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Posts Tagged ‘David Dawson’

Irish playwright Brian Friel wrote something like 30 plays and adaptations in 45 years from the early 60’s. A handful have been revived fairly regularly, becoming classics. This is the second London revival of the summer, following the highly successful Translations at the NT. Sadly this rather Chekhovian play, written just one year earlier in 1979, is a lot less successful.

Though the story is the same, this isn’t the play I remember seeing at Hampstead Theatre in 1988 or the NT in 2005, and I’m struggling to understand why. Here the Irish ‘big house’ is represented by a faded backdrop and a model around which the action takes place in a shallow pit, with actors waiting at the back until they take part. I found Es Devlin’s design and Lyndsey Turner’s staging a bit puzzling.

The family is gathered for youngest daughter Claire’s wedding to a much older man, who we never meet. Casimir has come from Hamburg where he now lives with his wife and two boys. Alice and her husband Eamon are over from London. Judith runs the home, looking after their father, Uncle George and Claire, though she’d clearly like to be somewhere else with Willie. American historian Tom is visiting as part of the research into his latest project.

Nothing much happens in the first two acts, which is my main problem with it. Claire plays Chopin, encouraged by Casimir, sexually ambiguous, who tells implausible stories. Eamon and Alice, who seems to be the subject of abuse, spar. Willie makes himself useful; fixing intercom speakers so they can hear father’s confused ramblings downstairs. By the interval, I was frankly rather bored.

They make up for it in the final act, where their father’s funeral has usurped the wedding, which is to be delayed for three months. They try and resolve what is to happen to the house, and to Uncle George. Eamon and Alice are to return to London, taking the uncle with them. Casimir is heading back to his family in Germany. Judith wants rid of the liability the house has become so that she can at last live her own life. In a fine cast, David Dawson shines as Casimir, banishing the memory of Niall Buggy and Andrew Scott, who played the role before him.

This time around, I found it dull, uneven and poorly paced, a bit like my bete noire Chekhov!

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When Tooting Arts Club found this temporary space and used it back in October for Barbarians, it seemed so right. The material connected with the space, they used three separate parts of the building for the three short plays and the staging made great use of the space and its unique atmosphere. My first thought on this is why is it here? Does it gain anything by being here? Perhaps some intimacy, but it would have worked better in similarly priced Off-West End venues like The Donmar, Almeida, Dorfman & Hampstead. The intimacy too comes at the expense of poor sight lines (particularly on the un-raked second row and at the far sides – you have been warned) and traffic noise directly outside.

This is only the third Richard Greenberg play to be produced in London (out of 24 original works). I liked the other two but I didn’t really like this. I find it hard to like a play all of whose characters I don’t like. It’s the beginning of the 20th century in New York. Langley Collyer is a concert pianist. His brother Homer has given up his job as an Admiralty Lawyer to be his bother’s keeper. Milly enters their lives and plays psychological games with Homer, whose brother is oblivious because of his low emotional intelligence. Milly is a socialite and heiress and the possessive Homer sanctions her marriage to Langley as it will help solve their financial problems. The first act ends as they are about to marry.

When we return we discover they didn’t marry. Milly subsequently got pregnant, had a termination, her family disown and disinherit her and she falls on hard times. Langley stops playing and both brothers descend from eccentricity to madness. Homer invites Milly to stay with hints he may marry her. All three decline dramatically and it becomes deeply tragic.

The performances of Andrew Scott, David Dawson and Joanna Vanderham are all outstanding, but I still didn’t like this bleak and desolate play based on real life characters, and I didn’t feel it belonged here, as Barbarians did.

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There was a time when Schiller’s plays were dull and turgid. Then along came Mike Poulton with adaptations which breathed new life into them. His  adaptation of Don Carlos was masterly and now he excels with this cross between Les Liaisons Dangereuses and Romeo & Juliet.

The Chancellor’s son, an army major, is in love with court musician’s daughter Luise, but his father plans to wed him to the Prince’s mistress to provide cover for the Prince and obtain influence for himself.  The Chancellor’s private secretary, appropriately named Wurm, wants Luise himself and with the help of Lady Milford and Hofmarschall ( I wasn’t quite sure what his role is) his machiavellian plans unfold, ending tragically with its R&J moment. It’s a cracking story and the dialogue is sharp and often witty; not a word is wasted.

The Donmar space is simply but beautifully designed and lit by Peter McKintosh and Paule Constable respectively and Michael Grandage’s staging is as ever impeccable. I don’t think even the Donmar has ever assemble an ensemble this good. You totally believe in the love and passion of Felicity Jones and Max Bennett as Luise and Ferdinand. Ben Daniels has never been better than here as the Chancellor, whose craze for power unleashes such tragedy and results in his own deep remorse. John Light and David Dawson provide the intrigue in their deliciously smarmy, oleaginous fashion (and in the case of Dawson, very camp) whilst Alex Kingston is every bit the arch manipulator whose only interest is herself – at any cost . I also really liked Paul Higgins devoted passionate father who does much to illustrate the backdrop of the class divide.

This will I’m sure be one of the highlights of the year, and one of the defining productions of Grandage’s reign at the Donmar. Miss at your peril.

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Somehow the reviews led me to believe I was in for a raucous satire, so I was very surprised to find this play so disturbing, with a positively chilling final scene.

An Oxford University dining society (think Bullingdon Club) is meeting in the private room of an out-of-town gastropub, their penchant for trashing their venues (but paying the full cost, as if this means it’s OK) having been rumbled in the city. The power struggle to depose the current weak president leads to one trying to prove his point by menu choices, another by hiring a prostitute and a third by organising a post-dinner outing to Reykjavik (good timing, there!) in Dad’s private plane. As the evening progresses, wine is consumed, rituals are observed, behaviour declines and underlying attitudes emerge.

It’s a very cleverly structured play, because it leaves you to make connections and consider what the consequences of these attitudes are. In my case, it explained much of the arrogance of the last few years where our society has been threatened by people who think they have rights to rule and rights to exploit. This is what was so devastating for me, and the ending – which I won’t reveal – is both chilling and depressing in its believability.

The acting is uniformly excellent, with David Dawson – fast becoming the one to watch in his generation – following The Old Vic’s Entertainer, Chichester’s Nicholas Nickleby and Lyric Hammersmith’s Comedians with another terrific performance and Leo Bill a thrillingly vicious toff. Anthony Ward’s extraordinary lifelike set makes you feel like a fly on the wall rather than a member of an audience, but most importantly two young women – playwright Laura Wade and director Lyndsey Turner – have put up a mirror to a small but very real and powerful part of our society in an entertaining but thought-provoking and revealing way without preaching.

After Jerusalem and Enron, this feels like the third in a state-of-the-nation/world trilogy and another theatrical feast.

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