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Posts Tagged ‘Harry Melling’

Playwright James Graham wrote a brilliant play about the flip-flopping between Labour & the Tories in the 70s even though he was born after the events in the play and here he is in the same period reminding us of the seemingly long forgotten Angry Brigade – home-grown middle class anarchist terrorists. I’m not sure why he’s obsessed with this period, but I’m enjoying the products of it.

It’s actually a play in two very different parts which he says in the script can be played either way around or even simultaneously or, as he ends his notes in an appropriately anarchic tone, ‘perhaps just do what you like’. In this production The Branch is the first more comedic half set in Scotland Yard where a new unit has been set up within Special Branch for a unified approach to clearly connected terrorist acts. The police are a bit clumsy, but they get there in the end. In the second more anarchic half, The Brigade, we’re in the terrorists’ house learning about their pasts, their motivations and their intentions whilst the crimes are being committed. The style of each half reflects the world in which it is set. At the end of the first half you do wonder where its going, but it leaves you satisfied in the end. James Grieve’s staging keeps you on your toes with its unpredictability.

Felix Scott plays the less comic cop Smith and turns up unrecognisable as terrorist John in the second half; both great performances. I’m thoroughly enjoying following Harry Melling’s grow into a fine young actor and here he’s got two large and four small roles to get his teeth into. Again, the contrast between the hapless Commander and the earnest Jim is great. Patsy Ferran and Scarlett Alice Johnson do well in what are effectively supporting roles in the first half and come into their own as equals in the second.

I was at college when these real life events were played out and I’m struggling to understand my lack of memory, but I’m grateful to James Graham for filling in the gaps with a play that resonates strikingly in our current troubled times.

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With a cast including favourites Simon Russell Beale, John Simm, John Heffernan, Harry Melling and Clive Rowe, it didn’t take much to break my self-imposed Pinter ban, and indeed it lived up to expectations – it was the brilliant acting that made the evening worthwhile.

It seemed a very different play to the one I saw at the NT in 2007 – Jamie Lloyd’s production is 30 minutes shorter, more hysterical than chilling and could easily be retitled ‘When did you last see the patient?’ and billed as farce. Its point about state repression and torture is still made, still obtusely, though somewhat hidden by more laughs. I still think it’s pumped up and over-rated as a play.

Simon Russell Beale continues to show us his range with a masterclass in manic comedy as Roote. When he’s got the specs on, he’s a dead ringer for Ronnie Barker and yet again he acts with those big white eyes. Like Elling, John Simm’s channelling his inner nerd again as Gibbs and it’s delicious. John Heffernan’s very physical performance as Lush is simply superb. Harry Melling’s Lamb’s electrocution is masterly. Indira Varma is a delight as the predatory Miss Cutts.

Well worth the trip for such fine acting. Pity about the play.

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This is a new version of a 10-year-old Richard (one-man-two-guvnors) Bean play first set in Newcastle, now relocated to Kingston and jam-packed with local references (the detail of many was lost on me, someone who lives a whole nine miles away, though you do get the gist). It’s a black comedy about a drug dealing family.

Gavin & Catherine Robinson are children of the 60’s who have since been Kingston main dealers. Son Robert is a few grams short of a wrap but big enough and thick enough to be their enforcer. Other son Sean is in the process of taking over the business and taking it down a much darker street occupied by Russians and the like. Daughter Cora seems to be the white black sheep, more keen on her studies than boys, booze & drugs, much to her mother’s disdain. As the play starts, Robert’s junkie wife has died.

Bean really knows how to write cracking comic lines and it’s packed full of them. The populist local references are clever but come a touch close to overuse and in danger of being too contrived. The dark aspects of their trade – addiction, violence and death – didn’t sit entirely comfortably inside the comedy for me, but I suppose that’s the point of a black comedy. They’re loveable rogues who kill people!

Keith Allen & Denise Welch are very good as the parents, but the real acting honours belong to Matthew Wilson, whose Robert is a superb characterisation, and Harry Melling, who walks a fine line brilliantly between heartless bully and mummy’s boy. Kate Lamb has a real transition to make as Cora and pulls it off well. Richard Wilson’s staging loses pace occasionally, but is otherwise excellent. James Cotterill’s design captures the world of criminal middle class snobs really well and fits the difficult Rose stage better than any other in my experience.

This isn’t vintage Bean, but its a lot of fun and well worth the (9 mile!) trip.

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