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Posts Tagged ‘Frances McNamee’

I’ve been listening to Sting’s CD of music from this show for five years, waiting for a UK production. Mystifyingly, it premiered in the US in 2014, trying out in Chicago before opening on Broadway. It’s so quintessentially British, I just can’t imagine it on Broadway. This new production, with a new book, opened where it belongs in Newcastle and is now touring the UK. I caught it in Northampton and for me it’s up there with other great British musicals like The Hired Man and Billy Elliott, with a score that’s as good as the former and better than the latter.

Like Billy, it places a personal story alongside recent social history. Teenage Gideon goes off to sea, seeking a better life than the shipyards of Wallsend can provide, leaving more than his girlfriend Meg behind. He returns seventeen years later to sort out his late dad’s house and tries to reconnect with Meg, now a thirty-something business-woman and single mother. In the shipyard, the ship they’re about to finish hasn’t been sold and is instead to be dismantled, and the shipyard closed. This is Thatcher’s Britain. The workers are having none of it and led by foreman Jackie and Shop Steward Billy, with support from the townswomen, led by Jackie’s wife Peggy, they take risky and defiant action.

Sting’s score and lyrics are terrific, and the new book by director Lorne Campbell is excellent, not afraid to wear it’s heart on its sleeve and concluding with a rousing political rallying call. I loved Rob Mathes folky orchestrations which Richard John’s band played beautifully. The design by 59 Productions is stunning, with projections creating the ship and shipyard, terraced rows, street scenes and interiors of houses and the pub. The final scene takes your breathe away. Even the choreography of Lucy Hind has a foot-stomping folk aesthetic and an edginess about it. Campbell’s superb production has Geordie blood running all the way through it.

Richard Fleeshman is excellent as the returning older Gideon and Frances McNamee sensational as feisty older Meg. Joe McGann and Charlie Hardwick make a lovely loving couple as Jackie and Peggy. Katie Moore is great too as Meg’s equally feisty teenage daughter Ellie and Joe Caffrey, not the only cast member to have done a turn in Billy Elliott, is a very passionate Billy. It’s clearly a very committed ensemble and I loved their banter with the audience before each act.

A great British musical which I hope I will see again in London, a transfer it so richly deserves, but you’d be wise to see it on tour, just in case!

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French playwright Florian Zeller’s only other play to be produced here, also translated by Christopher Hampton, was called The Father, who had dementia. In this one The Mother is an empty nester whose mental health is deteriorating. It’s just as clever, though stylistically a little too close, and just as insightful.

In eighty minutes, five or six scenes are each repeated twice, with changes. The Mother is missing her son and leads an unfulfilled life without him (she also has a daughter but her relationship with her is clearly nowhere near as strong). Her husband arrives home, she serves breakfast to him & her son (who has returned during the night), she tries to persuade her son to go out with her, his girlfriend arrives, she’s in hospital after an overdose…….but each scene in a pair has a different outcome and you don’t know what is real and what is in her head. Like The Father, it’s disorientating, sometimes uncomfortable, occasionally shocking and at times funny.

It’s set in a rectangular white room with white furniture, which creates a clinical laboratory-like feel. The scenes are short (but don’t seem as short as The Father), sometimes broken by a curtain and sometimes a light fade. Gina McKee is superb as Anna, changing mood continually, and has excellent support from Richard Clothier as her husband, William Postlethwaite as her son and Frances McNamee as his girlfriend.

It’s very much a companion piece for The Father. I liked it, but now I’d very much like to see a different side of Zeller, who is clearly a bit of a find.

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