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Posts Tagged ‘Clive Francis’

I haven’t read any books by Patrick Hamilton, whose novel this is based on, though I have seen his plays Gaslight and Rope, plus some TV and film adaptations of his work. Nicholas Wright has adapted this late novel for the stage and I found it a bit of an odd concoction.

Set in a boarding house in Berkshire during the Second World War, the residents are mostly long-term, some forced to find alternative accomodation to their bombed London homes. It’s mostly retired folk, but thirty-something Miss Roach, who works for a publisher, is amongst them. She frequents the local pub, where she meets a black American GI, Lieutenant Pike, and a German doctor’s clerk, Vicki Kugelman. The latter ends up moving into the boarding house, which the Lieutenant visits to take dinner with Miss Roach.

There’s a lot of alcohol involved and the triangular relationship of Roach, Pike and Kugelmann becomes a bit of a roller-coaster. After a tragic incident, all three go their separate ways, leaving the boarding house, two ending up not too happily reunited in London. There are a lot of scenes, which I felt were detrimental to both characters development and flow, and some of the behaviour on display seemed incongruous. The biggest flaw for me was the ending, leaving you hanging in mid-air, though it is what the title says – they are slaves to solitude.

It’s hard to fault the production, though on the last day of previews there were still a few glitches to iron out. The scene changes are themselves excellent, transforming from boarding house to pub and back quickly and seamlessly, though the change to the one outdoor scene worked less well for those of us in the front stalls. There are some lovely performances, with the romantic trio, played by Fenella Woolgar, Daon Broni and Lucy Cohu, all excellent. Clive Francis’ cameo as the somewhat lecherous mysoginist racist Thwaites is a delight (!), and there are smaller but important contributions from Richard Tate and Tom Milligan.

I left the theatre not fully satisfied, concluding that it perhaps wasn’t really worth adapting. Mind you, it did come at the end of a week which included three crackers – Albion, Young Marx and Beginning.

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I am astonished that this is the UK premiere of this third Lorraine Hansbury play, unfinished when she died prematurely of cancer at 34, completed by her ex-husband, Robert Nemiroff, soon afterwards. It seems to me a masterpiece of 20th century American drama, but somehow we’ve had to wait forty years to find out – though part of me is pleased it’s waited for Yael Farber to give it such an extraordinary production.

Set in an unnamed African country, it moves between the home and hospital set up by Scandinavian missionaries and the village of the Matoseh family. Tshwmbe Matoseh has been living in Europe and visiting the US, lobbying for his country’s independence. He’s married a European and had a child with her. He returns to visit his sick father but he’s too late, except for the funeral. His brother Abioseh has stayed at home and, influenced by the missionaries, is about to become a priest, ‘one of them’. Their mixed race half-brother Eric is badly damaged by the consequences of his parentage in this society.

The colonial power is represented by Major Rice, who is trying to deal with an uprising which is escalating daily. The missionary minister is away, but his blind aged wife is at home with doctors from the hospital and a visiting American journalist, who observes and comments on events. The whites call the freedom fighters terrorists and are shocked when they learn some are in their own adopted communities.

The play looks at the situation from all angles as well as drawing parallels with civil rights in the US at the same time, in electrifying scenes between Danny Sapani as Tshembe Matoshe and Elliott Cowan as journalist Charlie Morris, two wonderfully passionate performances. In addition to commenting on colonialism, it looks at the differing attitudes of the indigenous people and the motivation of settlers, missionaries and medical staff – they appear well-meaning but they are not universally welcome, and being in the front line bear the brunt of the revolutionary anger, however benevolent and defenceless.

Yael Farber’s epic staging makes great use of the Olivier stage, often bathed in the beautiful bright light of Africa by Tim Lutkin. Soutra Gilmour’s simple impressionistic mission hospital building revolves on a sand covered stage, moving us to different parts, with the unadorned tribal home laid out stage front. A gentle soundscape by Adam Cork, wonderful music from a quartet of African Matriarchs and a silent semi-naked woman who seems omnipresent, moving slowly across the stage, all combine to create an evocative African atmosphere.

In addition to Sapani and Cowan, there is a superb, dignified performance from Sian Phillips – wonderful to see her continue to do such great work at this stage of her career. Clive Francis’ sends a shiver up your spine with a brilliant characterisation of The Major. I’ve seen Gary Beadle before, but here he’s a revelation, and unrecognisable, as Abioseh. Tunji Kasim beautifully captures the complexity of Eric, whose dead mother was very close to Madame Neilsen and whose father is shockingly revealed to us towards the end. It’s a terrific ensemble.

Like Mies Julie and The Crucible before, Yael Farber has again produced an enthralling, captivating and deeply moving production which burns an impression on you which I suspect will last a long long time. It must be seen!

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I was traumatised before the play started. Jane Asher is old enough to play a seventy-something, her stage son is Alexander Hanson and her real daughter plays her 39-year old stage daughter. Once I’d recovered, I had one of the finest times at a new play in a long time.

After a short preface in 1964, the piece moves to Easter weekend in 1997 at the Pennington home. The family has gathered for William’s 75th birthday. He’s a recently retired judge, recently diagnosed with dementia. His eldest son Sam is autistic and lives in a nearby home. His second son Giles is a doctor with a 22-year-old son Simon, 19-year-old daughter Emily and a shaky marriage to Sophie. William is estranged from his youngest child Alice following the birth of her illegitimate mixed race daughter Aurelia 17 years ago, but she has returned for this occasion. What follows is an extraordinary yet entirely plausible series of re-opened wounds, revelations and some reconciliation. William is cantankerous, to put it mildly, preoccupied with the damage Tory sleaze is doing and with ensuring a male Pennington line. His long suffering wife Olivia is devoted to him and all of her children and grandchildren; a deeply sympathetic character.

Andrew Keatley’s play is beautifully written, brilliantly structured and plotted, without an ounce of flab. A captivating story that unfolds enticingly and oozes authenticity. The cast is extraordinary, with not one but two real life parent-child pairings, Jane Asher & Katie Scarfe and Alexander & Tom Hanson. Clive Francis is simply magnificent as William and Nick Samson plays late forties autistic son Sam with great skill and sensitivity. Both had exit applause after their most effective scenes. I was puzzled by the choice to play it front of the bare theatre back wall and frame, but it was so good it didn’t seem to matter. There were a few too many scene breaks which weren’t as slick as they could have been, but again the quality of everything else made that seem unimportant.

Unquestionably a highlight of the year and surely too good to end here, it’s crying out for a transfer and more deserving of one that anything I’ve seen of late, but you’d be wise to catch it in the more intimate Park Theatre while you can.

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