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Posts Tagged ‘Ben Chaplin’

Playwright Joe Penhall’s last work for the stage was the book for the Kinks musical Sunny Afternoon, much of which revolved around the exploitation of a bunch of sixties teens by a load of music biz men (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2014/04/20/sunny-afternoon). This is a contemporary tale of similar exploitation, of an artist by a producer. The artist is young and female, which adds another layer, and a timeliness.

Record producer Bernard takes on young Irish singer-songwriter Cat, produces her album and plays in the band that tours to promote it. He claims credit for much more than production and when it wins an award, claims recognition too. Their musical collaboration works well, but the power games result in them talking through lawyers and confiding in psychotherapists, amidst much debate about the importance of the truth of the music.

The structural idea of the lawyers and therapists is a good one, but too much is told through conversations between just two parties – the musical protagonists, artist and their lawyer, therapist and their client and lawyer to lawyer. This damages the dramatic narrative if not the debate, making it often too static. However, the discussion is wide-ranging, thorough and intelligent and its bang up-to-date, so I admired and enjoyed it nonetheless.

I’m not sure the thrust staging, presumably intended to bring an intimacy, worked that well; in truth, the play needs a smaller theatre like the Donmar or the Dorfman. Ben Chaplin’s performance as Bernard is reason enough to go, though; he’s simply brilliant as the manipulative, narcissistic, archetypal middle-aged pop-rock figure. Seana Kerslake plays Cat with a totally believable vulnerability and naivety. The therapist roles are a bit underwritten, both played as cool and detached, as they often are in reality, by Jemma Redgrave and Pip Carter; the lawyers are more fiery and confrontational, as lawyers are, played well by Neil Stuke and Kurt Egyiawan.

Yet again the indifferent critical reception lowered my expectations, which were exceeded on the day. Go and make your own mind up.

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Some time ago I was involved in a (civil) legal case where two eminent QC’s were pitted against one another in what turned out to be a grudge match. I soon realised the case was more about the competition between them than the facts. That’s one problem with our adversarial legal system. Another problem is that friends and colleagues can advocate against each other; in any other sector this would be prevented lest it lead to collusion. Early in this play it raises another problem in criminal law. No-one represents the victim. The defence represents the accused and the prosecution represents the crown. No-one represents the victim of a crime.

This excellent new play examines the issue of consent in rape cases, and the legal system in general, by juxtaposing a case where two barrister friends are pitted against one another with the infidelities going on in their own lives. The competitiveness issue is much greater in rape cases because it leads to completely unacceptable, bullying behaviour by barristers which is psychologically damaging to victims (with no representation) and leads to fewer cases being brought. In other words, our legal system allows rapists to walk free.

New dad Ed, married to Kitty, prosecutes and friend / colleague Tim is the defence. Victim Gayle (brilliantly played by Heather Craney) is all on her own. Ed exploits her defencelessness to win his case. Whilst this is happening, Ed’s best friend Jake and his wife Rachel (both lawyers) are riding a relationship roller-coaster due to Jake’s infidelity, with Ed and Kitty taking sides. Much later Ed & Kitty ride a similar roller-coaster through Kitty’s more surprising infidelity, with Jake & Rachel involved as if they were pitted against each other in court. Tim and Kitty’s best friend become embroiled. It’s a superbly structured and brilliantly written piece, simply staged with the audience on all sides. 

There’s a real authenticity to the characterisations with superb performances from Ben Chaplin, Anna Maxwell-Martin, Adam James and Priyanga Burford as the two couples and Pip Carter and Daisy Haggard (just about the only sympathetic character) as those drawn into their lives.

Such a good blend of current issues and a personal story, unquestionably a candidate for Best New Play and as fine a set of performances as you’ll see anywhere.

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