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Posts Tagged ‘Hampstead Theatre’

This is Polish American playwright Martyna Majok’s UK debut with her 2018 Pulitzer prizewinning play. It’s cleverly structured, drawing you in to two seemingly separate stories which eventually meet. I rather liked it, and I learned a lot from it.

We first meet Eddie in a bar. He’s lost his his job and his wife. He’s been texting her phone and somewhat spookily getting replies. We then flash back in Eddie’s life prior to this, and to the life of disabled academic John. Eddie’s wife Ani had an accident which seriously disabled her after they had separated and he was with another woman. He offers to become her carer, something she can otherwise ill afford to pay for, and as this new relationship progresses it kindles a new warmth between them. John has enough money to be independent and hire his own carer Jess and after a brittle start, they become close too.

There’s a delicacy to both the writing and Edward Hall’s staging that captivates you. Very intimate scenes emphasise the difficulties of dependence, and the frustration that can drive people apart or closer together. It illustrates the difference in care in the US between those with means and those without. It also shows the struggle there for those with limited means, even those with an education. Jess appears to be at least a semi-autobiographical character; Majok is clearly writing from experience.

The characters come alive in four superb performances. It’s great to see Adrian Lester back on stage as Eddie, an emotional rollercoaster of a role unlike any of his others. It’s good to welcome Katie Sullivan to these shores to reprise the role of Ani which she created in the original production. Emily Barber and Jack Hunter are well matched as the feisty Jess and fiercely independent John.

There’s real humanity in this play, which I haven’t stopped thinking about since I left Hampstead Theatre. The programme tells us this is their 100th premiere since 2010 – a fine achievement, and this is amongst the best of them.

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Best New Play – The Lehman Trilogy*, The Inheritance* & Sweat*

I find it impossible to choose between these three extraordinary evenings (well, afternoon and evening in the case of the The Inheritance) but they were in very good company with a dozen other new plays in contention. Also at the NT, Home, I’m Darling* and Nine Night* were great, and also at the Young Vic The Convert* became a late addition in December. At the Bush, both Misty and An Adventure impressed (though I saw the former when it transferred to Trafalgar Studios).The remaining London contenders were The Humans at Hampstead Theatre, Pressure at the Park Theatre, Things I Know To Be True at the Lyric Hammersmith and The Wipers Times at the Arts, though these last two weren’t new to London, just me. The Edinburgh Fringe added two, Class* and Ulster American*, both Irish, both at the Traverse and both heading to London, so look out for them. The eight starred are either still running or coming back in 2019, so be sure to catch them if you haven’t seen them already.

Best New Musical – Hamilton*

It opened right at the end of 2017, but I didn’t see it until January 2018 (and again in December 2018). It certainly lives up to the hype and is unquestionably ground-breaking in the same way West Side Story was sixty years before. It was a good year for new musicals, though 40% of my shortlist were out-of-town, headed by Flowers For Mrs Harris at Chichester, with Pieces of String in Colchester, Miss Littlewood in Stratford and Sting’s The Last Ship mooring briefly in Northampton. Back in London, the Young Vic continued to shine with Fun Home and Twelfth Night and the NT imported Hadestown*. Tina* proved to be in the premiere league of juke-box musicals and SIX* was a breath of fresh air at the Arts. Only four are still running, or coming back.

Best Play Revival – The York Realist and Summer and Smoke*

Another category where I can’t split the top two. The former a gem at the Donmar and the latter shining just as brightly at the Almeida. I didn’t see the Old Vic’s glorious A Christmas Carol* until January, so that was a contender too, along with The Daughter-in-Law* at the Arcola and The Lieutenant of Inishmore in the West End. Then there were four cracking Shakespeare’s – The Bridge Theatre’s promenade Julius Caesar, the RSC’s Hamlet with Paapa Essiedu visiting Hackney Empire, Ian McKellen’s King Lear transfer from Chichester, and the NT’s Anthony & Cleopatra* with Ralph Fiennes and Sophie Okenedo. Another four still running / coming back.

