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Posts Tagged ‘Ashley McGuire’

It does seem timely, reviving Caryl Churchill’s ground-breaking 1982 play, which takes a look at differing views of feminism, but is it a modern classic or a play of its time?

The story centres on Marlene, a ruthlessly ambitious Thatcherite who gets the top job at recruitment agency Top Girls, beating Howard, who everyone expected to be promoted. In the first act, she’s celebrating at a fantasy dinner party to which she’s invited five unpredictable historical figures with differing perspectives on being a woman. We see her in action in the agency, where each of the historical characters has a contemporary parallel, before we travel back in time to visit her sister back home in Suffolk and learn what she’s really given up.

The first act is brilliantly inventive, but it outstays its welcome and becomes irritating, the second act’s first scene is a trip back to Suffolk with Marlene’s niece and her friend and seemed unnecessary to me, and the second scene of this act, in the agency, seemed a bit overcooked, a touch too caricature. The third act is the heart of the play, and its staged and performed to perfection.

Director Lyndsay Turner has assembled a fine cast of actresses, including many favourites of mine. Katherine Kingsley is terrific as Marlene and there’s brilliant support from Amanda Lawrence, Siobhan Redmond, Ashley McGuire, Lucy Ellinson and Lucy Black and an outstanding performance from Liv Hill as Marlene’s niece Angie.

It seems to be the first time the play has been performed without doubling up, and I wondered if the frisson this provides, given the historical / contemporary parallels, was missing. I was glad I saw it, but it seems more play of its time than modern classic to me.

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Hir is an unofficial, socially-constructed, gender-neutral pronoun, an alternative to he or her. Playwright Taylor Mac is a polymath American artist who challenges conformity and categorisation; someone once described him as Ziggy Stardust meets Tiny Tim. As you can by now imagine, this is a surreal ride.

Isaac returns from three years in the war, as a marine in the mortuary service. He’s had a dishonourable discharge for drug use. While he’s been away, there have been dramatic changes in the family. After years of abusing his wife and children, dad Arnie is ill and now on the receiving end of the abuse. Isaac’s sister is in the process of becoming his brother, encouraged by his mother Paige, who has gone all new age and politically correct and stopped cleaning completely. The house is a tip. Isaac struggles to believe or accept it all and a power struggle with his mother develops.

I’m not entirely sure what the playwright is getting at, but it’s fascinating and expertly staged and performed. Ben Stones’ design has to be seen to be believed. Nadia Fall’s staging continually shocks and surprises. All four performances are outstanding, with favourite Ashley McGuire so extraordinarily matter-of-fact as Paige, contrasting with Arthur Darvill’s highly strung and fragile Isaac.

It wasn’t to everyone’s taste (there were lots failing to return after the interval) but it held and intrigued me, and I’m still processing it.

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I wasn’t sure I needed or wanted to see this again only two years after Out of Joint’s small scale touring version visited St James Theatre, but sometimes during my NT bookings my mouse takes on a life of its own and the next thing you know you’ve clicked a few times and its in your basket and your diary; fortunately on this case. It betters that production, and the original at the Royal Court 25 years earlier, because of its scale and the addition of music by Cerys Matthews.

It’s based on the true story of the first (penal) colonists shipped to Australia in 1797 as an alternative to imprisonment at home, after North America ceased to be an option. There were just under 600 convicts and 600 crew and marines. The practice continued for 80 years and the rest is history, fresh in my mind after visiting what’s left of these penal colonies and subsequent settlements earlier in the year. The conditions on the journey, and when they first arrived, were horrendous. Many of the officers were vicious and merciless. They were transported for the pettiest of crimes and often tried again and hung after they’d arrived with even less justice for sometimes spurious crimes, or at least with insufficient evidence. In this play, officer Second Lieutenant Ralph Clark is determined to attempt rehabilitation through theatre and he gets the Governor’s agreement to stage George Farquhar’s The Recruiting Officer. Daily life in the colony is interspersed with rehearsals for the play as his fellow officers make every attempt to undermine Clark. The debate about punishment or rehabilitation runs through the play and though it’s set 200 years ago still has relevance today.

Nadia Fall’s production makes great use of the space and resources of the Olivier Theatre, particularly the revolve and drum. Designer Peter McKintosh has created a giant red, orange and brown backdrop inspired by aboriginal art which leaves the stage uncluttered, allowing the piece to flow with the round ever-changing platform. The music provides a melancholic folk-blues sound-scape which does much to create the atmosphere and contains some beautiful songs beautifully sung. A lone aboriginal man is ever present, looking on with curiosity and disbelief. The whole effect is very evocative of the place and time.  It’s a superb cast. Amongst the officers, Jason Hughes is a warm, sympathetic and ultimately moving Ralph. It’s a tribute to the performances of Peter Forbes and David Mara that their brutality repulsed me physically. Amongst the convicts, Ashley McGuire as determined, defiant Bryant, Jodie McNee as feisty Scouse Morden and Lee Ross as obsequious Sideway shone.

In a week where you couldn’t help questioning our humanity as we watched the refugee crisis evolve, it resonated much more. Here was the lack of humanity of another age. This is Timberlake Wertenbaker’s best play and this production may be the definitive one, and perhaps the most timely one too.

 

 

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Oh, I do suffer for my art. In this case an unbroken 2h10m on the most excruciatingly uncomfortable grey plastic moulded chairs in the new Donmar Covent Garden Women’s Prison. It was worth it though.

There’s a real sense of deja vu as you’re led up the back stairs to a very similar space which you were in a couple of years ago for the same team’s all-female Julius Caesar. The entrance and the programme are new, but otherwise this is very much the second in a series; women prisoners staging a play.

Henry IV is not only reduced from two parts to one, but cut to 40% of their combined length. We’ve lost whole scenes, a lot of verse and a surprising number of characters (almost 30!), yet it hangs together as a cohesive story of the last days of a king, full of rebellion, and his wayward son who eventually reforms to inherit the crown. I always thought these plays had a lot of padding; here’s the proof!

Most of it works extremely well, particularly Hal & Hotspur’s one-to-one as a boxing match and all of Falstaff’s scenes. In a fine cast, Ashley McGuire is a superb Falstaff and Jade Anouka a terrific Hotspur. Clare Dunn is excellent as Prince Hal and there’s a most auspicious professional debut from Sharon Rooney as Lady Percy.

Because the production is so similar to their Julius Caesar, it doesn’t have that ‘first time’  thrill that did, but it’s well worth seeing. I do wonder if it would be wise to do a third in exactly the same way, though.

 

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