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Posts Tagged ‘Harry Hadden-Paton’

It’s rare something is revived after just five years. I’m glad this has been though as I somehow missed the premiere of Alexi Kaye Campbell’d debut play at its first outing at the Royal Court. Though I suspect it’s not intentional, given recent events in Russia, it turns out to be rather timely.

It’s a very good first play, and he has yet to better it. The stories of two gay relationships, many years apart, are interwoven, contrasting the old days ‘in the closet’ and more enlightened modern times. In one, Philip is having an affair with Oliver, the writer for whom his wife Sylvia is illustrating. Philip’s emotions are a complex bag of guilt, denial and anger. Of course, she knows really. This is set alongside the very modern open relationship of another Philip & Oliver, challenged by Oliver’s promiscuous addiction to sex, with another Sylvia who is Oliver’s friend and confidante.

It has a great deal of psychological and emotional depth and brings an historical perspective to both individual and society attitudes. The switches between periods are smoothly and speedily realised on the same set and the three actors are brilliant at changing to reflect the respective time. This is all helped by an uncluttered design by Soutra Gilmour with just a handful of props in front of a giant mirror wall.

The three central performances are all stunning. Al Weaver is superb as both shy, withdrawn Oliver and ‘out there’ open Oliver. Harry Hadden-Paton is just as effective at the slightly easier transition from repressed Philip to modern Philip, affronted by Oliver’s inability to be faithful. Hayley Atwell is wonderful as both the sad wife and effervescent best friend. Matthew Horn provides three good cameo’s though I thought the first, a ‘rent boy’ dressed as a Nazi, was a bit too much of a caricature amidst all these high quality performances.

Just so that we don’t get too complacent about our new enlightenment, at the second curtain call the cast come on with ‘To Russia, with love’ placards. With this third offering, Jamie Lloyd edges ahead of Michael Grandage in their respective West End seasons. How lucky are we to be able to compare.

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I loved everything about this production – a thing of great joy and a triumphant NT debut for director Jamie Lloyd. It’s the equal of the recent London Assurance on the same stage and for a play that’s almost 250 years old, it’s as fresh as they come.

Oliver Goldsmith’s restoration comedy has always seemed less dated and funnier than its contemporaries, but this is unquestionably the best production I’ve seen. Mark Thompson’s design somehow makes the Olivier more intimate. Most of the time, we’re in the Hardcastle’s living room in front of a huge hearth with a welcoming fire. The scene changes are accompanied by delightful jolly choruses and dances and the one from living room to woods and back is a marvel that takes your breath away. The only thing that isn’t in period is modern gestures, but rather than being incongruous they somehow add to the freshness.

City boy Marlow, accompanied by his friend Hastings, is off to the country to meet his intended Kate Hardcastle. Kate’s step-brother Tony Lumpkin convinces them the Hardcastle home is an inn – cue inappropriate behaviour and an outraged Mr Hardcastle. The tongue-tied Marlow has a stumbling meeting with confident Kate where he can’t even look at her, thus enabling Kate to subsequently pose as a barmaid (she stoops to conquer) and see a very different Marlow.

Running in parallel we have the story of Mrs Hardcastle’s niece and her love of Hastings but betrothal to Lumpkin (Mrs Hardcastle’s son by her first marriage, who doesn’t really want marriage), complete with a mix up over a box of jewels. It’s a riot of confusion with city meets country and rich meet poor providing ample opportunity for satire. The humour is broad so the playing is broad, but it manages to stay the right side of OTT. Of course, it all ends happily with both couples united and parents content.

Harry Hadden-Paton is proving equally adept at drama and comedy and here he’s terrific as Marlow. This may be a career high for John Heffernan, equally terrific as Hastings. It’s hard for Katherine Kelly and Cush Jumbo to play against these comic master classes but they do so very well. I assume there is some sort of exchange programme that resulted in Ian McKellern in Coronation Street in exchange for Kelly in this?! Well, she’s been the best thing about Corrie for years (yes, I’m a fan!) and though it was sad to see her go it’s great to see her cutting it in restoration comedy one week later – and there’s something delicious about the former barmaid at the Rovers Return stooping to conquer as a barmaid! Steve Pemberton and Sophie Thompson are great as the Hardcastles, with the latter giving us another of her over-the-top-and-higher-still performances. I was also hugely impressed by David Fynn as Lumpkin.  The ensemble is faultlessly cast and impeccably drilled.

