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Posts Tagged ‘Deborah Findlay’

When this evening was announced, it was three new short plays by Caryl Churchill. Now a fourth has been added, longer than the other three added together, which makes it the longest evening of new Churchill work in ages. I’ve tired of her descent into minimalism of late, also finding earlier works haven’t stood the test of time when revived, but this is a real return to form, a veritable theatrical feast.

The first half consists of three short works, with the inspired idea of front of curtain entertainment between them. The first is an intriguing piece about a glass girl. The characters perform on an elevated white shelf, which at one point is clearly a mantelpiece with ornaments that come alive, but at other times not. The second play features a god on a cloud and a boy playing on the ground, the god giving us a manic telling of Greek myths. In the third, a serial wife killer’s friends discuss him and his crimes and how they should react.

In the longest play, we’re in the home of Dot and Jimmy, cousins who live together, neither of whom work. In most of the short scenes, they are visited by Niamh, a distant cousin from Ireland who has recently moved near them, and Rob, a homeless man Jimmy has befriended during his runs in the park, mostly separately, but sometimes at the same time. Dot has a past and an intriguing object, both of which are revealed.

Death and killing run through all four plays, though they are often very funny. They appear to be modern spins on old tales – Greek myths, Bluebeard and a short story by Robert Louis Stevenson – though I can’t identify the fourth. James Macdonald’s staging is clever, Miriam Buether’s design is stunning and the acting is brilliant, with Tom Mothersdale giving a virtuoso performance as the god and Deborah Findlay and Toby Jones acting masterclasses in the final play.

It’s been a long wait, so all the more welcome.

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Alan Bennett’s last play, People, at the NT six years ago, was about the heritage ‘industry’. It tried to cover so many issues that it lost focus and proved a bit of a disappointment. He covers a lot of ground here too, but it’s more cohesive, a homage to the NHS with a swipe at the decline in our sense of social responsibility for good measure.

We’re in a Yorkshire general hospital, led by trust chairman and former Mayor Slater, that’s facing closure. They’re campaigning against it, and in the geriatric ward they’ve set up a choir as part of the campaign. There’s an omnipresent film documentary team, which Slater hopes will aid their campaign. Dr Valentine (anglicisation of his real name) is a caring doctor with a gentle bedside manner and genuine affection for his geriatric patients, but he’s facing deportation. Sister Gilcrest is old school, obsessed with continence and cleanliness. Nurse Pinkney is more focused on contentment and happiness. The real interest of Salter is his own career. Amongst the visitors, patient Mrs Maudsley’s family are predatory fortune hunters and coal-miner Joe’s son Colin is up from London, exorcising his fraught relationship with his dad; he’s a Management Consultant advising the Health Minister, an architect of closure plans. Just before the interval it takes a sinister turn.

Bennett’s acute observation of people shines again with finely drawn characterisations, delicious turns of phrase and a very clever unfolding narrative. I couldn’t stop smiling at the new ward names, changed at the suggestion of the minister. The twelve geriatric patients each have lovely back stories, which they share with us between songs. Our attitudes to the old, patient abuse, bed blocking and the obsession with targets, specialisation, outsourcing and privatisation are all covered. Of course, its very funny, but its also poignant and bang on target much of the time. Valentine’s final words direct to the audience pierced my heart.

The twelve patients are a delight, veteran thespians relishing such great writing. Deborah Findlay is brilliant as the cold but seemingly loyal, hard-working ward sister who becomes positively chilling. Sacha Dhawan has genuine warmth and empathy as Valentine. Samuel Barnett’s character Colin is rather unsympathetic, but he spars with Jeff Rawle’s brittle dad and both do eventually melt. There’s a lovely cameo from David Moorst as work experience affable Andy, who also turns unexpectedly. Peter Forbes makes a great job of the pompous self regarding Salter. Director Nicholas Hytner and designer Bob Crowley have worked with Bennett a lot, and they continue to serve his plays well.

I think the play divides people in many ways, with older audience members, NHS advocates and lefties the most positive. I loved it!

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Lucy Kirkwood’s brilliant Chimerica was always going to be hard to follow, so it’s great to report that her new play is very different but just as rewarding, a very mature piece from a young playwright.

Hazel and Robin are retired nuclear scientists / engineers with a small farm and four grown up children with four grandchildren. They live near the plant, on the coast, where they worked. A recent incident has meant a move to temporary accommodation and a significant disruption of their lifestyle. Former colleague Rose turns up after almost 40 years. She’s lived most her very different life in the US. They started their careers together building the plant and the conversation revolves around shared memories and catching up with the events in each others’ and other colleagues’ lives, until Rose says why she’s come.

