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Posts Tagged ‘Anthony Sher’

It’s more than two years since I last saw King Lear (unless you count https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2015/08/17/king-lear-with-sheep), so though I didn’t strictly speaking need another Lear yet, it was impossible to resist Anthony Sher in the title role, my 13th Lear (not. counting the sheep!), my 7th theatrical Knight playing the role, and jolly good he is too.

Greg Doran’s production has an elegant, monochrome and gold visual aesthetic and the verse is very well spoken. It looks and sounds great. The opening scene gets us off to a good start (though I was puzzled by the glass box sedan chair) as Lear divides his kingdom amongst his daughters, except Cordelia, who refuses to be sycophantic like her sisters and ends up disinherited and married off to the French king. The scenes where Lear is to-ing and fro-ing between Goneril’s and Reagan’s homes are fairly standard, but the production comes into its own during the storm (unfortunately halted for 15 minutes due to a technical fault on the night I went), then madness and multiple deaths.

Sher is a great Lear, bags of regal presence and totally believably mad, but it’s the strength of the whole cast that swept me away. Great to see David Troughton again (taking time out from The Archers!); an excellent Gloucester. Antony Byrne is a great Kent and Graham Turner a great Fool (with a lovely visual ad lib at the halt). I’m kicking myself for missing Paapa Essiedu’s Hamlet because he’s a terrific machiavellian Edmund, brilliantly matched by Oliver Johnstone as Edgar, as fine as Old Tom as I’ve ever seen it played. The RSC is certainly doing its bit for diversity, with 40% of the cast from ethnic minorities.

There’s nothing ground-breaking about it, but it oozes quality from every pore. A fine production.

 

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Based on the two Rupert Goold Shakespeare productions I’ve seen – the exciting Stalinist Macbeth and the brilliant Las Vegas Merchant of Venice – I was expecting something a lot more radical. This is a relatively conventional take on Richard III, which is no bad thing, but it surprised me by being so.

There’s a superb contemporary preface, which I won’t spoil, references to which recur throughout. This tells you at the outset that this is history not fiction (though no doubt fictionalised history). Though it’s not that radical, it’s in modern dress, virtually the whole think in black, with comparatively low lighting levels. This contributes to its sinister atmosphere, but also made the long 100 minute first half a bit dull. After the interval, though, the production (like the play) ratchets up several notches and it’s a thrilling second half ride, with an excellent coronation scene, an emotional confrontation between Richard & Elizabeth over his proposal to marry her daughter and a well staged final battle scene. I liked the way they marked the deaths, but I thought they went too far with a violent assault in Richard’s scene with Elizabeth.

It’s superbly well cast, particularly the female roles. Joanna Vanderham is a brilliantly passionate and angry Anne, Aislin McGuckin is exceptional as Elizabeth and Susan Engel is outstanding as Richard’s mother. I’m not sure why Vanessa Redgrave is wearing a camouflage boiler suit and carrying a doll, but her performance is less stagey than her norm. Amongst the men, I was particularly impressed by Tom Canton as Richmond. Once you get over the fact he appears to be channelling Rising Damp’s Rigsby, Ralph Fiennes is a very good Richard, though he doesn’t reach the highs of my all-time favourites – Anthony Sher’s spider and Ian McKellen’s 20th century dictator.

Perhaps not a milestone Richard III, but definitely one to catch if you can.

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When I first saw this play I was about the same age as Willy Loman’s youngest son Happy. Now I’m the same age as Willy Loman. Oh dear. In between I reckon there have only been two major London revivals, which given that it’s one of the ‘big five’ by one of the 20th century’s greatest playwrights, and given the number of Becket, Pinter and Chekov revivals of inferior plays in the same period, seems bizarre. So it’s a big welcome to the transfer of the RSC’s production in Miller’s centenary year.

This play has so much to say about father – son relationships, the compulsion to succeed (and the lengths people go to for success) and of course the American dream. Willy’s success as a salesman isn’t anywhere near as real as he believes, but he bigs himself up for his sons and in turn bigs them up to everyone else. When elder son Biff fails, it breaks his heart, but he’s oblivious to any role he might have played in this. When Biff returns years later, he’s at it again trying to make him what he isn’t. This time it coincides with his own downfall and it all comes home to roost. Wife & mom Linda and younger son Happy are caught up in all of this.

I have to confess I was disappointed at the interval. It hadn’t really got into its stride. An early mobile ringing had visibly unsettled Anthony Sher and from there things seemed somewhat perfunctory. His performance felt like a one-note grumpy old man. I also didn’t feel Greg Doran’s production was delineating the current and flashback scenes well enough (there were a lot of puzzled faces around me). It was all a bit flat. Things looked up significantly in the second half, with the restaurant scene and the following scene back in the Loman home brilliantly staged and performed, but I still felt I was watching acting, I hadn’t lost myself in the play and the characters, and it didn’t engage me emotionally in the way it should.

There was more chemistry between Sher’s Loman and Biff and Happy than there was between Sher and Harriet Walter’s Linda, who seemed too restrained to me; I thought Alex Hassell and Sam Marks were outstanding as the sons. It’s a high quality supporting cast and its good to have live music, in this case a fine jazz quintet playing Paul Englishby’s original score. I wasn’t convinced by Stephen Brimson Lewis’ huge set though – it seemed to rob the play of much intimacy when it needed it.

Maybe my expectations were too high or maybe it was just an off night, but I’m afraid it wasn’t the evening I was expecting or hoping for. A good rather than great Salesman.

