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Posts Tagged ‘Daniel Flynn’

I was cursing the education system at the interval of this play last night. I studied history for 4 years, for things then called O & A levels, and all we covered was the 125 years between 1814 and 1939. I was also cursing not reading the programme before the start. In my view, this 1976 Caryl Churchill play about mid 17th century English history needs, or at least benefits from, some prior knowledge.

It was clearly a fascinating period, the closest England came to revolution (a century before the French!). Charles I grabbed absolute power, provoking a thirty year period of unrest and civil wars until the establishment of the constitutional monarchy which still survives. Just the names of the groups involved makes you smile – in addition to the Roundheads and Cavaliers, we had the Ranters, Diggers, Levellers and the New Model Army! More recent history plays, like last year’s James plays, present historical events in a much more accessible way than this, though, which is very 70’s and very wordy, in a G B Shaw way. Too much of it is people talking direct to the audience and the endless debates about who’s side god would be on, though historically accurate I’m sure, just muddied it all for me.

Director Lyndsey Turner has added 40 or so ‘extras’ to the 18 strong cast (and it is strong, with actors like Leo Bill, Daniel Flynn, Alan Williams, Steffan Rhodri, Joe Caffrey and Amanda Lawrence in relatively small roles) which gives it an epic sweep. Es Devlin’s brilliant design starts as a giant banquet, before becoming a bare wooden stage, the boards then removed to reveal the earth. The audience wasn’t considered enough, though, as the sight lines (well, at the front of the stalls, at least) are dreadful. Soutra Gilmour, more usually a sole design credit, provides excellent costumes.

Notwithstanding my lack of preparation, I think we’ve become used to history presented more clearly and lucidly, so despite a spectacular production, I suspect it’s impact 40 years on has been watered down significantly.

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This brilliant new play by Tena Stivicic presents us with 66 years of Croatian history through the lives of one family and one house. From the creation of Yugoslavia to the eve of Croatia’s entry into the EU, through the turmoil of the late 90’s, this has a fascinating and enthralling epic sweep.

In 1945, Yugoslavia is being established as a union of Communist nations. Rose is well-connected and is given part of a large home taken from a wealthy family. She lives there with her husband, child and mother. One of the former occupants, Karolina, has lingered and when they find her they ‘adopt’ her.

In 1990 the union is breaking up and war raging between its nations. Rose’s daughter Masha and her husband Vlado are bringing up their daughters Lucia & Alisa in the house, with her parents and Karolina still living there. Two other families occupy other parts of the building and they are particularly close to neighbour Marko. Masha’s sister Dunya lives in Germany but visits to attend her mother Rose’s funeral.

In 2011 Croatia is contemplating joining another union, the European Union, and the debate rages. Alisa now lives on London, but comes home for Lucia’s wedding, as does Dunya and her husband from Germany. Lucia is marrying someone who has become rich in the new Croatia, where there are few rules and corruption is endemic.

You have to keep your wits about you as it hops from period to period, but you are deeply rewarded by a superb interweaving of political and personal history. The scene changes are themselves captivating, as screens slide and rooms and periods transform whilst projections cover them with period footage. Howard Davies direction and Tim Hatley’s design are masterly.

I’ve seen more of Siobhan Finneran’s TV work than her stage work and now I want to see more of the latter; she’s excellent as Masha. Adrian Rawlings plays her husband Vlado, a complex character, beautifully and Jodie McNee and Sophie Rundle spar brilliantly as the very different daughters who take a very different path, the latter getting a round of applause for a defiant speech towards the end of the play. Lucy Black and Daniel Flynn are well matched as Dunya and Karl, with a violent scene in their bedroom truly shocking. There’s luxury casting in the smaller roles, including Susan Engel and James Laurenson in fine form.

I’ve been interested in this part of the world for a while, have visited all seven former Yugoslav nations in the last nine years, and have been lucky enough to work in Croatia twice (the second time including the day of the EU referendum), but you don’t need to know much to enjoy this terrific play and terrific production (though getting there early enough to read the brief history in the programme would probably help). Only the National could stage this play and they’ve made a great job of it. Go!

 

 

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I can’t understand why everyone isn’t raving about this. It’s the best of the handful of RII’s I’ve seen and one of the best Shakespeare productions of Michael Grandage’s reign at the Donmar – better than his Hamlet & Twelfth Night and as good as his Othello & King Lear.

The intimacy of this theatre helps this particular play greatly, and the Donmar’s design ‘house style’ of elegant simplicity does too. On this occasion, Christopher Oram’s ‘pupil’ Richard Kent has produced a terrific two-tiered gothic structure of fading gold. There’s another one of Adam Cork’s atmospheric soundscapes and beautiful lighting from David Plater. As you enter, Richard is (somewhat appropriately) sitting in silence on his throne in a white gown and gold crown. Here begins Shakespeare’s eight play slice of British history.

The first half has great pace, with Richard showing us that he’s uncomfortable with his power and clumsy in the execution of it. You begin to realise that he’s in a job he doesn’t want without the competencies to do it; this makes it both logical and easy for an assured assertive player like Bolingbroke to challenge him. In the second half we get a lot more psychological depth as the coup unfolds and Richard (willingly, it seems) hands over the crown to Henry IV.

I thought Eddie Redmayne and Andrew Buchan were individually superb and well matched as Richard and Bolingbroke, the former conveying the complexity of Richard’s personality and his situation and the latter the determination fueled by his mistreatment, but they head one of the best casts ever put together at the Donmar with a brilliant John of Gaunt from Michael Hadley, a fine Mowbray from Ben Turner and Daniel Flynn excellent as Northumberland. Though it’s a small role, Pippa Bennett-Warner gave a lovely interpretation of Richard’s queen, lost in all this political shenanigans.

This is a great production of a very difficult play and a triumphant swan song for Grandage. I think it’s brilliant that he bows out with a particularly young ensemble, offering a fine young actor his first leading male Shakespearean role (he was Viola for the Globe!) and giving a budding designer a solo West End flight. Enthralling.

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