Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Frances Barber’

I’ve always thought this was Oscar Wilde’s best play, largely because it has more bite than his other social satires and because the themes of corruption, honour and morals are with us forever. Peter Hall’s 1992 production proved its enduring appeal on tour in the UK, on Broadway and in and out of the West End several times. It’s the third of the four plays in Dominic Dromgoole’s Classic Spring season, and it brings the season alive.

Mrs Cheveley, recently returned from Vienna, attempts to blackmail politician Sir Robert Chiltern, threatening to make public a letter proving he leaked information to enable someone to gain by the timely acquisition of shares, unless he speaks favourably in parliament about a project she and her friends have a vested interest in. She embroils his wife, a former school friend who takes a moral stance, and his friend Viscount Goring, a bit of a playboy with designs on Chiltern’s sister and ward, who tries to wrong-foot her. It’s very well plotted and littered with clever, witty lines from the second most quotable playwright, after Shakespeare.

I loved Frances Barber as the manipulative Mrs Cheveley, relishing her Machiavellian scheming, and I was very impressed by Freddie Fox as Viscount Goring, a role that fits him perfectly. Having his real dad Edward Fox play his stage dad gave the father and son sniping an added frisson. I haven’t seen Sally Bretton on stage and I wouldn’t have expected this to be her sort of role, but she plays Lady Chiltern really well. It’s a big supporting cast, most of whom we only see in the first act, within which it was lovely to see Susan Hampshire as Lady Markby. As with the previous two plays, there’s music between scenes, this time with Samuel Martin, Viscount Goring’s footman, playing Jason Carr’s music superbly on violin.

Simon Higlett’s versatile gold set is beautiful and his costumes gorgeous. Jonathan Church’s staging gave the play more edge and pungency than I remember. The whole production oozes quality and propels the season to another level altogether.

Read Full Post »

When I first heard that the Donmar had programmed an all-female Julius Caesar, I thought it was the new (female) Artistic Director making a point. A bit of a gimmick. I nearly didn’t book. Well, gobble gobble (sound of me eating my words).

The RSC’s African version earlier in the year had me thinking how much more relevant it was in a 20th century banana republic with all the intrigue and machiavellian machinations. This one, set in a women’s prison, made me feel just the same. Somewhere where power, control and ‘politics’ loom large.

The Donmar has had another one of its extraordinary transformations. Fading painted walls, metal walkways and even authentic light switches; it’s every inch a prison – right down to the grey plastic chairs replacing the usual padded benches; not that my bum noticed – I was too engrossed. Bunny Christie’s design is superb.

Even though it is done as a play-within-a-play, its with a very light touch in Philida Lloyd’s production and Shakespeare’s play doesn’t get swamped in any way. It seemed to me perfectly plausible that Caesar would get done over by a gang of fellow prisoners, leading to tussles for control and  power games. It just worked, no better than in Mark Anthony’s great speech, which was electrifying.

It’s a great cast and the four central performances tower. Seeing Frances Barber as Julius reminds you how good an actor she is. Cush Gumbo, who I’ve only seen in a restoration comedy(!), is a revelation as Mark Anthony. Harriet Walter is a passionate, defiant yet vulnerable Brutus. Only months after welcoming Jenny Jules in her first Shakespearean role, here she is as the best Cassius I’ve ever seen.

This is as gripping and thrilling a couple of hours can get in a theatre. Don’t miss it.

Read Full Post »