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Posts Tagged ‘Harold Pinter Theatre’

When I first heard about Jamie Lloyd’s Pinter at the Pinter season – 20 of his one-act plays in seven groupings over six months – I thought it was laudable, brave and ambitious, but I’m not a Pinter fan (though Lloyd has recently lured me to a few revivals with fresh interpretations and exciting casting). I decided that it was all or nothing, and at West End prices, nothing won, but a spare evening and a great ticket deal lured me to this fourth, a pairing of plays 33 years apart, one I saw the first outing of and one I’ve never seen, and they couldn’t be more different.

In Moonlight, Andy is dying, lying in his bed with his wife Bel by his side. He reminices about events and people in his life. We also meet his estranged sons, though they don’t meet him, and two friends and a young girl also make an appearance. Lindsay Turner’s production has a dreamlike quality, but with scenes which are imagined or elsewhere played within the bedroom somewhat bewildering. I saw It at the Almeida in 1993 with a stellar cast that included Ian Holm, Anna Massey, Douglas Hodge & Michael Sheen and it seemed a very different play which this time round I didn’t find very interesting or satisfying.

Night School was a TV play and I’m not sure it’s been staged before. After the dullness of Moonlight, it seemed like a little comic gem and much more Pinteresque, or perhaps even Ortonesque. Wally returns from prison to find his family have let his room to a young teacher. He fails to get landlord Solto to loan him money to get back on his feet but he does persuade him to find out more about the new lodger, who turns out to have another occupation altogether. Brid Brennan (Bel in Moonlight) and Janine Dee are a terrific double-act as the aunts, Robert Glenister (Andy in the first play) is great as East End rogue Solto and Al Weaver (son Jake in Moonlight) excellent as Wally.

Very much an evening of two halves, only one of which I really liked.

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I keep breaking my ‘no more Pinter revivals’ rule, lured by the cast and / or creatives, in this case both, though maybe it’s a subconscious desire to one day understand his plays. This team certainly don’t disappoint, but I’m no further forward on the understanding front.

It’s the play’s 60th anniversary. If you’d told those that attended the eight performances of its premiere production that it would be selling out in the West end today, they’d probably laugh. The audience was in single numbers when it was pulled prematurely. Pinter’s comedy with menace / theatre of the absurd must have baffled then as it still does, with its cocktail of ambiguity, confusion, contradictions and political symbolism. I’m still not convinced even Pinter knew what it was about, or whether it being about anything is the point. Despite the bafflement, it’s still compelling.

Ian Rickson’s staging and the Quay Brothers design are as good as any. Zoe Wanamaker and Peter Wight are perfect as the couple running the seaside boarding house, her rather batty and him a beacon of ordinariness. The part of Stanley, the prime victim, really suits Toby Jones. Goldberg is unlike any other role I’ve seen Stephen Mangham play, so he was a bit of a revelation, doing menacing very well indeed, as does his sidekick Tom Vaughan-Lawlor as McCann. Lulu is a small part but Pearl Mackie acquits herself well.

My plea to producers would be to use creatives and actors I don’t like so that I don’t feel compelled to break my own rules, though rule-breaking can sometimes be rewarding…..

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The Best Theatre of 2017

Time to reflect on, and celebrate, the shows I saw in 2017 – 200 of them, mostly in London, but also in Edinburgh, Leeds, Cardiff, Brighton, Chichester, Newbury and Reading.

BEST NEW PLAY – THE FERRYMAN

We appear to be in a golden age of new writing, with 21 of the 83 I saw contenders. Most of our finest living playwrights delivered outstanding work this year, topped by James Graham’s three treats – Ink, Labour of Love and Quiz. The Almeida, which gave us Ink, also gave us Mike Bartlett’s Albion. The National had its best year for some time, topped by David Eldridge’s West End bound Beginning, as well as Inua Ellams’ The Barbershop Chronicles, Lee Hall’s adaptation of Network, Nina Raine’s Consent, Lucy Kirkwood’s Mosquitos and J T Rogers’ Oslo, already in the West End. The Young Vic continued to challenge and impress with David Greig’s updating of 2500-year-old Greek play The Suppliant Womenand the immersive, urgent and important Jungle by Joe’s Murphy & Robertson. Richard Bean’s Young Marxopened the new Bridge Theatre with a funny take on 19th century history. On a smaller scale, I very much enjoyed Wish List at the Royal Court Upstairs, Chinglish at the Park Theatre, Late Companyat the Finborough, Nassim at the Bush and Jess & Joe at the Traverse during the Edinburgh fringe. Though they weren’t new this year, I finally got to see Harry Potter & the Cursed Child I & II and they more than lived up to the hype. At the Brighton Festival, Richard Nelson’s Gabriels trilogycaptivated and in Stratford Imperium thrilled, but it was impossible to topple Jez Butterworth’s THE FERRYMAN from it’s rightful place as BEST NEW PLAY.

