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Posts Tagged ‘Gershwyn Eustache Jnr’

This highly original play by American Antoinette Nwandu packs one hell of a punch and gets a thrilling production by Indhu Rubasingham, with a trio of fine performances.

Moses and Kitch live on the streets of an American city. They are bound together by games and rituals that keep them occupied, and sane. They often reference slavery and sometimes god. They have a private language, more personal than street talk, constantly referring to each other using the ‘n’ word. It’s sometimes impenetrable and often uncomfortable, but adds a visceral quality. They live in fear of the police.

They first encounter a naive young man on the way to see his mom, with a picnic, who seems to have lost his way. Though initially reluctant, they take up his offer to eat and drink, suspicious but grateful. Moses is more cautious than Kitch in what is a rather surreal scene. Soon after he has left, a cop pays a call for some routine intimidation; they are immediately on edge as they know full well how this could play out. They descend into more existential thoughts before a second visit from the cop, and another from the young man.

At times it appears to be repeating itself and there is an other-wordiness about the scene with the young man, but I think the comparisons with Waiting for Godot are a bit overdone. It’s very effective in addressing ‘black lives matter’ and drawing parallels with slavery, without being heavy-handed or preachy. Designer Robert Jones has brilliantly transformed the Kiln into an in-the-round space, with just a sidewalk, lamp and some signs, superbly lit by Oliver Fenwick. The production has extraordinary energy and edginess.

Paapa Essiedu has wowed me three times before, not least his Hamlet, and here he extends his range again as Moses. Gershwyn Eustache Jnr has also impressed me in the past and again he excels here as Kitch. These are stunning individual performances, but they are superb sparring with one another, verbally and physically, too. There’s great support from Alexander Eliot in two very different roles, the doubling up making a point in itself.

Don’t miss!

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If Walt Disney hadn’t adapted this late nineteenth century Italian novel by Carlo Collodi for his second full-length animated film just before the Second World War, it would probably never have become the iconic tale it has, told around the world in many forms and languages. Here we are almost eighty years later seeing a stage adaptation at the National Theatre, and what a treat it proves to be.

The tale struck me as darker (the hand of playwright Dennis Kelly?) and more moralistic than I remembered, with a strong emphasis on the importance of values and truth. In learning these en route from being a puppet to being a boy, Pinocchio encounters a trio of baddies – a sly trickster Fox, puppet-master Stromboli and fairground-master The Coachman. These are juxtaposed with his loving dad, puppet-maker Geppetto, and the Blue Fairy, who adds that touch of magic.

John Tiffany’s staging doesn’t rely on technology, as much modern theatre does, but it is utterly charming and completely magical. Bob Crowley provides a simple, appropriately wooden design of benches, trees and ladders until we move to the puppet theatre’s proscenium and the fairground’s lights. The underwater scene is an understated marvel. Puppets are used for some of the main characters (except the puppet Pinocchio himself!) with Geppetto, Stromboli and the Coachman twice life size, with three handlers as well as the actor in identical dress; this gives the production a somewhat surreal quality and a period feel.

Tiffany’s regular movement collaborator Steven Hoggett creates an athletic child-like world. and the illusions by Jamie Harrison (whose work so impressed me at the Harry Potter plays recently) are brilliant (though there was a minor nose malfunction on the night I went!). Martin Lowe provides a wonderful score to supplement the film’s original five songs and inspired by its incidental music and Italian and Alpine folk music, including the recurrent standard When You Wish Upon a Star, which sounds suitably lush with a 15-piece orchestra under Tom Brady in the pit.

Mark Hadfield’s Geppetto is very moving (was that a real tear I saw at the end?) and Joe Idris-Roberts is an absolute delight as a very malleable Pinocchio. All three baddies deliver the required badness – David Langham’s Fox, Gershwyn Eustache Jnr as Stromboli and David Kirkbride as The Coachman. Audrey Brisson makes Pinocchio’s conscience Jiminy Cricket a lovely companion and Annette McLaughlin is every bit the fairy of your imagination.

Younger kids might be a bit scared, but older ones will love it’s darkness and adults it’s timeless charm and glorious theatricality. One of the best Christmas shows at the National, adding to its impressive seasonal track record.

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debbie tucker green has a very distinctive playwriting style. realistic, overlapping dialogue, sometimes with a non-linear narrative. characters called man, woman, x or y. moments of intensity alternating with moments of humour. puzzles for you to solve for yourself. oh, and a clear dislike of capital letters.

This latest piece is staged on three sides of the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs with the audience on fixed but swivelling stools in regimented rows within. It’s uncomfortable and the sight lines are poor. The ‘stage’ is like a green corridor open on one side. The five characters move around and make lines and shapes on the walls using chalk. In the first half of the 80 minutes a young couple seem to live their whole life, love, have children, argue, split. In the next quarter, an older couple bicker and snipe. In the last quarter, the older man is with a younger woman, who may be the young couple’s now adult daughter, talking about the issue of age difference.

Lashana Lynch and Gershwyn Eustache Jnr are terrific as the young couple (A & B) and Gary Beadle is great as the (older) Man. We get a lot less of Meera Syal as Woman and Shvorne Marks as Young Woman, but their contributions are excellent nevertheless. It’s a very original staging by tucker green herself, with a clever design by Merle Hensel. I’m not sure what it’s point is, and the discomfort did mar my concentration, but it’s an intriguing piece nonetheless.

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I didn’t book for this play as I don’t like boxing. Fortunately, I realised soon enough that it was about much more than boxing. Inspired by the life of black American boxer Jack Johnson in the early 20th century, it’s a gripping, intense drama with five stunning performances in a production that oozes authenticity.

Our fictional boxer Jay is black heavyweight world champion at a time of segregation. He tours the US with his trainer Wynton and white boxing promoter Max, fighting other back boxers, one of which – Fish – becomes his sparring partner. Max sets up the unthinkable – a match with the white world heavyweight champion – though he has to give away virtually all the prize money, whatever the outcome. Jay’s big sister Nina turns up and we learn the origin of his motivation and the frightening potential consequences of the battle. Jay could be about to dramatically change society, but he’s also putting many lives at risk.

This is played out in a boxing ring (without ropes) without a single blow landed but with an intensity that has you on the edge of your seat throughout. Madani Younis’ direction is masterly, with movement that is both elegant and dramatic. James Whiteside’s lighting adding much to the atmosphere. Nicholas Pinnock is extraordinary as Jay, physically imposingly with genuine charisma, with Gershwyn Eustache Jnr brilliant as the younger boxer Fish, like a more naive younger version of Jay. Clint Dyer is wonderful as the loyal, supportive trainer and Ewan Stewart is excellent as Max, whose motivation is more ambiguous. We don’t see Nina for some time, but she becomes pivotal to the story and Frances Ashman’s deeply moving performance is simply superb.

Everything about this evening is crafted to perfection. It’s a play that will certainly be in the year’s ‘Best Of’ lists and one you absolutely must catch. Let’s hope it can be seen by more people by extension, transfer or filming, but don’t wait for that – if there are tickets left, grab them now!

 

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