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Posts Tagged ‘Daniel Mays’

Enticed to Pinter again by the cast and director, and leaving the theatre glad I was. Matthew Warchus has done what Jamie Lloyd did with The Hothouse and The Homecoming – less reverence leading to a fresh look at the play. I might actually be in danger of becoming a Pinter fan.

Elder brother Aston, with both a physical and mental handicap, befriends tramp Davies when he is threatened by someone and brings him back to his grubby attic room to stay. When younger brother Mick turns up in Aston’s absence, he intimidates Davies. Mick seems to be in charge of the house, delegating everything to his brother, who offers Davies a job as caretaker, as does Mick a while later. Davies begins to exploit and take advantage of their hospitality, which drives the brothers closer and Davies out. As with all Pinter plays, you’re left to decide what’s really going on here.

I think it’s his most Beckettian play and Warchus has mined it for the black comedy without losing much of the menace. He’s blessed with a stunningly ramshackle claustrophobic design by Rob Howell, with the set brought forward in front of the proscenium to increase the intimacy of this vast theatre, and a superb cast.

It’s wonderful to see Timothy Spall back on stage after all these years and he relishes the part, channelling Only Fools and Horses Uncle Albert in the meeker moments, morphing into a more aggressive, manipulative vagrant as the play progresses. Daniel Mays is cast against type as a restrained, passive Aston and he’s very good. George Maguire is very intimidating, with piercing eyes, strutting around the stage in his tight leather jacket looking superior; another fine performance.

Perhaps it’s Pinter’s death that has liberated or encouraged directors to make fresh interpretations, but I for one welcome them!

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Playwright Patrick Marber has shot himself in the foot by producing a very dull 50-minute first act. I’ve never seen so many people fail to return after the interval. What followed were two much better acts, but it never really recovered, for those who stayed.

We’re in the world of semi-professional football, in the changing room, so I was rather surprised to find it is a three-hander. There’s the manager Kidd, a bit of a spiv but he appears to have turned the team around. Then there’s the kit man John, a former player who fell on hard times. He’s a bit of a father figure who commands respect and love. Finally, there’s the new player Jordan who shows much promise. Scene-setting and character introductions are about all we get in this first act.

For those that did return, in the second act we see the murkier side of football, where people are on the make, more interested in business and money than sport. To many, the new boy is a commodity rather than a player and we realise the processes of realising value from such commodities are both formal and informal and complex. I’ve thought for ages that business has swallowed up football, but I hadn’t realised that included obscure semi-professional clubs. In the third act it all comes home to roost and John proves to be the only truly honest one, with his principles intact, and a love of the game and the club which overrides everything else. The ending is somewhat melodramatic.

Anthony Ward has created a high-ceilinged uber-realistic dressing room, complete with tacky signs and mud. This is one of Peter Wight’s very best performances, a deep and delicate characerisation of John. I’m a huge fan of Daniel Mays and he’s perfect for the role of the manager, though I felt he overplayed it occasionally. Calvin Demba continues to show the promise he showed in the even more disappointing Wolf at the Door at the Royal Court; let’s hope he gets a better role and play next time.

Seeing Closer at the Donmar last year made me realise what good plays Marber has written. He preceded this with Dealer’s Choice and After Miss Julie and followed it with Don Juan in Soho, but that’s nine years ago now. Perhaps he’s lost his mojo, or perhaps he’s too involved in semi-professional football himself to see the flaws in his own play, but I would have expected a director as good as Ian Rickson to have addressed that. There’s a much better, shorter, more evenly balanced play in here crying to get out. A disappointment.

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The 18 year revival rule applies again as Jez Butterworth’s first play gets a high profile West End outing. I’d decided not to go, given it cost more than five times the inflation-adjusted 1995 price, but I’m dreadfully weak-willed and I finally succumbed to the temptation of seeing a new generation of actors tackle these roles. So my review is of a performance ten weeks into the run.

