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Posts Tagged ‘Danny Sapani’

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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The first Medea I saw was 29 years ago in Japanese in an Edinburgh University courtyard in the open air in the pouring rain with the title role played by a man! Medea’s exit was in one of those hydraulic arms they use to reach the higher floors of buildings. It was an evening I will never forget. This production came to the Olivier stage, where this new modern adaptation is now staged, two years later.

Ben Power’s modern adaptation takes fewer liberties than Mike Bartlett’s 2012 touring version (which I liked, and which featured Rachael Sterling, whose mother Diana Rigg I had seen in the same part twenty years earlier!) and it’s the most credible and chilling version of this 2500 year-old play that I’ve seen. You really do believe this woman could kill four people, including her two sons.

Carrie Cracknell, one of our best new directors, and designer Tom Scutt, set it in a shabby building with French windows leading out to a wood and an upper level where Jason’s wedding to Kreusa takes place behind glass. There’s a large chorus of thirteen women looking spooky in matching frocks, a brilliant soundscape by Goldfrapp and Michaela Coel delivers the prologue and epilogue superbly in complete silence. For once, my front row seat added to the intensity and engagement with the piece.

I’ve always thought Helen McCrory would make a brilliant Lady Macbeth or Medea and she certainly does with the latter. She invests her interpretation with bucket-loads of emotionality, often visibly shaking, eyes welled up, nose running, tears flowing. It’s a stunning performance. Danny Sapani is a commanding Jason, more restrained but able to make the switch from anger to forgiveness completely believable. There’s luxury casting in support, with Dominic Rowan and Martin Turner as the two kings. Clemmie Sveaas’ Kreusa’s demise in a poisoned costume is an extraordinary dance of death.

This is a riveting 90 minutes, perfect for the Olivier stage and an opportunity to see a fine actress give a career defining performance. Unmissable indeed.

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If you have a vote in the forthcoming Scottish referendum, you’d better stay away from this most Scottish of Macbeth’s; it’s set in a dystopian near future after we finally screwed everything up and the Scots have gone completely feral. The rest of you had better snap any tickets that are left now because it’s bloody brilliant (often literally)!

Trafalgar Studio One has had a makeover, with a new set of onstage seating with the actor’s main entrance cut through the middle. The space has much more intimacy, intensity and immediacy which certainly suits this in-your-face grubby Macbeth. The setting is like a disused building, the props look like they were picked up from a tip and the ‘costumes’ are filthy – they’ll save a fortune on the dry-cleaning bill. Adam Silverman’s lighting of Soutra Gilmour’s set is outstanding and contributes much to the evening’s success.

It’s not the most coherent Macbeth and verse pedants may not like it. The Scottish accents, traverse staging and occasional masks (witches and assassins only) mean you lose some clarity, but in my view its more than made up for by the staging. It’s an energetic fast-paced thriller which holds nothing back. At times it feels like you’re watching a horror film or the latest Tarantino. I squirmed and gasped and occasionally turned, such was the realism of this most violent of plays. I fear for the health and safety of the cast, James McAvoy in particular, who throw themselves around the stage with abandon and fight like they mean it. At one stage, McAvoy ingests water from a bucket so quickly that he has to catch several breaths before his next line and this ratchets up the tension.

I was riveted from start to finish and you could almost feel the intense concentration of the younger than average audience, which was refreshingly quiet. McAvoy acts with great physicality and utter conviction, at times dangerous. This is a career defining performance, but it’s within a superb ensemble and it’s never starry, not even at the curtain calls. Clare Foy is a very young Lady Macbeth, but it’s a restrained interpretation which I thought was very intelligent. Forbes Masson’s Banquo and Jamie Ballard’s Macduff are intensely passionate; when the latter hears of the fate of his family, it’s truly heartbreaking.

These are hugely impressive Shakespearean debuts from McAvoy & Foy and director Jamie Lloyd. I haven’t seen the play done so well since Rupert Goold’s Stalinesque take with Patrick Stewart and McAvoy is at least a match for Stewart, Sher, Sapani & Pryce, the most memorable of my previous Macbeth’s.

With Jamie Lloyd Productions joining the Michael Grandage Company in the West End, these are exciting times indeed.

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Fifty-four years after it’s premiere, and 24 years after I first saw it, this new National Theatre production of Errol John’s play set in post-war Trinidad in the dying days of the colonial period proves itself a classic.

It’s a fascinating piece of social history as well as the personal story of five adults and two children sharing a backyard (and a water supply) surrounding their small homes. Soutra Gilmour’s brilliantly realistic design is atmospheric and suitably claustrophobic, with audience on two sides providing an intimate staging – you’re as ‘on top’ of them as they are ‘on top’ of each other.

Trolley bus driver Ephraim (a passionate Danny Sapani) decides to emigrate to Liverpool instead of settling for a promotion to inspector, leaving behind his girlfriend Rosa who he thinks is trying to entrap him. Mavis (a terrific Jenny Jules) decides to stop ‘entertaining’ the visiting US military and becomes engaged to clownish wide boy Prince (a superb Ray Emmet Brown). The lives of Sophia and Charlie (two more excellent performances by Martina Laird & Jude Akuwudike), proud at their daughter Esther’s scholarship to high school, are turned upside down when Charlie makes one big mistake whilst out on a bender.

All of this takes place as troops are returning victorious from the war, the Americans are using the island as a base and the country is approaching independence. It takes a while to attune to the dialect and for these peoples lives to unfold, but it proves to be a thoroughly satisfying story which gets a perfect staging by Michael Buffong. In addition to the ones I’ve already named, there are other great performances here – notably Tahirah Sharif’s sweetly innocent Esther and Burt Caesar’s predatory Old Mack.

A very welcome revival which at last gets the production the writer wanted, sadly when he’s no longer here to see it. Not to be missed.

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The combination of in-the-round staging and heavy accents means you take a while to atune to this play. Even when you do, it’s hard to maintain concentration because it’s very slow, partricularly in the first act, in developing characters and story; I often found my mind wandering.

Based on the audience’s enthusiastic reaction, I’m prepared to accept that my lack of engagement with it might be more about me than the play or the production. I didn’t find it particularly illuminating about the black American experience in 1911. What it says about the recovery from slavery, identity and spirituality seemed to me to have insufficient substance or depth and was frankly confusing. I’ve got a lot more out of the other August Wilson plays I’ve seen.

What isn’t in question though is a fine set of performances, particularly from Danny Sapani, Delroy Lindo, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith and Nathanial Martello-White. I felt the female roles were too underwritten to alow the actresses to shine in the same way as the men did.

Notwithstanding the audibility issues, David Lan’s staging was very effective, though I’m not really sure why we all had to have our feet firmly implanted in the sand / soil that pervades the seating areas as well as the performance area of Patrick Burnier’s design.

For me it was another case of good production – disappointing play, but it’s fair to say my companion and I were in a distinct minority on the night.

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