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Posts Tagged ‘Carrie Cracknell’

Strindberg’s 130-year-old play has been successfully updated / adapted before, most notably to apartheid South Africa as Mies Julie (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2013/03/14/mies-julie), and this is another successful interpretation by playwright Polly Stenham and director Carrie Cracknell. I found it edgy and bleak, but brilliant.

We’re in present day North London. Julie is the daughter of a rich man who seems to ignore her. Her mum is dead and her boyfriend has dumped her. It’s her 33rd birthday and a party is in progress, though it seems to be populated by hangers on. Back in the kitchen, the maid and her fiancée the driver, go about their business – until, that is, the suppressed attraction between Julie and driver Jean comes to the surface and it progresses to its tragic conclusion.

I thought the rave aesthetic worked well, but the kitchen scenes sometimes lacked intimacy. That said, there was a real sexual chemistry between Vanessa Kirby as Julie and Eric Kofi Abrefa as Jean, whose movements around one another seem animalistic. Kirby’s Julie comes over as a lonely, very troubled contemporary thirty-something who’s lost her way. Jean is torn between his perceived place in life and his desires. Thalissa Teixeira is excellent as Kristina, loyal and loving until she is betrayed by both. There are twenty non-speaking roles to ensure we get a realistic party.

Designer Tom Scutt has created a giant white rectangular box with a kitchen up front and a screen rising to reveal the party, but it is a big space for a play that is often just a two-hander, so as much as I admired the adaptation, the staging and the performances, there were times when it did feel a bit lost on the Lyttleton stage. Well worth catching, though.

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This is a hugely ambitious, inventive play about the connection of the human race with oil, spanning more than 150 years from 1889 to 35 years into the future. It also covers the changing place of women in society and the relationship between a mother and her daughter. Ella Hickson’s play has its flaws, but I greatly admired both the writer’s boldness and Carrie Cracknall’s production.

There are five scenes, starting with a Cornish farming family in the late nineteenth century, bickering as they struggle to get by. Our central character May is married to one of three brothers, pregnant with their first child. They are visited by an American, who demonstrates his newly developed kerosene lamp and makes an offer for their farm where he wishes to set up his fledgling business. May wants them to accept, but her husband doesn’t. In the second scene we are in Persia at the beginning of the 20th century where the British are seeking to exploit their oil resources. This May is a waitress. For me, this was the least effective scene. The third section leaps forward to the 1970’s. May is an oil company executive who is visited by a Libyan minister informing her his country is going to sequestrate a share of the company. Her relationship with her 15-year-old environmentally conscious daughter Amy is fraught.

In the second half, we’re taken five years into the future. May, a former MP who voted for the war, is in Iraq trying to persuade her daughter, Amy, doing voluntary work in a hospital, to return home. Their relationship is fraught too. In the final scene we’re thirty-five years in the future, back in the Singer family home in Cornwall. Our energy fears have become a reality as May and Amy struggle to keep warm. They are visited by a Chinese saleswoman (the new colonists) selling a personalised nuclear solution with as dubious environmental credentials as oil.

I struggled a bit with the implausibility’s – why would the American want to locate his business on a Cornish farm? Why would a Libyan minister come to her home? – and the fact that each May and Amy must be different characters given the timescales, but I eventually let go of my literalism and went with the flow. Though the relationship between mother and daughter aids the narrative, I’m not sure the emancipation issues do.

There’s something very compelling about the production that holds your attention. Lucy Carter’s lighting, sometimes very dark, and Luke Halls’ oil-related projections are particularly effective. Both Anne-Marie Duff as May and Yolanda Kettle as her anagram daughter Amy are excellent, creating a very believable mother and daughter relationship, and there’s a fine supporting cast.

The Almeida set an early 7pm start for this production, but it’s only 2.5 hours long. I suspect it has reduced in length since the draft on which they programmed it and it did sometimes feel as if there were missing bits. Despite its flaws though, it’s a very welcome, brave and epic play which I would definitely recommend.

