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Posts Tagged ‘Brendan Coyle’

This is the second in what appears to be an informal Miller mini-festival. It started with Enemy of the People at the Union Theatre last month and continues with American Clock & All My Sons at the Old Vic and Death of a Salesman across the road at the Young Vic. This fiftieth anniversary production of his 1968 play comes to London from the Theatre Royal Bath. Though I liked the productions I saw 17 and 29 years ago, I’ve never considered it up there with the big four which, with Enemy in the middle, appeared between 1947 & 1955 – Sons, Salesman, The Crucible & A View from the Bridge. On this form, though, I’m beginning to think again.

Victor and his wife Esther are in the attic of Victor’s recently deceased father, waiting for Gregory Solomon, who’s going to value and hopefully make an offer for the contents. Victor has been trying, but has failed, to get hold of his estranged brother Walter, who really should be with him. Esther leaves soon after Solomon arrives and the rest of the first half is mostly a two-hander, an entertaining and often funny discussion which leaves you wondering where its going. When Esther returns and Walter arrives, Solomon takes a back seat while the family history is played out and you realise it’s more about the price we pay for decisions in our lives than it is about the price of the contents of the apartment.

Walter is a hot-shot surgeon and Victor an NYC cop, these destinies determined by their relative responses to their dad growing old. As often with Miller, dad was a victim of the depression. Victor stayed loyal, at the expense of his career, while Warren broke away for his, decisions with had profound effects on their lives. They haven’t seen much of each other since, and there’s a lot that’s unsaid. Walter now tries to reconcile and make amends, but it’s too late, and somewhat disingenuous. Esther is at first frustrated by her husband’s intransigence, but won’t see him lose his pride and dignity. This second act confrontation is the heart of the piece and it’s simply masterly.

Simon Higglett’s brilliant design of the ramshackle apartment piles layers upon layers of family history, but provides an intimate space for the brothers’ exorcism of the past. Brendan Coyle is terrific as Victor, at first accepting the cards he’s played, but eventually showing bitterness and regret at an unfulfilled life. David Suchet is excellent as the worldly wise Solomon, wickedly funny, determined to get a deal, interjecting into the family discussions now and again. Adrian Lukis plays the unsympathetic Walter, the chalk to Coyle’s cheese, though he’s paid his own price too. I loved Sara Stewart’s interpretation of Esther, often critical of her man but ultimately loyal and loving.

The Price came at the midpoint of Miller’s playwriting career, both in terms of years and plays. Whatever you think of it, Jonathan Church’s production provides an opportunity to see this more rarely produced play as well as you’re ever likely to see it staged, and for this Miller fan it made me realise how much I’d underrated it. Until now.

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The 18 year revival rule applies again as Jez Butterworth’s first play gets a high profile West End outing. I’d decided not to go, given it cost more than five times the inflation-adjusted 1995 price, but I’m dreadfully weak-willed and I finally succumbed to the temptation of seeing a new generation of actors tackle these roles. So my review is of a performance ten weeks into the run.

Set in 50’s Soho amongst small-time gangsters, Mojo features club manager Mickey, his staff Skinny, Potts & Sweets, the owner’s son Baby and rock & roll prodigy Silver Johnny. There’s murder offstage which impacts them all, but we’re viewing their reactions and relationships in the back-room and an empty club.

The strength of the piece is not in the story, but in the world Butterworth creates, his characterisations and the rich expletive-strewn dialogue which is like verbal gunfire. It’s got great energy, edginess and dark humour, though it owes a lot to early Pinter (the menacing late 50’s Birthday Party & Caretaker period). Somewhat appropriately, it’s playing in the Harold Pinter theatre.

The chief reason for seeing it is that it provides a showcase for five leading male actors and these five relish every moment. Potts & Sweets are really a double-act and Daniel Mays and Rupert Grint have great chemistry, with slick and speedy delivery of the lines. There’s a sense of Grint apprenticed to Mays in both the characters and the actors. The role is perfect for Mays’ style and Grint’s professional debut is hugely impressive. In 1995, these roles were played by Andy Serkis and Matt Bardock respectively.

Ben Wishaw continues to impress and here effectively extends his range as Baby (Tom Hollander in 1995). Colin Morgan does more acting as Skinny, maybe a touch too much, but I still liked his highly strung take on Skinny (Aiden Gillen in 1995). Given he’s now a bit too well known as Downton’s Bates, Brendan Coyle still manages to convince as Mickey (David Westhead in 1995). Tom Rhys Harries is cool and charismatic in the smaller role of Silver Johnny. It’s the same director / design team (Ian Rickson & Ultz) and it’s staged with great tension and period style.

It is good to see these fine (mostly) young actors take on the sort of meaty ‘contemporary’ roles that don’t come around that often, so I will reluctantly accept that it was good to relent – and my admiration for producer Sonia Friedman continues to increase; it can’t be that easy to put such a bankable cast together for five months.

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