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Posts Tagged ‘Finborough Theatre’

I’ve had mixed experiences with playwright Che Walker’s earlier work, but I was positive about The Frontline and Klook’s Last Stand and this features Sheila Atim, also in Klook, who has wowed me thrice more and who has provided original music, so I booked as soon as it was announced. Though there are things to enjoy, I left the theatre somewhat befuddled.

It moves between 2016 and 2019, before and after Blaz’s period in prison. We meet his girlfriend Havana, his friend Karl, who may have betrayed him, and Seamus, the cop who caught him, a serial womaniser who has betrayed him in a very different way. Then there’s Havana’s friend Rosa and Serena the sex worker. There’s a nod to Othello, and the main theme is revenge, but there are a lot of unanswered questions, which leaves the story with a whole load of holes. Some of the dialogue is in Spanish and the setting is meant to be the Latino barrio of LA, but I couldn’t see the connection with the programme page on the Latin American gender-neutral term Latinx.

It’s all very film noir, somewhat Chandleresque, but with contemporary sensibilities, including a sexual frankness that occasionally made even me blush. Sheila Atim’s music is more of a soundscape, and a bit of a disappointment. It has a cinematic quality, helped by a screen the width of the theatre space on which stills and seemingly live video are projected. It has an atmospheric, sensual quality to it, but it didn’t deliver on the narrative front.

The performances are outstanding. Sheila Atim is as mesmerising as ever as Rosa, as is Gabriel Akuwudike as Blaz, and there are fine performances from Benjamin Cawley, Cary Crankson, Sasha Frost, and Jessica Ledon, visiting from LA, where the show was first staged. There were too many loose ends for me, though, in a show which was obtuse for its own good.

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It’s taken thirteen years for Arthur Miller’s last play to cross the Atlantic, and on this showing you can’t help wondering why. As if the Finborough Theatre didn’t have enough feathers in its cap, here’s another one for this European premiere of a fascinating play.

Though Miller insisted it was a work of fiction, he is clearly revisiting a period in his life he first did with After the Fall forty years before. His five-year marriage to Marilyn Monroe was disintegrating during the filming of The Misfits in 1960, for which Miller wrote the screenplay, and it’s hard not to see this play as based that real-life experience.

We’re on a troubled film set where the leading lady’s behaviour is raising a lot of eyebrows. Famous director Derek Clemson is desperate to complete his film, cinematographer Terry Case anxious she looks right in his shots and Philip Oschner, the producer sent by the company’s new owners, just wants to finish it before his boss closes it down. Actress Kitty’s assistant Edna and coach Flora try and keep her together; they even fly in Flora’s husband Jerome, another coach. Our other character is screenwriter and Kitty’s husband Paul, their marriage breaking down before our eyes.

There are a couple of striking things about the play. The first is that it revolves around a character we never see, and the second is that the third act is made up almost entirely of a series of monologues by all of the characters talking to Kitty through a gap in the doorway of her hotel room. Most of the characters are probably archetypes or ‘composites’, as Miller said, but there are too many parallels between Kitty and Monroe and Phil and himself to make this anything other than an exorcism of a troubled period sixty-five years before, through guilt perhaps.

I much admired Phil Willmott’s staging and the work of design team Isabella Van Braeckel (set), Penn O’Gara (costumes), Rachel Sampley (lighting) and Nicola Chang (sound). Oliver Le Sueur creates a totally believable period perfect rookie producer in Philip. Jeremy Drakes, with the help of some specs perhaps, actually looks like Miller and I very much liked his restrained performance. Rachel Handshaw makes much of her role as assistant Edna, embarking on a relationship with producer Philip. Patrick Bailey looks and sounds every bit the down-to-earth cinematographer Terry. Stephen Billington, Nicky Goldie and Tony Wredden complete the picture with fine characterisations.

For a Miller fan like me, this is a huge treat, but it’s a decent play regardless, and a lot better than the other two of the final trio – Mr Peter’s Connections and Resurrection Blues – which I’d recommend to anyone.

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This is more of a rediscovery than a revival, a 1980 musical which may well have remained lost but for the ever enterprising Finborough Theatre and Mercurius. Written by a man in late career, David Heneker, who’d done eight shows before, including Expresso Bongo, Half A Sixpence and Charlie Girl, and another, Warner Brown, in early career, it seems to have been a critical success but a commercial flop.

Like Jerry Herman’s Mack and Mabel, it’s set in the silent movie era and features real life characters like film-makers D W Griffith and Adolph Zukor of Paramount, actresses Mary Pickford and her friend Lillian Gish and the godfather of silent comedy, Mack Sennett. Over sixteen years, Griffith makes serious epics with Gish and Zukor populist fare with the eternally juvenile Pickford. As it ends, United Artists is born and talkies arrive. The personal relationships are interwoven with the history.

It’s a very good score and the book, in this scaled-down version, is excellent. They’ve reintroduced two songs that never made it to the West End, one which accuses Griffith of racism and the rather chirpier They Don’t Call ‘em Flickers too. MD Harry Haden-Brown plays the score alone on piano, which somehow suits the silent movie aesthetic. Jenny Eastop’s simple production, virtually without decor, allows the show to move and breathe.

