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Posts Tagged ‘Bunny Christie’

The Bridge Theatre’s biggest success so far was probably their promenade Julius Caesar last year (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2018/01/29/julius-caesar-bridge-theatre). This even more immersive promenade staging of A Midsummer Night’s Dream proves how suitable the space is for this style of performance. I found it captivating from start to finish.

They’ve really cracked the promenade form at the Bridge, largely because of their ability to bring platforms up from the floor, and this time flying in the space above. There are no sightline issues for either promenaders or those looking on from the galleries, and the marshalling is very unobtrusive. This Dream starts in serious tone with Athenians dressed like puritans as Hermia’s arranged marriage is confirmed, emphasising its unacceptability like I’ve never seen before, before we’re whisked away to the forest.

The very acrobatic fairies swing above the promenaders and the lovers and royal couple move along platforms with leaf-strewn beds on. The simple change of spell from Titania to Oberon heightens the comedy greatly. The lovers are particularly feisty and modern, and Puck is a marvellous creation, looking like a punk, wicked, funny and brilliantly athletic. The use of music is terrific, with the promenaders, seemingly unprompted, breaking into moves in unison. They take a lot of liberties with Shakespeare’s words, and there are ad libs and audience involvement, but they are all completely justified by the result.

Gwendoline Christie has great presence as Hippolyta / Titanya, towering over Puck and the fairies in a long green dress. Oliver Chris brings his considerable gift for comedy to the role of Oberon; his scenes with Hammed Animashaun’s Bottom, as great a performance in this role as I’ve ever seen, are positively sublime. David Moorst continues to deliver on his early promise with a simply terrific Puck and a contrasting Philostrate. It was great to see half of the rude mechanicals played by women, with Ami Metcalf’s butch Snout feared by all.

The Bridge must do more in this configuration, with the unique possibilities the building affords. Director Nicholas Hytner and designer Bunny Christie have created a magical tale with a great sense of fun, a Dream for our times. Take every young person you know as it may convert them to live theatre for life. They were still partying as we left.

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Every time I see a new production of a Sondheim musical, I think its his best, so here we go again! There hasn’t been a major London production of Company for 22 years, though we have had some fine fringe ones. Director Marianne Elliott’s reinvention, with Sondheim’s approval and involvement, changes 35-year-old New York male singleton Bobby to female Bobbie, the three girlfriends to boyfriends and one couple, Paul & Amy, about to be married after living together forever, have become gay couple Paul & Jamie. It makes a 48-year-old show feel fresh and bang up to date.

It’s Bobbie’s 35th birthday and there’s a surprise party planned. We meet her and her three casual boyfriends and her best friends, five couples who fret about her lack of a long-term relationship whilst making attempts at match-making and harbouring some jealous thoughts about her freedom. She’s at that age where she’s trying to reconcile her love of independence with her mid-thirties body-clock, which is where this production works even better with the change of gender. The normality of a gay marriage is the other change which works in its favour and choosing this particular couple, about to be married with one party having second thoughts, is inspired. Each couple has their own story, and they’re interwoven with Bobbie’s three casual romances and all the issues and pressures of being single in your thirties.

The production is highly inventive, with a terrific design from Bunny Christie. Each song and each scene seems to be a showstopper. The boyfriends trio You Could Drive A Person Crazy was deliciously interpreted by Richard Fleeshman, Matthew Seadon-Young and George Blagden. Individually, Fleeshman shines as airline steward Andy in his bedroom scene with Bobbie where they sing Barcelona, the destination of his forthcoming flight, and Blagden as PJ delivers Another Hundred People superbly. Liam Steel’s choreography comes into its own in the staging of Side By Side / What Would We Do Without You, which becomes a slick series of party games. With Jamie a gay catholic, Getting Married Today rises to new manic / comic heights and Jonathan Bailey brings the house down. Broadway royalty Pattie Lupone sings The Ladies Who Lunch like I’ve never heard it before, fabulously. Left alone on a bare stage, Rosalie Craig’s Bobbie sings Being Alive, the song that is the emotional heart of the piece, and her tears are matched by the audience; she’s wonderful as Bobbie.

