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Posts Tagged ‘Gina McKee’

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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The 70’s were my 20’s and my first decade at work. Looking at the Trafalgar Studio One stage, designed by Soutra Gilmour, before the play started was a deeply nostalgic experience. Electronic typewriters, telex machines and those phones that seemed to be around for decades. By the time the the play starts, though, you can’t take your eyes off the characters crowded in the office for the duration. Many have questioned the setting, modern dictator references and the coup d’at that follows the civil war, but I thought it was all deeply intelligent and made for a riveting experience.

Richard’s relentless removal of everyone in his way en route to the top job would be entirely plausible in a 20th century dictatorship. The hunger for power fuels the manipulation, the lies and the killing without conscience, though rarely at his own hand. The claustrophobic setting adds something to the intensity of the drama. We’ve seen men like this Richard in our lifetime, which makes it very easy to relate to him and even easier to be repelled by him. As the play progresses, and the carnage is scaled up, the pace seems to increase and the blood begins to flow before your eyes.

Martin Freeman may appear a restrained Richard, at least at first, but this seemed to me to be in keeping with the concept – modern dictators all seem cool on the outside. It’s the small things – a chilling laugh, a raised eyebrow, a malicious grin; all often direct to the audience – which make you believe he’ll do absolutely anything to reach his goal. His second half entrance in bright red uniform is completely unsurprising; he’s got it and he’s going to make sure you know it. I thought it was an excellent performance; the closest I remember is Ian McKellern’s more Hitleresque one – this is more generic 20th century dictator.

He’s surrounded by a superb supporting cast. Macbeth’s excellent Banquo, Forbes Masson, channels Ernie Wise as a superbly oily Hastings. Simon Coombs has an entirely original take on loyal henchman Tyrrel. Jo Stone-Fewings is one of the best Buckingham’s I’ve ever seen and Gerald Kyd seemed to make much more of the role of Catesby. Mark Meadows inhabits both Clarence and the Lord Mayor, but you’d be forgiven if you didn’t realise it was the same actor, and you completely believe Paul Leonard feigned loyalty as Stanley. The casting of the women is particularly strong, with the wonderful Maggie Steed a haunting presence almost throughout, Gabrielle Lloyd’s very regal Duchess of York, Gina McKee motherly Queen Elizabeth and Lauren O’Neil is the best stranglee ever!

Much has also been said about the audiences, but mine was amongst the most attentive and quietest I’ve ever experienced. I don’t care what anybody else thinks, I related to this Jamie Lloyd staging of Richard III more than any other and for that reason, it’s a great one – and a superb start to the very welcome return of Trafalgar Transformed.

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After an excellent debut with Mammals eight years ago at the Bush, I thought we’d lost playwright Amelia Bullmore to TV & radio (and her other job, acting), but here we are with a second stage play that had me spellbound.

After a somewhat staccato first scene where the three characters, newly arrived at University, give us a series of short one-liners which add up to form their first term / year, we see then move into a house together and the following act forms the play’s core – the development of their friendship. It’s funny, warm, charming and you get to know and like these three very different characters.

Di is a cockney lesbian, sporty and butch. Viv’s a more earnest, studious and serious Geordie. Rose is a country girl whose flightiness and sexual promiscuity contrasts with her home-making and domesticity. Just when you feel safe with this cheerful and charming nostalgia, you get the first of a number of tragedies and it breaks your heart.

The play becomes so much more unpredictable from here. We spend a while watching them make their way in the world, their careers and their other relationships, before we jump forward ten years or so, then another ten to see how their lives have unfolded and their friendships have fared. There’s a fascinating debate about kindness – selfish or selfless? – along the way and it has the uncanny ability to switch from hilarity to tears (them and us) on a phrase or an action.

I can’t think of a better play about friendships, their ups and downs but above all how crucial they are to us all. These characters are so real you want to be with them, and at times be them. I was desperate for the interval to end because I just wanted their story to continue. The performances of Tamzin Outhwaite as Di, Gina McKee as Viv and Anna Maxwell Martin as Rose are all so good, the gap between character and actor blurs completely and they become Di and Viv and Rose. I have rarely witnessed such chemistry in more than thirty years of play-going.

I think casting older actors to play 15-25 years younger for much of the play pays off as I doubt younger actors would have the (real life) experience to make it so real. Anna Mackmin’s staging is masterly because she obtains a cohesive flow and a deeply satisfying whole from multiple scenes spanning 27 years.

Last night was one of those nights you know you could never have in a cinema or watching something on TV. This is a live theatre experience that I have no doubt will prove to be a highlight of the year and may well prove to be a highlight of my theatre-going life. Very special indeed.

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Bloody families…..

A King Lear that comes in at under 3 hours! I have to confess, I can’t see where the cuts are and it makes a big difference to the pacing – this Lear races along. It’s a difficult play for me because I find it hard to understand why Lear rejects Cordelia and don’t find the subsequent relationship breakdown with the other daughters entirely plausible, but it’s still a fascinating and complex play

The Donmar has planks covering the floor, ceiling and all four sides; they’re a distressed white, though it doesn’t take long before there’s blood on the walls – literally (well, stage blood). The only props are the map and a chair; the costumes are excellent. Michael Grandage’s staging and Christopher Oram’s design allow the drama to unfold and the verse to breathe.

This is an exceptionally well cast production. I was particularly impressed by all three Gloucesters – Paul Jesson’s believable journey as the Duke, Alec Newman’s positively evil Edmund and Gwilym Lee’s sympathetic Edgar. The daughters – Gina McKee as Goneril , Justine Mitchell’s Regan and Pippa Bennett-Warner as Cordelia – took a while to get into their stride but in the second half McKee and Mitchell were appropriately vituperative.

I think Derek Jacobi is my 7th Lear – an illustrious list that includes Anthony Hopkins, Robert Stephens, Brian Cox, Ian Holm, Ian McKellen & Pete Postlethwaite – and I’ve liked them all. He’s particularly good at anger – going bright red, croaking and breathless – and grief, but less convincing in the early scenes of madness.

I still haven’t forgiven the Donmar for abandoning the performance one week earlier just 15 minutes into a power cut and then offering no alternative. I owe my second chance to Judith, who knew of my disappointment when offered her cousin Jan’s spare ticket. Huge thanks to both!

I wonder who will be my next Lear……

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