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Posts Tagged ‘Charles Aitkin’

I’m fond of Shakespeare’s Roman plays, so the RSC’s four-play season is very welcome, but it took me a while to warm to this opening production, the first part of which seemed strangely unanimated and perfunctory.

The titular character is a war hero and leader, but he can’t hide his contempt for ordinary people who, stirred up by a couple of politicians, banish him. His revenge is to join his former enemy and invade Rome, until his mother persuades him otherwise, which leads to his new comrades turning against him. There’s something very resonant about it in current times!

The crowd scenes and tribunal scenes of the first, rather dull, part lack passion, but later scenes, like Coriolanus’ offering himself to the enemy, his mother’s pleading and the final scene are particularly well staged. The design has something to do with my early disappointment – I groaned when I walked in to see a forklift truck and fully loaded pallets and I tired of brick walls, metal roller doors and greyness.

Sope Dirisu, who I admired as Casius Clay in One Night in Miami at the Donmar last year, is an excellent Coriolanus and Haydn Gwynne is superb as his mother, Volumnia. I thought the casting of Martina Laird and Jackie Morrison as the tribunes worked well and there’s fine work from Paul Jesson as Menenius, Charles Aitkin as Cominius and James Corrigan as Aufidius.

If only the first part packed more of a punch and the design served the play better.

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Timothy Sheader made a brave decision when he introduced 20th century classics to the Open Air Theatre, but boy has it paid off. The Crucible led the way, Lord of the Flies & To Kill a Mockingbird confirmed his wisdom and now All My Sons proves conclusively that this space can be great for modern drama as well as Shakespeare and musicals. Set over one day, the onset of natural darkness co-incides with the heightening of the drama – and for once planes flying overhead have some connection with what’s happening onstage!

Arthur Miller’s play is based on a true story and is influenced by both Greek tragedy and Ibsen’s The Wild Duck. It centres on the post-war all-American suburbia of the Keller family. Son Larry went missing in action towards the end of the war and son Chris now works with his dad Joe in the family engineering firm. Joe’s former business partner Steve is in prison for allowing faulty aircraft parts to be supplied to the US Air Force, resulting in more than twenty deaths. Some, including neighbour Sue, believe he’s the fall guy for Joe who is really to blame. Mom Kate is convinced Larry is still alive 3.5 years on, egged on my neighbour Frank’s horoscopes. Chris wants to marry Larry’s sweetheart Ann, Steve’s daughter. Then Anne’s brother George arrives and the truth is revealed, propelling the drama to its tragic conclusion.

This was only Miller’s second (produced) play and the first of four classics over a ten year period from 1946 to 1955.There isn’t a wasted moment or unnecessary line and every character has a purpose. In Sheader’s fine production, the first act lulls you into a false sense of security which heightens the tension of the second act before bringing a passionate emotionality to the third. I wasn’t sure about Lizzie Clachan’s billboard house at first, but it grew on me. Brid Brennan is magnificent as Kate and Tom Mannion plays Joe ‘s transition from denial to confession brilliantly. Charles Aitkin is excellent as Chris, as is Amy Nuttall as Ann and there ‘s a fine supporting cast.

Because of the weather, it took two attempts before I saw this, but I’m glad I persisted. It’s a lot better than the (paid) critics would have you believe; a fine revival indeed.

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