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Posts Tagged ‘Fiona Hampton’

The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse’s reopening offering is minimalist storytelling based on the 2000-year-old tales of Roman poet Ovid. Though I enjoyed it, particularly its playfulness, it wasn’t necessarily a good use of this extraordinary space. It would have worked just as well in any ‘black box’ studio theatre.

They pack a lot of tales into 80 minutes (well, there are over 250 to choose from), some well known, some more obscure, some very short, some more fully formed. All four actors – Steffan Donnelly, Fiona Hampton, Charlie Josephine and Irfan Jamji – do well interpreting the characters with a timelessness which makes many of the stories resonate well, notably those where the attitude to women can be shown up as antediluvian.

They exploit the intimacy of the venue with excellent audience engagement from the start, continuing with characters created from amongst us and even a singalong or two. This is its greatest strength, a disarming and infectious charm and tongue-in-cheek style which is impossible not to be captivated by.

I’m not sure the design – a sort of hardware shop where a few items are plucked from the ‘shelves’ and used – adds much, and the candlelight seemed to be used because they could. Though I enjoyed the evening (well, apart from the unmasked man behind breathing on my neck), it didn’t have that special quality so many others at the SWP have had, but in fairness the rest of the audience seemed to be having a fine old time.

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I clearly remember the moment twelve years ago when I gasped as an army officer raised his gun to shoot a horse. A puppet horse. In the Olivier Theatre. Almost the entire audience gasped with me. In the second half of this play I winced as a man with a broken leg in a makeshift splint crawled across moraine high in the Peruvian Andes, all imaginary. Thats the magic of theatre.

This must be one of the most unlikely stories to make it onto a West End stage, but then again it’s put there by Tom Morris, one of the creators of War Horse, and adapted by one of our finest playwrights, David Greig. You can write about your survival after a near fatal climbing accident, and you can film where it happened and take testimony from those involved in a documentary, but how on earth do you stage it? The answer is imagination, of the survivor as we hear what’s in his head and his dreams, and in the staging where you take the audience on a journey where they suspend disbelief.

Designer Ti Green uses just tables, chairs, pub features and a hanging frame to create both worlds. Movement with lighting, music, and a soundscape add tension and atmosphere. Four hugely talented young actors – Josh Williams as survivor Joe Simpson, Angus Yellowlees as his fellow climber Simon & Fiona Hampton as Joe’s feisty sister Sarah who he talks to in his head, all three in very athletic performances, and Patrick McNamee lightening the tone as backpacker Richard looking after basecamp. Greig’s structure and Tom Morris’ creative staging enables the story to be told like a thriller, even though you know the outcome.

I wasn’t convinced I wanted to see this, it’s not really my genre, but the buzz changed my mind and proved to be true. Great to see the work of three regional theatres working together to create something so good and being rewarded with a West End transfer that broadens the options for theatre-goers. Definitely one to recommend.

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