BEST REVIVAL – ANGELS IN AMERICA / WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF

Much fewer in this category, but then again I saw only 53 revivals. The National’s revival of Angels in America was everything I hoped it would be and shares BEST REVIVAL with Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. The Almeida’s Hamlet was the best Shakespearean revival, with Macbeth in Welsh in Caerphilly Castle, my home town, runner up. Though it’s not my genre, the marriage of play and venue made Witness for the Prosecution a highlight, with Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Apologia the only other West End contributions in this category. On the fringe, the Finborough discovered another gem, Just to Get Married, and put on a fine revival of Arthur Miller’s Incident at Vichy. In the end, though, the big hitters hit big and ANGELS IN AMERICA & WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF shone brightest.

BEST NEW MUSICAL – ROMANTICS ANONYMOUS

Well, I’d better start by saying I’m not seeing Hamilton until the end of the month! I had thirty-two to choose from here. The West End had screen-to-stage shows Dreamgirlsand School of Rock, which I saw in 2017 even though they opened the year before, and both surprised me in how much I enjoyed them. Two more, Girls and Young Frankenstein, proved even more welcome, then at the end of the year Everybody’s Talking About Jamie joined them ‘up West’, then a superb late entry by The Grinning Man. The West End bound Strictly Ballroom wowed me in Leeds as it had in Melbourne in 2015 and Adrian Mole at the Menier improved on it’s Leicester outing, becoming a delightful treat. Tiger Bay took me to in Cardiff and, despite its flaws, thrilled me. The Royal Academy of Music produced an excellent musical adaptation of Loves Labours Lost at Hackney Empire, but it was the Walthamstow powerhouse Ye Olde Rose & Crown that blew me away with the Welsh Les Mis, My Lands Shore, until ROMANTICS ANONYMOUS at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at The Globe stole my heart and the BEST NEW MUSICAL category.

BEST MUSICAL REVIVAL – A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC / FOLLIES

Thirty-two in this category too. The year started with a fine revival of Rent before Sharon D Clarke stole The Life at Southwark Playhouse and Caroline, or Change in Chichester (heading for Hampstead) in quick succession. Southwark shone again with Working, Walthamstow with Metropolis and the Union with Privates on Parade. At the Open Air, On the Town was a real treat, despite the cold and wet conditions, and Tommyat Stratford with a fully inclusive company was wonderful. NYMT’s Sunday in the Park With George and GSMD’s Crazy for You proved that the future is in safe hands. The year ended In style with a lovely My Fair Lady at the Mill in Sonning, but in the end it was two difficult Sondheim’s five days apart – A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC at the Watermill in Newbury and FOLLIES at the National – that made me truly appreciate these shows by my musical theatre hero and share BEST MUSICAL REVIVAL

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After twenty-six days without theatre, I would probably have been satisfied with a light snack. I started the famine after a musical feast, Follies, and I end it with this dramatic banquet. This is a terrific play, superbly performed.

American playwright J T Rogers gift for taking historical events and turning them into brilliant entertainment was first seen here in Blood & Gifts (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2010/11/02/blood-gifts). Our own more prolific James Graham (two shows now in the West End!) has a similar gift, though with subjects closer to home. Rogers has chosen to dramatise the secret talks between Israel and the PLO which ran in parallel with the much bigger formal ones which excluded the PLO, before eclipsing them by securing the deal signed the following year at the White House with that iconic handshake between Rabin and Arafat, which resulted in their shared Nobel prize.

Terje is a Norwegian sociologist running a think-tank. He and his wife Mona, a Norwegian foreign office employee, had the idea and instigated the process in 1992, initially without Norwegian government approval, and managed the talks without actual involvement in the substance of them. By focusing on building relationships and trust, in an informal setting in a country house (with good homemade food and lots to drink!), in seven short rounds of talks they made extraordinary progress, taking it so far that Rabin and Arafat were able to conclude it by phone in seven hours. The first half starts when the Norwegian FO are informed and flashes back to the seed of the idea in Cairo, then back to where we started. The second half moves chronologically from here to the White House signing. It’s packed with humour, adding to rather than detracting from the seriousness of the subject and it grips throughout.

On a plain wall, projections are used very effectively to change location and show real time events happening elsewhere. It’s a superb ensemble led by Toby Stevens as Terje and Lydia Leonard as his wife Mona, onstage for almost all of the three hours. Peter Polycarpou continues to demonstrate his extraordinary range as the senior PLO negotiator. His more hardened and defiant colleague Hassan eventually softens, an excellent transition from Nabil Elouahabi. The Israeli’s initially field a pair of academics, beautifully played as a bumbling double-act by Paul Herzberg and Thomas Arnold, the former channelling Stan Laurel!, before Philip Arditti’s hard-line, abrasive Uri Savir upgrades their delegation and then the even tougher Israeli-American lawyer Joel Singer takes an  even more aggressive stance, a pitch perfect performance from Yair Jonah Lotan. There’s a delightful cameo from Geraldine Alexander as the housekeeper whose food is the one thing they can all agree on.

