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Posts Tagged ‘Daniel Kaluuya’

It’s sixteen years since this Joe Penhall play, probably his most successful (if we don’t count the Kinks musical Sunny Afternoon), premiered at the National Theatre and went on to win awards and transfer to the West End. It starred Bill Nighy, Andrew Lincoln and a young Chiwetel Ejiofor. I must have enjoyed it as I went twice.

We begin at a meeting between trainee psychiatrist Bruce and his patient, afro-caribbean Christopher, the day before his scheduled discharge from hospital. Bruce clearly believes Chris isn’t ready, but Chris is desperate to go home. They are joined by senior consultant Robert, Bruce’s boss, who is very much for discharge, though maybe for reasons of expediency (to free up a bed). 

Bruce and Robert disagree on the diagnosis, somewhere between borderline personality disorder and schizophrenia, and argue, sometimes in front of their patient. We learn Bruce has been sucking up to Robert socially and of Robert’s research into connections between mental health and ethnicity. In the second act, Robert meets Chris without Bruce and this results in an investigation which threatens Bruce’s career. In the third act, the senior and junior doctor play out their disagreements in front of Chris. In all of this, the patient’s interests are somewhat buried.

The play explores the motivations of the three characters as well as issues of medical ethics and racism, but I’m afraid I found it somewhat implausible this time around. Though I am prepared to believe health policies, the need for authority, research and career interests may all affect people’s behaviour, I just couldn’t believe that these two professionals would behave like they do in front of their patient. The acting of David Haig as Robert is unrestrained and over-the-top, as is that of Luke Norris as Bruce in the final act. Somewhat ironically, Daniel Kaluuya’s outstanding performance as Chris is more restrained, subtle and intelligent and his sudden switches from funny to manic are deftly handled.

Jeremy Herbert’s design echoes his one for Hamlet here four years ago, as he requires you to walk through a replica of the stage set consulting room underneath it, on a mystery tour to find your seats in one of the four banks of seating looking down on an island stage. 

I’m afraid I thought Matthew Xia’s production didn’t serve the play well, but it’s worth seeing for another fine performance by Daniel Kakuuya. 

 

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Walking through the doors into the Young Vic auditorium has become one of life’s exciting little adventures; you never know what you’re going to see. This occasion was particularly exciting, confronted by Lizzie (Shunt) Clachan’s giant two-tier set that takes up half the space, with a disused empty swimming pool filled with tables & chairs for the audience!

I have to confess that this is a slice of history which has passed me by, probably because I was too young to engage with it as ‘current affairs’ and it somehow hasn’t become modern history yet. We’re in the Congo as the 50’s become the 60’s. It’s still a Belgian colony when charismatic beer salesman Patrice Lumumba sets up a political party. Within 5 years he’s Prime Minister. Within 7 months he’s dead.

Though Aime Cesaire’s 1966 play focuses on little more than a year in one African country, it could be the story of the African continent – predatory European colonists (Belgium, Britain, France, Portugal) and their greedy unprincipled corporations followed by imperialist superpowers (The US, USSR and now China), an ineffectual UN and local bullies all after the same thing, none giving a shit about the African people. We get Lumumba’s tragic personal story, but we also get the big geopolitical picture. It’s fascinating.

Erstwhile film director Joe Wright’s staging is, as one might expect, on a spectacular scale. There’s an atmospheric soundtrack and lots of wonderful Congolese music, some played live by Kaspy N’Dia. The US, USSR and greedy businessmen are represented by puppets. With the help of choreographer-of-the-moment Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, there’s great dancing and stylised movement. Kabongo Yshisensa, when not playing beautiful Likembe, acts as a sort of spirit-of-Africa narrator, speaking in Congolese and translated by other actors. Women play men and black actors play white roles with elasticated noses or blonde wigs!

Joseph Mydell is excellent as the president who turns and Daniel Kaluuya is terrific as Mobuto, the army colonel who goes on to rule for 32 years – what a long way Kaluuya as come since Sucker Punch & Oxford Street at the Royal Court. Towering above them all is Chiwetel Ejiofor as Lumumba, whose trajectory from humble salesman to Mandela-like hero and ultimately martyr is played with great subtlety; a stunning performance.

Another triumph for the Young Vic; not to be missed!

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The Royal Court main house has been turned into a boxing club, complete with ring, which later becomes a  boxing venue. Designer Miriam Buether is no stranger to such transformations (Relocated, My Child & Cock also here at the Royal Court) and this is just as impressive. It completely transports you to this (for me at least) alien world and in this case, back in time 20 – 25 years.

Roy Williams is just about the best playwright working in the UK today because he writes unpretentious plays which tell personal stories that illuminate and help us understand complex aspects of our society. This particular play shows us what it’s like to grow up black in 80’s Britain through the story of two boys whose lives diverge and later re-connect. Setting it in Thatcher’s Britain allows us to revisit a period of war (the Falklands), industrial strife and racism and wonder if anything has really changed. We’re still fighting wars, we seem to be heading for a new period of  strife and the spectre of racism has hardly gone away, just buried.

It was a captivating 90 minutes sitting front row ringside with more testosterone in the room than all the other London theatres added together. Sacha Wares’ staging, including amazingly real fight sequences, makes it all so totally believable that you wince at the racist comments and jump when a punch lands.

There isn’t a fault in the casting. Nigel Lindsay brings out all of the contradictions that inhabit trainer Charlie. Trevor Laird as Leon’s dad and Gary Beadle as Troy’s American give great cameos. Sarah Ridgeway really makes us feel for Becky, caught between her dad and Leon. Above all it’s the three boxing boys – Jason Maza, Anthony Welsh and Daniel Kaluuya – who bring the play alive with extraordinary presence and energy; they are mesmerizing.

Yet another triumph for Roy Williams and the Royal Court.

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