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Posts Tagged ‘Claire Lams’

I’m fond of a bit of Marivaux, though there’s been a bit of a famine of late. This early 18th century French playwright wasn’t as highly regarded as the more earnest Racine or the more grandly comedic Moliere in his day, but contemporary British audiences have rather taken to his perfectly formed minimalist romantic comedies, and there were some 37 of them over 50 years (I’ve only seen four!). This one was last seen (I think) at the NT 24 years ago, titled The Game of Love & Chance, a translation by Neil Bartlett, who was partly responsible for rekindling interest in Marivaux. This is a translation by the late John Fowles, set in Jane Austen’s Regency England, workshopped by the NT nine years before that, but not staged until now.

It’s a simple but intricate plot. The father’s of Sylvia and Richard have arranged for them to meet in the hope they will become a match, but it’s not an arranged marriage. With her father’s agreement, Sylvia decides to swap roles with her maid Louisa so that she can observe Richard’s character, but unbeknown to her, Richard has decided to do the same with his manservant Brass. Sylvia’s father knows of Richard’s plan as his dad wrote and informed him, and her brother Martin is now in the know too. It unfolds like a dance of love over ninety minutes until we have not one, but two, happy couples. It’s got bags of charm and there isn’t a wasted moment.

Paul Miller’s in the round production has great pace, with no props to slow down scene changes. Simon Daw’s simple but elegant design comprises a lamp and flower ceiling feature, an illuminated floor and sky painted canvases on each side. All six performances are excellent, with Ashley Zhangazha & Dorothea Myer-Bennett as Richard and Sylvia and Claire Lams & Keir Charles as Louisa and Brass. It never outstays its welcome and you leave the theatre with a warm glow.

Lovely to see Marivaux again. Lets hope it starts another reawakening of interest.

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Playwright Richard Bean was late to his eventual career, of which he is now pre-eminent, starting at 40. He’s made up for it since, writing 23 plays including two adaptations and one musical in twenty years. One of the features of his output is the diversity of subject and style. Another feature is its quality. No. 23 is unlike any of the others, a finely polished little gem.

It’s set soon after the First World War. A man arrives at the lodgings of a war widow. He’s been sent by a doctor because she wants a baby. It’s something he does for women like her, plus the wives of the war wounded. He wasn’t in the war. They exchange pleasantries, but they aren’t allowed to know their real names, or anything about each other, under the parameters established by the doctor. In the end she can’t go through with it. They part but something is left behind which enables her to find him, and another sort of relationship starts. 

It’s easy to see why, despite his drawing power, it’s in Hampstead Theatre Downstairs; it needs its intimacy. With the audience facing each other on two sides, it takes place on and around a solitary bed in a small space. It’s beautifully written, with a depth of characterisation that’s astonishing given its 70 minute length. It often surprises you and there’s a gentle, warm humour in keeping with the subject matter. He says some nice things about the Welsh too, but that didn’t influence me!

Anna Ledwich’s direction is very sensitive to the material, and to the audience too, given the traverse staging. Both Claire Lams and Ben Lloyd-Hughes are a delight, managing to convey the repression of the period but the intimacy of their relationship.

A much shorter theatrical feast than iHo upstairs, but a feast nonetheless.

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Well, all the hype and rave reviews are true, then – there hasn’t been so much laughter at the National since Jeremy Sams revival of Noises Off ten yours ago.

I can’t help making comparisons with restoration comedy The School for Scandal currently at the Barbican and French farce A Flea In Her Ear recently at the Old Vic, both of which were seriously unfunny. Perhaps director Nicholas Hytner is lucky that the original is in Italian so that he could commission an adaptation, whereas Deborah Warner and Richard Eyre respectively had to work with the original words on the page. The success owes as much to the adaptation as it does to the first class production and terrific ensemble. The very prolific Richard Bean (three crackers now in the last year alone) has been faithful to the spirit of Commedia dell’Arte whilst moving the action to 1960’s Brighton and produced something with snap, crackle and fizz whilst Sheridan’s restoration comedy has been de-laughed by the production and Feydeau’s farce was so faithfully re-produced and you felt like you were in a museum.

When you enter, there’s superbly played 60’s style pop from a four-piece band in full flow (music – Grant Olding) in front of a gaudy proscenium. The band return to keep us entertained between each scene change and before the second half and during the second half feature a series of brilliant cameo performances from cast members. The design is deliberately period production values with flats that wobble and fabric walls that shimmer. These are brilliant ideas that contribute much to the success of the evening.

Goldini’s plot revolves around a ‘minder’ who ends up with, well, two guvnors which gives us all we need for a cocktail of panto, carry on, slapstick & farce with a nostalgic feel but a contemporary freshness. Bean’s dialogue sparkles with wit and cheekiness with a lot of running jokes, the return of which seem like old friends as the evening progresses. The comic timing of the cast is simply stunning; they squeeze every ounce of laughter from these lines plus lots more that aren’t in the lines at all.

James Corden is excellent in the central role, but it’s far from just his show. There is so much other wonderful comic acting, it’s difficult to single anyone out – but I will! Oliver Chris’ creation of the toff is simply delicious, Daniel Rigby’s actorly actor is a hoot, Claire Lams turns playing dumb into an art form and Tom Edden’s 87-year old waiter is a masterclass in physical comedy. Playing (relatively) straight against these must be tough but I loved Fred Ridgeway’s deadpan Charlie, Trevor Laird’s lovable Lloyd Boateng(!) and Suzie Toase as prophetic feminist Dolly.

There are asides to the audience and even audience participation, but these don’t come over as gimmicks as much of Deborah Warner’s touches did for A School for Scandal; they seem absolutely right for the play and the adaptation. You do miss some of the lines and some of the funny business because of the amount of laughter and the amount going on, which seems like a very good reason to go and see it again! A triumph.

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