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Posts Tagged ‘Ben Stones’

This is based on one of two unfinished works by Jane Austen. Coincidentally, the TV adaptation of the other, Sanditon, is currently on our screens. There have been other attempts to complete The Watsons, though not as a play it seems. Laura Wade takes this as her starting point, but it goes way beyond that in a brilliant Pirandellian concoction.

As soon as you walk into the Menier the stage and the two actors on it scream Austen. Dad is in his sick bed, with his daughter Elizabeth looking on. We soon meet her sister, eighteen-year-old Emma, who has been living with her aunt since she was five, other sister Margaret and brother Robert and his wife. They are all rather preoccupied with getting the sisters married.

We move to a society ball where Lord Osborne takes a fancy to Emma, she takes a fancy to Mr Howard the clergyman and local gentleman Tom Musgrave takes a fancy to any woman in sight. Despite hardly engaging with her at the ball, Osborne visits Emma at home and surprises everyone by proposing. When he leaves, she discusses her intentions, at which point she is interrupted by a maid questioning her choice.

We soon realise this is Laura the writer who has had to intervene as her character appears to have taken over her story. From here, it’s meta theatre all the way as the characters mutiny and we discuss Austen’s intentions, enact the characters wishes and explore the process of writing in an anarchic, hilarious romp. Laura even takes a call from her producer David, who asks how the writing is going! It’s hugely entertaining, but you do delve into the mind of Austen, her period and the reasons why she may have abandoned the piece.

Sam West has staged it expertly and Ben Stones has created an authentic period design. It’s a big cast for a play and they seem to be having a ball. Grace Molony is lovely as Emma and Louise Ford delightful as Laura the writer. In a uniformly excellent supporting ensemble, Joe Bannister is superb as the timid Osborne, Jane Booker superb as his officious mother, Sophie Duval a treat as bossy Mrs Robert and there’s a very assured performance from Isaac Forward as the ten-year-old Charles.

A real fun evening. Don’t miss.

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Hir is an unofficial, socially-constructed, gender-neutral pronoun, an alternative to he or her. Playwright Taylor Mac is a polymath American artist who challenges conformity and categorisation; someone once described him as Ziggy Stardust meets Tiny Tim. As you can by now imagine, this is a surreal ride.

Isaac returns from three years in the war, as a marine in the mortuary service. He’s had a dishonourable discharge for drug use. While he’s been away, there have been dramatic changes in the family. After years of abusing his wife and children, dad Arnie is ill and now on the receiving end of the abuse. Isaac’s sister is in the process of becoming his brother, encouraged by his mother Paige, who has gone all new age and politically correct and stopped cleaning completely. The house is a tip. Isaac struggles to believe or accept it all and a power struggle with his mother develops.

I’m not entirely sure what the playwright is getting at, but it’s fascinating and expertly staged and performed. Ben Stones’ design has to be seen to be believed. Nadia Fall’s staging continually shocks and surprises. All four performances are outstanding, with favourite Ashley McGuire so extraordinarily matter-of-fact as Paige, contrasting with Arthur Darvill’s highly strung and fragile Isaac.

It wasn’t to everyone’s taste (there were lots failing to return after the interval) but it held and intrigued me, and I’m still processing it.

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The phrase ‘kitchen sink drama’ was coined in the late 50’s / early 60’s to describe plays about working class folk full of angst. Well, there’s not just a sink but an entire kitchen here – but not a lot of angst. This play is a heart-warming tale of the plight of working class people trying to make a living today that is funny and charming, but at its heart deeply perceptive. Like buses, this is my second ‘blue collar’ play on consecutive nights, albeit from two continents, after a long famine!

We’re with a family just outside Hull. Dad Martin’s milk round (and milk float) is struggling to survive now that most people do all their shopping at Tescos. Daughter Sophie and her (boy)friend Pete have lost their jobs at Woolies – Sophie is now training in Jujitsu and Pete as a plumber. Son Billy’s heading for art school after his paintings of heroine Dolly Parton are deemed postmodern kitsch. The family is held together my mum Kath, housewife and part-time lollipop lady. You even get to know offstage characters like Pete’s seemingly wild Nan and friend & advisor Danny and Sophie’s Jujitsu teacher and blue belt examiner.

Staged in the round, we’re peering into the kitchen, the centre of family life, where food is prepared, cooked and eaten, experiences shared and events and feelings communicated. In a lovely touch, scenes often end with the dishes being washed. Time and the change of seasons is cleverly marked and the kitchen sink itself performs regularly. The whole thing is enthralling and captivating; I couldn’t wait to return after the interval and really didn’t want it to end.

The performances are beautifully nuanced, particularly Andy Rush as Pete and Ryan Sampson as Billy. The scene where Pete is trying to make a move on Sophie is an absolute gem and whenever Billy is on stage, you’re watching him. Leah Brotherhead has, in many ways, the toughest role given Sophie’s emotional journey, but she pulls it off brilliantly. It doesn’t take you long to bury Gavin & Stacy’s Dave Coaches as Steffan Rhodri inhabits dad Martin, running away from the reality of change, and at the centre of all of this is a superb performance from Lisa Palfrey as mum Kath. Another night of perfect casting.

Tamara Harvey’s attention to detail results in a staging that draws you in and involves you completely in these people’s lives. The in-the-round setting doesn’t always work (there are occasions when you’d like to see the faces of all parties to a conversation) but it does give the play its intimacy. For the first time, a name check for the stage management team – Mary Hely, Amy Jewell and Sarah Barnes – as this must be a difficult play to run, yet it’s was very slickly done.

This is a triumphant first (proper) play in the new Bush and another candidate for the best new play of 2011.  If you miss it, it will be your own fault!

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