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Posts Tagged ‘Anthony O’Donnell’

This is the first major revival of a 45-year-old Peter Barnes play and I can see why director Jamie Lloyd wanted to do it now. It’s a satire on the aristocracy, the political class and the establishment – the ruling class – at a time when we appear to be a divided society once more, ‘them and us’ all over again. The House of Lords creaks on into the 21st century, MP’s are now mostly professional politicians with zero real life experiences, the cabinet is made up of millionaires, most from public schools, including former members of the notorious Bullington Club. From bank bailouts through MP’s expenses, Plebgate, phone hacking, celebrity & priest paedophilia, abuse of police and media power to Rochestergate, the new ‘ruling class’ contempt for ‘the people’ seems to be at an all time low…..and they’re surprised at the rise of parties like UKIP and yesterday’s events in Greece.

The 13th Earl of Gurney’s accidental death by asphyxiation (whilst trying to give himself a high!) means his paranoid schizophrenic son Jack becomes the 14th Earl. His uncle concocts a plan to marry Jack to his mistress so that she can give him a son, thereby enabling them to have him certified and ‘rule’ on behalf of the young 15th Earl. At the same time, Jack’s psychiatrist is trying to cure him and his aunt is trying to seduce him. At first Jack thinks he’s god, then seems to respond to the cure. The certification is unsuccessful and he takes his seat in the House of Lords, but now he secretly thinks, well more than thinks, he’s Jack the Ripper.

It’s all rather anarchic, with lashes of absurdity and surrealism, and they occasionally burst into song (and dance) for no real reason! It’s audacious and brash and the satire is certainly not subtle. It’s a touch too long, but there’s much to enjoy, not least a virtuoso performance from James McAvoy which stretches him once more. He brings the same visceral physicality he brought to Macbeth, adding manic comedy and some song and dance routines! Anthony O’Donnell is excellent as the Earls’ valet who turns out to be the ‘red under the bed’. Paul Leonard is outstanding as the 13th Earl and Mrs Piggot-Jones, a local worthy (with Forbes Masson also great as her side-kick Mrs Treadwell). Joshua McGuire continues to impress, this time as the Earl’s cousin and Tory candidate Dinsdale Gurney.

It’s not a classic, but it is fascinating to see it at last (there is a 1972 film with Peter O’Toole, but I’ve never seen it) and to see the excellent James McAvoy on stage again. The challenge of uncomfortable seating at Trafalgar Studio One was compounded on this occasion by sauna high temperatures, without which I might have enjoyed it even more.

 

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When I was trying to buy a beer at a rock concert in Albuquerque, they asked to see my wristband. I didn’t have one so I was shown where to get one and told I would need ID to do so, but the only reason they gave me for needing a wristband was ‘to buy a beer’ (I was twice the minimum age). When I asked the wristband people why I needed it they said ‘to get a beer’. I still don’t know why I needed to produce ID to get a wristband to get a beer, but this recollection popped into my head half-way through the first half of this play and helped me identify with the absurdity of Wilhelm Voigt’s situation . Fresh out of prison, he needs a passport to get a resident permit to get a home or a job.

Given the history and pedigree of the play, based on a true story, you can see why the NT wanted to stage it, Adrian Noble to direct it, Ron Hutchison to adapt it and Anthony Sher to play the lead role. A satire set in an early thirties Germany in transition from the Kaiser to Hitler? Yes please! They don’t quite pull it off, but I don’t think you’d be able to predict that from the page; there is however enough to enjoy to make it a worthwhile evening.

It’s the longer first half that’s the problem. It starts very well, but then takes too long to get to Voigt’s big con – impersonating an army Captain and getting all the way from the street via the Town Hall to the Interior Ministry, embarrassing the establishment of Kaiser Wilhelm’s Germany along the way. We don’t actually get there until the second half where it turns into absurdist farce and finds its form. The first half’s satire on bureaucracy and authority is just too long. They’ve clearly already shortened it; another 15 minutes would do it.

Anthony Ward’s Vorticist city backdrop is great, they use the Olivier’s drum revolve to great effect and the use of music adds much. Anthony Sher is excellent as Voigt, contemptuous of the absurdity around him and visibly relishing the process of showing it up. The role does dominate, but there’s excellent support from a large cast of 26, particularly Anthony O’Donnell as The Mayor of Kopenick & a toilet cleaner (!), Adrian Schiller as a revolutionary tailor, Nick Samson as a banker and Minister of the Interior and David Killick as a pair of shopkeepers.

Playwright Carl Zuckmayer is better known as the writer of The Blue Angel, though this play did get three film adaptations. Voigt was apparently a bit of a folk hero and after a couple of years back in prison was touring Europe to capitalise on this fame. It’s fascinating stuff, even if it doesn’t quite make great theatre in this adaptation / production.

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