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Posts Tagged ‘David Leveaux’

I think I might be falling out of love with Tom Stoppard. I didn’t really like his latest play The Hard Problem and I took against Travesties in it’s recent revival at the Menier. I last saw this play six years ago, when it left me with the same feeling as the recent Travesties – ‘look how clever I am’ – but I decided to give it another go as I recall enjoying earlier productions.

The titular characters are of course minor characters in Hamlet and you probably do need to know that play, which is effectively playing concurrently, mostly off-stage, to ‘get’ this one. What we get is these minor Hamlet character’s musings, adventures at sea en route from Denmark to England and interaction with The Player and his troop. Hamlet, Gertrude, Polonius, Ophelia, Horatio and Fortinbras all put in appearances.

Today it seems the work of a clever clogs young playwright showing off. It’s undoubtedly intelligent, but that comes with an air of superiority and glibness which for me rather stifles it. Whatever you think of the play, though, David Leveaux’s production is as good as it gets, with a superb impressionistic design from Anna Fleischle.

The chemistry of the titular pair is crucial. The last paring I saw was Jamie Parker and Samuel Barnett, who had worked together for years on The History Boys but didn’t have that chemistry. Daniel Ratcliffe and Joshua Maguire don’t appear to have worked together before, yet they have it in abundance. I admire Radcliffe for how he has managed his post-Potter career and here he takes a role often upstaged by two others without any attempt to use his star status or upstage his colleagues. David Haig as The Player is a larger-than-life ‘Lord of Misrule’ with punk gothic followers,  like some sort of Pied Piper, and he almost steals the show.

Great production. Great performances. Maybe the play has had its day.

 

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It’s nights like this that re-energise my theatre-going. A 17-year-old play that has somehow matured with age. Patrick Marber hasn’t been a very prolific playwright, producing only a handful in 20 years, and two of those were adapted from another source. He started with a bang with Dealer’s Choice and when I saw the revival of that at the Menier in 2007 I was convinced it was his best original work; now I think this is. It has scrubbed up well, there are four excellent performances and the new production sparkles. Another fine revival at the Donmar.

Dan meets Alice when he witnesses her being hit by a taxi and takes her to hospital. She’s a former stripper and all-round nomad and he’s an obituarist and wannabe novelist. They become an item. Dan meets photographer Anna when she takes his picture for the cover of his first book. He sets her up with doctor Larry by posing as her in a chatroom and fixing a meeting. They become an item. From here their lives become entwined and we peek into the very heart of their relationships and their sex lives laid bare. It’s a spiky, sexually explicit and often unpredictable ride, with so many brilliant scenes. The chat-room is a hoot and at several points it switches between scenes in an instant (with the actors of both scenes on stage), on one occasion in reverse chronology! I loved it all over again.

For those of us who don’t do Pinter, it’s 9 years since Rufus Sewell was on a London stage in Stoppard’s Rock & Roll and its a very welcome return to remind us how magnetic he can be. I’m so used to seeing Nancy Carroll in classics, she quite took my breath away in an incredibly sexy performance. Oliver Chris extends his range again following more comic roles in One Man, Two Guvnors, Great Britain and Charles III. Relative newcomer Rachel Redford more than holds her own in this company as feisty, unpredictable Alice. Director David Leveaux and designer Bunny Christie make the whole thing flow seamlessly; neither the writing nor the staging has any flab.

I’ve never credited a House Manager before, but it dawned on me last night what a well run, welcoming theatre this now is. Add in another terrific revival and the Donmar’s indispensability is yet again confirmed. I hope you’ve got tickets already.

 

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When you watch X-Factor on the weekend, remember there was once a time when pop groups learned their craft by hard slog and trial & error. The Beatles would never have been the greatest band the world has ever seen if they hadn’t spent the best part of two years playing lengthy sets in the Cavern in Liverpool and in much seedier clubs in Hamburg.

What Backbeat does by focusing on this brief but intense and important period is show us how it all began. The fact that it uses young actors who have recently learnt, and are still learning, to sing and play gives it an authenticity which brings the story alive. It’s not a musical; it’s a play – but the musical sequences are crucial and become increasingly competent and exciting as the story develops. They’d sound a lot better played by professional musicians, but that would miss the point and be a lot less true to the story. I loved the rawness and raggedness of the music because it felt so real.

In this period, of course, original bassist Stuart Sutcliffe looms large. Lennon’s art school mate who can’t play a note but is super-cool joins the band, falls for photographer Astrid Kirchherr & steals her from fellow artist Klaus Voorman, leaves the band for Hamburg Art School (under Edward Paolozzi no less – even this Beatles obsessive didn’t know that!) and dies tragically. Paul switches to bass and Pete Best is dumped for Ringo and the rest is history. When they put on Astrid’s jackets and strike the first chords of Love Me Do, there was a shiver up my spine and a tear in my eye. This is where the musical soundtrack of my life really began.

It really does tell the story well. Comparisons with Jersey Boys are unfair –  this is not a biographical retrospective on a spectacular scale with a band’s entire back catalogue; it’s a play focusing in more depth on a short formative period. Both are great, but completely different.

They actors don’t impersonate the fab four (five) but they brilliantly convey the essence if the people. Andrew Knott has Lennon’s attitude, power and influence and Daniel Healy’s McCartney is the more serious, and seriously ambitious, musician (with spot-on nodding!). Will Payne captures the much younger George, quietly in awe of the others, growing up before your eyes. There’s less pressure on Oliver Bennett as Pete Best and Nick Blood as Sutcliffe as we know less of their characters, but they’re both excellent. Adam Sopp’s Ringo only arrives in the final scene, but his inimitable grin made me smile.

There isn’t a moment wasted in David Leveaux’s staging and the design team of Christopher Oram, Andrew D Edwards, Howard Harrison, David Holmes, Timothy Bird and Nina Dunn have created an environment which allows a fluid flow from scene to scene and location to location.

I loved this show, and I don’t think that’s entirely because of how much The Beatles meant to me. It’s a great story well told. They don’t even get to use that extraordinary back catalogue – we never get beyond Love Me Do – yet you can hear the beginnings of that sound that has not been equalled in the fifty years that have passed since. Give X-Factor a miss and find out how real talent develops.

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