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Posts Tagged ‘Dermot Crowley’

I last saw this 1980 play by the late Brian Friel in Sam Mendes’ Donmar Warehouse Theatre production twenty-five years ago. Ian Rickson’s revival in the National’s Olivier Theatre makes a virtue of the bigger space and it works even better on this scale, with a superb design by Rae Smith, beautifully lit by Neil Austin, making great use of the Olivier stage (something that lately hasn’t been said that often!).

We’re in rural Ireland in 1833, in an independent and potentially illegal ‘Hedge School’, giving a classical education to adults in Latin and Irish. The school is run by Hugh and his son Manus. Hugh’s other son Owen is working as a translator for the British army, which is mapping this part of Ireland, renaming places in English. When British army Lieutenant Yolland and Manus’ girlfriend fall for each other, events take a dramatic turn. The disappearance of Yolland incurs the wrath of the British, who threaten to kill animals, evict people and demolish homes. The true purpose of the British forces mission becomes clear.

It all takes place in a school room, with a large green space behind and brooding clouds above providing an atmospheric and evocative picture of rural Ireland. It takes a while before you realise the Irish are speaking Irish (Gaelic) and the British speaking English; at this time English was rarely spoken by the people of Ireland. Ciaran Hinds is great as Hugh, with Seamus O’Hare as Manus and Colin Morgan as Owen both excellent. In a fine supporting cast, Dermot Crowley shines as the erudite, knowledgable but often drunk Jimmy Jack Cassie, who studies Greek and Latin.

This is an excellent revival of a fascinating play, anchored in history, beautifully staged and performed.

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Rufus Norris’ first production as Artistic Director of the National Theatre somehow seems wholly appropriate. Carol Anne Duffy’s excellent adaptation of this 15th Century English morality play (which may be based on Flemish or Latin originals) is something no-one else could or would do on this scale. It also brings Chiwetel Ejiofor back to the NT after 15 years.

In this contemporary Everyman, he is celebrating his 40th birthday in a somewhat hedonistic way. He’s a successful businessman and his friends (each representing one of the senses or wits) spring a surprise party at the top of a London building. There’s drink, dancing and a brilliantly choreographed communal cocaine snort by Javier De Frutos. We next see him awaken, hung over, to meet Kate Duchene’s cleaning lady God and Dermot Crowley’s droll Death, who set him off on a journey to account for himself, starting with his family who he has all but deserted and continuing through his life, career and relationships.

Duffy’s modern verse sparkles and I think it’s the chief reason the play works so well today. It’s performed on a bare stage in front of a giant video wall with a pit at the rear for most entrances and exits. A few tables, some mannequins and a lot of rubbish are the only props, but with great lighting, music and a giant wind machine it all seems epic. In addition to a brilliant but exhausting performance from a sweat-drained Ejiofor, and the terrific turns from Duchene and Crowley, the 20 strong supporting cast includes the wonderful Sharon D Clarke as his mother (who gets to sing Stormy Weather) and Nick Holder as Strength.

We haven’t seen Everyman in modern times as much as we have it’s contemporary The Mysteries and its great to see it staged at last, particularly in such a fine production on the Olivier stage led by one of the greatest actors of his generation.

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We don’t have a free press (all of its owners peddle their particular prejudices) but we do have a free theatre, and I think it’s great that days after the end of the obscenely expensive but useless hacking trial, our National Theatre can stage a comprehensive satirical review of what is after all a real life farce. As it turns out, it’s hugely entertaining, though also sometimes uncomfortable and occasionally chilling.

Paige Britain is the news editor of The Free Press. Her boss, an excellent Robert Glenister, is a loud mouthed crude bullying editor prone to regularly naming one member of staff ‘C**t of the Month’ with the award inscribed in black felt tip pen on their forehead. The proprietor, the equally excellent Dermot Crowley, is an Irish media baron. The Free Press is well and truly in the gutter and sinks deeper as the play progresses and phone hacking becomes their new favourite research method. They collude with the police and, to a lesser extent, politicians (who come off a little lightly). The course of events bear a striking resemblance to actual events. It’s packed full of cracking dialogue and jokes, and Nichlolas Hytner’s production zips along at a formidable pace, but it still leaves you feeling you are complicit by buying these odious rags (well, not me, obviously).

Set in the newsroom, with sliding video screens giving us front pages, TV news, select committees and other recorded scenes, it’s very slickly staged and so packed with detail you struggle to take it all in. Tim Hatley’s design facilitates the extraordinary pace. In only her fourth stage appearance, Billy Piper is sensational as Paige; you completely believe in her as an ambitious manipulative woman without an iota of principles. Richard Bean has bravely written the Met Commissioner as a recent politically correct appointment – an openly gay Asian – and Aaron Neil almost steals the show with his deadpan delivery and impeccable timing. There are too many other good performances to mention in a superb ensemble. No-one is free from ridicule, with snipes at The Guardian & The Independent as well as the tabloids.

It’s thrilling to see something so current, relevant and important on the stage, made more exciting by being announced just days before its opening and days after the trial ended, without previews and no time to create programmes. This is one of the best things on the National stage in recent years. Unmissable.

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