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Posts Tagged ‘Danny Webb’

I’ve seen some amazing actors play Lear, seven of them knights of the realm, but this is the first time I’ve seen the same actor play him twice, only ten years apart (though I’ve seen five more Lear’s since the last time, not counting the one from Belarus and the one with sheep!). With Ian McKellen in his eightieth year, he’s the oldest, and the closest to the character’s age. I regret not booking to see this in Chichester. My thinking was that I’d seen McKellen’s Lear. I suspect it would have been better (and cheaper!), but it’s still a must-see in the West End, and I now realise how flawed my thinking had been.

They’ve put a platform through the centre of the stalls, leading to an entrance / exit at the rear, losing a handful of rows and quite a few other seats in the process. They also use the side aisles as entrances / exits. I don’t know the impact of this in the upper tiers, but it made the stalls space more intimate. On stage there’s floor-to-ceiling wood panelling with doors and entrances within it. The floor covering changes with the location, starting as red carpet as the royal family enter for Lear’s announcement that he is to divide the country between his daughters. I thought Paul Wills design was excellent.

Though it’s something like my 14th Lear, there were things about this one that changed my response to the story. I still think there’s more than a touch of implausibility in him falling for the sycophancy of two daughters rather than the sincerity of the third, but here there’s an ageism in Goneril and Regan, in addition to to my normal feelings of spoilt children and inheritance ruins, and Regan in particular becomes completely self-obsessed and self-centred. The Duke of Kent has become the Countess of Kent, and this subtly changes, softens, the character. Edmund seems more machiavellian in contrast to an even more empathetic Edgar. Lear’s madness at first seems eccentricity, before it becomes tragic. I thought Jonathan Munby’s production was very fresh and intelligent.

From the original Chichester cast, Sinead Cusak and Danny Webb are both excellent as Kent and Gloucester respectively, and Kirsty Bushell is simply terrific as Regan. Michael Matus makes much more of the role of Oswald. There are some great performances from new cast members too, not least a superb Edgar from Luke Thompson and an outstanding Edmund in James Corrigan. Lloyd Hutchison is a particularly good Fool. I felt privileged to be seeing Ian McKellen in this role again, a gentler, sadder reading. At the curtain call, memories of more than twenty earlier performances by this fine actor swept over me as I rose to my feet in tribute.

The programme is way better than normal flimsy West End fare and in one of its four essay’s, historian David Starkey suggests that Shakespeare may have been having a dialogue with his patron, King James, even sending him messages about the consequences of dividing a kingdom. Four hundred years later, it’s sending messages still, and I suspect will continue to do so for a long time to come.

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Jean Anouilh must be one of the world’s most prolific playwrights, writing over 60 plays in a 40 year writing career, but we see few of them (his adaptation of Sophocles Antigone most often). This adaptation of his first big hit, Le Voyageur sans bagage, relocates it from late 30’s France to late 50’s USA, to the Long Island of the American upper middle class in fact (think Philadelphia Story), though the French songs between scenes are a delightful nod to its origin.

A soldier returns to the US 14 years after the end of the second world war with amnesia ,and is placed in a sanatorium. Nouveau riche Marcee Dupont-Dufort moves on from rescuing dogs to finding his family, much to the chagrin of her husband De Wit Dupont-Dufort. With the help of a gossip columnist she selects the most likely family from the 22 possibles and visits them. They take him in but he soon decides he doesn’t much like them or his past self. When the gossip columnist names them, the other 21 turn up, which proves chaotic but also an opportunity.

Blanche McIntyre’s production sparkles in every sense, from Anthony Weight’s crackling adaptation to Mark Thompson’s bright design and her own impeccable staging, but mostly because of the terrific casting. Katherine Kingsley is a joy to behold as Marcee Dupont-Dufort, a trophy wife with a touch of Mrs Malaprop about her. Danny Webb is gloriously unrecognisable, stooped and moustachioed, cigar permanently in mouth, channelling Groucho Marks, as her straight-talking husband. Sian Thomas is a treat as the snobby mother and Fenella Woolgar a delight as her brittle daughter-in-law. Oh, all ten are terrific!

