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Posts Tagged ‘Ethan Kai’

Of all the countries impacted by the Second World War, I suspect less is known about the Tunisian experience than most others, which makes Josh Azouz’’s play very welcome. It was a short occupation – 6 months – but the Nazi strategy involved dividing the hitherto relatively friendly Muslim majority and Jewish minority in return for the promise of freedom for the Tunisian Muslim majority from the French colonialists, whilst perpetuating outrages on the Jews, as it was elsewhere.

The occupying forces are described by a Nazi character in the play as animals, less disciplined, more unpredictable and viscous. As the play opens one Jew is buried up to his neck with his Muslim friend as his guard. Despite the anti-Semitic example of the French colonists, these men and their wives have hitherto been good friends and in many ways the bigger story is told through the twists and turns of their relationships during the occupation. So we see the geopolitical and military picture through the personal story, the Nazi’s represented by one officer and one aide.

It’s a touch overlong and it needs a bit more pace, and perhaps a bit more of the big picture, but it’s a fascinating story nonetheless, with surprising flashes of absurdity and humour in what is a grim situation. I liked Max Johns’ design of plywood boxes, some of which reveal sets within the set, and it’s uniformly well performed by a small cast of six, probably too small to open up the story. It was good to see Adrian Edmundson make a rare stage appearance as the Nazi officer nicknamed Grandma and he, and the actors playing the two couples – Laura Hanna, Ethan Kai, Pierro Niel-Mee and Yasmin Paige – were all excellent.

It’s better than the reviews and I’m glad I went.

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Peter Shaffer’s play was 27 years old when I first saw it; for once I’d seen the film first. I enjoyed my second look in 2007 even more, when it featured a brave Daniel Ratcliffe with his screen uncle, the late Richard Griffiths. Here we are another twelve years on, when mental health is thankfully more talked about, with the premiere of a more radical ETT / Stratford East touring co-production which makes you realise how groundbreaking it must have been in 1973.

Seventeen year old Alan Strang is brought to child psychiatrist Martin Dysart by his magistrate friend when he appears before her for blinding six horses. His sessions with Dysart are interwoven with discussions with his parents (religious mother, atheist father), and flashbacks to events with them, his employer at the stables and Jill, the girl he’s taken a shine to. Dysart finds Strang elusive and challenging, playing games with him, but he eventually reciprocates and begins to reap rewards in his understanding of the case. The crucial moments of his interaction with the horses are played out in hugely dramatic scenes where other actors play the horses, culminating in the shocking event which led to his hospitalisation and treatment by Dysart.

It’s a gripping psychological thriller which needs a kind of electrical charge between the two main protagonists, and it certainly gets that here. I’ve been following Zubin Varla’s career since GSMD and this is one of the best things he’s done (even if he is looking and sounding more lie David Suchet these days!) and Ethan Kai is outstanding as Alan, highly strung, edgy, vulnerable, dangerous. There’s a fine supporting cast, with Ira Mandela Siobhan a particularly impressive horse. Though I liked the incidental chamber music there was maybe a little too much of it, occasionally too loud, competing with the dialogue. Otherwise Ned Bennett’s simple staging with white curtains on three sides, is effective in telling this complex story, and comes thrillingly alive in the memory scenes.

Great to see it again, and particularly good that a new generation can get to see it in these hopefully more enlightened times.

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