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Posts Tagged ‘Chloe Lamford’

So the Queen of ‘slow theatre’ has speeded up a bit, but for me she’s still going nowhere. My fifth Annie Baker play is a story about storytelling itself. It may be my last.

We’re sitting around a boardroom table where eight people are beginning a writing project, presumably for film or TV, probably a fantasy. Brian takes the notes. secretary Sarah pops in to check if they need anything and take lunch orders from fancy takeaways. They all look up to the boss, Sandy. There’s a vast quantity of Perrier water stacked up in boxes (product placement?), rather at odds with the likely environmental credentials of such folk. The ice-breakers include candid stories from their personal lives.

Danny M2 departs, unexplained but presumed fired. Sandy leaves to deal with family issues. They stay overnight, Sandy using a pending storm as an excuse to get them to stay. They brainstorm, but struggle to come up with ideas, until Adam downloads a big idea that Brian forgets to record, though it may be too late by now, as we learn when Sandy returns. They are all extremely pretentious and irritating and though it is intermittently funny, it’s often dull.

I think the point is that we may have run out of stories, but I didn’t really care. A fine set by co-director Chloe Lamford (with the playwright, interesting) and some good performances can’t really paint over the cracks in the material, and I’m afraid it all seemed rather pointless to me.

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This 1994 David Greig play was first staged during a previous time of turmoil in Europe, soon after the Berlin Wall came down, East European countries freed themselves from the USSR, which then fragmented, and Yugoslavia broke up, with war in the Balkans. I first saw it twelve years ago when Dundee Rep brought their revival to the Barbican, yet it meant so much more to me today.

It’s set in the railway station and nearby bar of a border town. Two refugees, father and daughter Sava and Katia, rest there on their journey. There are no trains and stationmaster Fret is trying to fathom out why his station appears to have been removed from the timetable. His assistant Adele is busy spotting trains as they pass by. Four local men, one Adele’s husband Berlin, discover their factory is the latest for the chop in these troubled times.

Fret and Sava strike up an unlikely friendship through their mutual love of trains and Adele and Katia enter an even closer relationship and leave town together. One of the four men, Morocco, exploits the border position by trading, which border towns are always good for, and another, Billy, decides to leave to try his luck elsewhere. This leaves Berlin and Horse to vent their anger on those who are left.

Though it is rather bleak, it does make good points about the nature of borders, attitudes to migration and refugees and the scapegoating of them by the disenfranchised, all of which are as relevant, if not more relevant, today as they were during that earlier period of change in Europe. Michael Longhurst’s excellent staging and Chloe Lamford’s design culminate in a stunning coup d’theatre and there are fine performances all around.

A play for today written a quarter of a century ago.

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For the third Arthur Miller play this year we move forward to 1980, to his biggest Broadway flop – just 12 performances after opening night – which six years later, revised, was an NT hit, moving from the Cottesloe to the Olivier. We’re back in the 30’s, continuing his examination of the aftermath of the Great Depression.

We follow the Baum family from 1929 through the loss of their money and home, moving to Brooklyn to live with relatives. Son Lee’s hopes of college disappear. Finding a job is tough. Navigating the welfare system is humiliating. Hopelessness seems to be around every corner. Robertson, a Wall Street professional, who’s prophesied the crash, narrates the story. Miller nicknamed it a Vaudeville after the revised version in Britain added thirties songs.

Director Rachel Chavkin’s big idea is to have three Baum families of different ethnic backgrounds – Jewish, South Asian and African American – sharing the three roles. This is confusing and distracting, particularly as the nine all also play other roles, as does just about everyone, and derails the first part of the play. She’s also made the music more eclectic and added dance, with one of those dance marathons people enter for money running through it. For me, this didn’t really work, and got in the way of the story.

The onstage seating and Chloe Lamford’s design detract too. There are huge trading floor indicator boards on both sides and the stage is elevated which, even from the 5th row of the stalls, seemed to be rather remote, making it hard to engage with the play. There’s a fine ensemble who work very hard, giving it their all, but the effort and passion dissipates because it’s not involving the audience. There’s so much going on that the story gets lost.

I saw the NT production at the Cottesloe and Phil Willmott’s excellent revival at the Finborough in 2012, and both served the play much better. it cries out for a simpler staging in a more intimate space, which the vast Old Vic can be, but isn’t on this occasion. I rarely leave a Miller play disappointed, but I did here.

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Mark Ravenhill’s new play is tackling the issues of power, control and abuse that have become everyday topics since Operation Yew Tree and #metoo, but he’s wisely chosen historical corporal punishment in schools as the vehicle for the debate, something that doesn’t carry the baggage of recent events.

School Deputy Head Edward is in his last week before retirement after 45 years in teaching. He’s under siege at home with his wife Maureen, baying crowds of hundreds outside. His estranged daughter Anna has turned up unexpectedly. We learn that knowledge of his caning of pupils, before it became illegal 30 years ago, has spread and is what’s brought the crowds to his door. The headmaster is due to arrive to discuss his farewell party.

It covers a lot of ground. Anna is a believer in Academy schools, very much a modern educationalist, a contrast with her father’s traditional approach, which makes for an interesting discussion in itself. She appears to have been on the receiving end of abuse as a child, which challenges Edward’s ‘doing his job’ defence. Maureen seems to have turned a blind eye, which may make her complicit. The crowd represents our contemporary mob mentality. Shouldn’t we forget what happened so long ago?

