with his friend and fellow nihilist Bazarov of whom he is in awe. Bazarov has great charisma and people can’t fail to be affected by him – Uncle Pavel and family retainer Prokofyich detest him, Dad Nikolai takes to him and maid Dunyasha swoons over him. When they move on to Bazarov’s home, his parents idolise him. Sadly, he’s unable to reciprocate any of these emotional responses. When he does let his guard down and profess his love for Anna, he is rebuffed and withdraws even further into himself. Though Arkady shares his philosophical beliefs, he’s nowhere near as cold and hard-hearted and the tragic conclusion leaves him devastated.

Playwright Brian Friel tells this story of familial love and friendship with a light touch and it’s lovely. It has great pace and there are no wasted moments. The ensemble is simply superb. I missed American Seth Numrich’s London debut last year, but I was hugely impressed by his performance here, with the earnestness, presence and passion required for Bazarov. It must be hard to play against this, but Joshua James does so with great emotionality and vulnerability. Anthony Calf is revelatory as the bumbling, hapless Nikolai and Tim McMullan is suitably pompous as Pavel. It’s hard to single out others, but it was great to see Karl Johnson and Susan Engel give such fine interpretations of Vassily and Princess Olga.

This is a brilliant and long overdue revival and another great night at the Donmar.

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I vividly remember the tension in the theatre and the gasps from the audience when this was first produced at the Royal Court Theatre 20 years ago. I’m not entirely sure why this is so different, but there was about as much tension last night as an average episode of Heartbeat.

It’s not as if the play has become any less relevant. If anything, Ariel Dorfman’s study of torture and the tortured is even more relevant given formerly civilised countries seem to have adopted it post 9/11. Paulina is a victim finding it difficult to return to normality. Her husband has just been appointed to a tribunal set up to hear cases of death and torture (but not torture without death). She becomes convinced her husband’s good samaritan (he brought him home after his car broke down and pays an unexpected visit later that night) was her torturer and seeks revenge. The late night visit now seems completely implausible, but the rest of the story is believable.

Thandie Newton is one reason for the lack of tension. I never really believed in her as a victim. She didn’t convey the emotional complexity Juliet Stevenson did 20 years ago (I understand the commercial imperative of star casting, but giving such a complex role to someone with no stage experience?). She wasn’t angry enough and her determination for revenge just didn’t seem real. Tom Goodman-Hill and Anthony Calf fare better, but the play revolves around Paulina, so if you can’t believe in her plight, you can’t believe in the story. Then again, maybe Jeremy Herrin’s somewhat clinical production is partly to blame? Or maybe we’re all blase about such issues after 10 years of real war, real torture and real tension?

Given the poor Friday evening house, I don’t think you’ve got long to find out for yourself.

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Chichester Festival Theatre will certainly get first prize when it comes to celebrating this Rattigan centenary. There are two revivals, a new play written as a ‘response’ to one of them, a play created from an unproduced screenplay and six rehearsed readings. Well, that puts our national companies to shame!

The Deep Blue Sea

Many consider this his finest play, though after recent revivals of After the Dance and Flare Path, I would question that. The first production I saw at the Almeida with Penelope Wilton was wonderful, but the second, by Edward Hall with Greta Scacchi, was a fusty mannered museum piece.

Unfortunately, I was in the Donmar the night before this, so seeing an intimate play in the vast Chichester main house space it was very hard to get involved, even from the ninth row. I really missed the proximity which the Minerva would have given it; I wasn’t moved.

Hester has left her knighted husband to live with the laddish Freddie. The play starts when she is discovered in front of the gas fire with the evidence of too much asprin at her side. Not knowing the whereabouts of Freddie, a neighbour contacts her ex. who rushes to her aid. Freddie returns and discovers her suicide note and thus begins the breakdown of their relationship. The ex. makes a bid for reunion, but this fails, so Hester is left alone.

It’s well designed and staged and the acting is uniformly good; Amanda Root is a fine Hester, Anthony Calf is very good as the ex. I particularly liked John Hopkin’s passionate Freddie and there is a lovely cameo from Susan Tracy as the landlady. In this space, though, I just couldn’t get involved as much as you need to be moved by this fine play that was way ahead of its time and, somewhat ironically, as radical in its way as the ‘angry young men’ that took Rattigan’s place at the heart of post-war British drama.

Rattigan’s Nijinsky

This late career screenplay about the life of dancer Nijinsky was never produced by the BBC, apparently because of objections from his wife. Unstageable in its written form, Nicholas Wright has created a play both about it and from it.

We’re in Rattigan’s Claridges suite shortly after his arrival from his Bermuda home, here to finalise the production of his screenplay. He gets visits from the man at the BBC and Nijinsky’s wife Romola, but the play is mostly imagined scenes from the screenplay / life of Nijinsky played out in front of us. It was a fascinating life, so it’s a fascinating story. The idea of the structure is better than the result, though, and it felt a bit clumsy – ‘now lets show the audition of Nijinsky as child’, ‘lets move to where he begins hid relationship with Diaghilev’, ‘OK, time for the journey to Buenos Aires’. Interesting story, but a play that ultimately doesn’t work.

Again, the design by Mike Britton and Philip Franks’ staging are fine and it suits the big space better than The Deep Blue Sea. Malcolm Sinclair as Rattigan and Jonathan Hyde as Diaghilev are very good and there’s good support from a large cast, most playing two or three roles. Again, Susan Tracy gives fine cameos as Romola Nijinsky and Rattigan’s mother.

Overall, this pair didn’t live up to expectations, but that doesn’t take away Chichester’s crown as Rattigan’s champion in this centenary year.

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