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Posts Tagged ‘Billie Piper’

Simon Stone’s play is billed as ‘after Lorca’. Though it’s still a play about a woman’s tortuous journey to bear a child, it’s a very contemporary journey featuring ovulation calculations, fertility testing and IVF. Lorca’s 1934 original was more about external, social pressure; Stone’s is more about internal, personal pressure, which she talks about openly and controversially in her blog. It is an extraordinary piece of theatre, even when measured against the Young Vic’s own extraordinary achievements in recent years. Something so dramatic, raw and visceral is very rare indeed. This is the sort of theatrical experience you’ll be talking about for years and years.

Yerma means barren, and the play revolves around Her (everywoman?) who decides in her mid-thirties, on the day her and her partner John buy a house, to start a family. They both have successful careers, Her in publishing and John in finance. Her mother Helen, a lecturer, doesn’t seem to have been a natural mother and still struggles to engage emotionally with her daughters. Her’s sister Mary announces an unexpected pregnancy soon after she has started trying to conceive, but her’s journey is much longer. Her sister appears to have inherited their mother’s lack of motherly instincts, but her’s seem completely natural when she’s with her new nephew.

At the start it’s relatively light and indeed funny, but as her difficulty conceiving continues, so her mental health declines, ultimately destroying relationships and careers. Her ex Victor, now a father himself, starts work for the same company and she ends up as his boss, but he’s more than her employee. Her much younger female assistant Des encourages her openness and edginess in publishing, perhaps an unwittingly negative contribution. In many short scenes, with music maintaining the tension in-between, her life is laid bare over a number of years. In Lizzie Clachan’s extraordinary design, it’s a very voyeuristic experience. It takes out Lorca’s cast of rural folk commenting on failure to procreate and strips it back to six main characters. It departs from Lorca with a different but equally tragic conclusion, but it is in essence the same story for a contemporary audience.

I’ve seen and admired all of Billie Piper’s recent stage performances, but this is on another level altogether, completely natural and simply stunning. She has terrific chemistry with Brendan Cowell’s excellent John, a totally believable couple. Maureen Beattie conveys the coldness of mother Helen. Charlotte Randle plays a more complex Mary beautifully. John MacMillan and Thalissa Teixeira complete the cast with terrific contributions. It was only the fourth performance, but I thought Stone’s production of his own play was faultless. We left the theatre drained.

You will know by now that you have to go!

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We don’t have a free press (all of its owners peddle their particular prejudices) but we do have a free theatre, and I think it’s great that days after the end of the obscenely expensive but useless hacking trial, our National Theatre can stage a comprehensive satirical review of what is after all a real life farce. As it turns out, it’s hugely entertaining, though also sometimes uncomfortable and occasionally chilling.

Paige Britain is the news editor of The Free Press. Her boss, an excellent Robert Glenister, is a loud mouthed crude bullying editor prone to regularly naming one member of staff ‘C**t of the Month’ with the award inscribed in black felt tip pen on their forehead. The proprietor, the equally excellent Dermot Crowley, is an Irish media baron. The Free Press is well and truly in the gutter and sinks deeper as the play progresses and phone hacking becomes their new favourite research method. They collude with the police and, to a lesser extent, politicians (who come off a little lightly). The course of events bear a striking resemblance to actual events. It’s packed full of cracking dialogue and jokes, and Nichlolas Hytner’s production zips along at a formidable pace, but it still leaves you feeling you are complicit by buying these odious rags (well, not me, obviously).

Set in the newsroom, with sliding video screens giving us front pages, TV news, select committees and other recorded scenes, it’s very slickly staged and so packed with detail you struggle to take it all in. Tim Hatley’s design facilitates the extraordinary pace. In only her fourth stage appearance, Billy Piper is sensational as Paige; you completely believe in her as an ambitious manipulative woman without an iota of principles. Richard Bean has bravely written the Met Commissioner as a recent politically correct appointment – an openly gay Asian – and Aaron Neil almost steals the show with his deadpan delivery and impeccable timing. There are too many other good performances to mention in a superb ensemble. No-one is free from ridicule, with snipes at The Guardian & The Independent as well as the tabloids.

