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Posts Tagged ‘David Horovitch’

This is an adaptation of a twelve-year-old radio play by Mike Bartlett, six years before he hit the big time with Charles III and Albion, adaptations like Chariots of Fire and award-winning TV series Dr Foster.

He’s done six other things for radio, so this seems to be another strand sitting alongside the epic, like Albion, and the miniatures, like Bull. Another radio play, Love Contract, a year after this, ended up on the Royal Court stage as Contractions the following year (brilliantly revived last year by Deafinitely Theatre as a site specific piece on a trading floor). Now the enterprising Defibrillator have mined the archives to stage this one at the Arcola.

There are two seemingly separate stories more than half a century apart. James and Lucy meet before the second world war, but their relationship is marred by their failure to have children and infidelity. Mark and Amanda are army colleagues at the time of the Iraq war. The two strands eventually connect and its very satisfying joining it up for yourself. There was too little character interaction and dialogue and too much monologue for me, but given much is looking back storytelling, its easy to see why.

It’s simply staged by James Hillier with just a platform, a piano and some chairs, with some particularly effective lighting by Zoe Spurr making a significant contribution. The four performances are all excellent – David Horovitch and Kika Markham as the old couple and Lawrence Walker and Gemma Lawrence as the young soldiers.

I always enjoy seeing the early work of my favourite playwrights, but this is more than a collectors item, its a fine piece of storytelling. Just seventy minutes, but compelling theatre that’s well worth catching.

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The first Arthur Miller play I saw was Death of a Salesman, in Bristol, in a National Theatre touring production featuring Warren Mitchell, directed by Michael Rudman. It played a big part in my addiction to Miller and indeed theatre in general. Now here I am more than 35 years later seeing Rudman’s terrific revival of All My Sons in Kingston. It was like intravenous theatrical re-energising fluid. 

This was Miller’s third play, the first as a professional writer and his first hit. Every time I see it, it feels current and today the themes of business ethics and morals are as relevant as ever, if not more so. There’s a line where someone responds to a suggestion they’ve deceived for gain, to which they respond along the lines of how that makes them clever. Trump used that line in the first presidential debate a few weeks back without even knowing it.

The Keller family are stalwarts of the community, with a successful manufacturing business and one of those homes the neighbourhood revolves around, everyone forever popping in. Both of their sons fought in the Second World War but only one came back, though his mother won’t accept that her son is dead. During the war the factory produced aircraft parts and when a faulty batch results in deaths both business partners are arrested. Keller is eventually freed and partner Deever takes the rap. Youngest Keller son Chris now wants to marry Anne Deever who has disowned her father, but Chris’ mother won’t have it. Anne’s brother George turns up. He too had disowned his father but after a reluctant visit to see him in prison he makes revelations that start a chain reaction that brings the world of the Keller’s tumbling down. It unfolds like a Greek tragedy, it grips throughout and its conclusion is devastating.

Designer Michael Taylor has solved the Rose Theatre’s problem of a lack of intimacy for this kind of drama by bringing the stage forward to house the Keller’s garden, where the whole play takes place, and building a three-story wooden house with patio behind it, with high level trees coming out of the theatre’s back wall; it’s a superb design. It’s also a superb cast, with David Horovitch as Joe Keller, living with his lies, wracked with guilt, and Penny Downie as his wife Kate, in denial, still grieving three years on. I was hugely impressed by Alex Waldmann as son Chris and Francesca Zoutewelle as his intended Ann, and in an excellent supporting cast there’s a great performance from Edward Harrison as her brother George. Rudman’s direction is impeccable.

This is my fifth production of this play and it’s as good as any. World class theatre in Kingston. Go!

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The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is cornering the market in biographical plays with music about musicians. First Thomas Tallis (back later in the year), then Farinelli (transferring to the West End), now Nick Drake’s play about the birth of Handel’s Messiah, and it’s lovely.

The play takes us from Handel’s receipt of the libretto from his regular partner Charles Jennens (who seems to have conceived it), through his trip to Dublin (escaping the poor reception of his last opera in London), meeting the sister of rival composer Thomas (Rule Britannia) Arne and ‘casting’ her in The Messiah despite the fact she was more of an actor than a singer, to the successful Dublin première of his masterpiece. It’s all presided over by Crazy Crow, a porter by day and a body-snatcher by night, who acts as a narrator.

It’s a surprisingly light and humorous affair, though that takes nothing away from the quality of the storytelling; indeed it adds to it. The addition of Handel’s uplifting music, beautifully played by a five-piece ensemble under Chad Kelly and beautifully sung by a small choir of ten (benefiting from both the intimacy and the acoustic of the SWP), casts a wonderful spell over the whole thing and makes it even more captivating. David Horovitch is great as a somewhat grumpy Handel with Kelly Price very good as actress / singer Susannah Ciber. Sean Campion is the comic heart of the play as Crazy Crow (and others, including Jennens) a role which glues the play together.

It was ever such a short run, only a handful of performances; surely like the others it it must return or transfer.

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This time around, I couldn’t help feeling how Stoppardian this Terry Johnson play is – though maybe not as glib. Revived 20 years on, with Johnson directing, it seems as fresh as when I first saw it at The Royal Court.

It’s hard to describe without spoiling it. Sigmund Freud is in exile in London, dying of cancer,  just as the Second World War is about to break out. He’s visited by a girl who wants to revisit diagnoses of the past and pulls a few tricks out of the bag to help overcome his reluctance. Salvador Dali comes calling in homage and things take an obviously surreal turn. His doctor / friend Yahuda tries to keep him stable as events take their toll. Suffice to say it pulls a few surprises as it twists and turns and returns to where it started.

Though it’s a clever, well-written play, it does lose it’s way by stretching the first half too much. A judicious cut of 15 minutes or so would, in my view, make it a tighter and better play. Les Brotherston’s design is excellent, with a superb coup d’theatre in the second half. Anthony Sher was made to play Freud and he doesn’t disappoint. Adrain Schiller’s turn as Dali is a treat, and David Horovitch gives fine support as the doctor. I’m afraid I thought Lydia Wilson was undercast as the girl, leading to a degree of imbalance.

Great to see one of the best of underrated Terry Johnson’s plays again after so long.

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Seeing Saved two days before prepared me for a depressing experience. …….but Mike Leigh’s Grief isn’t depressing, it’s just sad.

We’re in 1957/58 and Dorothy still hasn’t come to terms with being a war widow. She struggles to maintain a functional relationship with her teenage daughter Victoria. Her brother Edwin lives with them but contributes nothing. Victoria does teenage rebellion. Edwin pours the sherry and occasionally breaks into song, with Dorothy joining in. Dorothy makes the tea. Their lives are dull, predictable and ever so sad. The performances of Lesley Manville, Sam Kelly and Ruby Bentall are however extraordinary.

Light relief is provided by occasional visits from Edwin’s friend Hugh (a lovely cameo from David Horovitch) and Dorothy’s friends Gertrude and Muriel, a terrific double-act from Marion Bailey and Wendy Nottingham. These three boast about their children’s achievements, their foreign holidays and their charitable acts. They also provide some well needed laughs to break up the sadness.

Alison Chitty’s design is pitch perfect late 50’s and I found myself spending much of the time soaking up the details of the brilliant set and costumes. This attention to detail is matched by the performances where every expression, glance and shrug seems to have meaning.

There are far too many short scenes, which creates an unsatisfying staccato feel and disrupts the flow of the piece. It’s a moving portrait of grief and sadness but it doesn’t really go anywhere and outstays it’s welcome by at least 30 minutes. Go for the performances and period picture, but don’t expect  much of a drama.

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