Set in 50’s Soho amongst small-time gangsters, Mojo features club manager Mickey, his staff Skinny, Potts & Sweets, the owner’s son Baby and rock & roll prodigy Silver Johnny. There’s murder offstage which impacts them all, but we’re viewing their reactions and relationships in the back-room and an empty club.

The strength of the piece is not in the story, but in the world Butterworth creates, his characterisations and the rich expletive-strewn dialogue which is like verbal gunfire. It’s got great energy, edginess and dark humour, though it owes a lot to early Pinter (the menacing late 50’s Birthday Party & Caretaker period). Somewhat appropriately, it’s playing in the Harold Pinter theatre.

The chief reason for seeing it is that it provides a showcase for five leading male actors and these five relish every moment. Potts & Sweets are really a double-act and Daniel Mays and Rupert Grint have great chemistry, with slick and speedy delivery of the lines. There’s a sense of Grint apprenticed to Mays in both the characters and the actors. The role is perfect for Mays’ style and Grint’s professional debut is hugely impressive. In 1995, these roles were played by Andy Serkis and Matt Bardock respectively.

Ben Wishaw continues to impress and here effectively extends his range as Baby (Tom Hollander in 1995). Colin Morgan does more acting as Skinny, maybe a touch too much, but I still liked his highly strung take on Skinny (Aiden Gillen in 1995). Given he’s now a bit too well known as Downton’s Bates, Brendan Coyle still manages to convince as Mickey (David Westhead in 1995). Tom Rhys Harries is cool and charismatic in the smaller role of Silver Johnny. It’s the same director / design team (Ian Rickson & Ultz) and it’s staged with great tension and period style.

It is good to see these fine (mostly) young actors take on the sort of meaty ‘contemporary’ roles that don’t come around that often, so I will reluctantly accept that it was good to relent – and my admiration for producer Sonia Friedman continues to increase; it can’t be that easy to put such a bankable cast together for five months.

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A play about the no win-no fee compensation culture has been a long time coming. Playwright Nick Payne’s Constellations was one of the most original plays of recent years and one of last year’s big hits. The Donmar is a great, intimate space for new plays. My expectations were going to be difficult to live up to and so it was. They make the best of the material, but the material isn’t really good enough.

Barry and Andrew are no win-no fee merchants, though there is clear ethical blue water between them. Kevin, an old school chum of Andrew (married to his first lay) lures him into serial fake claims. One target decides to defend which, unusually in these cases, leads them to court. It becomes much more than a claim as the relationship between Barry and Andrew is strained to breaking point and the relationship between Andrew and Kevin’s wife is recalled.

In the first half, we’re in the solicitor’s offices and in (most of) the second half we’re in court – something I wasn’t expecting until I returned to the theatre after the interval to see the extraordinary transformation. The problem is that the issues are touched on but not fully explored, so the play lacks depth. I liked the introduction of personal stories, but again they are glimpses. It was often just too slow. Scott Pask’s designs are superbly realistic, though the configuration of the courtroom means some actors have their backs to you much of the time (a bit like a court, really!).

The performances are uniformly excellent. Daniel Mays & Nigel Lindsay’s characterisations of Andrew & Barry compensate in part for the writing; their relationship evolves satisfyingly. Marc Wootton is brilliant as Kevin, the chancer you love to hate but can’t help loving. Monica Dolan and Peter Forbes make delicious transformations from Kevin’s co-conspirators in the first half to barrister and judge in the second. Niky Wardley brings Kevin’s put-upon pregnant wife to life, complete with courtroom vomiting (!) and Joanna Griffin and Isabella Laughland’s cameos are terrific; the latter so good she gets a round of applause as she leaves the witness-box.

It felt like an unfinished pay to me; edited and rewritten I suspect it would be a much better play. As it is, it’s down to superlative performances to make the evening worthwhile.

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Pinero’s 1898 play is about the theatre and theatre folk at a time of transition from the mannered to the naturalistic. Though I saw the 1994 NT production, I can hardly remember it. I suspect it will now return to my mental theatrical archive even more quickly.