It’s a very personal story of these three people, but so much more, exploring the diverse ways we fulfil our lives, growing old, relationships, generational legacy and debt, energy policy and the environment. I was captivated by these deeply drawn characters and their extraordinarily unique situation in whay is a play of many layers.

Miriam Buether’s cottage kitchen set is closed in by walls, floor and ceiling so that you feel you are peering into the room and their lives; it has the intimacy of a much smaller theatre. Deborah Findlay, Francesca Annis and Ron Cook are all superb and their somewhat complex relationships and current dilemma completely believable. James Macdonald directs this beautifully written play with great delicacy.

It’s a while since we saw such a fine play on the Royal Court’s main stage. I found it thought-provoking and enthralling, a deeply satisfying evening in the theatre.

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Though its billed as a comedy and it made me laugh – a lot – there’s more to Sam Holcroft’s play about the family Christmas from hell; it made me think a lot too.

Emma, the daughter of Adam & Sheena, is to undergo CGT (cognitive-behavioural therapy) in an attempt to cure her chronic fatigue. CGT requires you to create rules for living – coping strategies. Until we meet Emma, we spend Christmas morning with her parents, grandmother, uncle and his new girlfriend preparing the lunch. They have their own coping strategies too and these are explained to us on two giant scoreboards. In the second half these ‘rules for living’ are elaborated and explained and points scored whenever the strategies are successfully implemented. Everyone begins to realise mum has been in denial about dad’s illness when he arrives for a visit from hospital, at which point things break down completely as rules are abandoned, truths revealed and things get thrown – big-time! When we do meet Emma, she appears to be the only normal person in the room.

The Dorfman is configured as a large rectangular kitchen / diner with multi-level seating on the long sides and one level high up, above the scoreboards, on the short sides. It felt very voyeuristic from behind a half-wall on the front row. Chloe Lamford’s clever design is matched by the originality of the structure of the play and Marianne Elliott’s audacious production. The characterisations are excellent and they are brilliantly brought to life by the five lead actors. The chalk-and-cheese brothers are very well played by Stephen Manghan, ex-cricketer now legal associate, as Adam and Miles Jupp, sometime actor who’s also settled for the law, as Matthew, both influenced if not bullied by dad. Adam’s wife Sheena, beautifully played by Claudie Blakley, is too fond of a tipple and focused on alternative therapies for Emma, solutions not exactly embraced by Adam. Maggie Service is a loud, clumsy, dippy delight as Matt’s new(ish) girlfriend, actress Carrie. Deborah Findlay is superb as the pill-popping mum who has clearly been put upon for donkey’s years. Lovely performances.

In between the laughs, I found myself thinking about my own (and others) coping strategies and reflecting on my own dysfunctional family! An original and entertaining evening .

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2013 will go down as the year when some of our finest young actors took to the boards and made Shakespeare exciting, seriously cool and the hottest ticket in town. Tom Hiddleston’s Coriolanus joins James McAvoy’s Macbeth as a raw, visceral, physical & thrilling role interpretation. The dream team of Adrian Lester and Rory Kinnear provided psychological depth in a very contemporary Othello. Jude Law and David Tennant as King’s Henry V & Richard II led more elegant, traditional but lucid interpretations. They enhanced the theatrical year and I feel privileged to have seen them all.

The Donmar has provided some great Shakespeare evenings in recent years – Othello, Richard II, King Lear & Julius Caesar – and this is a match for them all. It’s a deeply intelligent, imaginative and thrilling interpretation that was riveting from beginning to end. When we got to the interval after 90 minutes, I wanted a pee, but not an interval! It’s the most objective reading of the play I’ve seen, with a less sympathetic Coriolanus. It balances his scorn at the public reaction to his heroic defence of the state with Rome’s concern over his propensity for tyrannical autocracy. This most political of plays gets a most political production, yet a very personal mother-son relationship shines through.

There are so many highlights, I don’t quite know where to start. The opening food riot uses live and projected graffiti to great effect. The fight scenes are so well staged (by Richard Ryan) you almost feel the blows. The battle to take a city is brilliantly staged by climbing ladders, one real and the rest projections. The disrespect shown at his banishment is truly shocking. The scene where Volumnia pleads with her son not to take Rome is deeply moving. Coriolanus’ death makes you gasp. Josie Rourke’s staging and Lucy Osbourne’s designs are masterly.