This was such a fun night in the theatre, which made me wonder how many more gems are hidden in Anouilh’s back catalogue. Proper entertainment.

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Abi Morgan is an accomplished writer across theatre, film & TV and I’ve always enjoyed her work. Though I’d never heard about the real life She and He and their relationship based on the agreement to which the title refers, I can imagine why she would want to dramatise it. Sadly, it comes out as an inert and somewhat dull play.

In five scenes, we follow the relationship over 30 years, from the day they sign the agreement. It all takes place in She’s West US home, which is part of the agreement, an extraordinary tall structure with desert backdrop and giant cacti designed by Merle Hensel. He arrives and they go about their sparring, talking dirty. They have a lot of sex, offstage. They both have ex’s and children; He may also have a current wife. She’s a feminist and he’s certainly not. They record their encounters. They have entered into an unusual arrangement, instigated by Her, that is clearly mutually acceptable and it lasts. In the latter years they are together for half the year. After thirty years they make it public in their memoirs. That’s about it, really.

Despite good performances from Danny Webb & Saskia Reeves, it wasn’t long before I was slipping into a disengaged state of ‘so what?’ I’m afraid I didn’t like and wasn’t interested in either character. The feminist debate was nowhere near as interesting as that in other current plays Blurred Lines or Rapture Blister Burn. When you can’t get into something, ninety minutes can be a very long time and to be honest I just wanted it to end from about half-way through. Another occasion where no interval was wise indeed (well, for the theatre anyway).

I think director Vicky Featherstone could have given it more pace and energy, but I think the core issue is that the story just doesn’t lend itself to dramatisation and should stay on the page.

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If you want to know where the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs benches have gone, the answer is to a community centre in Haggerston (‘where?’ I hear you ask). If you want to know why, the answer is that this play is set in a community centre in Shirley, Vermont (where?).

We’re observing an acting class over six weeks in lots of short scenes. There’s the teacher and four participants, including the teacher’s husband. Their exercises include telling each other’s stories, walking around the room, chain sentences, role playing and so on. There are also a lot of pauses and a lot of silence; playwright Annie Baker makes Harold Pinter look like an amateur at pauses and silences.

Somehow over the next 120 unbroken minutes, you learn a lot about these people. Their relationships evolve, sometimes surprisingly. They each have different reasons for being there, but they’re mostly therapeutic. It’s amazing how deep characterisation can go with few words. I found them fascinating and very real. As the title says, a transformation.

It’s an extraordinary cast. It’s not long before you’ve forgotten it’s Imelda Staunton playing Marty the teacher as she becomes Marty (with a spot on American accent). Toby Jones could do Schultz with even fewer words, such is his ability to speak volumes by facial expressions and body language. Fenella Woolgar adds to an already impressive track record with a beautiful interpretation of fragile Theresa, the very underrated Danny Webb is at home as ageing hippy James and relative newcomer Sharon Tarbet makes Lauren grow up before your very eyes. James Macdonald’s delicately nuanced staging respects the playwright’s precise Beckettian instructions with the exception of a wall of mirrors (which would have been interesting but probably distracting in this space).

So is it worth the schlep out to Haggerston? Well, despite the relentlessly hard benches and the progressively stuffy room over two hours, yes it is. The venue added to the realism and the play makes you think; indeed, I’m still thinking about it – always a good sign.

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This is a bit like going to two linked plays, such is the difference between the two halves.

The First Half

Tom Scutt’s extraordinary giant moving cube dominates the Olivier stage after a smaller cube has disappeared into the flys. A series of interlocking scenes are played out in and around this as it changes shape. There are protests and riots; an ‘osbornesque’ defence solicitor; an advisor to the American president, his wife and daughter and an atheist academic. We have a woman again as (Conservative) PM, her dead son’s friend has returned from his travels as some sort of Messiah (Welsh, obviously) and everyone appears to be having the same dream. Oh, and we’re about to declare war on Iran.

There’s no doubting the inventiveness and stagecraft of this first half – but it comes at the expense of clarity, coherence and obvious purpose. You’re left thinking ‘ well, that was clever, but what are you really getting at here?’.

