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Posts Tagged ‘Fenella Woolgar’

I haven’t read any books by Patrick Hamilton, whose novel this is based on, though I have seen his plays Gaslight and Rope, plus some TV and film adaptations of his work. Nicholas Wright has adapted this late novel for the stage and I found it a bit of an odd concoction.

Set in a boarding house in Berkshire during the Second World War, the residents are mostly long-term, some forced to find alternative accomodation to their bombed London homes. It’s mostly retired folk, but thirty-something Miss Roach, who works for a publisher, is amongst them. She frequents the local pub, where she meets a black American GI, Lieutenant Pike, and a German doctor’s clerk, Vicki Kugelman. The latter ends up moving into the boarding house, which the Lieutenant visits to take dinner with Miss Roach.

There’s a lot of alcohol involved and the triangular relationship of Roach, Pike and Kugelmann becomes a bit of a roller-coaster. After a tragic incident, all three go their separate ways, leaving the boarding house, two ending up not too happily reunited in London. There are a lot of scenes, which I felt were detrimental to both characters development and flow, and some of the behaviour on display seemed incongruous. The biggest flaw for me was the ending, leaving you hanging in mid-air, though it is what the title says – they are slaves to solitude.

It’s hard to fault the production, though on the last day of previews there were still a few glitches to iron out. The scene changes are themselves excellent, transforming from boarding house to pub and back quickly and seamlessly, though the change to the one outdoor scene worked less well for those of us in the front stalls. There are some lovely performances, with the romantic trio, played by Fenella Woolgar, Daon Broni and Lucy Cohu, all excellent. Clive Francis’ cameo as the somewhat lecherous mysoginist racist Thwaites is a delight (!), and there are smaller but important contributions from Richard Tate and Tom Milligan.

I left the theatre not fully satisfied, concluding that it perhaps wasn’t really worth adapting. Mind you, it did come at the end of a week which included three crackers – Albion, Young Marx and Beginning.

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Jean Anouilh must be one of the world’s most prolific playwrights, writing over 60 plays in a 40 year writing career, but we see few of them (his adaptation of Sophocles Antigone most often). This adaptation of his first big hit, Le Voyageur sans bagage, relocates it from late 30’s France to late 50’s USA, to the Long Island of the American upper middle class in fact (think Philadelphia Story), though the French songs between scenes are a delightful nod to its origin.

A soldier returns to the US 14 years after the end of the second world war with amnesia ,and is placed in a sanatorium. Nouveau riche Marcee Dupont-Dufort moves on from rescuing dogs to finding his family, much to the chagrin of her husband De Wit Dupont-Dufort. With the help of a gossip columnist she selects the most likely family from the 22 possibles and visits them. They take him in but he soon decides he doesn’t much like them or his past self. When the gossip columnist names them, the other 21 turn up, which proves chaotic but also an opportunity.

Blanche McIntyre’s production sparkles in every sense, from Anthony Weight’s crackling adaptation to Mark Thompson’s bright design and her own impeccable staging, but mostly because of the terrific casting. Katherine Kingsley is a joy to behold as Marcee Dupont-Dufort, a trophy wife with a touch of Mrs Malaprop about her. Danny Webb is gloriously unrecognisable, stooped and moustachioed, cigar permanently in mouth, channelling Groucho Marks, as her straight-talking husband. Sian Thomas is a treat as the snobby mother and Fenella Woolgar a delight as her brittle daughter-in-law. Oh, all ten are terrific!

This was such a fun night in the theatre, which made me wonder how many more gems are hidden in Anouilh’s back catalogue. Proper entertainment.

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Lest you think this play about Margaret Thatcher and The Queen and their ‘audiences’ owes anything to Peter Morgan’s The Audience, perhaps I should begin by telling you that it started life as one of the nine plays in Women Power & Politics more than three years ago here at the Tricycle Theatre (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2010/06/27/women-power-politics). It was one of the highlights of that and now it’s a full length premiere league treat.

It covers Thatcher’s whole period in office and there are two Queen’s and two Thatcher’s – ‘younger’, who are mostly ‘in audience’ and ‘older’, who are mostly looking back, commenting and correcting –  with two men playing all of the male roles (plus Nancy Reagan!), fighting over who plays Neil Kinnock. That’s a lot of events and a lot of audiences. It’s a whistle-stop history of the 80’s told through these weekly meetings and it’s hugely entertaining in Indhu Rubasingham’s excellent fast-paced production. It is, of course, largely speculative, yet it comes to the same conclusions as Morgan did – but by focusing on the Queen’s relationship with this one Prime Minister, it’s able to go into much more depth.

The performances are all superb. Stella Gonet & Fenella Woolgar get the public and private Thatcher to a tee and Marion Bailey & Clare Holman do the same with Elizabeth II. The men – Jeff Rawle & Neet Mohan – play 17 roles between them, from footmen to protesters and Michael Hestletine to Kenneth Kaunda, and are allowed to step out of their characters from time to time, which makes for a lot of fun The existence of an audience is occasionally acknowledged as the fourth wall disappears and we’re addressed directly.

Being in an audience of people old enough to have lived through this period made for a superb atmosphere at the performance I attended. This is an enormous pleasure and if it doesn’t get a West End transfer so that many more people can see it, I will be both surprised and disappointed.

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If you want to know where the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs benches have gone, the answer is to a community centre in Haggerston (‘where?’ I hear you ask). If you want to know why, the answer is that this play is set in a community centre in Shirley, Vermont (where?).

We’re observing an acting class over six weeks in lots of short scenes. There’s the teacher and four participants, including the teacher’s husband. Their exercises include telling each other’s stories, walking around the room, chain sentences, role playing and so on. There are also a lot of pauses and a lot of silence; playwright Annie Baker makes Harold Pinter look like an amateur at pauses and silences.

Somehow over the next 120 unbroken minutes, you learn a lot about these people. Their relationships evolve, sometimes surprisingly. They each have different reasons for being there, but they’re mostly therapeutic. It’s amazing how deep characterisation can go with few words. I found them fascinating and very real. As the title says, a transformation.

It’s an extraordinary cast. It’s not long before you’ve forgotten it’s Imelda Staunton playing Marty the teacher as she becomes Marty (with a spot on American accent). Toby Jones could do Schultz with even fewer words, such is his ability to speak volumes by facial expressions and body language. Fenella Woolgar adds to an already impressive track record with a beautiful interpretation of fragile Theresa, the very underrated Danny Webb is at home as ageing hippy James and relative newcomer Sharon Tarbet makes Lauren grow up before your very eyes. James Macdonald’s delicately nuanced staging respects the playwright’s precise Beckettian instructions with the exception of a wall of mirrors (which would have been interesting but probably distracting in this space).

So is it worth the schlep out to Haggerston? Well, despite the relentlessly hard benches and the progressively stuffy room over two hours, yes it is. The venue added to the realism and the play makes you think; indeed, I’m still thinking about it – always a good sign.

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