Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘ENRON’

Playwright Lucy Prebble has given us some excellent plays, most notably ENRON, her second, but isn’t very prolific – she’s only written three plays in the 16 years since this debut, but then again she’s also successful in TV, notably with HBO’s current hit Succession. Her fourth play, A Very Expensive Poison, premiered just four months ago and her third, The Effect, will be revived at the Boulevard Theatre in March, so we’re having a bit of a Prebble Fest. I missed this one first time round, so I was delighted the Orange Tree have revived it.

The play revolves around 17-year-old Dani who lives with her somewhat neurotic mother. Dani’s father works away and plays away too, something they are both fully aware of. She suffers with an eating disorder and has recently returned from a residential clinic which she resents being forced to go to. She frequents internet chat rooms, where she meets two very different people – lonely 22-year-old Lewis, seeking a relationship, and thirty-something paedophile Tim, looking for boys. She meets up with Lewis, and they strike up some sort of relationship. By posing as an 11-year-old boy, she also meets up with Tim and they strike up an even odder relationship, where she becomes a friend and confidante. The two worlds collide when Lewis visits Tim and then her home, and her relationship with her mother is exorcised.

These very sensitive issues are handled really well, in the writing, staging and performances. All of the characters are treated sympathetically, even Tim, delicately played by John Hollingworth. Ali Barouti navigates Lewis’ journey from desperation to obsession beautifully. Alexandra Gilbreath handles the complexity of mother Jan with great skill. Jessica Rhodes’ performance as the very mercurial Dani, onstage virtually throughout, is superb, even more impressive when you realise it’s her professional debut.

Oscar Toeman’s excellent revival benefits from the intimacy of this theatre, but the sunken playing area brings sightline issues, as it did with Pamona at the same venue. This was my only gripe with what was otherwise a thoroughly satisfying evening of theatre.

Read Full Post »

As playwright Lucy Prebble proved with Enron, you can learn a lot about a subject of which you know little in a few hours in a theatre, and when it concisely summarises what you may have followed over years, it can be illuminating. This clearly well researched play packs in so much knowledge yet, also like Enron, you are royally entertained.

We were drip-fed information about the Litvinenko poisoning as the facts emerged. Here they are presented to you in less than 2.5 hours playing time in a very concise and lucid account. It starts after his death with his wife Marina discussing the possibilities of an inquest or public enquiry, the government having shamefully washed its hands of the case for political reasons. It then goes back further to the days immediately after the poisoning, and back again to the Litvinenko’s life in Russia and the events which led to him becoming a subject for assassination by the Russian state, moving chronologically forward to where it begins. The defiant Marina acts as a narrator, with Putin a counter-narrator in the second half.

Also like Enron, the story is told with great ingenuity, playfully, employing a variety of clever theatrical devices. The fourth wall is broken continually, with characters talking directly to the audience, and there are some deliciously cheeky swipes at the form and the venue. It took a while to take off, but from halfway through the first half it was gripping like a thriller. It’s already lost c. 20 minutes from the published running time; another 10 minutes from the first half would probably make it even better. It’s a fine ensemble, with almost everyone in multiple roles, led by an outstanding performance by Tom Brooke as Litvinenko. Tom Scutt’s design is clever; I particularly liked the way it moves between London meeting locations leading up to the poisoning, with all of them remaining on stage. John Crowley’s inventive staging even makes use of Peter Polycarpou’s musical theatre talent to great effect.

I suspect it will still tighten before press night, but even at this late preview it proves to be a thrilling ride. What more can you ask for when going to the theatre than leaving it feeling both informed and entertained?

Read Full Post »

It’s easy to think that the economic crisis we’ve lived through in the last eight years is unique. As this play shows us, by explaining the Latin American Debt Crisis of the early 80’s, a prequel to the latest one, everything that has and is happening to Greece happened to Mexico, and other Latin American countries, more than thirty years before. History repeats itself and we just never learn.

In Beth Steel’s brilliant play we follow the career of John. He’s not your usual highly driven Ivy League Long Island banking type, but top banker Howard sees something in him and takes him on, to be groomed by high-flier Charlie in the macho world of international lending. As Charlie rises in the Latin American department, so does John. They loan money for projects that will never come to fruition, with money that won’t, because it can’t, be repaid. We learn of John’s troubled childhood, with his small-time fraudster father in prison while his mother loses everything. His dad comes back into his life and is a ghostly presence during the rest of the play, his dishonesty compared and contrasted with the monumentally bigger stunts being pulled by John and Charlie for their bank. John is a clever guy and by putting forward the idea that gets the banks off the hook, overtakes his mentor.