I loved Matthew Cavendish’s Sennett, all his work with Mischief Theatre giving him great physical comedy skills, but a great voice too. Sophie Linder-Lee is a delight as Mary Pickford, who’s much more savvy than the girliness would have you believe. Emily Langham’s performance as the more serious and restrained Lillian Gish (who apparently attended the 1980 premiere), somewhat in awe of Griffith, is lovely too. Jonathan Leinmuller has great presence as Griffith, and there are five fine supporting performances, with the MD stepping forward to play a role.

A very worthwhile rediscovery given a fine production. Yet more gold stars for the Finborough.

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The Best Theatre of 2017

Time to reflect on, and celebrate, the shows I saw in 2017 – 200 of them, mostly in London, but also in Edinburgh, Leeds, Cardiff, Brighton, Chichester, Newbury and Reading.

BEST NEW PLAY – THE FERRYMAN

We appear to be in a golden age of new writing, with 21 of the 83 I saw contenders. Most of our finest living playwrights delivered outstanding work this year, topped by James Graham’s three treats – Ink, Labour of Love and Quiz. The Almeida, which gave us Ink, also gave us Mike Bartlett’s Albion. The National had its best year for some time, topped by David Eldridge’s West End bound Beginning, as well as Inua Ellams’ The Barbershop Chronicles, Lee Hall’s adaptation of Network, Nina Raine’s Consent, Lucy Kirkwood’s Mosquitos and J T Rogers’ Oslo, already in the West End. The Young Vic continued to challenge and impress with David Greig’s updating of 2500-year-old Greek play The Suppliant Womenand the immersive, urgent and important Jungle by Joe’s Murphy & Robertson. Richard Bean’s Young Marxopened the new Bridge Theatre with a funny take on 19th century history. On a smaller scale, I very much enjoyed Wish List at the Royal Court Upstairs, Chinglish at the Park Theatre, Late Companyat the Finborough, Nassim at the Bush and Jess & Joe at the Traverse during the Edinburgh fringe. Though they weren’t new this year, I finally got to see Harry Potter & the Cursed Child I & II and they more than lived up to the hype. At the Brighton Festival, Richard Nelson’s Gabriels trilogycaptivated and in Stratford Imperium thrilled, but it was impossible to topple Jez Butterworth’s THE FERRYMAN from it’s rightful place as BEST NEW PLAY.

BEST REVIVAL – ANGELS IN AMERICA / WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF

Much fewer in this category, but then again I saw only 53 revivals. The National’s revival of Angels in America was everything I hoped it would be and shares BEST REVIVAL with Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. The Almeida’s Hamlet was the best Shakespearean revival, with Macbeth in Welsh in Caerphilly Castle, my home town, runner up. Though it’s not my genre, the marriage of play and venue made Witness for the Prosecution a highlight, with Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Apologia the only other West End contributions in this category. On the fringe, the Finborough discovered another gem, Just to Get Married, and put on a fine revival of Arthur Miller’s Incident at Vichy. In the end, though, the big hitters hit big and ANGELS IN AMERICA & WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF shone brightest.

BEST NEW MUSICAL – ROMANTICS ANONYMOUS

Well, I’d better start by saying I’m not seeing Hamilton until the end of the month! I had thirty-two to choose from here. The West End had screen-to-stage shows Dreamgirlsand School of Rock, which I saw in 2017 even though they opened the year before, and both surprised me in how much I enjoyed them. Two more, Girls and Young Frankenstein, proved even more welcome, then at the end of the year Everybody’s Talking About Jamie joined them ‘up West’, then a superb late entry by The Grinning Man. The West End bound Strictly Ballroom wowed me in Leeds as it had in Melbourne in 2015 and Adrian Mole at the Menier improved on it’s Leicester outing, becoming a delightful treat. Tiger Bay took me to in Cardiff and, despite its flaws, thrilled me. The Royal Academy of Music produced an excellent musical adaptation of Loves Labours Lost at Hackney Empire, but it was the Walthamstow powerhouse Ye Olde Rose & Crown that blew me away with the Welsh Les Mis, My Lands Shore, until ROMANTICS ANONYMOUS at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at The Globe stole my heart and the BEST NEW MUSICAL category.

BEST MUSICAL REVIVAL – A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC / FOLLIES

Thirty-two in this category too. The year started with a fine revival of Rent before Sharon D Clarke stole The Life at Southwark Playhouse and Caroline, or Change in Chichester (heading for Hampstead) in quick succession. Southwark shone again with Working, Walthamstow with Metropolis and the Union with Privates on Parade. At the Open Air, On the Town was a real treat, despite the cold and wet conditions, and Tommyat Stratford with a fully inclusive company was wonderful. NYMT’s Sunday in the Park With George and GSMD’s Crazy for You proved that the future is in safe hands. The year ended In style with a lovely My Fair Lady at the Mill in Sonning, but in the end it was two difficult Sondheim’s five days apart – A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC at the Watermill in Newbury and FOLLIES at the National – that made me truly appreciate these shows by my musical theatre hero and share BEST MUSICAL REVIVAL

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I so love these Finborough rediscoveries. This one is the sixty-year-old only play by a man better known as a translator / adaptor, literary manager and theatre critic and it’s another gem which makes you wonder how work of this quality can remain unproduced for so long while inferior work is revived with great regularity. It could only be staged at the time because it was produced at the Arts Theatre, then a club; theatre censorship was still in place and they would never have allowed it in a normal theatre.