As a Sondheim fan, being in a full house that roars its approval is a joy. Watching Patti Lupone leave the stage hugging Rosalie Craig felt like one generation of performers nurturing the next, as Marianne Elliott thrillingly passes on this masterpiece to the next generation too. A triumph for all concerned.

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Yes, it’s a play not a scientific theory. You can always rely on Simon Stephens for something different – he must have the most diverse body of work of any playwright. Here, he uses the concepts of uncertainty and unpredictability to tell the story of the most unlikely relationship between a 42-year-old woman and a 75-year-old man. It’s a very intuitive piece that I wasn’t sure about at first, but it drew me in and I left the theatre with a warm glow!

It’s beautifully set and lit by Bunny Christie and Paule Constable within a box of light, like a James Turrell installation, that changes size, shape and colour from scene to scene. There’s a lovely soundscape too, with music by Nils Fram. In the first scene, London Butcher Alex Priest meets American school receptionist Georgie Burns at a train station. From here, their extraordinary relationship unfolds from a chance encounter, unravelling of the truth, a mutual fascination with some brittleness to a romantic liaison and a full-blown relationship. At first it seems implausible, but somehow becomes believable. I put this down to superb chemistry between two fine actors.

In Marianne Elliott’s delicate, sensitive staging, Kenneth Cranham and Anne-Marie Duff give the sort of uninhibited performances that deliver the believability of the relationship. Every time it turns a corner, implausibility returns but is then dispelled. Even though it runs less than ninety minutes, it does leave you satisfied.

I would have preferred to see it in a space more suitable, like the Dorfman, Royal Court, Donmar or Almeida, and more accessibly priced for a one-act two-hander, but in other ways it’s good that the West End can support work like this.

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Rupert Murdoch is my greatest bête noire. From interference in elections to invasions of privacy via oceans of tackiness & sexism and the creation of exploitive monopolies, he offends me at every turn. So I was expecting to have my prejudices pandered to in liberal Islington. They weren’t, though largely because this play about his early English adventures, in particular the rise of The Sun, takes place before he hired the evil unholy trinity of McKenzie, Morgan and Brooks, plunging his organs into even deeper moral depths. Covering little more than a year, but covering it in depth, Ink is as fascinating as it is enthralling and entertaining.

When the play starts he already owns The News of the World, but he wants a daily. He buys the ailing Sun from the Mirror Group, hires one of their own, Larry Lamb, as editor, and sets the seemingly impossible target of matching their circulation, the highest in the world at the time, within twelve months. I’d forgotten that it all started as irreverent, anti-establishment and, well, fun. Populism personified, until some tragic events close to home (which I’d forgotten) nearly killed it, only to be rescued by…..well, it’s the tits wot done it.

The relationship between Murdoch and Lamb is the beating heart of the play, and Bertie Carvel and Richard Coyle are simply terrific. I struggle to understand how playwright James Graham is so successful presenting people and events that happened before he was even born – perhaps its because he has the objectivity rather than the baggage that those of us who lived through them have. Like Our House, The Angry Brigade and the underrated Monster Raving Loony, he captures the sixties and seventies with pinpoint accuracy.

Rupert Goold’s staging owes something to his own Enron, including audacious use of music and movement to add life, and Bunny Christie’s superb set of ramshackle offices piled high, with projections behind, adds even more life. Amongst the superb supporting cast, Sophie Stanton gives another of her priceless turns as Geordie Women’s Editor Joyce, and Tim Steed is particularly good as a posh fish-out-of-water Deputy Editor.

Good to see something provide competition for The Ferryman as Best New Play! A real treat.

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On the lists of writers and directors least likely to adapt a Georges (Maigret) Simenon psychological  thriller, I’d put David Hare and Robert Icke pretty high, but that’s what we have here, and they’ve turned out a rather stylish, if slow, piece of staged film noir.

Simenon’s piece is a nicely plotted story of two couples caught in a storm returning from a society party in Connecticut to the Dodd’s home in the country. Don Dodd and Ray Sanders are old friends, both lawyers. Don is married to stay-at-home Ingrid and Ray to fellow party animal Mona. Ray doesn’t make it back, losing the other three before they make it to the house in a blizzard. His body is eventually found and the investigation concludes it was an accident. Don subsequently pays frequent visits to Mona Sanders New York apartment to help her with the estate and we see the true nature of their relationship, with a few more surprises to come.