It’s an intelligent, well researched and superbly written play which manages to make the complex comprehensible. It builds, slowly at first, like all the best thrillers, except this isn’t fiction. It’s traverse staging has a clever, clinical, uncluttered design by Andrew D Edwards, with brilliant lighting and light effects by Richard Howell and a soundscape by Max Pappenheim. I haven’t seen any of director Anna Ledwich’s work before but I was really impressed by this. John is a big role and the character has an extraordinary journey and Sean Delaney, a 2015 RADA graduate, is stunning. Tom Weston Jones is outstanding as Charlie, as is Martin McDougall as Howard and Philip Bird as John’s dad Frank.

It owes something to Enron in terms of subject and style, but it’s its own thing, telling a different story brilliantly. I much admired Beth Steel’s previous play Wonderland, about the miners strike, but this couldn’t be more different, and it confirms her as an exciting new playwriting talent. A must see, and a candidate for Best New Play. What are you doing reading this when you should be booking tickets?!

 

Read Full Post »

Like Lucy Prebble’s last piece, ENRON,  Rupert Goold’s production turns a good play into a great evening, though on this occasion I’m not sure Miriam Buether’s reconfiguration of the Cottesloe is entirely necessary – in a similar way to Rae Smith’s design for This House, which is sharing the Cottesloe in rep., the Pit has been turned into a clinic, with the audience in two rows on all sides, padded walls interspersed with coffee tables on which sit magazines and vases of flowers. 

In essence this is a love story. Two clinical trials volunteers fall in love during their 6-week stay at the clinic, but as the trail is for an anti-depressant and some volunteers have a placebo, we never know whether this has impacted the relationship. The only other characters are two doctors, whose relationship was itself affected by depression, though that is in the past. Along the way, we peep into the world of clinical trials and their ethics and the workings of the brain, but not in much depth and that’s not really what the play is about.

Even more than the inventive production, what propels the evening into greatness are the performances. I’ve only seen Billie Piper three times (I think she’s only done three plays!) and on each occasion she has impressed, investing extraordinary emotionality into her charaterisations. Now I want to see her in a classical role (Ophelia, anyone?). Here she matched by a stunning performance from Jonjo O’Neill. I’ve only seen him a handful of times, but this is in another league altogether. Anastasia Hille and Tim Goodman-Hill are very good as the doctors but its the roles of the volunteers that are are at the heart of the play and enable Piper & O’Neill to shine.

I wasn’t entirely convinced by the first half, but the play goes up several notches after the interval and it proves to be a very satisfying evening. I’d like to see a more minimalist production (like Mike Bartlett’s Cock at the Royal Court) to test my theory that its the production wot does it, but I suspect I never will. 2012 really was a brilliant year for new writing at the NT – this is the fourth gem (third in the Cottesloe).

Read Full Post »

The Royal Court really is on a roll. In less than two years, we’ve had great new plays like Jerusalem, Enron, Posh, Clybourne Park, Sucker Punch and Tribes – and now Richard Bean’s terrific new play The Heretic. Its evenings like this that remind me why go to the theatre; I’d sit through five Greenland’s for one play as good as this!

I’ve long been a fan of Bean, but he’s excelled himself here. Unlike the NT’s Greenland, this isn’t a play about climate change, but it uses it as a back-drop to develop its main themes of science v activism whilst weaving in the stories of the complex relationships of its four main protagonists. It’s rich in detailed story-telling, well developed characters, sparklingly sharp & funny dialogue and boy does it make you think. It twists and turns continually – sometimes you see them coming and grin in expectation, but sometimes you don’t and smirk at the surprise. He sets you up for an obvious outcome, only to confound you by doing the opposite. It’s clearly well researched; he even shows a HR Manager arranging the chairs for a disciplinary meeting exactly as HR managers do!

As someone who was heavily involved in a major employment law case which resulted in the interpretation of ‘religious or similar philosophical beliefs’ to include views on climate change, I’d already begun to buy Bean’s proposition that climate change has become a religion and in doing so the debate has ceased to be objective. He puts this point centre stage and debates it more eloquently and entertainingly than you would ever think possible – whilst, unlike Greenland, remaining objective and not patronising or preaching to his audience.