The play opens as her fellow (presumably Sadler’s Wells) actors bid farewell to Rose Trelawny, who is giving up theatre for a life with new love Arthur Gower, initially living with his grandfather Sir William Gower and his Great Aunt Trafalgar(!) in Cavendish Square. She misses the theatre and her theatre friends so much, she escapes and returns to the theatre, despite her love for Arthur. Sadly, her pining gets in the way of her acting and she’s soon confined to bit parts and then sacked. Fellow actors Tom (sometime playwright) and Imogen (aspiring theatre manager) plot to reunite the lovers by opening up a disused theatre to stage Tom’s play starring both of the lovers.

Director Joe Wright has got himself a fine design (Hildegard Bechtler) and a fine company. For some reason, he then decides it’s really a panto, as a result of which there’s more ham than in a fully stocked pork butcher. To make matters worse, the style varies between characters / actors and through the play. Some get away with it most of the time (Ron Cook cleverly doubling as Sir William and theatrical digs landlady Mrs Mossop), some get away with it some of the time (Daniel Mays as camp actor Ferdinand), some get away with it in one of their roles (Jamie Beamish as Ablett, but not as O’Dwyer) and some don’t get away with it at all ( Aimee-Ffion Edwards as Avonia).

Clearly, the play would have meant more in its day, but it’s difficult to see the point of reviving it (yet again at Josie Rourke’s Donmar). If you’re going to, though, why bury the context of a theatre in transition in an eton mess of acting styles? A misfire for Wright’s high-profile theatrical debut and again for this (former?) powerhouse.

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After a while I was wondering if it might be better to be curled up on the sofa in front of the TV with a glass of wine on a cold Friday evening. By the interval, I was interested enough to return. By the end, I was left unsatisfied and a bit disappointed. Though the subject matter, that tolerance may often be a veneer, is interesting, the play is too contrived to deal with it in any depth.

E V Crowe’s play is about a pair of primary school teachers. Danny is gay and he and his husband Joe have applied to adopt a child. Joe is a college friend of fellow teacher Jamie who, with partner Lisa, is trying a different route to parenthood through IVF. A child calls Jamie gay which horrifies him as he is soon on the receiving end of the sort or treatment he might expect if it were true. His seemingly liberal attitudes are challenged and his relationship with all three are tested. In the first half, we’re in Danny & Joe’s flat seeing things from Danny’s perspective and in the second  in Jamie & Lisa’s flat seeing things from Jamie’s perspective. We also learn that Joe was once married, and at one point Jamie’s sexuality is also questioned.

Daniel Mays is one of my favourite young actors and the role of highly strung Jamie suits him. Liam Garrigan plays Danny with a confidence, calmness and coolness. I think the fact that they are the opposite of the stereotypes is intentional, but for me if was part of the unbelievability. The parts of Joe and Lisa are underwritten so neither Tim Steed or Susannah Wise have much chance to shine.

Jeremy Herrin’s traverse staging and Mike Britton’s design, where the kitchens’ are inside a school gym, are effective and make it a somewhat voyeuristic experience. Sadly, the writing isn’t as strong as the staging or performances and though it held my attention, I left unsatisfied.

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Sondheim’s 80th celebrations continued with a concert performance of Merrily We Roll Along, re-uniting 80% of the Donmar’s 2000 UK premiere cast. I have fond memories of the production, and have seen two more since, but I really wasn’t expecting this to be quite so thrilling. The dream cast included Daniel Evans, Anna Francolini, Julian Ovenden and Samantha Spiro. This show contains some of his most complex songs and to achieve such perfection in a one-off concert performance 10 years after you performed it on stage is astonishing. Gareth Valentine’s band was terrific and the cheers and standing ovation were richly deserved. For years I avoided opera in concert as I couldn’t see why or how you could bring alive something that was meant to be staged – well, now I’ll have to change my mind about musicals in concert too.

