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Posts Tagged ‘Clint Dyer’

No other art form could tell this story so well. It would have nowhere near the same impact on screen, big or small, or on the page. Clint Dyer & Roy Williams’ one-man monologue takes you hostage at close quarters, and Rafe Spall inhabits his character Michael in a towering performance of energy, passion and playfulness.

Michael is a lovable Londoner. He loves his mum, but worships his dad, who has a flower stall in the market. He’s a bit contemptuous of his sister. His best friend Delroy is black. Football is his game and the family team are Leyton Orient – and England, obviously. These are open, warm-hearted people, salt of the earth. We see the best of them. Then they are confronted by a political choice and a resurgent England head for the World Cup and for some patriotism becomes nationalism and racism and we see the worst of them.

Rafe Spall prowls the cross-shaped platforms, with almost every member of the audience in touching distance, making eye contact with virtually all of them. There’s no set as such, but the design team cleverly integrate the enclosed space with lighting and sound, with objects left all over the auditorium that Michael uses to illustrate his story. His character engages with us, banters, cheekily. It’s funny and charming, until Michael has a meltdown at a funeral when it becomes angry and passionate and incredibly powerful. These people have been used by other more powerful people, which has made some of them ugly.

I’ve long admired Roy Williams’ writing and here, with co-writer Clint Dyer, his ear for natural dialogue shines once more. Dyer directs too, and his visceral staging, and Spall’s extraordinary performance, create this testosterone-fuelled world, bringing alive the unseen characters and propelling the personal story and its socio-political parallels. I was enthralled and captivated for 100 minutes.

It was a co-incidence that I had returned to see Mike Bartlett’s Albion the night before and I was struck by how much they seemed like companion pieces. Michael and Albion’s Audrey couldn’t be more different, but they are affected and infected by the same thing. Two state of the nation plays, poles apart but resonating in the same world. Theatre doing what it does best, putting up a mirror to help us see and understand the world in which we live.

Absolutely unmissable.

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This August Wilson play, based on a real-life character – the so-called mother of blues – was his first big success in 1984, getting its first London production five years later in the Cottesloe Theatre. It became the first of his 10-play cycle covering the black American experience (each in a different decade of the 20th century) to be staged, though two are set before it. This very welcome revival is in the much bigger Lyttelton next door.

The whole play takes place in a Chicago recording studio in the 1920’s. Ma Rainey’s a bit of a diva who turns up an hour late for the recording session insisting that her stuttering nephew sings the intro to the title song using a different arrangement, that songs are changed, that her car (damaged en route) is repaired and returned to the studio and that coca cola is fetched from the deli before she starts. The band attempt to rehearse while they are waiting, but horn player Levee’s heart isn’t in it; he’s more concerned with his ambition and his new shoes.

The rest of the play moves between the band room and the studio, with Ma’s manager and the record producer regularly leaving the elevated control room, usually to argue with or placate Ma. Her daughter, the delightfully named Dussie Mae, flirts with Levee – well, more than flirts! The band banter and fight, and occasionally relate a real experience of horrific racist abuse and violence which is particularly chilling contained within the lighter tone. You’d expect the play to revolve around its title character, but in fact it’s heart is in the band room scenes, with their stories and relationships, which take a dramatic turn at the end.

It’s more of a ‘slice of life’ than a linear plotted play, but it achieves its purpose of taking us to a 20’s black American world. It’s a touch slow and low-energy in the slightly longer first half, but its still in preview so it may tighten. The Lyttelton is a much less intimate space than the Cottesloe, but Dominic Cooke’s production and Ultz design work well, with the long narrow band room rising stage front and the control room like an elevated container, both linked by a metal spiral staircase. 

At first I thought the band’s actors – an unrecognisable Clint Dyer on trombone, Giles Terera on bass, horn player O-T Fagbenle and Lucian Msamati on piano – were playing live, but I came to the conclusion the music was recorded, which is a great compliment to both their miming and Paul Arditti’s sound design. It’s a great cast, led by the incomparable Sharon D Clarke, who commands the stage and everyone on it when she is. Fagbenle is a very edgy and passionate Levee and Msamati is superb as Toledo, a role unlike any I’ve seen him play before.