It’s a very interesting and objective debate; I found my sympathies changing more than once. As drama, though, it’s very static. All three performances – Alun Armstrong, Maggie Steed & Nicola Walker – are riveting, but they are too much like talking heads, it feels a bit contrived and its overlong. The one room set, with a ceiling that lowers as Edward becomes trapped, seemed a bit over-engineered to me.

A welcome debate which doesn’t really make an entirely satisfying play.

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Playwright Rory Mullarkey seems to be very skilled at persuading the artistic directors of some of our high profile theatres to stage his work. If only he was as good at turning his interesting ideas into good plays. The Wolf From The Door was put on Upstairs, his adaptation of The Orestia was staged at Shakespeare’s Globe and Saint George & the Dragon found its way onto the Olivier stage at the National; all of them, like this, half-baked. Where are the dramaturges, literary managers and artistic directors when you need them?

An unemployed man kills time in the market square of a provincial town where a department store employee, on her day off, is showing round her her visiting dad. They decide to marry. The town is hit by multiple bombs, gunfire and lightning. This escalates to war between the ‘red’ and the ‘blue’ sides and before you know it it’s gone global. Cue cannibalism, a plague and an earthquake. All in one day. Sadly, the members of the Fulham Brass Band, who had been entertaining us since before it started, had gone home by 8pm.

They’ve thrown a lot of kitchen sinks into the production, and Chloe Lamford’s ‘design’, Anna Watson’s lighting and a lot of music, dancing and special effects add up to something spectacular. Let’s just say you’re unlikely to dose off. It doesn’t stop boredom though, and doesn’t paper over the lack of a coherent narrative. It feels like a whole load of ideas have thrown up on the Royal Court stage to create an anarchic mess. I thought it was dull. The nine performers, technical team and stage management work really hard.

I couldn’t help thinking how many budding playwrights are being kept of our high profile stages by something that frankly doesn’t deserve to be on them. The title seems to encapsulate it. Yet another disappointing evening at the Royal Court.

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It’s 40 years since punk, and the film on which this is based. Johnny Rotten’s now advertising butter and Vivienne Westwood’s a Dame making posh frocks. Toyah Wilcox is the one link between the film and stage adaptation, and she’s been promoted to Queen Elizabeth I. They haven’t kept it in its period, it’s now. It’s as much of a mess as the film (Jarman’s view just 11 years later) but there is something compelling about the theatricality of Chris Goode’s adaptation and I wasn’t bored, but don’t expect an explanation.

It appears to link the two Elizabethan times. Elizabeth I, accompanied by her court astrologer John Dee and Shakespeare’s Ariel is peering in on the present Elizabethan time, populated by a cross-dressing ‘historian’, a lesbian pyromaniac, two brothers who are also lovers and spend most of the evening naked, a performance artist, an exploitative impresario, a budding rap singer and others. It sets out to shock, but ironically doesn’t shock as much today. There’s sex, violence and dancing, but ‘historian’ Amyl Nitrate’s monologues are some of the best bits.

They’ve put temporary (and much more uncomfortable) seating on top of the stalls and on both sides of the stage to create a more in-yer-face environment. Chloe Lamford’s design looks like she’s recycled some of her Royal Court Grimly Handsome work. An appropriately anarchic feel pervades Goode’s production and Toyah as Queen Bess gets to sing her hit I Wanna Be Free at the end. It’s a very brave cast, who seem to rather enjoy being right in the middle of the mess.

Intriguing, sometimes fascinating, occasionally riveting, intermittently funny, but overall I was an uninvolved onlooker / voyeur and rather indifferent to it, and at 2.5 hours, for too long and uncomfortable.

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American playwright Annie Baker seems to have invented her own genre – ‘slow theatre’, as it’s being called. This isn’t as successful as The Flick (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2016/04/19/the-flick), in the same theatre two years ago, as it doesn’t sustain its length as well, but I think its still worth catching – though not everyone does slow, it seems.

It’s set in a B&B run by a lady called Mertis in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Her husband apparently also lives there, but we don’t meet him. Visitors Elias and Jenny have broken a journey there to explore the area’s historical significance. Their relationship is troubled. The only other character is Mertis’ friend Genevieve who pays a couple of visits. She is blind and obsessed by her dead husband’s ongoing presence. The fifth character is the design – Chloe Lamford, with lighting by Peter Mumford and sound by Christopher Shutt – which sometimes performs.

It plays out, slowly, over 3 hours 20 mins, with a forensic attention to detail. It’s intriguing, sometimes funny, but mostly just mysterious. You feel as if you’re peering into the sitting / dining area and hall, which we’re invited into when Mertis pulls back the curtains at the beginning of each act. When characters go upstairs, to the bedrooms named after historical figures, you still hear them talking and moving. Mertis has a lot of stuff, particularly dolls, which are absolutely everywhere. There’s a Christmas tree, so we assume its seasonally appropriate. Elias & Jenny’s relationship, Genevieve’s ‘possession’ and Mertis’ home interweave as the three strands unfold.

There’s a lot to like in the design and performances, but not enough happens at too slow a pace in James Macdonald’s staging. Annie Baker is an original writer, but I do hope she doesn’t trap herself in this slow theatre mode.

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