Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Gwilym Lee’

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.

Read Full Post »

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……

Read Full Post »