I have to confess my memories of the 1989 production are feint, but its great to see it again and the audience reception was very positive indeed.

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I didn’t book for this play as I don’t like boxing. Fortunately, I realised soon enough that it was about much more than boxing. Inspired by the life of black American boxer Jack Johnson in the early 20th century, it’s a gripping, intense drama with five stunning performances in a production that oozes authenticity.

Our fictional boxer Jay is black heavyweight world champion at a time of segregation. He tours the US with his trainer Wynton and white boxing promoter Max, fighting other back boxers, one of which – Fish – becomes his sparring partner. Max sets up the unthinkable – a match with the white world heavyweight champion – though he has to give away virtually all the prize money, whatever the outcome. Jay’s big sister Nina turns up and we learn the origin of his motivation and the frightening potential consequences of the battle. Jay could be about to dramatically change society, but he’s also putting many lives at risk.

This is played out in a boxing ring (without ropes) without a single blow landed but with an intensity that has you on the edge of your seat throughout. Madani Younis’ direction is masterly, with movement that is both elegant and dramatic. James Whiteside’s lighting adding much to the atmosphere. Nicholas Pinnock is extraordinary as Jay, physically imposingly with genuine charisma, with Gershwyn Eustache Jnr brilliant as the younger boxer Fish, like a more naive younger version of Jay. Clint Dyer is wonderful as the loyal, supportive trainer and Ewan Stewart is excellent as Max, whose motivation is more ambiguous. We don’t see Nina for some time, but she becomes pivotal to the story and Frances Ashman’s deeply moving performance is simply superb.

Everything about this evening is crafted to perfection. It’s a play that will certainly be in the year’s ‘Best Of’ lists and one you absolutely must catch. Let’s hope it can be seen by more people by extension, transfer or filming, but don’t wait for that – if there are tickets left, grab them now!

 

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I’m not sure I’ve ever been so out-of-synch with an audience. This drama is set in Jamaica amongst violent gangs and corrupt coppers. The dialogue is local patois with surtitles on two TV screens in the boxes (which were necessary and helpful but still so fast you didn’t catch everything). There were a lot of laughs, but to me nowhere near as many as much of the largely Afro-Caribbean audience found. When it was tragic, sad, cruel, moving, poignant……they laughed. Surreal.

Roy Williams play centres on gang leader Joker, arrested for a murder being investigated by a British policeman of Jamaican origin sent out to help. The local police operates very differently to what he’s used to ‘at home’ with more overt corruption. Joker gets his men to abduct two policemen to trade for his release. The British cop is amazed and horrified when it is clear the local police plan to co-operate to free their men. Further revelations reveal everyone from the most junior officer to the Superintendent is in some way corrupt.

Williams plays have breadth and depth, so in addition to a gripping thriller, we get a cop with a gay son, a culture clash between the Jamaicans and the Brit of Jamaican origin and reflections on colonialism and events post-independence. If you can penetrate the dense patois (and it’s often a real struggle) it’s rich in narrative and characterisation. There’s a lot more going on here than most plays and it’s hard to take it all in.

Ultz has designed an authentic police station with Joker present in his second-tier cell throughout proceedings in the station itself. Clint Dyer’s staging is fast-paced and very physical with a real sense of danger in the air. The performances are uniformly excellent. For a singer, Goldie makes a great actor. Charles Venn and Ashley Chin are terrific as the younger cops obsessed with the movies and on the make. Trevor Laird (who also doubles up as a petty criminal) and Brian Bovell are excellent as the older, wiser policemen. Against all of this, Derek Elroy has to play fish-out-of-water James and he does so very well.

It took a while for me to get into this, and I felt like a bit of a fish out of water myself, like my namesake character James, but it drew me in and provided gripping drama, something original and something you’d probably only ever see at TRSE. Gone now, but certainly not forgotten.

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