Earlier in the month I attended the ceremony to confer an Honorary Doctorate on Sondheim at the Royal Academy of Music. There was a terrific brass fanfare and a procession of men in robes which included a bearded man in sports jacket, yellow shirt and chinos looking uncomfortable in his. I don’t know whether he wrote it himself, but John Suchet’s citation was wonderful and an emotional Sondheim clearly appreciated the honour. It was followed by a 30-minute performance by students and recent graduates which was an unusual selection and a little hampered by failing amplification, but the chorus numbers were fabulous. Julia Mackenzie, Trevor Nunn, Simon Callow and Lesley Garrett were also in the audience to honour the great man. It’s proving a great 80th celebration and we aren’t finished yet!

Contemporary Music

At his Cadogan Hall concert, Nils Lofgren reminded us of his first UK visit in 1973 as part of Neil Young’s band on the ‘Tonight’s the Night’ tour ‘when we played all this new stuff and pissed everyone off’. I can still hear the hissing but refuse to believe it was 37 years ago. Anyway, this concert was by far his best acoustic outing, with just one other person on keyboards / trumpet / guitar & rock tap dancing! It was mostly old stuff, but he’s a great guitar player and has a distinctive voice; add in terrific sound and a lovely atmosphere and you have a treat. 

Classical Music

The Houston Symphony Orchestra playing Holst’s Planets beneath a giant screen showing footage of the planets themselves was an intriguing prospect and proved to be a unique experience. In truth though, I was more impressed by the orchestra’s playing that the projections, possibly because the darkness and visuals heightened the aural experience where every sound was crisp and clear. I also loved the Barber and Stravinsky symphonic suits which preceded the main event.

Tenor Ian Bostridge has a Cecilia Bartoli-style project called ‘The Three Tenors’ which focuses on three early 18th century singers and the pieces that were composed for them by contemporary composers. It’s an album and tour with baroque ensemble Europa Galante and in concert it was very much one of two halves – the first a distinctly underpowered and underwhelming affair and a much better second half when a clearly unwell Bostridge rose to the exciting heights the ensemble had achieved throughout. I’m not sure the repertoire really suited this sweetest of sweet tenors, though the Handel pieces certainly did. The animated ensemble, which stands to play, were often thrilling.

There was a lovely Sunday afternoon affair at the Royal Academy of Music examining the relationship between W H Auden and Benjamin Britten & Lennox Berkley, both of whom set his poems to music. It took the form of an informative discussion / readings followed by afternoon tea (with homemade cakes!) followed by a recital / reading by college students followed by wine – and all for a tenner! Katie Bray stole the show with spirited renditions of Britten’s Cabaret Songs.

Opera

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the only thing 18th century composer Thomas Arne wrote was Rule Britannia. Apparently, the main reason we don’t know much more is that most of his manuscripts were burnt in a fire. Fortunately, most of the masque / opera Alfred survives and it was given a rare and very welcome outing by The Classical Opera Company at Kings Place. It’s similar to, and stands up well against, Handel’s work of the same type and period –a patriotic tale of invasion by and repulsion of the Danes populated by the king, queen & prince, a shepherd & shepherdess, a war widow and a spirit! The small orchestra was terrific, the young company of seven singers excellent and actor Michael Moloney’s tongue-in-cheek narration was an added bonus. Another treat!

I wish I could say the same for the first in our autumn pairing at WNO, Beethoven’s Fidelio. It’s a lovely opera, but it was given a dull, drab and inert production – clumsily staged and full of old-fashioned mannered movement. The director also designed and did the lighting, so I suspect that the lack of a creative team meant one man’s perspective and no challenge. Dennis O’Neill still has a lovely tone to his tenor voice but it was Clive Bayley’s Rocco who shone. The chorus and orchestra were again the real stars, though. It’s one of those evenings when you wished it had been one of those concert performances, or you had closed your eyes during the gorgeous overture and opened them again for the uplifting final chorus.

Fortunately, things picked up for the second opera – Richard Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos – which had a sparkling production and twelve (yes, twelve!) first class and well matched singers, led by Sarah Connolly in the trouser role of The Composer. Though I’d seen the opera a couple of times before, I only realised this time how Wagnerian the second act is – and it also suffers from Wagner’s penchant for the overlong; if it had been 20 minutes shorter, it would have been a lot better. Another treat nonetheless.

