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Posts Tagged ‘Haydn Gwynne’

After contemporary works about China – US relations, a nuclear incident and a sibling relationship as experimental physics, playwright Lucy Kirkwood has turned her hand to something set 260 years ago, women’s place in society at that time, in particular the legal and political worlds. I thought it was a fascinating play, with a superb ensemble of fine actors and a stunning design by Bunny Christie.

We start by briefly watching these women carrying out their daily chores, underlining their limited roles in the world. After a crime is committed and a young girl, Sally Poppy, arrested and tried, a ‘jury of matrons’ is formed to establish if she is pregnant, as she says she is. If she is, her execution will be postponed or she may be transported instead. The jury of matrons for this specific purpose provides the only role women can have in legal affairs at the time; they cannot be jurors who convict.

The final person to join this group of twelve women is midwife Elizabeth Luke, who is sympathetic to Sally. She proves Sally is pregnant, but not all of the others will accept this. As their deliberations progress, conflicts of interest and prejudices emerge. They are offered a (male) doctor to examine Sally and they accept this, but even this doesn’t break the impasse. It twists and turns in ways that surprise you and when they do reach a conclusion, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be implemented.

Bunny Christie has created a brilliant design whose jury room fills the Lyttleton stage, beautifully lit by Lee Curran, with Carolyn Downing’s sound design letting us know there’s an angry lynch mob just outside. The costumes establish the period and the accents the location as East Anglia. The ensemble, led by Maxine Peake in the best role I’ve seen her in, contains fine actors like Cecilia Noble, June Watson, Jenny Galloway and Haydn Gwynne. Ria Zmitrowicz is superb as feisty Poppy. James Macdonald’s staging is masterly.

Good to see another Lucy Kirkwood play, a bit of a departure, of a fascinating subject I’m not sure anyone has tackled before.

 

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I’m fond of Shakespeare’s Roman plays, so the RSC’s four-play season is very welcome, but it took me a while to warm to this opening production, the first part of which seemed strangely unanimated and perfunctory.

The titular character is a war hero and leader, but he can’t hide his contempt for ordinary people who, stirred up by a couple of politicians, banish him. His revenge is to join his former enemy and invade Rome, until his mother persuades him otherwise, which leads to his new comrades turning against him. There’s something very resonant about it in current times!

The crowd scenes and tribunal scenes of the first, rather dull, part lack passion, but later scenes, like Coriolanus’ offering himself to the enemy, his mother’s pleading and the final scene are particularly well staged. The design has something to do with my early disappointment – I groaned when I walked in to see a forklift truck and fully loaded pallets and I tired of brick walls, metal roller doors and greyness.

Sope Dirisu, who I admired as Casius Clay in One Night in Miami at the Donmar last year, is an excellent Coriolanus and Haydn Gwynne is superb as his mother, Volumnia. I thought the casting of Martina Laird and Jackie Morrison as the tribunes worked well and there’s fine work from Paul Jesson as Menenius, Charles Aitkin as Cominius and James Corrigan as Aufidius.

If only the first part packed more of a punch and the design served the play better.

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I’m not sure how Brecht & Weill even knew about John Gay’s 18th century original, The Beggar’s Opera, but it’s easy to see the attraction of 21st century theatre folk to this piece, which resonated more on Monday night than it ever has with me before – and not just because of Macheath’s comments about returning after the interval, choosing to remain and being united, and the extensive use of the flag of St. George as England was being humiliated elsewhere! This is a radical adaptation by Simon Stephens, edgier and ruder, which I rather liked.

It’s relocated in the East End of London, amongst the underclass and criminal lowlife. Peachum runs a professional begging gang made up of the homeless, veterans, lunatics, alcoholics and druggies. The corrupt police chief Brown was in the army in Afghanistan with Macheath, the rogue the ladies can’t resist, including the police chief’s own daughter Lucy, Peachum’s wife and daughter Polly and prostitute Jenny. A coronation parade is going to visit their ‘manor’ and Macheath has something on the king, whilst Peachum has something on the police chief and Mrs Peachum controls Jenny through drugs. The closing scene of Act I, where relationships and connections are revealed, is superbly staged, including a keystone cops parody, and the final scene of Act II brings out the Valkyrie helmets and the vocals turn more operatic to brilliantly underline the satire of John Gay’s and Brecht & Weill’s originals. It retains the sensibilities of 30’s Berlin through the music, which somehow fits perfectly with the new setting; it has an anarchic, manic quality and it’s superbly played and sung in this production under MD David Shrubsole.