It steers an objective course, enabling you to see the reasons for the impasse and the deep emotional foundations of the conflict. Even though the peace never lasted, it was a partial success and the play is ultimately hopeful. A real theatrical feast which lives up to all the hype.

 

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When I look back at my lifetime of theatre-going, one of the highlights will be seeing three great actresses, each ten years apart, play Martha – Diana Rigg, Kathleen Turner, and now Imelda Staunton. Edward Albee’s classic 1962 play is a mountain for any actor and its thrilling to watch them reach the summit. I left the theatre emotionally drained; I can’t even imagine what it takes out of them.

It’s 2am on a Sunday morning in September and George & Martha return to their New England home drunk from her ‘daddy’s’ faculty party. He’s the President of the college where George teaches history. A new teacher and his wife, Nick & Honey,  have been invited back and they follow on, arriving shortly after. The drinking continues in earnest as George and Martha fight, snipe, bicker and tear each other apart in front of their guests, playing the most extraordinary psychological games. Their guests get embroiled as the alcohol flows freely. Martha flirts with Peter, and more. Truth and illusion become blurred. Martha eventually breaks the rules, which brings on the endgame.

You’d be forgiven for thinking three hours of people fighting isn’t entertainment, but it’s a black comedy and a theatrical feast, so you’d be wrong. Though it’s impossible not to single out Imelda Staunton’s astonishing tour de force (is there anything this woman can’t do?) her three colleagues are all superb. Conleith Hill’s George makes a more restrained foil for her vitriolic outbursts. Luke Treadaway’s Nick goes from intensely uncomfortable to cool to predatory to angry. I didn’t know anything about Imogen Potts work (based on the programme bio, it may be her stage debut) but I was hugely impressed by her characterisation of Honey. Tom Pye has created a very realistic lived-in home and James Macdonald directs this roller-coaster brilliantly, with his usual forensic detail.

I still think it’s a 20th century classic, and this is a seminal production. You don’t see performances like this every day, every year come to that, and Imelda Staunton’s is a highlight in a lifetime of theatre-going. Unmissable.

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The 18 year revival rule applies again as Jez Butterworth’s first play gets a high profile West End outing. I’d decided not to go, given it cost more than five times the inflation-adjusted 1995 price, but I’m dreadfully weak-willed and I finally succumbed to the temptation of seeing a new generation of actors tackle these roles. So my review is of a performance ten weeks into the run.

Set in 50’s Soho amongst small-time gangsters, Mojo features club manager Mickey, his staff Skinny, Potts & Sweets, the owner’s son Baby and rock & roll prodigy Silver Johnny. There’s murder offstage which impacts them all, but we’re viewing their reactions and relationships in the back-room and an empty club.

The strength of the piece is not in the story, but in the world Butterworth creates, his characterisations and the rich expletive-strewn dialogue which is like verbal gunfire. It’s got great energy, edginess and dark humour, though it owes a lot to early Pinter (the menacing late 50’s Birthday Party & Caretaker period). Somewhat appropriately, it’s playing in the Harold Pinter theatre.

The chief reason for seeing it is that it provides a showcase for five leading male actors and these five relish every moment. Potts & Sweets are really a double-act and Daniel Mays and Rupert Grint have great chemistry, with slick and speedy delivery of the lines. There’s a sense of Grint apprenticed to Mays in both the characters and the actors. The role is perfect for Mays’ style and Grint’s professional debut is hugely impressive. In 1995, these roles were played by Andy Serkis and Matt Bardock respectively.

Ben Wishaw continues to impress and here effectively extends his range as Baby (Tom Hollander in 1995). Colin Morgan does more acting as Skinny, maybe a touch too much, but I still liked his highly strung take on Skinny (Aiden Gillen in 1995). Given he’s now a bit too well known as Downton’s Bates, Brendan Coyle still manages to convince as Mickey (David Westhead in 1995). Tom Rhys Harries is cool and charismatic in the smaller role of Silver Johnny. It’s the same director / design team (Ian Rickson & Ultz) and it’s staged with great tension and period style.

It is good to see these fine (mostly) young actors take on the sort of meaty ‘contemporary’ roles that don’t come around that often, so I will reluctantly accept that it was good to relent – and my admiration for producer Sonia Friedman continues to increase; it can’t be that easy to put such a bankable cast together for five months.

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