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Posts Tagged ‘Eleanor Rhode’

Sharman MacDonald made a big splash with her first play, When I Was A Girl I Used To Scream & Shout, at the Bush in 1984, and soon after in the West End, winning the Evening Standard Most Promising Playwright award. Despite writing nine more plays, including ones produced at the National, Royal Court and Almeida, she never lived up to that promise, but I was very much looking forward to seeing this revival, even though I couldn’t remember a thing about it!

It’s set in Glasgow in the last years of the Second World War and revolves around Alec and Maggie and their daughter Isla. Wartime life in the city is bleak, but Maggie occasionally manages to get around the rationing. Alec doesn’t treat Maggie well, but she’s devoted to him.  Isla meets a sailor, gets pregnant and marries. A fourth character, mysterious Cath, occasionally appears.

The first half isn’t chronological and hops all over the place in a virtually impenetrable structure that it deeply frustrating. There is no cohesive narrative and by the interval I was seriously contemplating giving up. The shorter second half is much clearer and much better, pulling the narrative strands together, but I’m afraid it doesn’t recover.

This is a great shame, because Eleanor Rhode’s simple staging has great atmosphere and authenticity and all of the performances are excellent, with an auspicious stage debut from Abigail Lawrence as Isla. I’m not sure why MacDonald chose such an inaccessible structure for her play, but I’m afraid it works against an interesting and original story.

A disappointment.

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The week’s third new British musical turns out to be more of a play with music, a story with music even, but its a very good one

We spend an evening with Teddy & Josie, individually and together, as they get ready for, and go on, a night out in 1950’s Elephant & Castle, where the Southwark Playhouse is located. They are part of that post-war group of Teddy boys and girls, the country’s first teenage rebels, who subverted Edwardian dress (hence Teddy’s – I didn’t know that before) to create a cool new style, with attitude. Rock & Roll is arriving from the US and both are fans of Johnny Valentine & the Broken Hearts. From their respective bedrooms to some wasteland to the Coronet cinema to a club where Johnny is doing a secret gig, they tell us a lot about their lives and what the Ted’s are all about – and they fall in love.

Tristan Bernays play is great storytelling and it’s in verse, which is inspired and brilliant. The excellent onstage four-piece band play Dougal Irvine’s period perfect original songs (and a few others) starting 15 minutes before the show and continuing after. Even though its effectively a two-hander, it gets superb staging from Eleanor Rhode, who was also responsible for the terrific revival of Toast at the Park Theatre last year. Joseph Prowen and Jennifer Kirby and both fantastic as Teddy & Josie, looking and sounding perfect 50’s, including poses and facial expressions that seem straight out of the period.

It took me a short while to get into the rhythm of the piece, and for the sound to settle, but then it drew me in and captivated me. A very original work, highly recommended. You can even get a download of three songs with the programme, which surely must be a first!

 

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Playwright Richard Bean is a busy man. His 2011 NT hit One Man, Two Guvnors has been seen all around the world and is still touring the UK, his new play Pitcairn opened in Chichester last night, heading for The Globe, and the musical adaptation of Made in Dagenham arrives in the West End this autumn. You’d be forgiven for missing this revival of his first professionally produced play, first seen at the Royal Court Upstairs in 1999, now on the fringe in Finsbury Park for just over 3 weeks. You certainly have to accept he’s prolific – believe it or not, there have been 16 plays and two adaptations in the 15 years since this. Looking back at this early work proves fascinating.

Toast is set in a Hull bakery, like the one Bean worked in aged 18 – and it shows, with realism and naturalism running right through it. There’s old timer Nellie, put-upon at work and home, and chirpy sexually frustrated practical joker Cecil. Younger Peter has more fire (and pretensions) whilst contemporary Dezzie is laid back, taking life as it comes, some of it passing him by. There’s tension between charge-hand Blakey and shop steward Colin, each with a personal agenda. The arrival of student Lance is more than a bit unsettling, for some more than others. We spend just one night shift with these characters, but we learn a lot about them and their disparate lives.

James Turner has designed an uber-realistic canteen, with stairs leading to the off-stage bakery. The performances are as good as the characterisations. They seemed uncannily like people I worked with in my three brief periods in a factory, particularly a summer in a jam factory in Bristol ! The production needs more pace, particularly in the achingly slow opening moments. It would benefit if the passage of time were made clearer – we start the first act at 2.50pm and the second at 10pm, but the timespan of each is a lot longer than real time. I also think they should dispense with the interval, which seemed to me to interfere with the dramatic flow (I don’t recall an interval at the first production). This was the second of only two previews though, so it may be too late to fix.

The chief reason for seeing this – and you should – is to see how one of our great contemporary playwrights started out, writing brilliantly real characters and situations from real life experience, and to see seven fine, and finely matched, performances.

 

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