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Posts Tagged ‘Ashley Zhangazha’

I’m fond of a bit of Marivaux, though there’s been a bit of a famine of late. This early 18th century French playwright wasn’t as highly regarded as the more earnest Racine or the more grandly comedic Moliere in his day, but contemporary British audiences have rather taken to his perfectly formed minimalist romantic comedies, and there were some 37 of them over 50 years (I’ve only seen four!). This one was last seen (I think) at the NT 24 years ago, titled The Game of Love & Chance, a translation by Neil Bartlett, who was partly responsible for rekindling interest in Marivaux. This is a translation by the late John Fowles, set in Jane Austen’s Regency England, workshopped by the NT nine years before that, but not staged until now.

It’s a simple but intricate plot. The father’s of Sylvia and Richard have arranged for them to meet in the hope they will become a match, but it’s not an arranged marriage. With her father’s agreement, Sylvia decides to swap roles with her maid Louisa so that she can observe Richard’s character, but unbeknown to her, Richard has decided to do the same with his manservant Brass. Sylvia’s father knows of Richard’s plan as his dad wrote and informed him, and her brother Martin is now in the know too. It unfolds like a dance of love over ninety minutes until we have not one, but two, happy couples. It’s got bags of charm and there isn’t a wasted moment.

Paul Miller’s in the round production has great pace, with no props to slow down scene changes. Simon Daw’s simple but elegant design comprises a lamp and flower ceiling feature, an illuminated floor and sky painted canvases on each side. All six performances are excellent, with Ashley Zhangazha & Dorothea Myer-Bennett as Richard and Sylvia and Claire Lams & Keir Charles as Louisa and Brass. It never outstays its welcome and you leave the theatre with a warm glow.

Lovely to see Marivaux again. Lets hope it starts another reawakening of interest.

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I saw an amazing site-specific play called Roadkill by playwright Stef Smith in Edinburgh almost six years ago. Her Royal Court debut is sort of amazing, but in a different way.

Something odd is going on. Animals and birds are being culled and their habitats destroyed in the belief that they are carrying disease. Our six characters react differently – complying, exploiting, rebelling or just plain resignation. As the situation gets worse, their relationships are damaged and reactions more and more hysterical. Alex has returned from her travels to see her widowed mother Nancy and ends up chained to the railings of the park they are trying to burn. Her mother just tries to get on with life, uninvolved with the decline outside. Jamie and Lisa, deeply in love, fall apart as Lisa starts working for a man who’s benefitting from the disaster and Jamie rescues and hides animals and birds. John has a strong friendship with Nancy but is puzzled by the intentions and attention of Si, Lisa’s new boss. We get a glimpse of what’s happening in the outside world through a Perspex wall.

I’m afraid I felt very ‘so what’ about it. It seems to be showing us how society can react with hysteria and panic, happy to blame nature for anything and everything, but it didn’t really go anywhere. There are six fine performances – Natalie Dew, Ian Gelder, Stella Gonet, Lisa McGrills, Sargon Yelda & Ashley Zhangazha – luxury casting indeed, the design by Camilla Clarke keeps surprising you (and sometimes challenges your tolerance – I was too close to cockroaches for my liking!) and it’s well staged by Hamish Pirie. In the end though I thought the material wasn’t worthy of the creative and acting talent.

Disappointed at the Royal Court again.

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Until last night I’ve always considered this pay to be a fairly straightforward gung- ho slice of patriotic revisionist history. In this production, it seems to have more depth and complexity.

The young king puts his wayward past behind him and, goaded by the French Dauphin, sets off to teach them a lesson or two. An unlikely defeat of the much stronger French army (well, more of them, anyway) leads to the unification of the two nations by the marriage of Henry to the French king’s daughter. The depth and complexity come in the changing attitudes to war.

I found the first half uneven (as much the play as the production), but after the interval, as the British forces leave these shores, the production really takes off. The scene where Henry inspires his forces is brilliant and his wooing of Catherine is wonderfully staged. Where the production succeeds is in coping with the contrasts and contradictions – love & war, compassion & hate, poignancy & humour.

Christopher Oram’s design seems inspired by his earlier one for Lear at the Donmar – a semi-circle of rough wood painted roughly which takes its shape from the ‘cockpit’ of the prologue. Unlike the NT’s recent modern setting, save for the chorus / narrator in modern dress (a terrific Ashley Zhangazha, who continues to impress – I’m already getting excited about seeing his Othello!) it’s in period and the costumes are superb.

It’s been great to watch Jessie Buckley put the Oliver TV casting show I’ll Do Anything behind her; in just five years, she’s played Sondheim for Trevor Nunn at the Menier / West End, been to RADA, played a couple of shows at Shakespeare’s Globe and is now speaking French and snogging Jude Law in a very impressive performance as Princes Katherine! Matt Ryan is excellent as Fluellen, complete with real leak, and Ron Cook gives us another great turn as Pistol, eating the said leak.

I’ve only seen Jude Law a handful of times since Les Patents Terribles at the NT 19 years ago (where you saw quite a lot if I remember correctly) but he has impressed on each occasion. Here, he handles the various Henry’s very well – the lad with new-found responsibility, the patriot, the warmonger, the leader, the statesman, the lover…..it’s a fine performance.

This is a lot better than the Michael Grandage Company’s other crack at Shakespeare and ends the season on a high. It’s been good to see a 5-play season of such quality succeed in the unsubsidised West End, like Jamie Lloyd’s shorted 4-play season. In the spirit of competition and to encourage a rematch, Lloyd wins though!

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August Wilson’s 1987 play ended up as part of a cycle of ten, each representing a decade of the 20th century black American experience (though not written in sequence). This one represents the 50’s and was the 3rd to be written (the last was written in 2005, the year of his death).

The play revolves around 50-something Troy, a dominant husband, brother and father who spent time in prison and is a bit fixated on death. Brother Gabriel has returned from the war deeply disturbed and Troy uses his compensation money to buy a home. He failed to make a career in baseball, the odds loaded heavily against black players at the time, but makes a decent living as a garbage man with his best friend Jim Bono. He falls out with his son Cory when he prevents him from perusing his own baseball ambitions. He’s unfaithful to his wife Rose and when his lover dies giving birth to his child, Rose takes the baby as her own. The first half is overlong and overwritten, but it picks up considerably after the interval. It’s an interesting enough family drama, but I’m not sure it really goes anywhere.

The chief reason for seeing it is as fine a set of performances as you could wish for. You can tell these actors have been on the road for three months as they are now inhabiting their characters seemingly effortlessly. Colin McFarlane is excellent as friend Bono and has great chemistry with Lenny Henry’s Troy. Tanya Moodie is wonderful as the put-upon wife who also plays off Henry brilliantly. Ian Charleston Award winner Ashley Zhangazha is simply terrific as Cory; a real one-to-watch. It’s just four years since Lenny Henry’s acting debut (baptism of fire) as Othello. Then he had great presence and a great speaking voice, but you could see him acting; now he’s the real deal – a hugely impressive, towering performance; you can’t take your eyes off him as he becomes Troy.

The action takes place in the front yard and on the porch of a two-story house (designed by Libby Watson) which dominates the stage of this small theatre, bringing further intensity to the drama. A welcome addition to the West End, which looks like it’s broadening its audience healthily.

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