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Posts Tagged ‘Greenland’

It’s hard not to be affected by so much negative buzz but I tried to approach this with an open mind. I’m partial to a bit of Spanish Golden Age, though I’m more of a Lope de Vega man than a Tirso de Molina man (the latter wrote this) and have fond memories of the RSC’s mini-season eight years ago. Then I remembered that Tirso’s contribution, Tamar’s Revenge, was the weak link in that season…..

…..but nowhere near as weak as this, though I have to confess I only survived the first half; if they were offering free Rioja in the second half, you couldn’t have dragged me back.

It’s one of the tackiest and ugliest sets ever to grace the Olivier stage – a big plastic mountain with three white petals. The opening monologues of Frank McGuiness’ translation / adaptation are forced and turgid.  The worlds of hermit Paulo, intent on penance, and gangster Enrico, destined to burn in hell, collide in one of the most implausible and preposterous set-ups you’ll ever see. After fifty minutes of clumsy staging and histrionic performances, you are thankfully handed an escape manual AKA an interval.

It’s hard to know where the blame lies – writer, adapter or director – but I suspect it’s a bit of all three. I’ve had a bit of a downer on director Bijan Sheibani who’s ‘credits’ include that travesty Greenland, the beyond dull Our Class and a surprisingly flat The Kitchen. You have to question why he’s an NT associate director and why Nick Hytner didn’t pull this before it was too late.

I feel really sorry for the cast, including talents like Bertie Carvell and Amanda Lawrence, who have to suffer this 32 more times to half full houses (with a top price of £32 and most seats at £12). They can’t do a runner like me!

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The Royal Court really is on a roll. In less than two years, we’ve had great new plays like Jerusalem, Enron, Posh, Clybourne Park, Sucker Punch and Tribes – and now Richard Bean’s terrific new play The Heretic. Its evenings like this that remind me why go to the theatre; I’d sit through five Greenland’s for one play as good as this!

I’ve long been a fan of Bean, but he’s excelled himself here. Unlike the NT’s Greenland, this isn’t a play about climate change, but it uses it as a back-drop to develop its main themes of science v activism whilst weaving in the stories of the complex relationships of its four main protagonists. It’s rich in detailed story-telling, well developed characters, sparklingly sharp & funny dialogue and boy does it make you think. It twists and turns continually – sometimes you see them coming and grin in expectation, but sometimes you don’t and smirk at the surprise. He sets you up for an obvious outcome, only to confound you by doing the opposite. It’s clearly well researched; he even shows a HR Manager arranging the chairs for a disciplinary meeting exactly as HR managers do!

As someone who was heavily involved in a major employment law case which resulted in the interpretation of ‘religious or similar philosophical beliefs’ to include views on climate change, I’d already begun to buy Bean’s proposition that climate change has become a religion and in doing so the debate has ceased to be objective. He puts this point centre stage and debates it more eloquently and entertainingly than you would ever think possible – whilst, unlike Greenland, remaining objective and not patronising or preaching to his audience.

Peter McKintosh has created two excellent realistic sets and Jeremy Herrin’s direction is impeccable. The performances are terrific. The wonderful Juliet Stevenson clearly relishes her meaty role. James Fleet has never been better than here as her boss. Johnny Flynn and Lydia Wilson are both terrific in the complex roles of Ben and Phoebe, and there are fine cameos from Adrian Hood and Leah Whitaker.

The Royal Court is now fully established as the place where you go for intelligent, thought-provoking, topical, entertaining plays and this one is an absolute unmissable treat!

 

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