Peter McKintosh has created two excellent realistic sets and Jeremy Herrin’s direction is impeccable. The performances are terrific. The wonderful Juliet Stevenson clearly relishes her meaty role. James Fleet has never been better than here as her boss. Johnny Flynn and Lydia Wilson are both terrific in the complex roles of Ben and Phoebe, and there are fine cameos from Adrian Hood and Leah Whitaker.

The Royal Court is now fully established as the place where you go for intelligent, thought-provoking, topical, entertaining plays and this one is an absolute unmissable treat!

 

Read Full Post »

When you’re passionate about a subject, you can become evangelical to ‘spread the word’ and have the opposite effect i.e. put people off rather than turn them on. Such is Greenland, a play about climate change (with a dreadfully corny title) at the NT. A cross between Enron and one of those verbatim plays like The Power of Yes in the same theatre, but nowhere near as effective as either.

Before it starts, there’s a man with a microphone at a round table in the foyer trying very hard to generate a debate amongst a crowd who look as if they regret that the rather good Colombian band have stopped playing. As you leave he’s still there, now getting even less interest form an audience badly in need of a pee and a glass of house red; embarrassing.

There are four playwrights and a dramaturg credited. There are four narrative threads woven together (one from each writer?). Only one really comes to life. There’s the rather patronising one about the ambitions of a black London youth who goes on Deal or No Deal, another about a young girl’s journey as an eco activist, a third about a Cambridge geography student who becomes an ornathologist, and the one that works about the UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen. There are other seeming pointless bits about disagreements between some neighbours and a completely unnecessary love affair. It’s 120 uninterrupted minutes (I think they might have dropped the interval during previews for obvious reasons!).

Director Bijan Sheibani and designer Bunny Christie have thrown the kitchen sink at it (in an attempt to bring it to life?). There’s an airline staff dance routine and numerical back projections which owe a lot to Enron (in which the dramaturg was involved!), and an ending straight out of Slava’s Snowshow (though they’re probably all too young to remember this). There’s a curtain of rain at the front of the stage, girls flying in supermarket trolleys and descending on ropes, a very realistic polar bear, flashing lights, loud music and crash bang wallops. Even if they do recycle the vast quantities of paper used, there’s something distasteful about its use…….and they have class acts like Amanda Lawrence and Lyndsey Marshall in the cast.

I didn’t learn much; I would have got more googling ‘climate change’ and ‘global warming’ for a couple of hours. As it’s at the NT, I suspect they are preaching to the converted like me. Any sceptics in the audience who stayed for the duration are unlikely to be turned and may well have been hardened by the relentless earnestness of it all. Despite the box of tricks, it was actually dull.

Read Full Post »

Somehow the reviews led me to believe I was in for a raucous satire, so I was very surprised to find this play so disturbing, with a positively chilling final scene.

An Oxford University dining society (think Bullingdon Club) is meeting in the private room of an out-of-town gastropub, their penchant for trashing their venues (but paying the full cost, as if this means it’s OK) having been rumbled in the city. The power struggle to depose the current weak president leads to one trying to prove his point by menu choices, another by hiring a prostitute and a third by organising a post-dinner outing to Reykjavik (good timing, there!) in Dad’s private plane. As the evening progresses, wine is consumed, rituals are observed, behaviour declines and underlying attitudes emerge.

It’s a very cleverly structured play, because it leaves you to make connections and consider what the consequences of these attitudes are. In my case, it explained much of the arrogance of the last few years where our society has been threatened by people who think they have rights to rule and rights to exploit. This is what was so devastating for me, and the ending – which I won’t reveal – is both chilling and depressing in its believability.

The acting is uniformly excellent, with David Dawson – fast becoming the one to watch in his generation – following The Old Vic’s Entertainer, Chichester’s Nicholas Nickleby and Lyric Hammersmith’s Comedians with another terrific performance and Leo Bill a thrillingly vicious toff. Anthony Ward’s extraordinary lifelike set makes you feel like a fly on the wall rather than a member of an audience, but most importantly two young women – playwright Laura Wade and director Lyndsey Turner – have put up a mirror to a small but very real and powerful part of our society in an entertaining but thought-provoking and revealing way without preaching.

After Jerusalem and Enron, this feels like the third in a state-of-the-nation/world trilogy and another theatrical feast.

Read Full Post »