Posts Tagged ‘Belinda Lang’

Here I am again, less than 12 hours after leaving the Tricycle Theatre, hearing news that could just as easily have been part of what I’d seen earlier. I suspect there is no other theatre in the world using its stage to present an objective debate about the issues of our time and their historical perspective. This time, the bomb and its ‘Proliferation’ from 1940 to the early 90’s and its ‘Present Dangers’ – the last 10 years (and forward three).

These ten short plays, and thirteen verbatim interview extracts, take us from wartime Whitehall, where German and Austrian scientists in exile present a startling discovery to the UK government, to recent IAEA inspections in Iran. In between, we visit the 1945 Potsdam Conference, an Indian nuclear facility, post-independence Ukraine, the White House, Pyongyang and the UN.

For me, the highlights were Lee Blessing’s Seven Joys, set in a fictitious club of nuclear nations, and David Greig’s chilling yet funny The Letter of Last Resort, set in 2015 in Downing Street on the first day of our next PM. This latter play simply but brilliantly shows us the rationale (or not) for The Deterrent like a scene from Yes, Prime Minister (which it acknowledges).

Yet again, I learnt so much whilst (yes, it’s true!) being entertained. This is equal measure education, debate, drama and entertainment and if that isn’t a theatrical  achievement, I don’t know what is. In two parts and just four hours playing time, Nicholas Kent’s compelling staging  flows seamlessly on Polly Sullivan’s simple but effective set, with a superb video design from Douglas O’Connell.

Eleven excellent actors each play between two and five of the forty roles and enact the thirteen verbatim statements. Belinda Lang and Simon Chandler were superb in the Grieg play as were Daniel Rabin and Rick Warden, who played the exiled scientists in the two Zinnie Harris plays which frame the whole piece.

A suitably appropriate swan song for Nicholas Kent. I can think of no other person who has made theatre as relevant in modern times, taking plays about the history of Afghanistan into the Pentagon and about events in our own country into Parliament. Within months of the August 2011 riots, they were objectively and forensically examined on this very stage. From the man in Row G, sir, I salute you.

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People keep referring to this as a ‘lesbian play’, but for me it’s about power, domination, love and loneliness and these characters just happen to be lesbians; you could easily change that without taking anything away from the story. The film focused more on the sexuality and going back to the play now, it seems a lot less relevant.

Radio soap actress June ‘shares a flat’ with much younger Alice. It’s a mutually dependent relationship, but power and dominance add to the love to make it mutually destructive too. The balance changes as June’s character is facing the axe and producer Mercy enters their lives, ultimately taking away June’s career and her partner.

It’s a black comedy, but the problem is the overlong and deadly slow first half, which just isn’t fast or funny enough. I don’t know whether this is the play or the production, but whichever it is, it kills the evening. The shorter, punchier and funnier second half is excellent, but you’ve been fidgeting in your seat for 75 minutes (and an interval) before you get to it. Frank Marcus’ somewhat prophetic look at soaps though does prove to be strikingly accurate and the behaviour of the BBC rather timeless and timely.

Meera Syall took a while to settle into the role of June, whereas Elizabeth Cadwallader seemed to inhabit the more difficult role of Alice from the off. Belinda Lang’s Mercy is a fine characterisation and Helen Lederer is on eccentric home turf with her cameo as Madam Xenia. For a short three-week run, they’ve pushed the boat out with an excellent set by Ciaran Bagnall.

It’s a welcome revival; if only they could increase the pace of the first half it would be a lot more compelling. As it is, a bit of a disappointment.

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