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Posts Tagged ‘Anton Chekov’

Until last month, I hadn’t seen an Edward Bond play. Given that I’ve been an avid playgoer for more than 30 years, this tells you something about how often his plays are put on in the UK. This is a British dramatist who has written 50 plays. He appeared at joint number 12 in the list of  ‘most selected playwrights’ in the NT’s poll of 20th Century drama (somewhat ironically with Caryl Churchill, whose A Number I also saw last month – revived after just 8 years!) and his play Saved was ‘the most selected play’ of 1965. You’d be forgiven then for thinking that this season is at the NT or the Royal Court, but no it takes a tiny but enterprising unfunded pub theatre in Kilburn to mount an ambitious season of six of his plays, including a brand new play Bond has written for them, another he’s especially re-written and Bond himself directing one of the plays, with a season ticket that enables you to see them for c.£8 each with free programmes and a photocopy of the new play!

The Pope’s Wedding

This was the second to be mounted, but the first I saw (somewhat appropriately, as it was Bond’s first play back in 1962). At first I thought it might have influenced Pinter, then I realised The Caretaker and The Birthday Party pre-dated it, so it might be the reverse influence.

It is a sort of rural Pinter, featuring a bunch of young men growing up angry in a rural backwater. Unfortunately, there are an awful lot of scenes and scene changes which destroy the narrative flow and pace of the piece and it takes a long time to turn from a picture of rural life to the menace that ensues. Having said this, some of the staging by Conrad Blakemore was outstanding – particularly a cricket match brought to life on a pocket-handkerchief stage.

The real reason for seeing it though is a wonderful ensemble of young actors who quite took my breath away. Amongst them, Tim O’Hara was magnificent as Scopey and well matched by Rebecca Tanwen’s Pat and veteran John Atterbury as Allen. For the second time in a week – the other being Love on the Dole the previous week at the Finborough – British acting talent shone brightly.

Olly’s Prison

This 1990’s screenplay gets it’s UK stage premiere and it’s a much better play than The Pope’s Wedding. The psychologically complex story starts with a man murdering his daughter after a 30-minute monologue during which she just stares silently. We move to the prison where he is now incarcerated and to the death of a cellmate in which he is implicated. He is confronted by the cellmate’s mother, who has taken in her son’s victim, and goes on to develop a relationship with her. His dead daughter’s boyfriend, now a policeman, colludes with the cellmate’s victim to frame the man we first meet ranting at his scary daughter! Still with me? In the end we’re left to question who really are the victims.

Well, actually, I found it a fascinating piece and it was extremely well staged by Gareth Corke. The performances were again outstanding. Ewan Bailey was excellent as murdering Mike with Melissa Suffield (until recently Lucy Beale in East Enders) pulled off the tough task of spooking us with her stare for half-an-hour as his daughter. Robin Berry was great as older Frank the boyfriend (as the younger Frank, he was rather hampered by a dreadful wig!), as was James Kenward as cellmate Smiler and Frankie McGinty as his victim Olly. Elicia Daly’s and Charlotte Fields delivered fine characterisations of the women in all their lives.

The Under Room

This third play takes place in the pub’s cellar. We had to go up one flight of stairs, through the theatre during rehearsals for the next play (with the playwright in attendance) and back down two flights of stairs! It’s a hugely atmospheric space with a real soundscape of cellar machinery in action.

This fairly recent play is set 67 years in the future. A stranger breaks into a woman’s house and she comes embroiled in his world. He owes money to a man who has assisted in his illegal entry into the country; this man may be a corrupt policeman or member of the army in what is clearly a police state. It’s all a bit difficult to get into, particularly as the stranger is played by a dummy with an actor in view speaking the lines from behind and occasionally coming forward to dress / undress the dummy.

I enjoyed the atmosphere and it’s well played by the cast of three, but I can’t say I found the play particularly accessible or illuminating.

The Fool

This is actually a biographical play about 19th century poet John Clare. In the first act, we see the events that influenced and preceded his writing. In an earlier recession, the poor rise up and rob the gentry in order to buy food to live. Some are imprisoned and hung, but Clare remains free. In the second act, we see him in London under the patronage of the rich and feted for his poetry. Back in East Anglia he goes insane and ends his days in an asylum.

Like The Pope’s Wedding, it’s the performances that make the evening; they’ve again assembled a terrific company of 17 to play the 37 parts and amongst them I was hugely impressed by Ben Crispin as Clare, James Kenward (also excellent in Olly’s Prison) as Darkie / Jackson and Rosina Miles as Patty. There is some excellent staging, particularly a bare-fisted boxing match (fight movement Lawrence Carmichael) which had you on the edge of your seat. I was gripped for the whole 2 hours 45 mins, despite the intensely uncomfortable benches!

There Will Be More

Before this play could start we had to wait for the pub’s Sunday lunchtime one-man band to finish his set. There was something surreal about standing and waiting whilst he played Irish songs to a bunch of heavy drinkers, some of which were indulging in a sort of swaying / dancing – one woman banging her stick loudly on the pub table. Maybe this was intentional?! 

This is the world premiere of Bond’s new play. In the first 20-minute act we get a double infanticide and a rape. After the interval and eighteen years have passed, things quieten down for a while before another rape, a murder and a spot of incest!

