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Posts Tagged ‘Benedict Andrews’

Jean Genet’s fame is surprising given his limited output (five books and five plays). His plays are rarely revived here and this 1947 play has been given a rather radical makeover by Benedict Andrews & Andrew Upton. It originated at the Sydney Theatre Company in 2013 (with Cate Blanchett and Isabelle Huppert as the maids!) but now has two black actresses as the maids, giving it another twist in Jamie Lloyd’s visceral production.

The setting has moved to the US. The time is contemporary. Mistress is a rich woman, perhaps a celebrity (think Kardashian!). Her two black maids are sisters and they have a bizarre ritual where one dresses as Mistress and they act out scenes between her and a maid. The conclusion is meant to be Mistress’ murder, though it never seems to get that far. Mistress’ husband is in prison following a tip-off to the police, which appears to have been made by the maids, though he is released on bail on the day / night of the action.

The relocation to the US with black maids works really well. The problem with the play is that the maids’ ritual takes a whole hour before Mistress arrives home, then we have a 30 minute scene involving all three, then she’s off again and we continue with the maids. At almost two hours with no break it’s way overlong (particularly sitting on seats that are amongst London’s most uncomfortable).

Designer Soutra Gilmour has created a clever structure, like a giant four poster bed made of wood with ornate gold decorations. The trouble is, the four large posts ruin the sightlines and from our top price third row side seats we were often listening to a character who we couldn’t see. Jon Clark’s lighting is just as striking as the design and Ben & Max Ringham’s sound design adds a suitably spooky feel. There are a lot of paper petals!

I was hugely impressed by Uzo Aduba as elder sister Solange, in her UK debut, particularly in the final scene where she was mesmerising. Zawe Ashton is much more physical and frenetic as Claire, perhaps a bit too frenetic, but it’s a virtuoso performance nonetheless. In her last West End outing, Laura Carmichael was heckled (perhaps unintentionally) on opening night by a theatre director Knight. Well, she proves her stage acting prowess here with an excellent performance as Mistress.

I much admired the production and the performances, but it’s not a great play and the length, sightlines and discomfort made it worse. Still, good to see such stuff in the West End .

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It seems you have to go to The Cut if you like your drama intense and your productions cutting edge. Across the road at the Old Vic there’s an extraordinary interpretation of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and now here at the Young Vic there’s this thoroughly modern version of Tennessee Williams’ most famous play. It seems as if there’s a game of ‘mine’s longer than yours’ going on (which the Old Vic wins by about 15 minutes!) as both productions lengthen the originals by their staging, without adding anything to the text, but both sustain their length and succeed spectacularly.

Benedict Andrews presents us with a chlaustrophobic apartment (kitchen / living area, bedroom and bathroom – designer Magda Willi) which revolves continually so that the audience which surrounds it sees the action from a constantly changing perspective. It intensifies the voyeuristic experience as we peer into these people’s lives. It’s better at showing the opressiveness inside the apartment than the oppressiveness of the neighbourhood where people live on top of one another, but the space around the revolving apartment and a metal staircase at one end (which aligns once per cycle and makes for some exacting entrances and exits!)  link the two. The atmosphere benefits from excellent lighting by Jon Clark and brilliant music from Alex Baranowski.

It’s great at polarising the world of Blanche, Southern belle on her uppers, and the rough and ready world that her sister Stella has joined by leaving Belle Rive and marrying Stanley. The culture clash is clearly defined and there’s more of an emphasis on how torn Stella is between her sister and husband. It seems to me this Stanley is even less sympathetic than usual; as he reveals Blanche’s true story there isn’t an ounce of empathy and in the end he revels in her humiliation. When he becomes violent it’s intense and as Blanche leaves his callousness comes as a shock to his poker playing friends, one of whom has of course become close to Blanche.

I’ve been lucky enough to see Sheila Gish, Jessica Lange, Glenn Close and Rachel Weisz as Blanche, but Gillian Anderson took my breath away with her range of emotions and the depth of her characterisation. It’s no star vehicle though; Ben Foster is brilliantly intimidating as Stanley and Vanessa Kirby makes much more of Stella and her divided loyalties. These are three fine performances that together provide a fresh perspective and a truly great interpretation of this 20th century classic.

The Young Vic continues to provide world class theatre that’s about as accessible as you can get and this is another feather in their feather stuffed cap! A triumph.

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