Rory Kinnear has real menace and swagger as Macheath and a surprisingly good voice for someone without much experience in musical theatre. Nick Holder is more seeped in musical theatre and this is one of his best performances, combining just as much menace with a penchant for cross-dressing, in heels and red-streaked wig. Rosalie Craig excels too as a nerdy Polly with a ruthless streak. I loved Peter de Jersey’s very physical dictator-like police chief and Haydn Gwynne’s oily Mrs Peachum. It’s great to see the wonderful Debbie Kurup at the NT in a terrific turn as Lucy. It’s an excellent supporting cast with a stand-out performance from George Ikediashi as the Balladeer. I wasn’t sure about Vicki Mortimer’s rather ramshackle home made look design, though it did provide some great moments, and the costumes were excellent. Rufus Norris staging was outstanding.

Another evening at the NT which exceeded expectations; long may that continue.

 

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Though I’ve seen most of Pedro Almodovar’s later films, I haven’t seen the one on which this musical is based, so I came to it cold. Sadly, I left it a bit cold too.

The story revolves around serial lover Ivan, his most recent Pepa, his ex Lucia and his new flame Paulina. Lucia is still pursuing him through the courts almost twenty years on and Paulina is her lawyer. Pepa is obtaining advice from Paulina for her neurotic model friend Candella who has come under the spell of terrorist Malik. Ivan & Lucia’s son Carlos is engaged to Marisa but takes a shine to Candella (like father, like son). It’s a quirky black comedy.

Most of David Yazbek’s songs have a Spanish flavour. They’re OK, but the score isn’t really good enough for a full-blown West End show. The narrative moves along apace and there are a fair few laughs, but it doesn’t fizz and sparkle. The biggest question for me is what is the point of a musical adaptation in the first place? It doesn’t seem to add or illuminate anything. It all seemed to be a bit flat and even though its in previews and beset by cast illness, it’s hard to see what could be done to breathe life into it. It flopped on Broadway four years ago, so what made them think they could turn that around here?

Both Tamsin Greig (Pepa) and Willemjin Verkaik (Paulina) were ill on the night I went, but their covers, Rebecca McKinnis and Holly James respectively, acquitted themselves well, so I don’t think that contributed to my disappointment. I was impressed most by Anna Skellern as Candella and Ricardo Afonso as Taxi Driver, a sort of narrator, and I liked Haydn Gwynne as Lucia. Michael Matus, a fine musical performer, is wasted in his small roles. Anthony Ward’s day glo two-tier set is fun and facilities speedy changes of location.

I didn’t dislike it, I wasn’t bored by it, but it didn’t capture my imagination and I left feeling indifferent I’m afraid.

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The risk of coming to this late (I saved it up for some visitors) is that it wouldn’t live up to its expectations. By the interval, I was beginning to think that was actually going to happen; it was good but not great. The second half lifted it to another level altogether, so it’s good to report (not that you’re that interested by now anyway) satisfaction rather than disappointment, accompanied by some surprise……

……..surprise that it has been rewritten to reflect Thatcher’s death & funeral plus the abdication of both Queen Beatrix & The Pope, surprise that some PM’s turn up two or three times, surprise that it isn’t chronological, surprise at which PM’s have been left out (most notably Blair) and surprised at the combination of light (comedy) and shade (poignancy) that it achieves.

I thought Helen Mirren got off to a shaky start, but she’s soon in her stride. She’s better playing the older queen than the younger queen, and that’s nothing to do with he own age. Her on-stage quick changes are hugely impressive (without the flashing for which she was once notorious!) and her discussions with herself as a child were very effective.

I liked all of the PM performances, particularly Paul Ritter’s comic Major and Haydn Gwynne’s assertive Thatcher, though by his third appearance Richard McCabe as Harold Wilson shone above all and you could see why he won his Olivier. Another surprise was that what I expected to be a series of two-handers turned out to have 16 actors playing 21 roles.

It’s good to be reminded how good a director Stephen Daldry is and we hopefully won’t have to wait so long again. Bob Crowley’s elegant settings facilitate the speedy scene changes so crucial to the smooth flow of a play with so many of them. All-in-all, it’s an impressive staging.

Of course, Peter Morgan’s play is largely speculative, yet somehow I left the theatre feeling that I’d just seen real events portrayed – perhaps because it confirmed my own prejudices, but probably because that’s just what a well made, well staged and well performed play can do. Good to see one originated in the West End for a change.

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I’d have died happy having seen both Anthony Sher’s and Ian McKellen’s Richard III; I will die even happier now I’ve also seen Kevin Spacey’s. If I were to write my memoirs of a lifetime of theatre going, this would be there in both the ‘Great Shakespeare productions and ‘Great Shakespearean performances’ chapters.

Sam Mendes production has a cinematic quality and races along at a pace like no other Shakespeare production I’ve ever seen, aided by Tom Piper’s simple but highly effective design. Until Richard’s coronation, it’s contained within three grey walls with sixteen doors; then the back wall is removed. There are so many interesting ideas here, as the play reveals itself to be a timeless study of the psychology of dictatorship. Richard’s journey is brilliantly evoked, from the man-with-a-chip-on-his-shoulder (!) to a fully fledged tyrant. As we progress he adopts the trappings of autocracy, through to the medal-adorned military uniform  & dark glasses.