It’s set in a public school, and in particular the shady world of sex, love and power. Housemaster Hallowes gives sex talks to the fifteen-year-olds whilst the seventeen-year-olds are ignoring them. House prefect Park takes an even stronger stance than Hallowes, which his deputy Tully ignores. Hallowes latest talk is too late for Tully’s fag Turner, but not for his contemporary Hamilton. The examination of the abuse of power by older boys echoes current events in film, theatre and politics. It’s examination of the difference between sex and love is altogether braver and more original. It’s a beautifully written piece, though perhaps a touch overlong in the closing scenes of each half.

Christian Durham’s impeccable production takes place on the set of the Finborough’s other play, but you’d never know it. All five performances are outstanding. Simon Butteriss’ Hallowes is a benevolent master with a clear moral code; his sex talk scene was a gem. Of the 17-year-olds, Oliver Gully’s stern and earnest Park contrasts with Harley Viveash’s gregarious and passionate Tully, whilst in the 15-year-olds, Jacques Miche’s cheeky and knowing Turner contrasts with Jack Archer’s naive and serious Hamilton; the latter’s facial expressions spoke volumes.

A great rediscovery given a fine production. Hopefully to be seen by more than the 600 that can fit into these twelve scheduled performances.

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Wow! A 100-year-old feminist play. The Finborough has uncovered another neglected gem. 

Late twenties Georgiana has been in the care of her aunt and uncle, Sir Theodore and Lady Catherine Grayle. Her shy and seemingly reluctant suitor Adam Lankester finally, after a lot of unsubtle hints, gets the courage to propose to her. She is reluctant for different reasons, but she feels obliged to accept, much to the delight of everyone, not least the Grayles, who will reduce their dependents from three to two. Wedding plans are made, but on its eve Georgiana breaks off the engagement, guilty that she’s using Adam, who is by now devoted to her, and unable to reconcile this with her real yearning to be an independent woman.

Cicely Hamilton wrote this at the height of the Suffragette movement. It shows how women of her class were forced to marry, the only way they could guarantee to maintain their lifestyle. Love and attraction were secondary, it was a business transaction. They may have featured in some relationships, but it wasn’t the driving force, and the play shows how this could torture an independent-minded woman. 

Philippa Quinn is simply terrific as Georgiana, a real emotional roller-coaster of a role, on stage virtually the whole time. Jonny McPherson conveys Adam’s initial shyness and repressed emotions, evolving into love, devotion, affection and dejection that breaks your heart. Sarah Berger was covering the role of the intimidating Lady Catherine, in costume but on book, and she was superb, with great presence, commanding the stage and all around her. In a fine supporting cast I feel compelled to single out Joanne Ferguson as Georgiana’s friend and confidante Mrs Macartney.

Katherine Davies Herbst’s period drawing room set and Lottie Smith’s costumes are pitch perfect, and Melissa Davies’ staging is very delicate and nuanced.

A treat that has now departed, but will hopefully resurface, as it deserves to.

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This is the European premiere of a play by Canadian playwright Jordan Tannahill. He’s written eight others, but I don’t think we’ve seen any of them here, plus five films and a book, and he isn’t even thirty! On this evidence, he’s one to watch. The most striking things about it are how much ground it covers in 75 minutes, how mature the writing is and how it doesn’t take sides in what is an emotive subject, cyber bullying.

Michael & Deborah’s only son Joel committed suicide a year ago aged 16, and fellow student Curtis is considered to be at least partly responsible. Deborah befriends Curtis’ mother Tamara and they agree to meet at Deborah & Michael’s home with their husbands and Curtis over dinner. Deborah has put together a collection of Joel’s achievements and both her and Curtis have written letters to be read at the dinner. It’s an uncomfortable encounter, as you would expect. Divisions between the couples on the objectives of the meeting and their views on accountability for the death are laid bare, including the argument that Joel may have provoked it, but divisions within the couples emerge too. In addition to the issue of bullying, the play covers issues of parenting and parental responsibility, forgiveness and grief.

Zahra Mansouri has created a very realistic dining room in this tiny theatre with seating on two sides and you really do feel you’re in the room with them. The performances are uniformly excellent. Lucy Robinson as Deborah navigates brilliantly from ice cool emotional suppression to anger and finally to a display of grief. David Leopold is superb as Curtis, initially defensive and withdrawn, a reluctant participant, before his true feelings emerge.

Another Canadian find for the Finborough. I can’t wait to see more of Tannahill’s work.

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