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I’d always known there were autobiographical elements to this Terence Rattigan masterpiece, but seeing it a few weeks after Mike Poulton’s excellent new play Kenny Morgan, about the incidents that inspired it, I now realise it’s a whole lot more than elements. It’s uncanny.

It starts, as does Kenny Morgan, with the rescue if its main character Hester Collyer from her attempted suicide, lying in front of the gas fire with a stomach full of aspirin. She’s tended by landlady Mrs Elton, young neighbours Philip and Ann Welch and Mr Miller, a former doctor. Similar characters appear in the other play. Hester’s estranged husband William, a judge, is called, as Rattigan was in the true story. The subject of Hester’s sadness, her young lover Freddie, returns, but not for long, as the incident spooks him and prompts his permanent departure. She declines to return to her husband and a second suicide attempt is aborted, and this is where the play diverges from the truth – oh, and the sex of the main character!

Tom Scutt has built a two-story house with Hester’s flat’s living area stage front and her bedroom, bathroom and the stairwell behind gauze, so that you can see characters moving there. This is very effective in representing the life of the house as well as focusing on its troubled occupant. There’s a background droning sound which creates a brooding, tense, expectant atmosphere. I thought Carrie Cracknell’s staging was terrific, with a very clever ending that told you Hester’s fate without a word being spoken.

It’s superbly well cast, with Marion Bailey excellent as an empathetic but disapproving Mrs Elton and Nick Fletcher great as the mysterious ‘Doctor’ Miller. Hubert Burton and Yolanda Kettle are lovely as the naïve young couple and Peter Sullivan has great presence as William Collyer. There’s real chemistry and a sexual frisson between Tom Burke’s Freddie and Helen McCrory’s Hester, both of whom so suit their roles and both of whom really inhabit these complex characters. McCrory really is stunning, a nuanced performance, acting with every inch of her body. It’s as fine an acting ensemble as you’re likely to get on any stage.

Probably the best production of this play I’ve ever seen; unmissable Rattigan.

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This is one of the best Macbeth’s I’ve ever seen. It comes in at less than two hours, it integrates dance like I’ve never seen before and the fusion of stage design, costume, lighting and music / sound is seamless. The Young Vic follows it’s radically brilliant Measure for Measure with a radically brilliant Macbeth.

Lizzie Clachan has created an infinity effect tunnel which reduces in size as it recedes. There are multiple entrances at the side and a slice that moves horizontally to brilliant effect. Neil Austin’s lighting creates atmospheric shadows all over the place and there’s all-pervading sinister music and a soundscape by Clark & David McSeveney. Merle Hensel’s costumes continue the black theme with a timeless military feel. The visual imagery is stunning.

There are obviously cuts, but it hasn’t damaged the narrative and it has given it great pace and energy. It’s very film noir, tense and exciting. The witches are an almost continual presence, moving to Lucy Guerin’s edgy choreography. The battle scenes have never been better. There’s something very organic about Carrie Cracknell’s inventive and rather original staging. 

John Heffernan has become a firm favourite of mine and he doesn’t disappoint; I thought it was a fascinating, introspective interpretation with a lot of psychological depth. There are only eleven others in this cast, a lot of whom are first and foremost dancers, and its a great ensemble.

The Young Vic does it again.

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The first Medea I saw was 29 years ago in Japanese in an Edinburgh University courtyard in the open air in the pouring rain with the title role played by a man! Medea’s exit was in one of those hydraulic arms they use to reach the higher floors of buildings. It was an evening I will never forget. This production came to the Olivier stage, where this new modern adaptation is now staged, two years later.

Ben Power’s modern adaptation takes fewer liberties than Mike Bartlett’s 2012 touring version (which I liked, and which featured Rachael Sterling, whose mother Diana Rigg I had seen in the same part twenty years earlier!) and it’s the most credible and chilling version of this 2500 year-old play that I’ve seen. You really do believe this woman could kill four people, including her two sons.

