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Posts Tagged ‘Clare Higgins’

Another timely theatrical outing – this time a coruscating satire on the gutter press days after they (and the broadsheets too) have yet again interfered in the democratic process. It’s Mark Jagasia’s first play, but he’s spent years working for the institutions he satirises.

The Clarion is a very old tabloid newspaper now owned by a Cypriot businessman whose editor Morris has done his biding and turned it into a one-issue rag leading daily on dubious and preposterous immigration stories. Old school News Editor Albert and old school journalist Verity try to retain the values they were brought up with. Much younger journo Joshua is forced into finding the stories to feed the front page. ‘Work experience’ Pritti wants a permanent job, preferably connected with celebrities. A rogue astrologer and some whistle-blowing threaten its existence.

It’s the dialogue rather than the play’s storyline that’s its main strength; it’s sharp and laugh-out-loud funny, delivered by a cast who make every word crackle and pop. I’m used to Clare Higgins beaming smiles at curtain call – a woman in love with her job – but here they shone even brighter; she’s clearly having a ball and is perfectly cast as hard-nosed but principled Verity. Greg Hicks has created a real monster and was absolutely on fire, relishing every withering put-down. Jim Bywater is so very believable as the News Editor who just wants to get on with his job.

There are too few satires on the press (if theatre doesn’t do the job, who will?) but we’ve been lucky to have both Great Britain and this within twelve months. The packed matinee house of people of a certain age absolutely loved it. More please.

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I wasn’t planning on seeing this, but it’s got Clare Higgins in it and I have no willpower, so off to the Old Vic in-the-round we go. It’s their second season reconfigured and it really is a much better space, but the play proves a bit static.

Set on Christmas Eve in Palm Springs a few years after 9/11, the Wyeth family – mother, father, son, daughter and sister / sister-in-law / aunt – have assembled for the festive season. Lyman is a retired actor turned republican politician and his wife Polly a friend of Nancy Reagan. Son Trip – a TV producer – and daughter Brooke – a writer – vere to the left. Polly’s sister Silda is out of rehab, again. This game of happy families is upset when Brooke reveals the biographical nature of her next book, which triggers a real life game of truth or lie.

Jon Robin Baitz’s play examines post-9/11 American politics and sensibilities through this one family’s recent history. It’s a perfectly believable scenario and the story and writing is good, but I didn’t really like any of the self-obsessed characters and didn’t warm to the play. I admired Lindsay Posner’s staging, though, and the performances are all good. Dame Clare does her best with an underwritten role, Sinead Cusack is initially unrecognisable as Polly, all big hair and power dressing, and Peter Egan looks ever inch the actor-poitician. Daniel Lapaine and Martha Plimpton feel like real siblings; Plimpton’s role carries the play and she’s very impressive.

Though I’m glad I saw it, I’m not sure it’s worthy of such a high profile West End production. If I’d seen it Off-West End or on the fringe, I think my expectations would have been better met. The Old Vic doesn’t have a good track record with new plays, so I’m looking forward to the next pair of revivals in this great reinvented space.

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I’m fond of Shakespeare but not that fond of Hamlet. It always seems overlong and ponderous and I find it hard to believe in or be moved by it. Give me a more cracking yarn like Richard III any time. Yet somehow, its hard to resist re-visiting it – maybe to find what I haven’t yet found or maybe to see how an actor rises to the challenge of that pinnacle for a leading man.

My first one was Roger Rees and my second Kenneth Branagh; both deeply introverted and neither RSC productions really did it for me. Then there was highly strung Daniel Day-Lewis on the same stage (before he had his breakdown, withdrew and was replaced by a dying Ian Charlston) and cool Adrian Lester at the Young Vic. A couple of adventures followed with Ingmar Bergman’s Swedish Hamlet and Ninagawa’s Japanese Hamlet. After a long break, I started again as I couldn’t resist Jude Law or David Tennent, both of whom turned in very good interpretations but neither production was totally satisfying. I regret not giving Simon Russell Beale and Ben Wilshaw a crack.

One of the pleasures of going to the National in recent years has been to see the range and growth of Rory Kinnear, but I thought it might be too soon for him to tackle Hamlet. Well, I was certainly wrong there, as it was the most interesting, intelligent and real Hamlet of them all – I actually cared about what this man was going through for probably the first time.

What helps is a production which creates a believable timeless police state where everyone is watching everyone else. This brings a plausibility to the story and adds an excitement which propels the play along. What also helps is a faultless supporting cast. Patrick Malahide is such a good Claudius that I became tense every time he came on stage. Dame Clare Higgins creates a highly original stilletto-heeled shallow gullible monster, drink almost always in hand. You could really believe in and were touched by Ruth Negga’s journey as Ophelia. The production didn’t seem at all imbalanced by understudy James Pearse standing in for David Calder as Polonius.

I’ve liked Nicholas Hytner’s other Olivier Shakespeares – Henry IV parts 1 & 2 and Henry V – but I liked this most of all. Vicky Mortimer’s design is important in creating this believable world and facilitates the pace, energy and excitement. I also liked the use of sound to create atmosphere.

So, the most satisfying Hamlet so far and one that will no doubt encourage me to continue exploring the play – somehow, I doubt I will be able to resist Michael Sheen at the Young Vic next year!

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