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Posts Tagged ‘Duncan Macmillan’

This 2012 Duncan McMillan play gets a very early revival on a much bigger stage in a much higher profile production. What seemed like a nice little play eight years ago now feels like a bit of an epic. I don’t know whether this is because it’s rewritten, in a different space, a different director and performers, the topicality of the environmental debate, the passage of time or a combination of them all. Whatever, it’s a thought-provoking and entertaining ninety minutes, stunningly staged and performed.

The play starts with the man in the couple raising the idea of starting a family. This comes out of the blue and the discussion continues for days and days, with a particular focus on the environmental impact of bringing another life into the world; tens of thousands of tonnes of co2 apparently. It soon becomes a play about their lifelong relationship and its ups and downs, with the deterioration in the environment almost always in the background. The naturalistic dialogue sparkles and its often very funny, but not at the expense of the serious themes. The pace is breathless and it never lags or drags.

It’s extraordinary how much you can pack into 90 minutes; you really do feel as if you get to know these people, understanding their dilemmas and even sharing their emotions. That’s no doubt helped by two terrific performances. Claire Foy’s character talks at a manic pace, so its a tough part which she executes with great skill and emotionality. Matt Smith’s character is cooler and more measured which he invests with a more measured restraint. There’s no set as such, except some (appropriate) solar panels, so they are the focus visually, as they move around the space, in addition to the continuous dialogue. It’s really captivating.

It may be star casting that’s selling the seats, but it’s superb writing, finely nuanced direction and star performances that enthrals you.

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I’ve never read any Paul Auster books, so I came to this stage adaptation by Duncan Macmillan cold, though it’s the third time in six days I’ve seen the work of projection masters 59 Productions, this time expanded to almost all creative inputs. As much as I admired the extraordinary stagecraft, I’m afraid I didn’t engage with the story, perhaps because I was spellbound by the staging and thereby distracted from the story. I found myself admiring the artistry without any involvement in the tale.

It’s a Chandleresque film noir tale, somewhat convoluted, involving a manic chase across New York City by reclusive novelist Daniel Quinn provoked by a call to the wrong number. He takes on the persona of Auster as private detective, but we seem to enter all sorts of alternative realities. To be honest, I got a bit lost. I was however gawping in wonder as the stage turned from one home to another to street to station and so on, through some of the slickest projections I’ve ever seen.

The main problem is that the staging swamps the story, and there’s no emotional engagement at all. You find yourself staring in wonder at the spectacle, but uninvolved in the events that unfold. I admired the performances, Leo Warner’s direction, Jenny Melville design and Lysander Ashton’s projections, but I didn’t engage with it.

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This wasn’t an easy watch. Duncan MacMillan’s play concerns an actress’ addiction to drink and drugs and it’s a harrowing affair. It’s something you admire rather than enjoy, but there’s a lot to admire in Jeremy Herrin’s production for Headlong at the NT.

There’s a brilliantly clever and disorientating opening scene, but we’re soon checking into rehab with very raw experiences of reception, withdrawal, group therapy and failures along the way. Our protagonist, Emma / Sarah isn’t very likeable but she is very plausible. She’s rather self-obsessed, with a tendency to talk down, and her commitment to, and motivation for, getting clean isn’t always clear. Her relationships with the medical and care staff and fellow ‘patients’ aren’t good. It’s a rocky road, made more rocky by her own attitude and disposition. Watching it is an intense, sometimes shocking and very emotional experience.

It’s staged in a white plastic structure (designed by Bunny Christie) with the audience in close proximity on the two open sides, which also provide two of the six entrances, settings rising from the floor. This makes for a fast-paced staging. Amongst Jeremy Herrin’s raft of ideas, the representation of her hallucinations is hugely inventive. The production makes you feel uncomfortable, guilty that you are invading someone’s private life, watching something that perhaps you shouldn’t. Though if you have any doubts about the damage drink and drugs can do, you certainly should.

Though it’s a uniformly excellent cast, Denise Gough carries the evening with a stunning central performance, on stage virtually the whole time. Very occasionally you see a performance you know will be a turning point in someone’s career and this is one of those occasions.

Important rather than entertaining, but I’m glad I saw it.

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The most striking thing about this stage adaptation of George Orwell’s novel is how freshly minted it feels; it’s very hard to believe it was written 65 years ago. It’s also surprising how few stage adaptations there have been of such a prophetic and dramatic story.

This one is ‘framed’ by some sort of book club in 2050, seemingly taking its lead from Orwell’s epilogue. Winston steps out of the book club and tells his story in flashback. It’s at its best when it’s at its most chilling – there are moments during his torture when you just have to look away – but it does lack pace a bit in the middle. It’s not in the slightest bit dated and almost completely plausible.

Headlong’s staging is as innovative as ever (Robert Icke & Duncan Macmillan, who also adapted it), with big transformations and great use of video in Chloe Lamford’s striking design.  In a fine cast, Mark Arends is a stand-out Winston and Hara Yannas a fine Julia.

They announced its run at the Almeida the day I went to Richmond Theatre, which pissed me off as I’d rather have seen it there, but as much as I admired it, I’m not sure I want to see it again.

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New writing company Paines Plough have got themselves a mobile auditorium, Roundabout, which has been placed in Shoreditch Town Hall for a short season of three plays. It’s a bigger version of the Royal Court’s set for Cock, like somewhere you’d have held a cock-fight. It reminds me of Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre – like a spaceship has landed inside an old building.

Lungs is a two-hander which starts with a discussion (in IKEA) between a couple about having a baby and in particular about the environmental impact of doing so (like giving birth to the Eiffel Tower, apparently). The man drops the idea as a bombshell in a less usual spin on such events.

The play develops through pregnancy, miscarriage, infidelity (him) and separation and it packs an extraordinary dramatic and emotional punch given its less than 90 minutes running time. Many of the scenes are short and you have to concentrate to work out how far we’ve moved on and the present state of the relationship.

I found the whole thing gripping, thanks to excellent writing from Duncan Macmillan and fine performances from Alistair Cope and Kate O’Flynn, particularly the latter whose emotions are more on display. They move around the small circular space, at times sparring and at other times affectionately, in Richard Wilson’s production.

A great piece of new writing, brilliantly executed.

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