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Posts Tagged ‘Ben Batt’

Peter Gill is better known as a director, and a lot less prolific as a playwright, but he’s written a handful of very good plays, of which this is one of the best. First seen in 2002 at the Royal Court, revived just seven years later at the Riverside Studios, which Gill founded, and now nine years on at the Donmar Warehouse in what might be the best of the three.

Farm labourer George lives with his widowed mother in their tied cottage, with his sister Barbara, husband Arthur and their three children in the nearby council estate. Neighbour Doreen persuades George to get involved in the York Mystery Plays where he meets Assistant Director John, up from London, with whom he develops an unlikely friendship and a clandestine relationship; this is the early sixties. It starts and ends after the relationship, moving back to the visit John makes at the beginning of their relationship, an evening after the show and then to George’s mothers’ funeral. It’s not until the end that we fully understand the intervening years.

The culture clash between city and country, North and South, thespian and farmer are deftly handled and the understated writing is matched by a restrained production and a set of beautiful, authentic performances. Robert Hastie’s staging is finely tuned and hugely sensitive. Peter Mackintosh has designed an evocative, realistic, intimate cottage, with the countryside projected high above. Ben Batt and Jonathan Bailey give wonderful, delicate, nuanced performances. Lesley Nicol is simply lovely as the archetypal working class loving Mother. Lucy Black is a down-to-earth Barbara who may be more knowing than we think, and Matthew Wilson her husband Arthur who isn’t knowing at all; both fine characterisations. Katie West beautifully conveys neighbour Doreen’s yearning for George, and there’s an auspicious stage debut from Brian Fletcher as young Jack. A faultless cast.

This is an impeccable revival which draws you in to the world and lives of the characters and captivates you, proving conclusively that its a fine play indeed. This is why I go to the theatre.

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When the prodigiously talented Georg Buchner died aged 23, leaving behind this unfinished play, little did he know that in the following 180 years it would get more than thirty stage adaptations as well as three musicals, two operas, and a ballet. I find the attraction a bit of a puzzle. This latest one by another prodigious talent, Jack Thorne, is set in Berlin towards the end of the cold war and Woyzeck is a young British squaddie. The story is reasonably faithful to the original, and it’s given a stunning production by Joe Murphy.

Woyzeck was an orphan who spent much of his early life in foster care. Things start going wrong before the play begins when he joins the army and is posted to Northern Ireland, where amongst other things he goes AWOL, but he falls in love there with catholic girl Marie who, with their child, joins him in the next posting in Germany. Here he teams up with rather cocky fellow soldier Andrews and is befriended by Captain Thompson, whose interest in him may not be as innocent as it seems. Woyzeck, Marie and their child have to live in town in a seedy flat as they are unmarried. They are broke and amongst their money making schemes, they allow Andrews to use the flat for his assignations with the Captain’s wife and Woyzeck participates in dubious drug trials. With everything life has thrown at him, Woyzeck is on an irreversible downwards mental health spiral which inevitably ends in tragedy.

Tom Scutt’s design features twenty-five thick Berlin wall like panels which fly or slide onto the stage, creating different configurations, stunningly lit by Neil Austin, with an atmospheric soundtrack by Isobel Waller-Bridge and Gareth Fry. It’s a uniformly superb cast. I’m used to seeing Nancy Carroll in much safer roles; here she’s brilliantly racy and sexy. I was hugely impressed by Ben Batt as Andrews, Sarah Greene is terrific as Marie and Steffan Rhodri is excellent as the Captain, but its John Boyega’s show and he rises to the challenge, and more.

It’s not an easy ride, but it is an impressive achievement. 

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