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Posts Tagged ‘Fisayo Akinade’

It’s hard to write about something you find more than a bit baffling, but I’ll try. Mind you, it isn’t the first mind-blowing Alistair McDowell play. First, there was Pamona, which opened Paul Miller’s tenure as AD of the Orange Tree in 2014 with a bang, then X here at the Royal Court in 2016. This latest one is a cocktail of sci-fi, folk myth and mystery that spans 501,998 years!

It starts in the mid 18th Century when a wealthy spiritualist adopts / abducts a young girl from what appears to be an asylum to be some sort of assistant, but she has powers of her own and she takes us back to the 15th Century where we encounter a mute knight at the court of King Henry VI, then forward to the second world war, 1979 and twice into the 1990’s. The journey back to 500,000 BC and forward to the future connect us to the fate of the planet, a familiar subject for McDowell.

Along the way, we experience horror, violence, intrigue and more surprisingly humour and you are rarely distracted, possibly because you’re trying to keep up. The performances are excellent, with Ria Zmitrowicz as our mysterious guide and Tadhg Murphy as the silently charismatic knight (who at times seems to have walked onto the stage from the set of Monty Python’s Holy Grail!). Rakie Ayola and Fisayo Akinade are great in multiple roles.

The set at first seems like some hidden corner of the Barbican complex, but takes on a life of it’s own with its continuous changes of configuration, with projections and lights, accompanied by an atmospheric soundtrack. It’s hard to fault the craftsmanship at play in staging it, but the narrative is another matter – obtuse and baffling. Still, it’s an improvement on Pamona and X.

Despite my confusion, unlike other plays in recent years it does deserve its place on the main stage. I consider myself to be very open to creativity and invention, but maybe I’m becoming more conservative, because when it comes to plays I often yearn for story, plot and characters that I can understand or relate to, something you don’t get here. On this occasion, I find myself ending up admiring the experiment and wishing it had succeeded.

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Anne Washburn is an original and interesting playwright, but after a third exposure to her work, this juror’s still out on whether she’s a good one.

Jools & Jim have invited five friends to their new remote country home. They’re not experienced in country living and they’re not particularly good hosts, so as the weather deteriorates and the power is cut off, their supplies run out. They don’t run out of conversation, though, as they reflect on life in Trump’s divided America and how they got there. These are the liberal Americans – a wealthy gay couple, New York lawyers Andrew & Yusuf, a struggling straight, somewhat alternative couple, Richard & Laurie, and singleton Allie. The conversation widens to all sorts of apparently related subjects including the Jonestown massacre, racism & colonialism and Lord of the Rings!

We’re occasionally visited by Mark, the adopted black son of white parents who appear to be the former inhabitants of the house, who tells us his story. We also get a meeting between Trump and George W Bush as president, and towards the end a surreal version of that infamous confrontation between Trump and FBI chief Corney. There’s an awful lot of ground covered but at almost 3.5 hours it didn’t sustain its length (there were a conspicuous number of empty seats after the interval). Often thought-provoking and fitfully gripping, it was too much of a ramble, wordy and undramatic, lacking coherence, a download of thoughts and ideas, trying to say so much that more became less.

It’s staged in the round, in a design by Miriam Buether which has a partly revolving stage and a platform against the back wall on which there are projections. There was one row of audience sitting in chairs close to the stage as if at a dinner table, who participated in the surreal scene. There are lovely performances from Justine Mitchell, Fisayo Akinade, Adam James, Elliott Cowan, Tara Fitzgerald, Khalid Abdalla, Raquel Cassidy and Risteard Cooper, but these and Rupert Goold’s production are a lot better than the material.

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Theatre owes a lot to The Restoration, the fifty-year period from 1660 to 1710 that followed an eighteen-year theatre ban. Playwrights, including the first women playwrights like Aphra Behn, wrote meaty roles for women who could at last play them themselves. Many of these ‘comedies of manners’, like this, have survived. I’ve seen around a dozenn and the last one, The Beaux Stratagem at the NT, sparkled. So I was looking forward to William Congreve’s last play, returning home to Covent Garden.

It’s a convoluted plot revolving around the relationship between Mirabell (an excellent Geoffrey Streatfield) and Millamant (wonderfully played by Justine Mitchell, hotfooting it over from Beginning at the Ambassadors around the corner). They need Lady Wishforth’s blessing to marry, but she wants Millamant’s hand for her nephew Sir Wilfull Witwoud. Mirabell’s friend Fainall is having an affair with Mrs Marwood, who once had an affair with him. Mirabell’s servant secretly marries Lady Wishforth’s servant and they plot to help Mirabell by deceiving Lady Wishforth.  As with all restoration comedy, it’s flowery character names, social satire that’s a bit lost on us three-hundred years on and much wordplay. The production is beautifully designed by Anna Fleischle, whose costumes are simply gorgeous, and it’s atmospherically lit by Peter Mumford.

For a comedy there are nowhere near enough laughs, particularly in the first half, which is one long, dull set-up. It picks up after the interval, with some particularly good scenes, notably the ‘proviso’ scene where Mirabell and Milamant negotiate the terms of their marriage, but it’s too late (particularly for the significant number who didn’t return!). It’s an excellent ensemble, with great performances from Jenny Jules as Mrs Marwood and Tom Mison as Fainall, both cold and calculating, and Christian Patterson as a very hearty and funny Sir Wilfull. There are lovely cameos from Fisayao Akinade and Simon Manyonda as Witwoud and Petulant and Alex Beckett and Sarah Hadland as the pair of plotting servants.

I came to the conclusion that the play is of its time and has nothing to say to a contemporary audience. If it was entertaining, it might still be worth reviving, but it isn’t – at 3 hours 15 minutes, it’s a long, dull evening. So much talent, but a play not worthy of it today.

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This is the last in this mini season of Shakespeare’s late plays and the last but one he wrote. It completes a quartet of successful staging’s of plays intended for an indoor playhouse in an indoor playhouse.

I’ve always thought it was an odd concoction. Prospero, the deposed Duke of Milan, and his daughter Miranda are shipwrecked on a remote island with the spirit Ariel and the subhuman witches son Caliban for company. When the courts of Naples and Milan are later also shipwrecked, Prospero can make mischief and right some wrongs. It has an other-worldly, magical quality, which this production didn’t get over as well as it did the royal shenanigans and the comedy. On this occasion I couldn’t help feeling Prospero was Shakespeare signing off.

Trevor Fox and Dominic Rowan virtually steal the show as royal butler Stephano and court jester Trinculo respectively, though I thought the added lines pushed it a bit too far, and Fisayo Akinade is a fine Caliban. Once he was in his stride, I very much liked Tim McMullen’s Prospero, more elder statesman than larger-than-life presence.

Seeing all four late plays has made me realise that there are fewer design and staging choices that can be made in this space. On this occasion the offstage dialogue and sounds were particularly effective, but the spirit characters less so, particularly Pippa Nixon’s Ariel, who seemed way too ordinary for me. There’s good use of music, despite the off-key singing at Miranda and Ferdinand’s wedding.

I’ve very much enjoyed this season and I suspect and hope we’ll see more Shakespeare in this lovely space.

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