Alexander Goehr’s Promised End is an opera based on King Lear. The libretto is entirely Shakespeare’s words and given it’s half the length of the play, it’s surprising how much of the story is told. It’s well directed and designed and the performances are uniformly good. The trouble is the music is just dull – it’s like they were about to do the play, when someone suggested they sing the lines instead of speaking them and improvised it on the spot. If the addition of music doesn’t do anything, it all seems rather pointless.

L’Isola Disabitatia is a short & silly Haydn opera with lovely music about two girls abandoned on a desert island. The musical standards of the Jette Parker Young Artists production at Covent Garden’s Linbury Studio were very high with excellent singing from Elizabeth Meister, Anna Devlin, Steven Ebel & Daniel Grice and lovely playing from the Southbank Sinfonia under Volker Krafft. Unfortunately, Rodula Gaitanou’s decision to set it in a post-apocalypse world was preposterous and ugly; it detracts from your enjoyment significantly – again, it would be much better with your eyes closed. With a 75-minute running time, the interval was misguided and did nothing except increase the bar profits.

Film

I haven’t been to the cinema for five months, mostly because I just haven’t fancied anything. It took a British film covering a slice of social history like Made in Dagenham to draw me back and I loved it. They’ve taken liberties with the history, compressing it somewhat, but it’s still a great story and with hindsight a much more important one than I remembered. The who’s who of British acting included fine performances from Sally Hawkins, Daniel Mays, Geraldine James and Miranda Richardson.

I was also impressed by The Kids Are Alright, which takes very contemporary subjects – gay parenting and sperm donation – and produces a charming film which moves seamlessly from funny to thoughtful with an excellent script, sensitive direction and five fine performances. When one child reaches adulthood, she asserts her right to find the sperm donor on behalf of her younger brother and their world is turn upside down when he enters all four of their lives. Very intelligent, clever, modern and grown-up. 

Art

I’d seen a small exhibition of Art by Offenders in Edinburgh, but the one in the Royal Festival Hall is more extensive and so much better exhibited. There is an extraordinary amount of talent here; you can’t like everything, but you can admire it and cheer the good work being done in using art as therapy and rehabilitation.

The V&A has three great exhibitions at the same time. The first we saw was the Raphael cartoons with the tapestries from which they are designed. It was fascinating to see them side-by-side; in one case a threesome with a century younger tapestry copy as well. I was bowled over by how good the Diaghilev & Ballets Russes exhibition was, proving conclusively how much impact they had on art and design of the period. It included lots of costume and set drawings & models as well as actual costumes and front cloths plus much more. It was a feast for the eyes and seemed so contemporary. The best was left until last though, with Shadow Catchers, showcasing five artists who make cameraless photography – their photograms were simply gorgeous.

Nearby in Kensington Gardens, there are four pieces by Anish Kapoor and walking to and between them, watching them change and grow, was a delight. The large disc on the opposite side of the Serpentine with reflections in the disc and in the water and ducks and swans passing in front was the highlight. There were no highlights in Klara Liden’s pointless installations and videos in the Serpentine Gallery I’m afraid – dreadful! 

Gaugin is one of those ‘blockbuster’ exhibitions that lives up to the hype. You’d be forgiven for thinking he just painted semi-naked Tahitian women; well, here’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to dispel that myth and see the whole range of his work. There are carvings and woodcuts as well as paintings. The oils are so soft they look like watercolours. The colours are a feast for the eyes. By the time I got to the Turbine Hall downstairs, you weren’t allowed to walk on the millions of tiny porcelain pellets that ARE the installation which makes the whole thing pointlessly expensive.

I’m not sure I got much out of Damian Ortega’s Barbican Curve installation inspired by a month of news stories, but it was original and intriguing; I think I need to go back with more time to do it justice. I’ve really got to love popping into this space before a show or concert.

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