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Posts Tagged ‘Hammed Animashaun’

For some reason this early 80’s Athol Fugard play moved me more today than it did during the apartheid period in which it was written and is set. Perhaps it’s relief that, though there’s much wrong with the world today, that particular slice of inhumanity is over.

Fugard’s biographical play is set in a cafe in Port Elizabeth in 1950, the early days of apartheid. It’s owned by a white woman but run by her two black employees, Sam and Willie. The owner’s son Hally regularly visits after school and Sam & Willie have had more to do with his upbringing than his alcoholic father and about as much as his mother; Sam is very much a father figure. They have developed strong supportive relationships, regardless of apartheid. The men are rehearsing for a ballroom dancing competition which at first seems incongruous, but proves both in keeping and charming, when Hally comes home from school to a meal and news of his dad’s discharge from hospital, which sends him into a rage. He takes it out on the men, demanding to be called Master Harold and adopting typical apartheid behaviours of superiority, something he soon regrets.

Fugard hasn’t changed the names of the real people portrayed, including his own, Hally. The piece represents his apology to Sam and Willie; sadly the former died a matter of days before he could have seen it. It’s a gentle piece which shows the inhumanity of apartheid through these relationships more powerfully than shouting from the rooftops would, but its much more than that. The ending is poignant and deeply moving. Lucian Msamati gives yet another beautifully judged performance as Sam. Hammed Animashaun continues to impress with Willie, a very different role that shows and extends his range – from Bottom to Willie in a matter of months! It appears to be Anson Boon’s stage debut as Hally, and an impressive one it is too. Rajha Shakiry’s design anchors the piece in its place and period, beautifully lit by Paule Constable. It’s only the second play I’ve seen by director Roy Alexander Weise, and I’m already a fan.

It’s great to se it again after such a long time, particularly as it proves to be much more than a play of its time. Fugard is not only a key figure in the history of South Africa in the last half of the 20th Century, but a hugely important one in international theatre and this classic belongs on a world stage like the National.

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The Bridge Theatre’s biggest success so far was probably their promenade Julius Caesar last year (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2018/01/29/julius-caesar-bridge-theatre). This even more immersive promenade staging of A Midsummer Night’s Dream proves how suitable the space is for this style of performance. I found it captivating from start to finish.

They’ve really cracked the promenade form at the Bridge, largely because of their ability to bring platforms up from the floor, and this time flying in the space above. There are no sightline issues for either promenaders or those looking on from the galleries, and the marshalling is very unobtrusive. This Dream starts in serious tone with Athenians dressed like puritans as Hermia’s arranged marriage is confirmed, emphasising its unacceptability like I’ve never seen before, before we’re whisked away to the forest.

The very acrobatic fairies swing above the promenaders and the lovers and royal couple move along platforms with leaf-strewn beds on. The simple change of spell from Titania to Oberon heightens the comedy greatly. The lovers are particularly feisty and modern, and Puck is a marvellous creation, looking like a punk, wicked, funny and brilliantly athletic. The use of music is terrific, with the promenaders, seemingly unprompted, breaking into moves in unison. They take a lot of liberties with Shakespeare’s words, and there are ad libs and audience involvement, but they are all completely justified by the result.

Gwendoline Christie has great presence as Hippolyta / Titanya, towering over Puck and the fairies in a long green dress. Oliver Chris brings his considerable gift for comedy to the role of Oberon; his scenes with Hammed Animashaun’s Bottom, as great a performance in this role as I’ve ever seen, are positively sublime. David Moorst continues to deliver on his early promise with a simply terrific Puck and a contrasting Philostrate. It was great to see half of the rude mechanicals played by women, with Ami Metcalf’s butch Snout feared by all.

The Bridge must do more in this configuration, with the unique possibilities the building affords. Director Nicholas Hytner and designer Bunny Christie have created a magical tale with a great sense of fun, a Dream for our times. Take every young person you know as it may convert them to live theatre for life. They were still partying as we left.

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This is one of the most radical and heavily cut productions of a Shakespeare play I’ve ever seen, yet it retains the essence of the piece and doesn’t feel as if it’s missing much – despite running sone 40-50 mins less than any other production.

The opening scene is rather shocking – writhing bodies in a sea of blow-up sex dolls (which stay with us for most of the play, excepting those that deflate!) – but it does make it instantly clear we’re in a debauched Vienna. The Duke leaves town, placing Angelo in charge, returning disguised as a Friar to monitor events ‘in his absence’. Claudio has been arrested and sentenced to death for crimes against morality and his sister Isabella, about to become a nun, is distraught. Power corrupts Angelo and he offers to save Claudio in exchange for Isabella’s virginity, but the disguised Duke hatches a plot.

There’s great use of live video in Joe Hill-Gibbins production, both in the relatively small stage-front playing space and in a much bigger space behind, sometimes in view, sometimes not. He gives Shakespeare’s raciest play great pace and a contemporary sleaze relevance. Miriam Buether is responsible for the clever design, with Nicky Gillibrand the costumes and Chris Kondek the video. The speedy transition to the Viennese court for the final scene is masterly. I surprised myself by enjoying it so much, not really offended by the liberties taken.

The three central performances are terrific – Paul Ready as the righteous Angelo who becomes a sleazeball, Romola Garai as the virginal Isabella and Zubin Varla as a very passionate Duke. They have fine support, particularly from John Mackay, who makes much of Lucio, and Hammed Animashaun as the Provost.

The Young Vic leading the way with fresh, inventive productions again.

 

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This play isn’t set in that Somalian town; in fact, it’s set in a London secondary school and has nothing to do with Mogadishu or Somalia at all. What it is, though, is very well written, very topical, very thought(and debate)provoking and very entertaining. The fact it is the playwright’s first play makes this all the more astonishing.

A white female teacher initially refuses to report the violent act of a black pupil with whom she empathises because she doesn’t want to get him into trouble. The Head persuades her to do so, and this unleashes a counter-story of racist abuse spun by the boy with the collaboration of his friends. By the interval, my companion had taken sides and we had a heated debate about the unfairness of the teacher’s treatment. In the second half, the play achieves an extraordinary balance by revealing the back stories and refuses to take sides. The consequences of the event itself develop a life of their own in the hands of people and organisation who know neither the teacher nor the boy.

It may be some time before we see writing as good as this again. The situation, characterisation and dialogue ooze authenticity, no doubt because writer Vivienne Franzmann has been a secondary school teacher for 12 years. Actor-turned-Director Matthew Dunster has staged it brilliantly with just a few props inside movable wire fencing surrounding the school playground. There is a uniformly fine ensemble of 12 actors, from which I would single out Malachi Kirby’s assured and passionate Jason and Hammed Animashaun as his crucial (comic) sidekick Jordan.

A triumph for original producers the Royal Exchange Manchester and the Lyric Hammersmith. Don’t miss it.

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