Tom Hiddleston exceeds expectations as Coriolanus, with huge presence and great passion, but he has extraordinary support from a faultless cast. Deborah Findlay conveys the mother’s pride and love superbly; a strong woman of great conviction. I loved Birgitte Hjort Sorensen somewhat neurotic Virgilia (without a hint of her native Danish accent), Mark Gatiss fatherly Menenius adds much-needed humour and Hadley Fraser leads the bearded Volscians with tribal passion yet respect and love for a fellow soldier, even if he is the enemy. You admire Peter de Jersey for his loyalty and you’re deeply suspicious of the motives of Tribunes Brutus & Sicinia played by Elliot Levey & Helen Schlesinger – effective sex-blind casting there, as there is with Rochenda Sandall as a one-woman crowd who almost bursts a blood vessel before your very eyes.

This ended my theatrical year on a real high. A triumph for all involved and great to report that those Hiddleston fans were enthralled, quiet and respectful. Wonderful.

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I’ve come late to this, first because if indecision (I like it, but do I want to see it again?) and then because of a cancelled performance, so you’d be forgiven if you’re by now not really interested in my view!

What struck me most about this superbly cast revival was how contemporary the play is – and always will be I suspect. A play written almost 70 years ago based on a true story some 30 years before is a completely relevant and up-to-date debate about human rights. As John Morrison points out in his excellent programme essay, it serves the same purpose as today’s tribunal and verbatim plays.

Young Winslow is a navy cadet expelled for stealing a postal order (remember them?). His father decides to clear his name at all costs. In the first act, the facts of the case itself are examined; in the second – ending in a brilliant mock interrogation which brings spontaneous applause – they decide how to proceed; in the third the real costs of fighting the case are revealed and in the fourth act we learn the outcome. We even get a topical (for the early 20th century) sub-plot about the suffragettes. It’s a perfectly formed play which holds you from beginning to end. It might sound dry, but it’s often funny, sometimes moving and a perfect balance between thought-provoking and entertaining.

You can’t help reflecting on the present debate about whether human rights have gone too far, recent responses to terrorism which fly in the face of these rights and the lengths people have to go to – and the price they have to pay – for justice and truth. We even get a bang-up-to-date snipe at the press. At one point a guilty personal reflection of an occasion where I tried to talk a friend out of pursuing fairness for pragmatic reasons popped into my head and at another point a professional reflection of a case where human rights had gone too far came back.

This is all beautifully staged by Lindsay Posner in a period perfect Edwardian drawing-room designed by Peter McKintosh. Henry Goodman was made for the part of the indignant, determined father and Deborah Finday is superb as his somewhat fluffier wife. Naomi Frederick perfectly captures the feistiness of suffragette daughter Catherine, Nick Hendrix brilliantly conveys son Dickie’s loyal but superficial attitude, and Charlie Rowe is hugely impressive as the Winslow boy himself. Add to this Peter Sullivan’s terrific barrister, with a professional exterior hiding a passion for justice, Richard Teverson’s pitch-perfect stiff upper lipness, Jay Villiers lovable love-struck Desmond and Wendy Nottingham’s delightful maid and you really do have a crack cast.

So glad I did go after all. You have 4.5 more weeks to see why.

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How on earth can a 400-year old play be so of the moment? Here it turns out to be a play about the evil of money and the selfish and unprincipled nature of (most of) those who make it and have it. Familiar?

A spendthrift but generous Greek becomes disillusioned with the world when his friends desert him as his money runs out. It’s an odd play, but Nicholas Hytner’s production makes it work well for a modern audience. We recognise everyone at Timon’s party – freeloaders and liggers exploiting his generosity and hospitality. The poet seems a bit like Wil Self and the artist is a dead ringer for Tracy Emin! When his steward tells him he’s spent it all, he sends his staff to his friends in the expectation that his generosity will be reciprocated, but they all turn their backs on him. So off he goes into exile – in this production as a vagrant living in what appears to be a disused underground car park.

The play opens brilliantly at a reception in a gallery named in Timon’s honour and moves to dinner parties, designer hotel receptions and City offices. The verse is the only dated thing about it – the words themselves aren’t – and relocating it to the current day works really well. Simon Russell Beale is superb; he has that knack of making you hear things you didn’t hear / read last time, seeming to give the verse  new meaning. Timon’s male steward Flavius has become female Flavia and Deborah Findlay is excellent; she gets a lot of the lines which fit current times. Hilton McRae is a brooding prescence as philosopher Apemantus.

Modern settings don’t always work, but this one certainly does. After the dreadful German Timon at Globe-to-Globe, this is a tonic.

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