Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Ben Miles’

Previous productions of this play, by Italian playwright Stefano Massini, have lasted five hours and had huge casts. Ben Power’s adaptation has a playing time of just under three hours, and director Sam Mendes has chosen to use just three actors to tell this epic story spanning 175 years. An inspired idea which delivers a captivating story of a dynasty, but also the history of capitalism and immigration to the USA.

The Lehman brothers are the sons of a German Jewish cattle merchant, the first brother Henry arriving in the US in 1844, Emanuel and Mayer following in the subsequent six years. Their business starts as a general store in Montgomery, Alabama, before they become cotton traders. After Henry dies, they move to New York City, where they expand into coffee trading, invest in railways and the Panama Canal, and eventually everything from airlines, cigarettes, films & armaments to banking.

It was not until 1965 that they move into trading investments, the business that killed them in 2008, something that the 1857, 1873 and 1929 financial crises, the American Civil War, two world wars and 9/11 didn’t. By then, there were no Lehman brothers left in the business that kept their name, the last dying in 1969. In the previous 125 years, six brothers from three generations had led the business, two for sixty years each.

Simon Russell Beale, Ben Miles and Adam Godley remain in the cloths in which they arrive in the mid-eighteenth century, but all play multiple roles of all generations & ages and both sexes absolutely brilliantly. It all takes place in Es Devlin’s glass-walled offices, representing where the company meets its demise in 2008, which revolve in front of a giant screen on which Luke Hall projects locations. The 2008 box files are used to create everything from shop counters to steps. It’s all in monochrome. Mendes’ staging is simple, enthralling storytelling, with the role-switching lightening it, providing some very funny moments. Live piano accompaniment at the side of the stage is also inspired, and brilliantly played by Candida Caldicot.

It all combines to create a wonderful unmissable theatrical feast.

Read Full Post »

Another occasion where the critical reception lowered my expectations so that the experience exceeded them. Alexi Kaye Campbell’s play is a lot better than I was led to believe.

It’s set on the Greek island of Skiathos in 1967, just as the coup which installed the Colonels is about to happen. We’re on holiday with budding British playwright Theo and his actress wife Charlotte. They’ve befriended / been befriended by an American couple in a local bar and they invite them over to their rented house. It’s an unlikely friendship, with an even more unlikely sexual tension between Harvey and Charlotte. Harvey is on leave from his US government posting in Athens with his wife June, who is a bit of a dumb blonde caricature, overly fond of the booze. Harvey is a highly persuasive control freak and by the end of the evening, he’s persuaded Theo & Charlotte to buy the villa for a song from it’s owners, who are about to emigrate to Australia.

In the second act, we move forward nine years. Greece has recently returned to democracy. Harvey is a successful playwright and he and Charlotte now have two children. The Americans have been posted to Chile, but are briefly back in Athens en route to Zaire (spot the pattern here?). They visit for a few days and we learn more of the bidding Harvey does for his government to keep communism at bay, and the guilt he carries, but the Brits have reason to be guilty too, albeit on a smaller scale. Their relationships disintegrate. Underneath the personal stories, we explore the ethics of power – big countries clandestinely dominating small ones and little people exploited by bigger people. Nothing changes, of course, and Greece today suffers the same, albeit economically.

Hildegard Bechtler has built a brilliant two-story whitewashed house on a rocky promontory; it’s very imposing in the Dorfman space. I was very impressed by Ben Miles as Harvey, particularly his American accent (well, to this British ear), forceful and larger than life. Elizabeth McGovern’s June was a bit too much of a stereotype for me, though very funny. Pippa Nixon is excellent as Charlotte, initially submissive but eventually defiant, and Sam Crane is very good at navigating Theo’s more complex journey. Characters seemed to have their backs to a significant chunk of the audience much of the time, but otherwise Simon Godwin’s direction was good.

An underrated play with a particularly good set of performances and a fine production.

Read Full Post »

Seeing both of these plays in the same day immerses you in 35 years of Tudor history, but it seems odd to hear it unfold in 21st century speech as we’re so used to our history plays being written hundreds of years ago. It’s Shakespearean in scale, narrative drive and characterisation and somehow it feels like something Shakespeare would have written if he’d been writing today. Mike Poulton’s adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s books are actually a bit of a triumph.