The Second Half

That question is answered soon in the second half, which is a debate between the PM, the academic and the new messiah, who now seemingly controls a crowd of 500,000 in Trafalgar Square. New politics (the public rising up with the help of social media and the charismatic messiah John, who has now become an almost supernatural being) meets old politics in the form of a liberal Tory about to do what she thinks is right, encouraged by the islamophobic academic who is dying of cancer. We end with the cast stage front each with a monologue; the last of whom is a soldier in recently invaded Iran.

Simply staged, the second half allows the narrative to breath and the debate is rather compelling….but it does feel like another play involving some of the same characters, pulling in some of the narrative threads of the first. I’m not sure whether this is intentional or not, but for me it led to an ultimately unsatisfying experience and left me thinking it was more work in progress than finsihed article. There’s a great play there waiting to be let loose, hampered by a sometimes thrillingly theatrical but relentless & confusing first half and a more intimate second half that’s a bit lost in this giant space.

The three central performances – Geraldine James as a very believable PM, Danny Webb as the angry academic and Trystan Gravelle as a charismatic John are all excellent, and there’s fine support from a cast of 19, including Nick Sidi & Genevieve O’Reilly as the American diplomat and his wife and Adam James as the solicitor.

Playwright Mike Bartlett seems to be struggling as his work scales up from minimalist gems like Cock to epics like this. If director Thea Sharrock had created a cohesive whole from this material it could have been very special indeed, but it frustratingly falls short. Worth the ride, though.

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Why do we get so many revivals by playwrights like Chekhov and Pinter and hardly ever see plays by British 20th century playwrights like Arnold Wesker?

This excellent 1958 play tells the story of an East End Jewish family over 20 years, cleverly bookended by the fascist march at Cable Street in 1936 (and the communist reaction) and the communist repression in Hungary (after the defeat of fascism in the second world war). The great success of the play is that the domestic sits comfortably with the history; indeed they each add something to the other – the perspective of the times in which they live for the family’s story and placing a family into history to bring it alive. The picture it manages to paint in six surprisingly short scenes is both vivid and epic.

Samantha Spiro’s Sarah is the family’s anchor and her performance is outstanding. I’ve mostly seen her in comedy and musicals before, so its great to see her as capable at drama (her beaming smiles at the curtain call reminded me of Clare Higgins). Danny Webb is also superb as the less sympathetic character of Harry, making an extraordinary journey from politically passionate but fundamentally lazy husband to a sad disabled incontinent old man. Jenna Augen and Tom Rosenthal make auspicious professional debuts as daughter and son Ada and Ronnie, as does Joel Gillman as young political activist Dave.

Dominic Cook gives the play the impeccable attention to detail we’ve come to expect after Now or Later and Clybourne Park and Ultz’ sets are brilliantly evocative. I can’t wait to see The Kitchen at the NT later in the year, but will someone please revive the other two parts of the trilogy that this forms the first part of please!

Another very satisfying evening at the Royal Court.

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This is the third production in these tunnels under Waterloo Station, but the first under the auspices of the Old Vic. It explores similar territory as the second – a dystopian future world – but not as a promenade performance this time; there’s new (old) raked cinema seating in one of the arches. 

Beth Steel’s play takes us to the north of England in a future world where man-made catastrophes have led to the decline of society. An encampment of ‘security’ is hunting ‘illegals’. They receive regular but limited supplies and news of civil unrest which unnerves them, thinking they might too be attacked. Much more is revealed in the second act, which is the play’s downfall as it provides an imbalance and an irritating obtuseness to the first act which prevents you from fully engaging with the story and the characters. 

However, the staging by Richard Twyman and design by takis are stunning, and there are six fine performances from Gethin Anthony, Sam Hazeldine, Matti Houghton, Dearbhla Molloy, Paul Rattray and Danny Webb. The relentless rumble of trains overhead and the dark dampness of the venue seem part of the experience. 

It confirms this an exciting new venue (though I suspect better for promenade performances than a more conventional seating as here) . On this occasion, installations around the performance space create an appropriate atmosphere and there’s now a cool and quirky bar (though we still have the portaloos!). 

It’s much better than the reviews would have you believe and well worth checking out.

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