I think Bond is making a point about the eternal cycle of war, but for me he obscures this so much, which seems rather pointless if you’re trying to make a point!  Again, the staging and performances are excellent, with Stephen Billington, Helen Bang and Timothy O’Hara (who also played Scopey in The Pope’s Wedding) pulling off the difficult task of making this all seem believable. 

Red Black & Ignorant

This 1980’s play is again spoilt by the obfuscation of its meaning. It appears to tell us the story of one man’s journey from life to death, trying to make an anti-war point but this time losing me by making me feel like I’m being preached at and patronised. It consists of  nine short scenes with occasional dialogue spoken direct to the audience.

It’s again effectively staged and well acted. Andrew Lewis as ‘Monster’, whose life we appear to be following, is excellent (with terrific make-up by Jess Harling), Melanie Ramsay is suitably spooky as Mother / Wife and Alex Farrow’s transition from Boy to Son is impressive (the character’s titles illustrate my earlier point, I think). Like There Will Be More, I’m afraid I think they are let down by the material.

So there you have it. I think I’ve given Bond a fair chance, but I’m not at all convinced by either the plays or the playwright. Like Pinter and Churchill, as he develops he loses me. This could be because I’m as thick as shit, of course, but it could be that he was becoming less creative and clouded this with obscurity and obfuscation (yes, that word again!) or it could be a sign of intellectual arrogance. Whatever it is, give me the American 20th century greats – Miller, Tennessee Williams and O’Neill – or British contemporaries like Jez Butterworth and Roy Williams any day of the week.  I gave him the benefit of the doubt at the outset, but based on six plays and his programme notes / essays, I think I can understand why he has been ‘neglected’ and considered ‘difficult’. He’ll certainly go into MY difficult playwrights list with Pinter, Churchill, Chekhov and Shaw.

That notwithstanding, a standing ovation for the Cock Tavern and its artistic director Adam Spreadbury-Jones for their ambition, the accessibility (£50 for six plays and programmes!), the opportunity to review a playwright’s work in this way and for some terrific staging and wonderful performances. A fascinating Autum project.

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This is fast becoming an essential part of the spring cultural agenda. The problem for me is that it’s too near to stay down for a few days and too far to go for a single show. Given that what I’m interested in is also spread out over the three weeks, it often means a quick day trip taking in two shows – like this year.

Marine Parade is a play-with-music (rather than a musical) by acclaimed playwright Simon Stephens and American composer Mark Eitzel. Set in and around a seedy Brighton hotel, it tells the unrelated stories of four relationships – one crumbling, one starting, one that never got off the ground and one about to revive?

It’s well staged, superbly performed and there are some good songs. If only the first 70 minutes were as good as the last 20, which were terrific. The problem is its pace – at first, the slowness is brooding and atmospheric, but then it just becomes slow and dull. More work-in-progress than finished article, I think.

I’ve seen work by site specific specialists dreamthinkspeak twice before – very successfully at the Registry Office for Scotland in Edinburgh and less successfully at an old abattoir in the City of London. This one – Before I Sleep – is the most ambitious and as successful as the first.

They’ve taken over all four floors of the former Co-op building on London Road. The reference point is Chekov’s Cherry Orchard and you are led in by Firs, the butler from that play, who’s trying to sleep. He’s talking to you agitatedly in Russian, but soon you find yourself in a modern supermarket berated by shop assistants (still in Russian) until you are moved on. What follows is a surreal journey, at first through scenes which could be part of the play, then through a snowy landscape to adverts for new apartments and into a fully functioning department store where various household items are displayed and demonstrated (still in Russian!) and on through the (now run down) apartments and a wasteland then into long empty dark rooms with the occasional film sequence referencing back to the play.

I think it shows possible events resulting from the sale of the cherry orchard, but if you’re too literalist and focus too much on the detail you miss the extraordinary experience of the journey. I thought it was spell-binding and one of the best of its kind. We now have Punchdrunk and dreamthinkspeak doing site specific work on such a grand scale, so hopefully we’ll see a lot more like this.

It took 15o creators, designers, technicians and actors to put on something that only one person enters every minute!

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Let me first confess that Shaw is one of my three problem playwrights (the others being Chekov and Pinter) who I’ve always considered to be a bit of a windbag. A revival needs to be timely, revelatory or well crafted for it to be worth(my)while.

This play was clearly rather shocking in its day and though some aspects of Shaw’s moralistic treatment of prostitution still ring true (hypocrisy in particular) it isn’t a particularly timely revival, so it fails that test.

It’s a rather old-fashioned and conventional production which doesn’t say anything new or say anything in a new way, so I’m afraid it fails the revelatory test.

The design is simple, clearly made for a play with four settings that’s touring. There are some good performances – Felicity Kendal is always watchable (and here seems to have morphed into a miniature Joan Plowright), David Yelland always gives an intelligent reading and the youngsters (Lucy Briggs-Owen and Max Bennett)  show much promise. I’m not sure what the point of the character Praed is (unless it’s to have at least one non-judgemental person) so it’s hard for Mark Tandy to impress. The production seems to me to be straight off the revive-a-classic-with-someone-off-the-telly production line and fails the craftsmanship test.

I can’t say I was bored, but I can’t say I was gripped. Indifference probably best sums up my view and I suspect, like Ghosts, it’s in for an ‘early bath’ in 4-6 weeks time; there’s no room for mediocre revivals in the West End at £60 a pop top price.

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