Best Musical Revival – Company*

The leanest category this year, with Marianne Elliott’s revival of Sondheim’s Company exceeding expectations; I shall be back at the last night. Chichester brought yet more joy with Me & My Girl and right at the end of the year, the Mill at Sonning came up trumps for the third year running with a great favourite of mine, Guys & Dolls* Finally, The Rink at Southwark Playhouse, the only contender this year from the usually more prolific fringe. Two to catch if you haven’t already.

Theatre of the Year – The Young Vic

Though five of my thirty-seven contenders were at the NT, The Young Vic shone even more brightly with four, all new works. Only four originated in the West End, which further emphasises how crucial the subsidised sector and the regions are. You can still see half of them, but some close soon, so get booking!

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The Humans

This excellent American import arrives from off-Broadway via Broadway & LA with the cast and creative team intact. They bring a heightened realism to Stephen Karam’s contemporary family saga which is a bit of a slow burn at first, but draws you in as it covers a whole host of both personal and wider societal issues.

Brigid and Richard invite her Irish American family from Scruton, Penn to Thanksgiving at their new NYC duplex, a roomy but somewhat grubby place on the wrong side of town. Dad Erik has a non-teaching job in a private school. His wife Deirdre is a much put-upon office manager, now taking orders from, and looking after, men less than half her age earning four times as much. They look after Erik’s mom, who has dementia. Brigid’s music career is going nowhere whilst she waits tables and claims benefits. Things have recently gone badly in both career and personal life for Brigid’s seemingly successful sister Aimee, a gay lawyer. Richard is still studying at 38, but comes from very different stock.

As the evening unfolds, their closeness as a family contrasts with their bitching and sniping, like most families (!), as recent dramatic events are revealed. There’s an air of mystery surrounding the proceedings, generated by the noises and lights of the building and the dreams of Erik and Richard, but though this adds atmosphere, it doesn’t add much more. Along the way, we get references to 9/11, American corporate values & loyalty and economic impact. It feels both a family saga and a comment on our times. There’s an authenticity and naturalism, largely due to a uniformly excellent American cast who’ve been with it now for some time. I found it enthralling.

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Irish playwright Brian Friel wrote something like 30 plays and adaptations in 45 years from the early 60’s. A handful have been revived fairly regularly, becoming classics. This is the second London revival of the summer, following the highly successful Translations at the NT. Sadly this rather Chekhovian play, written just one year earlier in 1979, is a lot less successful.

Though the story is the same, this isn’t the play I remember seeing at Hampstead Theatre in 1988 or the NT in 2005, and I’m struggling to understand why. Here the Irish ‘big house’ is represented by a faded backdrop and a model around which the action takes place in a shallow pit, with actors waiting at the back until they take part. I found Es Devlin’s design and Lyndsey Turner’s staging a bit puzzling.

The family is gathered for youngest daughter Claire’s wedding to a much older man, who we never meet. Casimir has come from Hamburg where he now lives with his wife and two boys. Alice and her husband Eamon are over from London. Judith runs the home, looking after their father, Uncle George and Claire, though she’d clearly like to be somewhere else with Willie. American historian Tom is visiting as part of the research into his latest project.

Nothing much happens in the first two acts, which is my main problem with it. Claire plays Chopin, encouraged by Casimir, sexually ambiguous, who tells implausible stories. Eamon and Alice, who seems to be the subject of abuse, spar. Willie makes himself useful; fixing intercom speakers so they can hear father’s confused ramblings downstairs. By the interval, I was frankly rather bored.

They make up for it in the final act, where their father’s funeral has usurped the wedding, which is to be delayed for three months. They try and resolve what is to happen to the house, and to Uncle George. Eamon and Alice are to return to London, taking the uncle with them. Casimir is heading back to his family in Germany. Judith wants rid of the liability the house has become so that she can at last live her own life. In a fine cast, David Dawson shines as Casimir, banishing the memory of Niall Buggy and Andrew Scott, who played the role before him.

This time around, I found it dull, uneven and poorly paced, a bit like my bete noire Chekhov!

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This play, the UK debut of American playwright Sarah Burgess, is set in the sordid, parasitic world of private equity. The problem for me is that it doesn’t tell you anything you didn’t know already. The PE world is one populated by those who couldn’t give a damn about anyone else and don’t have an ethical bone in their bodies. So what’s new?

