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Posts Tagged ‘Duke of York’s Theatre’

I’ve seen some amazing actors play Lear, seven of them knights of the realm, but this is the first time I’ve seen the same actor play him twice, only ten years apart (though I’ve seen five more Lear’s since the last time, not counting the one from Belarus and the one with sheep!). With Ian McKellen in his eightieth year, he’s the oldest, and the closest to the character’s age. I regret not booking to see this in Chichester. My thinking was that I’d seen McKellen’s Lear. I suspect it would have been better (and cheaper!), but it’s still a must-see in the West End, and I now realise how flawed my thinking had been.

They’ve put a platform through the centre of the stalls, leading to an entrance / exit at the rear, losing a handful of rows and quite a few other seats in the process. They also use the side aisles as entrances / exits. I don’t know the impact of this in the upper tiers, but it made the stalls space more intimate. On stage there’s floor-to-ceiling wood panelling with doors and entrances within it. The floor covering changes with the location, starting as red carpet as the royal family enter for Lear’s announcement that he is to divide the country between his daughters. I thought Paul Wills design was excellent.

Though it’s something like my 14th Lear, there were things about this one that changed my response to the story. I still think there’s more than a touch of implausibility in him falling for the sycophancy of two daughters rather than the sincerity of the third, but here there’s an ageism in Goneril and Regan, in addition to to my normal feelings of spoilt children and inheritance ruins, and Regan in particular becomes completely self-obsessed and self-centred. The Duke of Kent has become the Countess of Kent, and this subtly changes, softens, the character. Edmund seems more machiavellian in contrast to an even more empathetic Edgar. Lear’s madness at first seems eccentricity, before it becomes tragic. I thought Jonathan Munby’s production was very fresh and intelligent.

From the original Chichester cast, Sinead Cusak and Danny Webb are both excellent as Kent and Gloucester respectively, and Kirsty Bushell is simply terrific as Regan. Michael Matus makes much more of the role of Oswald. There are some great performances from new cast members too, not least a superb Edgar from Luke Thompson and an outstanding Edmund in James Corrigan. Lloyd Hutchison is a particularly good Fool. I felt privileged to be seeing Ian McKellen in this role again, a gentler, sadder reading. At the curtain call, memories of more than twenty earlier performances by this fine actor swept over me as I rose to my feet in tribute.

The programme is way better than normal flimsy West End fare and in one of its four essay’s, historian David Starkey suggests that Shakespeare may have been having a dialogue with his patron, King James, even sending him messages about the consequences of dividing a kingdom. Four hundred years later, it’s sending messages still, and I suspect will continue to do so for a long time to come.

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When I saw, and loved, this National Theatre of Scotland show at the Traverse Theatre during the Edinburgh fringe two years ago, I would never have predicted I’d be seeing it in a West End theatre; it might be the most unlikely transfer ever. If anything, Lee Hall’s anarchic play with music is better second time around.

Our Ladies are the choir of a catholic school of the same name, from a back-of-beyond part of Scotland, who go to Edinburgh for a singing competition which turns into a bender of epic proportions, involving copious amounts of alcohol, underage sex and a riot of fun. The individual stories of the six girls are interwoven with the illicit hedonistic pleasures of the group.

It starts with some heavenly a cappella choral singing before they burst into the songs of ELO accompanied by an excellent three-piece band; ladies, obviously. These continue throughout, with choral pieces returning occasionally. It’s raucous, anarchic, rude and funny, yet the personal coming of age stories are often very moving and you get to empathise with and love these girls. The accents are sometimes impenetrable, which somehow adds to the authenticity. The six actresses, who appear to be the original cast, are all terrific, maturing in their roles.

It might be an unlikely West End hit, but it’s a breath of fresh air and I was so pleased I returned to see it again. A great curtain-raiser for my return to Edfringe on Friday.

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This much lauded revival of Tennessee Williams’ autobiographical first hit has travelled from Harvard to Broadway & the Edinburgh Festival en route to the West End, with two of its original cast staying with it. The Director and Designer are our own John Tiffany and Bob Crowley. It’s my fourth production in just over twenty years and that may be why I’m less euphoric than most.

The Wingfield family have fallen on hard times since Mr Wingfield deserted them. They live in an apartment in St Louis. Mother Amanda is a southern belle, a former debutante, who forever reminisces about her past. Her children are both her whole life and a disappointment to her. Son Tom works in a warehouse and escapes regularly from the confines of his stifling home life to ‘the movies’. His sister Laura has a small disability, though she’s referred to as ‘a cripple’, and seems to be somewhat unstable. She dropped out of high school and college and now sits at home tending and playing with her collection of glass animals. Amanda is obsessed with marrying off Laura and is thrilled when Tom brings hime a ‘a gentleman caller’, his more successful colleague Jim. At first Laura is too shy and withdrawn to engage with them and join in the dinner, but Jim turns out to be an obsession from her past and things begin to go a lot better – until Jim drops a bombshell and upsets both Laura and Amanda and provokes Tom’s planned departure for pastures new.

Bob Crowley’s beautiful impressionistic set, gorgeously lit by Natasha Katz,  has a fire escape rising to the heavens with stairs down beneath the stage emphasising the location, though from the front stalls I didn’t fully appreciate his design coup until I walked to the front of the stage at the end. John Tiffany’s staging, with ‘movement’ from regular collaborator Steven Hoggett, has a light touch with the pivotal second half scene between Laura and Jim masterly, but I didn’t engage with it emotionally. Cherry Jones as Amanda and Brian J Smith as Jim are hugely impressive, perhaps because they are the two stayers. Though we only see him in the second half, I thought Smith lifted the production. Michael Esper, fresh from his star turn in Lazarus, didn’t quite do it for me and Kate O’Flynn’s Laura was sometimes too squeaky and overly fey.

It’s a better production than the misguided one at the Young Vic six or seven years ago and as good as the last West End outing directed by Rupert Goold’s and starring Jessica Lange a few years before that, but it doesn’t live up to Sam Mendes Donmar production (will anything ever?) just over twenty years ago and it looks like that’s my curse; it stops me joining in the euphoria, even though I much admired it. Still, I’m glad I caught it and would certainly recommend it.

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