What Mendes & Spacey do is bring out the darkness inside the would-be king; the ruthless, manic intensity is there for all to see. It’s not without its humour, with the grinning asides to the audience and a couple of Hollywood references (Groucho Marx’s cigar gesture and the calls for ‘Stanley’ imitating Oliver Hardy) but the darkness pervades the production. In the scene where the ‘public’ are enticed to champion Richard, the audience is the public and he’s on screen. The battle is conveyed by loud percussion, as the cast join the two off-stage percussionists used throughout. Richard’s dream the night before is superbly staged and the scene where he informs Haydn Gwynne’s Elizabeth that he is to marry her daughter is riveting.

This is Spacey’s eighth role on this stage and unquestionably his greatest. He gives the role a menace through the contortions of his humped and calipered body and the way he uses the volume and tone of his voice to convey Richard’s feelings and motivations. The lines direct to the audience draw you in to his inner self. The only problem with such a towering performance is that when he’s not on stage you find yourself waiting for his return.

Simon Tisdall’s excellent programme points out the parallels with modern dictators and examines their different backgrounds and motivations through to those recently and currently challenged by the ‘Arab spring’, with Gaddafi the most obvious one. Richard III always seems to be relevant whenever you see it and it certainly is today. This production is yet another fresh and timely look and a thrilling one it proves to be with a leading performance from an actor at the height of his powers. It’s a triumph for the Bridge Project, which will enable 500,000 people in 10 countries on 4 continents to see it. Lucky them. Lucky me.

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After an awful lot of revivals, at last here’s the first good new play of the year – and an original, often surprising & often funny one it is too.

The first half’s two scene set up is a bit long, but the second half’s five scenes snap and crackle. We’re with a somewhat dysfunctional family soon after husband / dad’s demise. His widow has MS and a toy boy (who we never see) and her daughter a complex but close relationship with someone her dad took in after his mother died. After a whirlwind romance, she marries the opposite of her ‘friend’ (a penchant for younger men like her mum), then springs a blind date on the ‘friend’. At this point we meet the Becky of the title and begin a whirlwind of unexpected events which is where the play really takes off.

I suspect this production benefits from Director Peter DubBois’ experience with its original US production(s), because its slick but very believable. Jonathan Fensom’s set, with revolve borrowed from the NT (good to se Nicholas Hytner’s sharing strategy in action) enables the action to move between seven locations without slowing it down. The play flows well and there’s a roundedness about it that is very satisfying. As one might expect from a playwright (Gina Gionfriddo) who also writes about rock music, the snatches of music between scenes are well-chosen.

American import David Wilson Barnes is excellent as Max (and a real double for Kevin Spacey), but he does have the best lines, and I loved Daisy Haggard’s hapless Becky. We don’t see much of Haydn Gwynne except in the first and last scenes, but she’s very good as the acid-tongued mum. Anna Madeley and Vincent Montuel do well with much drier parts.

It’s not in the Jerusalem and Clybourne Park league, but its a very good play and a return to form for the Almeida. I smell a West End transfer…..

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In addition to a staged production of Passion and a couple of talks and discussions, the Donmar Warehouse Sondheim at 80 celebrations includes a couple of concert performances of former productions. For years I avoided opera in concert as I couldn’t see why or how you could bring alive something that was meant to be staged – well, now I’ll have to change my mind about musicals in concert too!

The first concert was Merrily We Roll Along, re-uniting 80% of the Donmar’s 2000 London premiere cast. This is the show which runs backwards to the time its protagonists first meet. I have very fond memories of the production, and have seen two more since, but I really wasn’t expecting this to be quite so thrilling. The dream cast included Daniel Evans, Anna Francolini, Julian Ovenden and Samantha Spiro. This show contains some of Sondheim’s most complex songs and to achieve such perfection in a one-off concert performance 10 years after you performed it on stage is astonishing. Gareth Valentine’s band was terrific and the cheers and standing ovation were richly deserved.

I turned up at the second one – Company – thinking ‘they can’t match that’ and it wasn’t long before my inner voice was saying ‘they will!’ This one was staged at the Donmar in 1995 and they managed to get nine of the original 14 back. In the first half, Anna Francolini brought the house down with Another Hundred People (she’s doing eight performances a week as Maria Callas in Onassis and came here on two of her Sundays off!), as did Sophie Thompson with the incredibly difficult Getting Married Today . In the second half, Haydn Gwynne inhabited rather than just singing Ladies Who Lunch, taking the role originally played by the now sadly departed Sheila Gish, then leading man Adrian Lester put so much emotion and passion into Being Alive that his voice began to break and tears began to flow in the audience; how could this come alive like this in concert?! The band continued after the encore so the audience sang Side By Side again without the cast. Another standing ovation, another unforgettable night.

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