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Posts Tagged ‘Desmond Barrit’

This is the second Alexi Kaye Campbell play to be revived relatively soon after its premiere, eight years ago at the Bush in this case, both at the Trafalgar Studios, both directed by Jamie Lloyd, and I for one am glad they have been as I missed the first outings of both, despite the fact they originated at regular haunts.

Kristin is an American who has been living in the UK most of her adult life. She’s a product of the late sixties – idealist, feminist, liberal, even socialist, who believes everyone should be promoting change and giving back. She divorced her husband when their two sons were young, but took them with her to Italy, pursuing her career as an art historian – until her husband took them from her, something she seems not to have fought, even acquiesced to. The title means a formal defence of one’s opinions or conduct; in this case Kristin is about to be held to account by her sons for not mentioning them in her recent memoir.

It’s her birthday and sons Peter and Simon, their girlfriends and gay friend Hugh are coming to lunch. Peter has taken a contrasting career path as a banker specialising in Africa. He is besotted with his American girlfriend Trudi, a somewhat vacuous evangelical Christian, something Kristin doesn’t really approve of, though she turns out to have more depth than first appears. Simon’s girlfriend, soap star Claire, another career Kristin disapproves of, arrives before and without him. Hugh is her close friend, and her defender. There’s a lot going on here, and I loved the richness of the story and the narrative, and the very well drawn characters.

Soutra Gilmour’s design is conventional (for her) but anchors the play in a British country cottage. Jamie Lloyd gets great performances from his terrific cast, led by Stockard Channing as spiky Kristin, who navigates the complex combination of arrogance, determination and guilt with great skill. Joseph Millson’s challenge is to characterise two very different brothers, which he does very well. Laura Carmichael was a bit of a revelation as Trudi, with what seemed, to these Brit ears, a spot-on American accent. It appears to be Freema Agyeman’s stage debut and impressive it was too. It’s lovely to see Desmond Barit in a role which so suits him and he relishes some cracking lines, milking them for all they’re worth.

This exceeded my expectation by a big margin and now I’ve seen four good Alexi Kaye Campbell plays, he enters my list of must-see playwrights.

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You can always rely on National Theatre Wales to take you on a new journey or to take a new route on an existing one. This isn’t the first play on dementia I’ve seen in recent years, but unlike The Father, which messed with your head to confront the condition, this one goes straight to the heart, with it’s choir setting and lovely contemporary choral music.

Most of the play takes place in the local library where the dementia choir rehearse, though we also visit homes to see some of the realities of living with the condition for both the patients and the carers. As it establishes itself, the therapeutic power of the choir becomes clear, though social services prove less than fully committed and the library is facing an uncertain future. The divisiveness of the miners strike return as an activist miner Rocky and former policeman Evan clash once more. Early onset alzheimer’s brings the much younger Joe and his carer Dyanne to the choir. We have a brief glimpse at carer abuse and a more difficult confrontation with a representative of the result of the demise of the valleys.

It’s a touch bitty, with lots of scene changes slowing the pace (and an awful lot of chair movement!), but it handles the issues effectively and sensitively and the music, including an excellent brand new Manic Street Preachers song written specially for the show, is uplifting. The performances are deeply moving, especially Dafydd Hywel as Rocky, Desmond Barrit as his nemesis Evan and Martin Marquez as Tom. NTW have been working with choirs like this and it’s great to see some of them on stage. Anna Fleischle’s design is uber-realistic and Matthew Dunstster’s staging brings out the best of Patrick Jones’ heart-on-sleeve writing.

I continue to admire NTW’s capacity to engage, educate, challenge, provoke and entertain and was glad I was in Wales to catch this.

 

 

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