Carrie Cracknell, one of our best new directors, and designer Tom Scutt, set it in a shabby building with French windows leading out to a wood and an upper level where Jason’s wedding to Kreusa takes place behind glass. There’s a large chorus of thirteen women looking spooky in matching frocks, a brilliant soundscape by Goldfrapp and Michaela Coel delivers the prologue and epilogue superbly in complete silence. For once, my front row seat added to the intensity and engagement with the piece.

I’ve always thought Helen McCrory would make a brilliant Lady Macbeth or Medea and she certainly does with the latter. She invests her interpretation with bucket-loads of emotionality, often visibly shaking, eyes welled up, nose running, tears flowing. It’s a stunning performance. Danny Sapani is a commanding Jason, more restrained but able to make the switch from anger to forgiveness completely believable. There’s luxury casting in support, with Dominic Rowan and Martin Turner as the two kings. Clemmie Sveaas’ Kreusa’s demise in a poisoned costume is an extraordinary dance of death.

This is a riveting 90 minutes, perfect for the Olivier stage and an opportunity to see a fine actress give a career defining performance. Unmissable indeed.

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There are lots of parallels between contemporary playwrights Simon Stephens, who wrote this, and Mike Bartlett. Both are prolific, both have given us adaptations as well as original work and both are eclectic. Stephens has been more hit-or-miss for me, but this one is a hit.

Rock star Paul is filling stadiums worldwide and the play starts in Moscow and moves to Berlin, Paris and finally London. We see him become a premiere league monster, exploiting people close to him as well as new ones he meets on tour. He thinks he can buy anything and tries to do so. In Moscow, he makes a play for a married journalist and adds a member of the hotel staff to his entourage. His treatment of band-mate Johnny is particularly heinous, something which results in sweet revenge. He reaches an all time low when he visits Johnny’s deceased girlfriend’s parents. It’s a portrait of a rock star’s descent and the impressionistic staging represents this by black water rising as the decline progresses.

Andrew Scott is mesmerising as Paul. He does mad and manic ever so well, he turns emotion on and off at lightning speed and he really can move. He has fantastic support from Alex Price as Johnny and, in multiple roles, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Charlotte Randle, Yolanda Kettle and a brilliant Daniel Cerqueira who is totally believable as Paul’s dad and his exploitative manager. Designer Ian MacNeil gives us another of his inventive spaces – a platform with a moving arch structure on top, surrounded by what slowly becomes a pool of water. Carrie Cracknell’s expert staging squeezes every ounce of tension, surprise and shock out of the material.

In truth, I think the staging and performances are better than the writing, but it’s a must-see if only for Andrew Scott on blistering form.

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This takes Kat Banyard’s book Equality Illusion as it’s starting point and it’s title is a swipe at Robin Thicke’s sexist, misogynistic song of the same name. I hadn’t read the book or heard the song, but I’m glad I went to see this.

Eight excellent actresses, including Clare Skinner, Ruth Sheen, Sinead Matthews & Byrony Hannah, perform on an unfeasibly steep and high white staircase. They start by listing stereotypical descriptions of woman that you often hear in the media and move on to show typical scenes of sexism, misogyny and objectification of women in film & TV, advertising, fashion, music…..well, in the modern world really. It’s a smorgasbord of scenes and soundbites which add up to a stimulating, challenging and thought-provoking 75 minutes.

You might have expected it to be preachy or heavy, but it’s entertainingly presented, which makes it all the more powerful. There are some lovely moments which use humour to make a point, and others which have you squirming in disgust. I consider myself a feminist, but even I began to question some of my attitudes. It’s a clever way to present the issues and does so with as much attitude as the attitudes it challenges.

The text is by playwright Nick Payne (a man and a feminist), the design (the scale of which surprises you as soon as you enter The Shed) by Bunny Christie and the inventive staging by Carrie Cracknell. It helps to have such a fine cast (who have also shaped the piece). In adition to the four I’ve already mentioned, there’s Susannah Wise, Lorna Brown, Michaela Coel (who adds her poetry) and Marion Bailey, who’s turn as a male theatre director brings the house down whilst underlining the point brilliantly.

It seems to me this is what The Shed set out to do – present something different and challenging – and it succeeds in doing so.

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