Wolf Hall covers the period from Henry VIII’s decision to dump Katherine through to his courting of Jane Seymour whilst still married to Anne Boleyn. Bring Up The Bodies covers a shorter period up to Anne’s execution. Both are told through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell. It’s an unusual way to present history and it works well because it broadens the canvas from ‘the royals’ to embrace the stories of all of the characters. We don’t have to concentrate so much on the dialogue because it’s everyday speech, so we think more about people’s motivations. In Jeremy Herrin’s production, it races along without feeling rushed and rarely lags.

The Swan space is unadorned; just a few props and some fire. There’s an atmospheric (mostly musical) soundscape. Christopher Oram’s costumes are superb and you see the passage of time through Cromwell’s increasingly grander outfits and Henry’s additional padding! Ben Miles is excellent as Cromwell, unassuming but loyal and determined. I loved Nathaniel Parker’s Henry; I particularly admired the way he captured the changes in him over the period of the plays. Theer are too many more fine performances to single any out; suffice to say it’s an excellent ensmeble.

This is accessible historical fiction. Easy to digest, often funny and always entertaining. I left the theatre feeling very satisifed indeed.

Read Full Post »

May 2012

The review below is from the tour of this play one year ago. It’s now at the Royal Court with a new design and a new cast, but the same director, James Grieve. The experience of a Court Friday night crowd was very different from a Northampton midweek matinée!

Despite knowing how it would unfold, I loved the play as much as I did last time. The new design by Lucy Osborne is very good (hats off to the technical team which makes two transformations in such a short time), though no better than the Paines Plough one, so one does wonder why the Court didn’t save a few quid and buy it from them! The new cast though is terrific.

Ben  Miles was so convincing as a 19-year-old in the first act that I googled him in the first interval and was shocked to find he was 44 / 45! This time they’ve cast at the second act, so each has to play both younger and older. Claire Foy is excellent as the daughter, but it was Victoria Hamilton who impressed most – a simply terrific performance(s!).

This is a great play and it occurred to me this time that people probably come out of it having seen a subtly different one, a bit like Oleanna, depending on your attitude to Mike Bartlett’s premise. I’d be surprised if this doesn’t follow Posh and Jumpy into the West End. Another cracking night at the Royal Court.

May 2011

Back in at the lovely Royal Theatre in Northampton for the second time in as many months to catch the Paines Plough tour of this Mike Bartlett three-act play.

We start in 1967 on the night the world first watched TV together and The Beatles premiered All You Need is Love (from which the play takes its title). Oxford student Kenneth is staying with his older brother and proceeds to steal his girlfriend Sandra. Jump forward 23 years and Kenneth & Sandra are now married with careers, two teenagers and a house in Reading, but they’re about to split up. Jump forward another 21 years and we’re in retired Kenneth’s home with his son as the ex-wife and daughter / sister are about to visit.

This is a slow burn because it’s not until the third act we understand what Bartlett is getting at – it’s all the baby boomers fault! Though I think this is a valid and much ignored premise, I don’t agree that the response of the baby boomers is to focus on spending their ‘wealth’ and ignoring the woes of their children in our new inaccessible property / low pay society. Though I don’t have children, most of my friends who do are making significant sacrifices (including re-mortgaging their homes) to help their children. However, it is right to hold them (US!) to account.

It’s an original, captivating and well structured piece. The jumps forward between acts do mean long intervals (with, in our case, an over-run of 20 minutes) that slow down the dramatic flow. It also means actors have to age between 21 and 44 years – a bit of a tall order – and it’s to their credit that they just about pull it off. Ben Addis does particularly well moving from irresponsible student to responsible husband & father and on to irresponsible oldie. James Barrett (so good in the Bush’s 2nd May 1997) is outstanding as both a carefree 14-year old and a troubled 35-year old. Rosie Wyatt’s performed with great passion as an angry 16-year old and an even angrier 37 year-old.

A fascinating and deeply satisfying play from a playwright who is leading the way in modern state-of-the-nation drama that is both entertaining and thought-provoking. Well worth the trip to Northampton. Only one more stop on the tour in Oxford – be there!

Read Full Post »