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Posts Tagged ‘Ciaran Hinds’

This play with music places songs by Bob Dylan into a story set in his home town in 1934, seven years before he was born. The title comes from Dylan’s version of Scarborough Fair, but here the north country is Duluth, Minnesota and 1934 was in the middle of the Great Depression. It’s bleak and beautiful.

Nick runs a boarding house, up to his eyeballs in debt. His wife Elizabeth has dementia, his son Gene is an unemployed wannabe writer with a drink problem and his adopted daughter Marianne (a black baby abandoned at the boarding house) is pregnant. All of his guests are down on their luck. Widow Mrs Neilson is waiting for her inheritance, having an affair with Nick while she waits. Mr & Mrs Burke are waiting for money they’re owed; they have an adult son Elias with severe learning difficulties. Bible seller Rev Marlowe and boxer Joe Scott turn up late one night. They might not be who they say they are. Joe takes a shine to Marianne, though Nick has other plans for her. Then there’s the doctor, who acts as our narrator.

It’s great storytelling, as we’ve come to expect from Conor McPherson, and somehow the songs, written 30 to 60 years later, fit the time, place and characters like a glove, though they aren’t sung in character or even by one character; they’re not there to propel the narrative, more for atmosphere. McPherson directs too, and for a playwright he makes a mighty fine director, unusual in my experience! The arrangements and orchestrations by Simon Hale have a period feel and they are are beautiful, breathing new life into the songs. The band wrap around the outstanding vocals, always accompanying, never drowning. The staging, and Rae Smith’s design, reminded me of the musical Once – simple but atmospheric, particularly the photographic panels that come and go.

I’m not sure where to start with the performances; it is such a superb ensemble, benefiting I think for limited musical theatre experience and bad habits! Perhaps I should start with Karl Queensborough, an understudy playing Joe, who really was excellent. Ciaran Hinds has great presence as Nick and towers over diminutive Shirley Henderson as his wife, who is unpredictable and edgy and has the most sensational voice which I’m not sure has ever been heard on stage before. Sam Reid is great too as Gene, delivering I Want You so well a woman in the front stalls said out loud a perhaps unintended ‘wonderful’. Sheila Atim, also in fine voice, is ever so good as Marianne and Stanley Townsend, Bronagh Gallagher and Jack Shalloo give a fine trio of performances as the Burkes. Probably the most experienced musical theatre performer, the great Debbie Kurup, delivers Dylan’s songs beautifully.

Some may call it a musical, some the now derogatory term juke-box musical, for me its a play with music and its it’s own thing, something unique, and I loved it.

 

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For what its worth, these are my thoughts to add to the trillion column inches this production has already generated……

I’ve never left the theatre feeling quite so relieved. Not because of the play, but because the whole bloody Sonia Friedman Hamlet Experience was at last over. From the ticket mania (where Barbican members like me played second fiddle to ATG & Friedman followers), through the thirteen months of hype to the (p)reviews, press reports of poor audience behaviour, patronising Barbican emails telling me to bring photo ID and behave myself (I’m a 60-something who goes to the theatre 3 or 4 times a week for gods sake), to the ‘Hamlet Shop’ and its £8.50 programmes and the post-interval policing by ushers trying to be assertive but too meek to pull it off, this was never going to be a normal ‘buy ticket-wait-ignore reviews-turn up-make up your own mind’ theatre experience. I actually feel sorry for Benedict Cumberbatch trying to do his job in the middle of all this, and oh how I hate what Sonia Friedman is doing to London theatre.

Es Devlin must have been given a humongous design budget. Elsinore is amazing, but with dubious sight lines making my £65 view restricted! In the second half it’s invaded by ‘stuff’ but I’m not sure why. Still, with costumes by Katrina Lindsay, it looks spectacular. In addition to a very good performance from the man in the goldfish bowl, there are fine performances from Anastasia Hille as Gertrude, Ciaran Hinds as Claudius and Karl Johnson as the ghost; in fact, it’s a fine ensemble and, to his credit, Benedict Cumberbatch plays it like the good company man he’s always been. Lyndsay Turner has some original ideas, most of which worked and none of them offended me (that line has by now returned to its proper place). I particularly liked her take on Hamlet’s madness, a touch madcap and manic. The audience was amongst the quietest, most attentive I’ve ever sat in. The problem with it for me is that I didn’t engage with it emotionally at all. That may be my mood, missing curtain up for the first time in an age courtesy of the Northern Line, or the cumulative effect of the hype (I hadn’t been looking forward to it as much as I should have) but it’s at least in part the production, which wants to be big in every sense, at the expense of psychological depth and emotion.

It’s a pity he didn’t make his return to the stage at the NT, Donmar or Almeida, like many of his fellow ‘star’ actors. Fewer people would have seen him, but he and the audience would have had a truer theatrical experience. C’est la vie. At least (for me) it’s over!

 

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When the curtain opens at the Lyttleton (yes, a curtain – that’s a novelty these days) you’re a bit baffled. We’re in what appears to be a squat in an abandoned stately home, yet the play takes place in a Dublin tenement. This is partly explained in a programme essay, but the crux of it is that it robs the play of the intensity of tenement life, even though it is a brilliant design by Bob Crowley.

The problem with the play is its unevenness. The first half is a domestic (black) comedy with not much more than a hint at what’s happening outside (civil war!), played for laughs in Howard Davies’ production, dangerously close to cartoonish. O’Casey leaves much of the story and most of the context to the (shorter) second half which for me is the fundamental flaw. A bit like The Veil, which is currently sharing this theatre (with a design that could be the same stately home before it was abandoned), he could have made so much more of what’s going on outside in a crucial point in Ireland’s history (or at the time he wrote it, current affairs). 

We’re with the Boyle family – father Jack, an old sea dog, is a work shy drunkard; son Johnny is involved with a pre-cursor of the IRA and has lost an arm as a result and daughter Mary has left boyfriend Jerry behind and taken up with Charles (more prospects) Bentham. The family is held together by mother Juno, a feisty matriarch who is both breadwinner and homemaker. Jack’s drinking mate Joxer, who’s cynically taking advantage, is omnipresent – when Juno lets him. They get news of an inheritance and start spending the money before they’ve got it. In the second half, it all unravels. The inheritance never comes through and everything is repossessed, Mary gets pregnant and the IRA come for Johnny who has allegations to answer. 

The real reason for seeing this revival is a set of performances it would be hard to match on any stage. This is the best performance I’ve seen Sinead Cusack give. She beautifully balances the love of her family with the assertiveness needed to keep them together. Ciaran Hinds inhabits Jack, his main concern almost always his next drink, yet naive to Joxer’s exploitation. Risteard Cooper’s Joxer is a brilliant creation, going through life as a chancer and parasite, but with a charm and a swagger. Clare Dunne and Ronan Raftery do well as Mary and Johnny and there’s a fine supporting cast.

It’s an uneven evening, but well worth the visit for the performances alone.

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