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Posts Tagged ‘Francesca Annis’

Lucy Kirkwood’s brilliant Chimerica was always going to be hard to follow, so it’s great to report that her new play is very different but just as rewarding, a very mature piece from a young playwright.

Hazel and Robin are retired nuclear scientists / engineers with a small farm and four grown up children with four grandchildren. They live near the plant, on the coast, where they worked. A recent incident has meant a move to temporary accommodation and a significant disruption of their lifestyle. Former colleague Rose turns up after almost 40 years. She’s lived most her very different life in the US. They started their careers together building the plant and the conversation revolves around shared memories and catching up with the events in each others’ and other colleagues’ lives, until Rose says why she’s come.

It’s a very personal story of these three people, but so much more, exploring the diverse ways we fulfil our lives, growing old, relationships, generational legacy and debt, energy policy and the environment. I was captivated by these deeply drawn characters and their extraordinarily unique situation in whay is a play of many layers.

Miriam Buether’s cottage kitchen set is closed in by walls, floor and ceiling so that you feel you are peering into the room and their lives; it has the intimacy of a much smaller theatre. Deborah Findlay, Francesca Annis and Ron Cook are all superb and their somewhat complex relationships and current dilemma completely believable. James Macdonald directs this beautifully written play with great delicacy.

It’s a while since we saw such a fine play on the Royal Court’s main stage. I found it thought-provoking and enthralling, a deeply satisfying evening in the theatre.

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I know a reasonable amount about the first world war – I’ve got things that used to be called ‘O’ levels and an ‘A’ level in history, after all – but it took this play to make me understand the profound implications of the fragile peace that followed it. This really was an enriching theatrical experience.

Peter Gill’s play is set over six months in 1919. In the first act we meet the middle-class Rawlinson’s – mother Edith, son Leonard & daughter Mabel – and their neighbours and friends and explore what the war meant for each of them. Leonard is a civil servant about to go to Paris to work behind the scenes on what will become the Treaty of Versailles. Mabel and maid Ethel’s boyfriends Hugh and William have returned from the war but friends & neighbours the Chater’s son Gerald hasn’t. Local businessman Geoffrey is raising money for a memorial and trying to woo Leonard’s much younger university friend Constance. Talk turns to current affairs and politics and the issues suddenly seem contemporary – Ireland, the Middle East, Europe…..

In Act II we’re with Leonard and fellow civil servant Henry working on the peace proposals. Leonard is idealistic and passionate whilst Henry just does his job. Leonard becomes disillusioned as he prophesies disastrous consequences of a botched peace where national self-interest and the wish to punish Germany override long- term European security. Leonard begins a dialogue with the dead Gerald Chater and we learn that they were more than friends.

In the third act, Leonard is forced to explain his premature return, issues of class picked up in Act II are developed and the likely outcome of Versailles and changes to come and debated. Mabel tells Hugh she won’t marry him, Constance goes cold on Geoffrey and Edith and the Chater’s just wish things would get back to normal. At this point, the profound impact of this moment in time slaps you in the face.

It’s a slow burn, but in the second act it grabs you and doesn’t let go. You have to work at it – it comes in at 3h 10m with 2 intervals, though I’ve seen plays half as long that don’t sustain their length as well as this. By the end, my head was so full it almost hurt. Richard Hudson’s period design is elegant and the ensemble is superb. Gwilym Lee is wonderfully passionate as Leonard, well matched with Tom Hughes’ Gerald and Edward Killingback’s Eton toff Henry. Francesca Annis and Barbara Flynn are great as the two matriarchs. It’s a bit invidious to single anyone out really as it’s such a good unstarry cast.

A fascinating, enlightening and timely play which will surely be a contender best new play of 2014.

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When I heard that the Bush Theatre was on the move, my heart sank. I’ve been going to that room above a pub in Shepherd’s Bush for nigh on 30 years and have lost track of how many plays I’ve seen there (somewhere between 100 and 200 I’d think) with a ‘hit rate’ that is second to none. Other theatre moves, notably Hampstead, have resulted in a loss of magic associated with the space and I found the thought that this might also happen with the Bush positively devastating.

So it was with some trepidation that I went to this playful exploration of the yet-to-be-finished new space in an old library round the corner, where three short plays in three configurations (thrust, in-the-round and end on staging) using nine props from the NT’s store are coupled with wanders around the building, giving feedback on how you’d like it to be. It’s a terrific idea and it was brilliantly executed (helped by an unplanned evacuation between the first two plays for the fire brigade to deal with an exploding light!). It has, for now, put my mind to rest, though my fingers remain crossed.

The first play was the most successful for me as it fitted so well with the concept. Deidre Kinahan’s piece shows a theatre company rehearsing a PC adaptation of Wind in the Willows and the resulting theatrical send-up seemed so appropriate. One of the contrivances is to ask three directorial luminaries to provide stage directions, and Alan Ayckbourn’s for Tom Wells play seem longer than the play itself, which may be why it was less successful. Jack Thorne’s piece was the best written, but coming last and being far from playful, it somehow didn’t have the impact it might have done in other circumstances; maybe he  should work it up for a proper production.

They’ve attracted some great actors to participate in the experiment, with Nina Sosanya shining both as the first play’s play-within-a-play director and a more tragic and moving role in the final piece. I liked Francesca Annis as the old school theatrical in the first play more than as dotty Helen in the second play. Richard Cordery, Hugo Speer, Debbie Chasen and Hugh Skinner complete the excellent cast. Nathan Curry, with designers Amy Cook & Lucy Osborne, has done a terrific job of covering the building with fun-filled opportunities for the audience to explore and comment on everything from desired seating to programming to the bar. I loved the fact that the playing space had been wallpapered with scripts of previous Bush shows, reminding us of tis illustrious past.

This wasn’t great theatre (I don’t think it was meant to be), but it was a great experience and has moved me from dread to cautious anticipation of my old friend’s new home!

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