It’s thrilling to see something so current, relevant and important on the stage, made more exciting by being announced just days before its opening and days after the trial ended, without previews and no time to create programmes. This is one of the best things on the National stage in recent years. Unmissable.

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Like Lucy Prebble’s last piece, ENRON,  Rupert Goold’s production turns a good play into a great evening, though on this occasion I’m not sure Miriam Buether’s reconfiguration of the Cottesloe is entirely necessary – in a similar way to Rae Smith’s design for This House, which is sharing the Cottesloe in rep., the Pit has been turned into a clinic, with the audience in two rows on all sides, padded walls interspersed with coffee tables on which sit magazines and vases of flowers. 

In essence this is a love story. Two clinical trials volunteers fall in love during their 6-week stay at the clinic, but as the trail is for an anti-depressant and some volunteers have a placebo, we never know whether this has impacted the relationship. The only other characters are two doctors, whose relationship was itself affected by depression, though that is in the past. Along the way, we peep into the world of clinical trials and their ethics and the workings of the brain, but not in much depth and that’s not really what the play is about.

Even more than the inventive production, what propels the evening into greatness are the performances. I’ve only seen Billie Piper three times (I think she’s only done three plays!) and on each occasion she has impressed, investing extraordinary emotionality into her charaterisations. Now I want to see her in a classical role (Ophelia, anyone?). Here she matched by a stunning performance from Jonjo O’Neill. I’ve only seen him a handful of times, but this is in another league altogether. Anastasia Hille and Tim Goodman-Hill are very good as the doctors but its the roles of the volunteers that are are at the heart of the play and enable Piper & O’Neill to shine.

I wasn’t entirely convinced by the first half, but the play goes up several notches after the interval and it proves to be a very satisfying evening. I’d like to see a more minimalist production (like Mike Bartlett’s Cock at the Royal Court) to test my theory that its the production wot does it, but I suspect I never will. 2012 really was a brilliant year for new writing at the NT – this is the fourth gem (third in the Cottesloe).

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Well, persisting with playwright Neil LaBute has paid off at last. I’ve seen a handful of his plays before now, but never really found them particularly satisfying; too cynical for my taste. Until now, the worst of them was Mercy Seat and the best The Shape of Things & Fat Pig and this play continues his reflections on our obsession with appearance that the latter two started, but for me it’s on another level altogether….and how refreshing to have a play with ‘blue collar’ characters and a warehouse setting!

The play starts with a brilliantly staged row over something Greg is alleged to have said about his partner Steph, relayed by her friend Carly. Carly is pregnant (a late change to accommodate Billie Piper’s actual pregnancy!) by Greg’s work colleague and friend Kent. The subsequent unfolding of these relationships is absolutely fascinating and completely captivating. There is extraordinary depth to the characterisation, an authenticity to the story and brilliantly realistic dialogue. I haven’t felt so involved in a story for some time.

I’m often in awe of an actor’s talent and here I’m in awe of all four of them. You really feel for Tom Burke’s Greg, caught up in his girlfriend’s insecurities and his friend’s infidelities. Bille Piper is terrific as Carly, starting as the source of Greg & Steph’s conflict and ending as a victim. Kieran Bew has the difficult task of playing the deeply unsympathetic Kent, so the fact you want to get on stage and punch him is a tribute to how well he does. Steph’s emotional rollercoaster is beautifully played by Sian Brooke.

Soutra Gilmour’s settings in and around a container convey the workplace at the heart of the play but allow scenes to move to three other locations speedily, with the scene changes themselves very watchable. Michael Attenborough’s fine attention to detail serves the play very well in a sensitive production without a wasted moment.

So the Almeida ends 2011 as it began it – with a fine new play that will join Becky Shaw in the list of the very best new plays of the year. A veritable sky full of gold stars.

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