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Posts Tagged ‘Claire-Louise Cordwell’

This is a hugely impressive first play by someone with real world experience of its subject matter, and it shows. What I like most about it is that it takes a subject rarely staged and it doesn’t take sides; it presents you with single mum Anne & her son Tommy’s tragic story for you to consider for yourself.

Tommy was born in prison when his pregnant mother was incarcerated at just 15. Now Tommy is 15 and he is in turn incarcerated. In eleven scenes, we see their relationships with each other and with prison officer, young offender’s institute case worker and social worker then and now and examine their respective responsibilities for their fate.

It’s a gripping 90 minutes, in no small part due to the performances, particularly from Claire-Louise Cordwell as Anne (also ever so good in Hampstead Theatre’s revival of Ecstasy three years ago) and outstanding newcomer Jack McMullen as Tommy. With the audience on two sides, there’s a claustrophobic and voyeuristic feel to Robert Hastie’s production which provides both intimacy and tension.

Chris Thompson’s play is objective and it oozes authenticity. It’s not always easy to watch, but it needs to be seen. I’ve been puzzling over why its called Carthage and I’ve decided it’s more likely to be the Irish name meaning ‘loving’ than the ancient Tunisian city! The Finborough at the cutting edge – again.

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I’ve been a critic of the NT’s ability to pick new plays for some time, but based on the first pair in this interesting summer season, the tide might be turning. They’ve created a ‘pop up’ theatre in the paintframe at the back /side of the building with its own bar and a live band pre-show, post-show and during the interval. The benches are a bit uncomfortable and you have to nip next door to the Cottesloe for a pee, but this is their best showcase of new work since they created a theatre box in the Lyttleton circle foyer some time back.

Sam Holcroft has contributed a clever and original play called Edgar & Annabel set in some police state where the opposition is torn between the forthcoming election and more violent opposition. It would be a spoiler to say a lot more. It’s really well structured (though a touch too long) and its performed in a kitchen that looks like it’s in a container that (appropriately) makes you feel as if you’re spying on them. It occasionally surprises you and is often funny, but it’s ultimately rather chilling.

I missed DC Moore’s much lauded The Empire, but based on his contribution here, I won’t be missing his plays in the future. The Swan is set in a London pub immediately before the wake of Michael, whose father, wife and step-daughter are the characters at the heart of the play. The father misses his son’s funeral, the step-daughter leaves it part way through and the wife turns up just before the other guests. Michael has left a trail of lies and deception and the debate centres on who needs to and who should know. The expletive littered naturalistic dialogue sparkles and the character development extraordinary for a short play.  It makes you laugh but you’re also much engaged in the debate. The traverse staging adds an intensity to your involvement. I loved it.

Soutra Gilmour has created two excellent designs and two configurations; its like going to two different theatres. The pub is particularly evocative. In an exceptional cast of 13, Trystan Gravelle captures the political passion of Nick in the first play and Nitin Kundra and Claire-Louise Cordwell a pair of brilliant cameos in the second.

An 8.15pm start and 11pm finish is a bit of a mistake for people with post-theatre journeys and jobs the following morning, but I’m looking forward to the next pairing and very much welcome both the new venue and great new writing.

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Mike Leigh’s work is never cosy and comfortable and this is no exception. He has the knack of lulling you into a false sense of security, laughing at his ever so real characters, before shocking, horrifying and shaming you into sympathy with (most of) them. It’s not a fun night out, but one you can’t help admiring.

Ecstasy takes place in Jean’s bedsit in Kilburn around the time the 70’s become the 80’s. Her friend Dawn is encouraging her to go out and have fun. Unbeknown to her, she’s a lonely alcoholic being abused (again?) by a casual sexual partner. After a short first act, the second is a continuous 100 minutes of post-pub revelry with Dawn and her husband Mick and mutual acquaintance Len. Of course, it all ends in tears.

The main reason for seeing this play is a set of outstanding performances. Stepping into the shoes of original cast members like Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent and Stephen Rea must be tough, but they all make the roles their own. Sian Brooke has the most difficult role and her journey from fear and repressed emotion to moving confession is extraordinary. I thought Sinead Matthews over-acted in The Glass Menagerie at the Young Vic last year, but here she gets the loud grotesque Dawn spot on, with some superb physical acting. If one of those slips of paper that fall out of programmes hadn’t, you would never have known Jack Bennett was the understudy for Len – a terrific performance. It is to Daniel Coonan’s credit that you positively detest Roy, Jean’s abuser. Allen Leech is good as Mick, as is Clare Louise-Cordwell in the small part of Val, Roy’s wife.

Alison Chitty’s cramped bedsit looks lost, even on the Duchess’ small stage, but provides a suitably claustrophobic performance space with excellent period detail. Leigh’s direction is of course masterly.

It is a bit overlong, but in a way that’s why it has such impact when it slaps you in the face – life is full of dull moments before the high’s and low’s turn up. We’re also more used to this kind of gritty realism today, so it’s less shocking and ground-breaking than it no doubt was in 1979 (or when I first saw it in the early 90’s in a revival at the New End in Hampstead).

It’s good to see serious stuff like this make it to the West End and do well. As I said, not an easy ride, but one I’m very glad I took.

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