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Posts Tagged ‘Daniel Coonan’

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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