It’s played out in a large number of scenes, mostly in the cosy Dodd home and the contrasting Sanders apartment, with flashbacks to the party. Black screens of different shapes and sizes close at various speeds like camera shutters in between scenes. It’s a superb design by Bunny Christie, but it really slows down the pace and you seem to be looking at black space too much of the time, with just a soundscape for company, making it a lot less thrilling than it should be. It was one of those occasions when the middle of the front row was pole position, though I suspect others, particularly front left, will have found some of the sightlines challenging.

The acting style is very film noir with lines ending in mid-air as rhetorical questions or speculative statements, with a few laughs, occasionally seeming a touch tongue-in-cheek. The performances are all good, particularly Mark Strong as Don and Elizabeth Debicki as Mona.

It’s good to see this rarely staged genre at the NT and all of the components are first class – writing, design, performance and staging – but I’m afraid they don’t add up to more than the parts, so it’s only a partial success for me.

 

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This seemed like a good idea. Jane Horrocks singing the songs of her youth, with four dancers choreographed by Aletta Collins. I’m afraid it turns out to be a rather charmless, self-indulgent evening – well, hour.

I didn’t know any of the music, but it all seemed rather unremarkable, though played well live by the onstage band. The choreography was a bit quirky, seeming to take its lead from the lyrics but making no sense to me. There’s a very striking monochrome design by Bunny Christie.

Either the songs didn’t suit her or she no longer has much of a voice. Her look was very Debbie Harry, though less charismatic. She hardly broke into a smile until the curtain call. The few words of intro and conclusion tried to put the songs into context, but seemed a bit pointless to me.

A bit of a vanity project, and a bit of a dud – and at more than 50p per minute, more expensive than a West End musical.

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Husbands & Sons is actually three plays by the very prolific early 20th century novelist, poet and playwright D H Lawrence – The Daughter-in-Law, The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd and A Collier’s Friday Night; his first three, but never produced in his lifetime. They’re all set in the Nottinghamshire mining village of Eastwood, where Lawrence was brought up, but that’s really the only connection. What Ben Power has done is to create a ‘mash-up’. They’re interwoven to create one play rather than played as three separate plays and it works brilliantly.

The Holroyds, Lamberts and Gascoignes are all mining families. Lizzie Holroyd is trapped in a marriage to philandering drunk Charlie, whose young son even hates him. Lydia Lambert is married to a dinosaur who gives her a portion of his wages for which he expects her to live in slavery, keeping home and bring up two children. Minnie Gascoigne has only recently married Luther when its revealed he’s fathered a child by a neighbour’s daughter.

It’s an evocative picture of life in this early 20th century mining community, largely from the perspective of the women at home, and you can tell its writer knew this world very well indeed. Lizzie and Lydia have better relationships with their sons than husbands (and daughter, in Lydia’s case), Luther and his brother Joe are closer to their mother than Luther is to his wife and Charlie’s mother Sue looms large too. Lydia (Lawrence’s mother’s name) is devoted to her son Ernest, an autobiographical character I suspect, who is educating himself to escape this world (he even, somewhat ironically, calls his mother mater) which sets him against his deeply traditional dad, whilst his sister Nellie is destined to stay. Lizzie can barely hide her attraction to local electrician Blackmore, who is pursuing her.

The footprint of the ground floor of all three homes is laid out in the Dorfman Theatre, with the audience on all sides, and in a clever twist we change seats for each act. As it begins, a huge rectangular lighting rig rises like a giant mining cage and underfloor lights represent the underground world. The rooms are realistic but the actors mime actions like putting on coats and opening doors. I thought Bunny Christie’s design and Marianne Elliott’s staging were stunning.

The big draw acting wise is Anne-Marie Duff, and she’s great, but it’s a faultless ensemble with a whole load of really fine performances. The whole thing is faithful to the writing and the setting, yet inventive in adaptation and staging. Only the National could do this. A theatrical feast.

 

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