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Posts Tagged ‘Bunny Christie’

After contemporary works about China – US relations, a nuclear incident and a sibling relationship as experimental physics, playwright Lucy Kirkwood has turned her hand to something set 260 years ago, women’s place in society at that time, in particular the legal and political worlds. I thought it was a fascinating play, with a superb ensemble of fine actors and a stunning design by Bunny Christie.

We start by briefly watching these women carrying out their daily chores, underlining their limited roles in the world. After a crime is committed and a young girl, Sally Poppy, arrested and tried, a ‘jury of matrons’ is formed to establish if she is pregnant, as she says she is. If she is, her execution will be postponed or she may be transported instead. The jury of matrons for this specific purpose provides the only role women can have in legal affairs at the time; they cannot be jurors who convict.

The final person to join this group of twelve women is midwife Elizabeth Luke, who is sympathetic to Sally. She proves Sally is pregnant, but not all of the others will accept this. As their deliberations progress, conflicts of interest and prejudices emerge. They are offered a (male) doctor to examine Sally and they accept this, but even this doesn’t break the impasse. It twists and turns in ways that surprise you and when they do reach a conclusion, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be implemented.

Bunny Christie has created a brilliant design whose jury room fills the Lyttleton stage, beautifully lit by Lee Curran, with Carolyn Downing’s sound design letting us know there’s an angry lynch mob just outside. The costumes establish the period and the accents the location as East Anglia. The ensemble, led by Maxine Peake in the best role I’ve seen her in, contains fine actors like Cecilia Noble, June Watson, Jenny Galloway and Haydn Gwynne. Ria Zmitrowicz is superb as feisty Poppy. James Macdonald’s staging is masterly.

Good to see another Lucy Kirkwood play, a bit of a departure, of a fascinating subject I’m not sure anyone has tackled before.

 

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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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This wasn’t an easy watch. Duncan MacMillan’s play concerns an actress’ addiction to drink and drugs and it’s a harrowing affair. It’s something you admire rather than enjoy, but there’s a lot to admire in Jeremy Herrin’s production for Headlong at the NT.

There’s a brilliantly clever and disorientating opening scene, but we’re soon checking into rehab with very raw experiences of reception, withdrawal, group therapy and failures along the way. Our protagonist, Emma / Sarah isn’t very likeable but she is very plausible. She’s rather self-obsessed, with a tendency to talk down, and her commitment to, and motivation for, getting clean isn’t always clear. Her relationships with the medical and care staff and fellow ‘patients’ aren’t good. It’s a rocky road, made more rocky by her own attitude and disposition. Watching it is an intense, sometimes shocking and very emotional experience.

It’s staged in a white plastic structure (designed by Bunny Christie) with the audience in close proximity on the two open sides, which also provide two of the six entrances, settings rising from the floor. This makes for a fast-paced staging. Amongst Jeremy Herrin’s raft of ideas, the representation of her hallucinations is hugely inventive. The production makes you feel uncomfortable, guilty that you are invading someone’s private life, watching something that perhaps you shouldn’t. Though if you have any doubts about the damage drink and drugs can do, you certainly should.

Though it’s a uniformly excellent cast, Denise Gough carries the evening with a stunning central performance, on stage virtually the whole time. Very occasionally you see a performance you know will be a turning point in someone’s career and this is one of those occasions.

Important rather than entertaining, but I’m glad I saw it.

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It’s nights like this that re-energise my theatre-going. A 17-year-old play that has somehow matured with age. Patrick Marber hasn’t been a very prolific playwright, producing only a handful in 20 years, and two of those were adapted from another source. He started with a bang with Dealer’s Choice and when I saw the revival of that at the Menier in 2007 I was convinced it was his best original work; now I think this is. It has scrubbed up well, there are four excellent performances and the new production sparkles. Another fine revival at the Donmar.

Dan meets Alice when he witnesses her being hit by a taxi and takes her to hospital. She’s a former stripper and all-round nomad and he’s an obituarist and wannabe novelist. They become an item. Dan meets photographer Anna when she takes his picture for the cover of his first book. He sets her up with doctor Larry by posing as her in a chatroom and fixing a meeting. They become an item. From here their lives become entwined and we peek into the very heart of their relationships and their sex lives laid bare. It’s a spiky, sexually explicit and often unpredictable ride, with so many brilliant scenes. The chat-room is a hoot and at several points it switches between scenes in an instant (with the actors of both scenes on stage), on one occasion in reverse chronology! I loved it all over again.

For those of us who don’t do Pinter, it’s 9 years since Rufus Sewell was on a London stage in Stoppard’s Rock & Roll and its a very welcome return to remind us how magnetic he can be. I’m so used to seeing Nancy Carroll in classics, she quite took my breath away in an incredibly sexy performance. Oliver Chris extends his range again following more comic roles in One Man, Two Guvnors, Great Britain and Charles III. Relative newcomer Rachel Redford more than holds her own in this company as feisty, unpredictable Alice. Director David Leveaux and designer Bunny Christie make the whole thing flow seamlessly; neither the writing nor the staging has any flab.

I’ve never credited a House Manager before, but it dawned on me last night what a well run, welcoming theatre this now is. Add in another terrific revival and the Donmar’s indispensability is yet again confirmed. I hope you’ve got tickets already.

 

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