Jeff’s working on a deal to bag a luggage company in California. It’s a difficult time for the PE firm, and therefore an important deal, due to negative PR over senior partner Rick’s extravagant engagement party. The luggage company’s negotiator Seth is keen to retain manufacturing and protect jobs, but the PE guys have other plans. Jeff’s colleague Jenny muscles in on the deal, which makes Jeff side with the target (rather implausible, I thought), almost scuppering the deal – but everyone has their price.

It’s performed on an apron stage with a mirrored backdrop and just a perspex table and two chairs for props, everything shades of grey. This made Anna Ledwich’s production a bit static and somewhat perfunctory, though it did zip along. The four performances – Aidan McArdle as Rick, Hayley Atwell as Jenny, Joseph Balderrama as Jeff and Tom Riley as Seth – are all excellent, but I don’t think the material is worthy of their talents.

I’m getting a bit worried about Hampstead Theatre’s selection of new plays.

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This 1995 Simon Gray play is more famous for one of its stars, Stephen Fry, going AWOL a few days after it opened, bringing about it’s early closure after just over a month. It’s gestation was problematic too – rejected as a TV script, a failed attempt to turn it into a film script, abandoned by its first theatre producer and getting its first outing on the radio. It even changed title several times, ending up as Cell Mates, but they weren’t. I think this might be it’s only London stage revival. It would have been nice to have added ‘long overdue’.

It concerns the real life case, in 1966, of infamous spy and traitor George Blake and his break-out from Wormwood Scrubs and escape to Russia. Blake was assisted by a young Irishman, Sean Bourke, who he met inside, and the play starts at their first meeting in the prison library, where Blake invites him to help (in reality this didn’t happen at their first meeting). We then see them holed up in a bedsit awaiting departure to Russia after Bourke, newly released, has sprung him. Bourke is persuaded to accompany Blake to Moscow and the rest of the play sees them in a KGB flat there, in four scenes over some ten months, during which time they separately record their memoirs, receive regular visits from their handlers and are cared for by a maid who takes a shine to Bourke.

Gray skirts around the issue of the nature of the relationship between the two, and in particular why Bourke is so loyal to Blake, who betrays him as he did his country. As this is fundamental to the story, it derails the play and it ends up a rather dull telling of a fascinating true story; even speculation would be better than nothing. This is compounded by Edward Hall’s tentative, rather conservative production which rarely comes to life, despite some fine performances. Not really worthy of revival, I’m afraid.

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I haven’t read any books by Patrick Hamilton, whose novel this is based on, though I have seen his plays Gaslight and Rope, plus some TV and film adaptations of his work. Nicholas Wright has adapted this late novel for the stage and I found it a bit of an odd concoction.

Set in a boarding house in Berkshire during the Second World War, the residents are mostly long-term, some forced to find alternative accomodation to their bombed London homes. It’s mostly retired folk, but thirty-something Miss Roach, who works for a publisher, is amongst them. She frequents the local pub, where she meets a black American GI, Lieutenant Pike, and a German doctor’s clerk, Vicki Kugelman. The latter ends up moving into the boarding house, which the Lieutenant visits to take dinner with Miss Roach.

There’s a lot of alcohol involved and the triangular relationship of Roach, Pike and Kugelmann becomes a bit of a roller-coaster. After a tragic incident, all three go their separate ways, leaving the boarding house, two ending up not too happily reunited in London. There are a lot of scenes, which I felt were detrimental to both characters development and flow, and some of the behaviour on display seemed incongruous. The biggest flaw for me was the ending, leaving you hanging in mid-air, though it is what the title says – they are slaves to solitude.

It’s hard to fault the production, though on the last day of previews there were still a few glitches to iron out. The scene changes are themselves excellent, transforming from boarding house to pub and back quickly and seamlessly, though the change to the one outdoor scene worked less well for those of us in the front stalls. There are some lovely performances, with the romantic trio, played by Fenella Woolgar, Daon Broni and Lucy Cohu, all excellent. Clive Francis’ cameo as the somewhat lecherous mysoginist racist Thwaites is a delight (!), and there are smaller but important contributions from Richard Tate and Tom Milligan.

I left the theatre not fully satisfied, concluding that it perhaps wasn’t really worth adapting. Mind you, it did come at the end of a week which included three crackers – Albion, Young Marx and Beginning.

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