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This time around, I couldn’t help feeling how Stoppardian this Terry Johnson play is – though maybe not as glib. Revived 20 years on, with Johnson directing, it seems as fresh as when I first saw it at The Royal Court.

It’s hard to describe without spoiling it. Sigmund Freud is in exile in London, dying of cancer,  just as the Second World War is about to break out. He’s visited by a girl who wants to revisit diagnoses of the past and pulls a few tricks out of the bag to help overcome his reluctance. Salvador Dali comes calling in homage and things take an obviously surreal turn. His doctor / friend Yahuda tries to keep him stable as events take their toll. Suffice to say it pulls a few surprises as it twists and turns and returns to where it started.

Though it’s a clever, well-written play, it does lose it’s way by stretching the first half too much. A judicious cut of 15 minutes or so would, in my view, make it a tighter and better play. Les Brotherston’s design is excellent, with a superb coup d’theatre in the second half. Anthony Sher was made to play Freud and he doesn’t disappoint. Adrain Schiller’s turn as Dali is a treat, and David Horovitch gives fine support as the doctor. I’m afraid I thought Lydia Wilson was undercast as the girl, leading to a degree of imbalance.

Great to see one of the best of underrated Terry Johnson’s plays again after so long.

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If you have a vote in the forthcoming Scottish referendum, you’d better stay away from this most Scottish of Macbeth’s; it’s set in a dystopian near future after we finally screwed everything up and the Scots have gone completely feral. The rest of you had better snap any tickets that are left now because it’s bloody brilliant (often literally)!

Trafalgar Studio One has had a makeover, with a new set of onstage seating with the actor’s main entrance cut through the middle. The space has much more intimacy, intensity and immediacy which certainly suits this in-your-face grubby Macbeth. The setting is like a disused building, the props look like they were picked up from a tip and the ‘costumes’ are filthy – they’ll save a fortune on the dry-cleaning bill. Adam Silverman’s lighting of Soutra Gilmour’s set is outstanding and contributes much to the evening’s success.

It’s not the most coherent Macbeth and verse pedants may not like it. The Scottish accents, traverse staging and occasional masks (witches and assassins only) mean you lose some clarity, but in my view its more than made up for by the staging. It’s an energetic fast-paced thriller which holds nothing back. At times it feels like you’re watching a horror film or the latest Tarantino. I squirmed and gasped and occasionally turned, such was the realism of this most violent of plays. I fear for the health and safety of the cast, James McAvoy in particular, who throw themselves around the stage with abandon and fight like they mean it. At one stage, McAvoy ingests water from a bucket so quickly that he has to catch several breaths before his next line and this ratchets up the tension.

I was riveted from start to finish and you could almost feel the intense concentration of the younger than average audience, which was refreshingly quiet. McAvoy acts with great physicality and utter conviction, at times dangerous. This is a career defining performance, but it’s within a superb ensemble and it’s never starry, not even at the curtain calls. Clare Foy is a very young Lady Macbeth, but it’s a restrained interpretation which I thought was very intelligent. Forbes Masson’s Banquo and Jamie Ballard’s Macduff are intensely passionate; when the latter hears of the fate of his family, it’s truly heartbreaking.

These are hugely impressive Shakespearean debuts from McAvoy & Foy and director Jamie Lloyd. I haven’t seen the play done so well since Rupert Goold’s Stalinesque take with Patrick Stewart and McAvoy is at least a match for Stewart, Sher, Sapani & Pryce, the most memorable of my previous Macbeth’s.

With Jamie Lloyd Productions joining the Michael Grandage Company in the West End, these are exciting times indeed.

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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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This is a work of fiction, and if you take it as that, its charming, amusing, clever and well crafted. Some seem to have taken exception to its hijacking of cinematic history which I’m not sure it’s trying to do.

We’re in an East European Jewish village at the turn of the 20th century when Motl returns from the city after the death of his father. Discovering his father’s photographic and early cinematic equipment, he becomes enthralled with the idea of moving pictures and is encouraged and funded by local businessman Jacob to make a film of people in the village. Despite the somewhat critical reception, the idea of a work of fiction is mooted and enthusiasm goes viral as they embark on its making.

Many of the pioneers of early Hollywood were Jews from this part of the world and indeed we do skip forward to 1936 when Motl has changed his name to Maurice and become a successful director, but I don’t think the play is making any claims to present the true origin of cinema as we know it. It does include the genesis of the business model for public exhibition of films and shows technical discoveries like editing, lighting reflectors, the camera dolly and special effects, but it does so with its tongue in its cheek. We have stereotypes like the interfering producer, corner-cutting production accountant, highly strung director and upstaging actors. There are comments from a preview audience (the beginnings of the focus group) and it even hints at the casting couch!

Bob Crowley’s monochrome design cleverly merges live action with film footage, though it only opens up once to reveal the village exteriors (as a film set in 1936) which seems a bit of a shame. It’s a little slow in the first half, but does pick up pace and draws you in. The performances are a bit stereotypical (Fiddler on the Roof – with a fiddler included!) though I really liked Damien Molony as Motl and Lauren O’Neil as the love interest. The other ladies all engage well – Sue Kelvin as Motl’s aunt, Abigail McKern as Jacob’s wife and Alexis Zegerman as his daughter. This isn’t Anthony Sher’s greatest moment, but his somewhat caricatured Jacob does make you smile and laugh.

If you don’t set your sights too high, it’s an enjoyable couple of hours. The Nicholas’s Wright (playwright) and Hytner (director) have done better work, but this is an enjoyable evening nontheless and I’m glad I went.

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