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Posts Tagged ‘Anthony Welsh’

This play is the second part of a trilogy but was the first to be produced here ten years ago, with part one, In the Red & Brown Water, a year later. We’ve yet to see the third. Playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney has had a couple of other plays at the Royal Court, Wig Out! and Choir Boy, but is most famous for his 2016 Oscar winning film Moonlight. This is a very early revival by the same creative team, led by director Bijan Sheibani.

The Size brothers are reunited when younger brother Oshoosi leaves prison and stays with elder brother Ogun, working with him in his car repair business. A visit from Oshoosi’s fellow prisoner Elegba, a bad influence, threatens the bond between them and their up-and-down relationship is played out before us over 80 minutes. It’s staged without set or props within a chalk circle marked out at the beginning, with red chalk thrown on the floor within it. The actors often announce entrances and exits and other stage directions direct to the audience and there’s very stylised movement and an atmospheric soundtrack. It’s very compelling, even hypnotic and mesmerising, though the apparent Yoruba mythology went over my head and I struggled a bit with the Louisiana dialect.

The three performances are captivating. Anthony Welsh as Elegba is excellent; he was in the original production. Sope Dirisu, after his Cassius Clay in One Night in Miami and Coriolanus for the RSC, continues to impress as Ogun. Newcomer Jonathan Ajayi is hugely impressive as Oshoosi, transitioning from ex-con to childlike young brother as the story unfolds.

It’s good to see it again, ahead of its time now as it was then. It’s a very short run, so catch it while you can.

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This radical resetting of Shakespeare’s play started out in Stratford 3.5 years ago and has now travelled 100 miles south east to get a second showing in its director Rupert Goold’s new home in Islington. It’s a much smaller venue, which makes it less grand and more intimate, but designer Tom Scutt has redesigned it to fit the new space well and I feel very much the same as I did first time round (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2011/07/18/the-merchant-of-venice-rsc-stratford).

The Almeida’s former joint AD, Ian McDiarmid, gives a more assertively defiant, more Jewish and ultimately more tragic Shylock than Patrick Stewart in a great role take-over. I was more positive this time round about Scott Handy’s introspective Antonio, because the intimacy of the space brought out the subtlety of his performance. The new Bassanio (Tom Weston-Jones) and Gratiano (Anthony Welsh) both give equally fine interpretations as their predecessors. Staging the battle for Portia’s hand as reality show Destiny brings the comedy that in turn heightens the tension and Susannah Fielding and Emily Plumtree now both steal the show as Portia and Nerissa, with a simply terrific turn again from Jamie Beamish’s Elvis impersonating Lancelot Gobbo.

I overheard an American audience member saying he thought it was sending up American culture. There’s some truth in that, but more important that the Las Vegas setting provides a modern context and cohesion that gives the play an ongoing relevance and accessibility, particularly good for introducing and enthusing young audiences I’d say. Good to see it again.

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The Royal Court main house has been turned into a boxing club, complete with ring, which later becomes a  boxing venue. Designer Miriam Buether is no stranger to such transformations (Relocated, My Child & Cock also here at the Royal Court) and this is just as impressive. It completely transports you to this (for me at least) alien world and in this case, back in time 20 – 25 years.

Roy Williams is just about the best playwright working in the UK today because he writes unpretentious plays which tell personal stories that illuminate and help us understand complex aspects of our society. This particular play shows us what it’s like to grow up black in 80’s Britain through the story of two boys whose lives diverge and later re-connect. Setting it in Thatcher’s Britain allows us to revisit a period of war (the Falklands), industrial strife and racism and wonder if anything has really changed. We’re still fighting wars, we seem to be heading for a new period of  strife and the spectre of racism has hardly gone away, just buried.

It was a captivating 90 minutes sitting front row ringside with more testosterone in the room than all the other London theatres added together. Sacha Wares’ staging, including amazingly real fight sequences, makes it all so totally believable that you wince at the racist comments and jump when a punch lands.

There isn’t a fault in the casting. Nigel Lindsay brings out all of the contradictions that inhabit trainer Charlie. Trevor Laird as Leon’s dad and Gary Beadle as Troy’s American give great cameos. Sarah Ridgeway really makes us feel for Becky, caught between her dad and Leon. Above all it’s the three boxing boys – Jason Maza, Anthony Welsh and Daniel Kaluuya – who bring the play alive with extraordinary presence and energy; they are mesmerizing.

Yet another triumph for Roy Williams and the Royal Court.

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