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Posts Tagged ‘Ella Hickson’

This is the second show in three days which I experienced through headphones – you should definitely try the other one! https://danteordie.com/user-not-found – but they couldn’t be further apart. This one is a cold war thriller created by playwright Ella Hickson and sound magicians Ben & Max Ringham, and the form is they key to its success.

We look through glass into Hans & Anna’s East German apartment. They are hosting a party to celebrate Hans’ promotion, which his co-workers are all attending. Through our headphones we hear Anna (a fine performance from Phoebe Fox) and anything in close proximity – someone else speaking, water running, a cigarette lighting. Everything else is seen but not necessarily heard. The story that unfolds in just 65 minutes has many twists and turns and no-one is who they seem.

The effect of the glass and headphones is to add a layer of intrigue and increase the intensity of concentration; I wasn’t distracted at all throughout it, and I’m very easily distracted! It’s impossible to say more without spoiling it. Vicki Mortimer’s design, with an extraordinary attention to detail, is evocative of the place and the period, with Jon Clark’s lighting playing an important part and Ben & Max Ringham’s sound design absolutely crucial to the piece.

It’s a short evening, but its an original and very clever one, well staged by Natalie Abrahami.

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This theatrical debate about our patriarchal society is bang up-to-date. Ella Hickson’s play is original, challenging, audacious and sometimes uncomfortable. I found it hugely stimulating and I’m still processing it.

It revolves around a writer and her interactions with the director of her play and her partner. In a Pirandellian way, it mugs you into thinking a scene is something it isn’t, giving it an unpredictability that proves gripping in itself. Starting in a theatre after a show, an audience member and a theatre producer discuss the play that’s just been performed. From here, we move off and on stage in a way it’s impossible to describe without spoiling it. The issues are debated in six scenes over two unbroken hours and I was enthralled.

Blanche McIntyre’s staging and Anna Fleische’s design also continually surprise too; you can’t take your eyes off the scene changes as well. Romola Garai’s passion for the subject comes over in her brilliantly passionate performance as the writer, but there are great performances too from Michael Gould as the director and Sam West & Lara Rossi in more than one role each, which would also be a spoiler to describe.

Theatre can be very powerful in debating current issues and so it proves here. It’s difficult to describe, not always easy to watch, but essential to see.

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This is a hugely ambitious, inventive play about the connection of the human race with oil, spanning more than 150 years from 1889 to 35 years into the future. It also covers the changing place of women in society and the relationship between a mother and her daughter. Ella Hickson’s play has its flaws, but I greatly admired both the writer’s boldness and Carrie Cracknall’s production.

There are five scenes, starting with a Cornish farming family in the late nineteenth century, bickering as they struggle to get by. Our central character May is married to one of three brothers, pregnant with their first child. They are visited by an American, who demonstrates his newly developed kerosene lamp and makes an offer for their farm where he wishes to set up his fledgling business. May wants them to accept, but her husband doesn’t. In the second scene we are in Persia at the beginning of the 20th century where the British are seeking to exploit their oil resources. This May is a waitress. For me, this was the least effective scene. The third section leaps forward to the 1970’s. May is an oil company executive who is visited by a Libyan minister informing her his country is going to sequestrate a share of the company. Her relationship with her 15-year-old environmentally conscious daughter Amy is fraught.

In the second half, we’re taken five years into the future. May, a former MP who voted for the war, is in Iraq trying to persuade her daughter, Amy, doing voluntary work in a hospital, to return home. Their relationship is fraught too. In the final scene we’re thirty-five years in the future, back in the Singer family home in Cornwall. Our energy fears have become a reality as May and Amy struggle to keep warm. They are visited by a Chinese saleswoman (the new colonists) selling a personalised nuclear solution with as dubious environmental credentials as oil.

I struggled a bit with the implausibility’s – why would the American want to locate his business on a Cornish farm? Why would a Libyan minister come to her home? – and the fact that each May and Amy must be different characters given the timescales, but I eventually let go of my literalism and went with the flow. Though the relationship between mother and daughter aids the narrative, I’m not sure the emancipation issues do.

There’s something very compelling about the production that holds your attention. Lucy Carter’s lighting, sometimes very dark, and Luke Halls’ oil-related projections are particularly effective. Both Anne-Marie Duff as May and Yolanda Kettle as her anagram daughter Amy are excellent, creating a very believable mother and daughter relationship, and there’s a fine supporting cast.

The Almeida set an early 7pm start for this production, but it’s only 2.5 hours long. I suspect it has reduced in length since the draft on which they programmed it and it did sometimes feel as if there were missing bits. Despite its flaws though, it’s a very welcome, brave and epic play which I would definitely recommend.

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