Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Elizabeth Berrington’

American playwright Sophie Treadwell wrote this expressionistic play in 1928, not long after Eugene O’Neill’s expressionistic masterpiece Emperor Jones. It was based on a real murder case, and its premiere provided Clark Gable with his Broadway debut. I first saw it in its last London outing twenty-five years ago, directed by Stephen Daldry at the Lyttleton Theatre. I thought then, as I do now, that it must have been way ahead of its time 90 years ago. It’s feminist aesthetic and focus on mental health means it still resonates today.

In ten scenes over ninety minutes we follow our protagonist – ‘young woman’ – doing what society expects of her, from the office job she doesn’t like, or do well, to marriage to the boss who repels her and the birth of the child she struggles to bond with, before she turns and is propelled to an unexpected and tragic conclusion.

Each scene in Natalie Abrahami’s production starts by the parting of screens to reveal locations which are mirrored diagonally above. Miriam Buether’s clever design is accompanied by a brooding mechanical soundscape from Ben & Max Ringham and striking lighting by Jack Knowles. The scene changes are a bit slow, but its an immersive experience nonetheless, though I did find myself admiring the stagecraft and performances at the expense of emotional engagement with the story.

Elizabeth Berrington is hugely impressive in the lead role, at first in fear of just about everything, growing enough confidence to betray her husband Jones, played well, with period behaviour, by Jonathan Livingstone. In a supporting cast of ten, there is an excellent cameo from Denise Black as Helen’s mother.

Treadwelll wrote many more plays, with a diverse range of themes and styles, but this is just about the only one that’s ever been revived. She found it increasingly difficult to get her work produced, and many remained unpublished. Neglected in a man’s world it seems, which makes it even more timely today. It would be good to see more of them.

Read Full Post »

Verbatim theatre meets promenade performance in Michael Wynne’s piece about the NHS. Seeing it the day before the election and now writing about it a day after the results gives it an extraordinary resonance, relevance and poignancy.

We start and end as an audience of c.40, initially in an A&E waiting room listening to the experiences and views of doctors, nurses, porters, cleaners and patients. From here we split into three groups for more intimate meetings in GP surgeries, outside a hospital, in an operating theatre etc. hearing more real testimonies and opinions before we assemble for a series of concluding scenes in the Theatre Upstairs. A lot of verbatim theatre is too dry and a lot of promenade performances allow the marshalling to interfere with the flow, but this solves both of these problems with warmth and humour and snatches of dialogue en route from scene to scene (particularly useful during the big climb up four or five flights of stairs!).

Though it’s clearly pro NHS, it’s reasonably objective, including the campaign against North Staffs incompetence and negligence and the impossibility of blank cheque funding. It’s more of an affectionate homage to the country’s best loved institution, taking us right back to its foundation through the White Paper ‘In Place of Fear’ (I never knew that). It really made me reflect on its value, it’s faults and its future. A unique institution which employs more people than any organisation in the world other than the US & Chinese armed forces, Wall Mart & MacDonald’s, and a recent and current political football.

In a uniformly fine cast, Elizabeth Berrington was very engaging as a GP and passionate as the North Staffs campaign leader, with Robert Bathurst very believable as both a dishevelled consultant and MP Andrew Lansley. Edna O’Brien is so lovely as Marjorie the old school nurse that you wish she was your mum, Philip Arditti’s character Jonathan provides effective continuity and there are excellent multiple characterisations from Paul Hickey, Martina Laird, Nathaniel Martello-White and Vineeta Rishi. I loved the way designer Andrew D Edwards uses all of the spaces, including corridors and stairs, so effectively.

It’s great to be heaping praise on the Royal Court again, doing exactly what they do best – putting up a mirror to our society and making us reflect and think.

Read Full Post »

Imagine if you hoovered up the contents of playwright Bruce Norris’ brain just after a brain-storming session on how to present the financial crisis as theatre, pointed your vacuum pipe at the stage floor and switched from suck to blow. Well, that’s what The Low Road seemed to me. A download.

This is my fourth Norris play and up to now I’ve either liked or loved them all. This seemed to me the perfect subject for him. His ‘big idea’ of an allegory, setting the play in the late 1700’s in the US, is inspired. The trouble is it gets totally out of control, swamps what he’s trying to say and ends up as an overlong, occasionally funny, often clever but ultimately dull mess.

It’s narrated by Bill Patterson as Scottish philosopher-economist of the period, Adam Smith. We start with the illegitimate son of Washington left in a basket on the doorstep of Mrs Trumpett’s brothel and end with his illegitimate grandson, the product of a rape, orphaned and left with his mother’s retarded brother ‘poor Tim’. In between we see young Jim grow up to be brilliant but morally bankrupt. He uses his genius to make a fortune for his benefactor which he then steals. There’s a brief flash forward to a Q&A at a present day economic conference where his descendent, a banker (obviously), is a panel member and proceedings are interrupted by protesters, we debate slavery (at length) and there’s an epilogue involving aliens!

With some judicious editing and a firmer directorial hand, this could have been another Enron – a biting, illuminating and entertaining satire on real events. Instead it’s a patchy, overlong jumble which leaves you frustrated and dissatisfied. There’s a big hard-working cast of 18 playing c.50 parts between them. Johnny Flynn as Jim has done nothing better. Elizabeth Berrington successfully morphs from brothel madam to contemporary conference host back to 18th century society hostess. Simon Paisley Day’s transformation from British army captain to ‘poor Tim’ to modern American banker is extraordinary. If only someone had taken control and turned the download into a play.

Dominic Cooke started at the Royal Court on a low with some absurdist revivals. It was uphill from there and it has been a truly great period for them. Sadly, with this and Narrative upstairs, he ends on a low – but with anarchy rather than absurdity.

Read Full Post »