A delightful evening from beginning to end. Miss at your peril.

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Maybe because it was my first theatrical day in over two weeks I was easily pleased or maybe it’s because I’m old enough to remember Python first time round, but I rather enjoyed this somewhat indifferently received play about the 1975 US court case where the giant ABC network was challenged by the Pythons over the editing of its shows.

Michael Palin and Terry Gilliam travel to New York to persuade the network to restore much of its cuts and when they fail seek a legal injunction to prevent the scheduled broadcast. Starting and ending in Palin’s North London home, most of Steve Thompson’s play tales place in NYC – in a hotel room,  the network offices, the court and other locations. Along the way, it explores how humour is received differently depending on age and culture and the rights of creative people as well as the relationships between the Pythons (even those not on stage). It’s often very funny indeed.

Francis O’Connor’s design is an homage to the TV show and provides a superb surrealistic frame for the play. Edward Hall’s staging zips along and there isn’t a wasted moment. The cast is uniformly excellent. Harry Hadden-Paton broadens his range with a superb characterisation of Palin, starting as reluctant, moving to apologetic and later to indignant. Sam Alexander’s Gilliam excellently combines outrageousness with eccentricity. It’s great to see Clive Rowe in a non-musical role and he’s terrific as Python’s attorney, as is Matthew Marsh as the judge.

It’s not a great play, but I enjoyed it a lot more than I was expecting – and a lot more than most critics and other bloggers it seems.

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I’ve always thought Britain didn’t produce 20th century dramatists to equal the three great Americans – Miller, Tennessee Williams and O’Neil. After The Dance at the NT last year was a nudge in the ribs, but here’s a poke in the stomach; by the end of this centenary year, I may have to bury such thoughts for good.

In Flare Path, we’re at a hotel next to an airbase at wartime where aircrew are staying – Teddy, a seemingly gung-ho Flight Lieutenant whose inner insecurities are revealed as the play progresses, down-to-earth bomber Dusty doing his bit and trying to stay alive and a Polish Count set on revenge and a heroic death. Teddy’s married to a glamorous actress and can’t quite believe his luck, Dusty’s equally down-to-earth wife is a bit of a nag but clearly worships him and the Count has swept a barmaid off her feet despite their inability to communicate in English. We stay with the wives waiting for the return of their men from bombing raids and live the tension, relief and celebrations before, during and after the missions. The arrival of Teddy’s wife’s old flame – a Hollywood matinée idol – provides an additional tension to be resolved.

You can tell that Rattigan, a Second World War airman himself, knew exactly what these people were going through and it results in a set of characterisations of great depth. In any other play / production, Sheridan Smith – fresh from her wonderful Olivier Award winning musical comedy turn in Legally Blonde – would steal the show. She moves from chirpy ex-barmaid and social catalyst to tragic wife on the turn of her face and her real tears triggered real tears in the audience. The day after bagging the Olivier for a musical, she must already be on the list for another in a play……but there are nine other exceptional performances – yes, nine! – so casting Director Maggie Lunn must get a mention.

It must be much harder to play an unsympathetic character than a sympathetic one (or a downright baddie) but James Purefoy manages it superbly – every inch the Hollywood heart-throb who eventually exposes his inner emotional core. Harry Hadden-Paton and Sienna Miller grow into the roles of Teddy and his wife as the play progresses and the depths of their characters are revealed, but for some reason Miller’s appearance is the only one that doesn’t quite seem 1940’s. We empathise easily with Mark Dexter’s tongue-tied defiant Polish Count, as we do with Joe Armstrong as wartime everyman Dusty and Emma Handy as his wife visiting for just one night. There are lovely cameos from Sarah Crowden as the battle-axe hotelier, Matthew Tennyson (still at drama school!) as her barman son and Clive Wood’s archetypal Squadron Leader, determined to keep up the spirit and morale of the boys.

Trevor Nunn’s detailed and subtle production grips you for every minute of its 150 minute running time. Stephen Brimson Lewis has created another of those period sets that simply take you to the location and the period, and the projections and sound used to convey the take-offs are excellent.

If this were the only revival for the Rattigan centenary, it would do him proud; but there’s a lot more to come yet. My withdrawal symptoms following After the Dance have been temporarily sated, but I’m now even more excited about what’s to come, but if I have a more satisfying evening in the theatre this year, I shall be a very lucky boy indeed. By now, you should be on the web or the phone because you just cannot give this a miss.

 

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