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Posts Tagged ‘Hayley Carmichael’

This is the second Alexi Kaye Campbell play to be revived relatively soon after its premiere, eight years ago at the Bush in this case, both at the Trafalgar Studios, both directed by Jamie Lloyd, and I for one am glad they have been as I missed the first outings of both, despite the fact they originated at regular haunts.

Kristin is an American who has been living in the UK most of her adult life. She’s a product of the late sixties – idealist, feminist, liberal, even socialist, who believes everyone should be promoting change and giving back. She divorced her husband when their two sons were young, but took them with her to Italy, pursuing her career as an art historian – until her husband took them from her, something she seems not to have fought, even acquiesced to. The title means a formal defence of one’s opinions or conduct; in this case Kristin is about to be held to account by her sons for not mentioning them in her recent memoir.

It’s her birthday and sons Peter and Simon, their girlfriends and gay friend Hugh are coming to lunch. Peter has taken a contrasting career path as a banker specialising in Africa. He is besotted with his American girlfriend Trudi, a somewhat vacuous evangelical Christian, something Kristin doesn’t really approve of, though she turns out to have more depth than first appears. Simon’s girlfriend, soap star Claire, another career Kristin disapproves of, arrives before and without him. Hugh is her close friend, and her defender. There’s a lot going on here, and I loved the richness of the story and the narrative, and the very well drawn characters.

Soutra Gilmour’s design is conventional (for her) but anchors the play in a British country cottage. Jamie Lloyd gets great performances from his terrific cast, led by Stockard Channing as spiky Kristin, who navigates the complex combination of arrogance, determination and guilt with great skill. Joseph Millson’s challenge is to characterise two very different brothers, which he does very well. Laura Carmichael was a bit of a revelation as Trudi, with what seemed, to these Brit ears, a spot-on American accent. It appears to be Freema Agyeman’s stage debut and impressive it was too. It’s lovely to see Desmond Barit in a role which so suits him and he relishes some cracking lines, milking them for all they’re worth.

This exceeded my expectation by a big margin and now I’ve seen four good Alexi Kaye Campbell plays, he enters my list of must-see playwrights.

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The Young Vic has pulled off another coup by getting Swiss director Luc Bondy again; he’s a world-class figure whose productions people in most European countries would be queuing up for; not London, of course!

This is an excellent adaptation of an Arthur Schnitzler play by David Harrower, whose Blackbird was a huge success in both London and Edinburgh a few years back. Two soldiers party with two girls when they are interrupted by a man who challenges one of the soldiers to a duel as he’s discovered his wife has been having an affair with him. In the second half we move to the life of the offending soldiers’ girlfriend, her father, friend and neighbour before and after the duel.

It isn’t the play itself that engages you as much as it’s unpredictability, brooding atmosphere and sexual tension. There’s a terrific physicality which draws you in like a voyeur and keeps you intrigued by the characters. The performances are uniformly fine, with a brilliant cameo from Hayley Carmichael as the busybody neighbour. 

I wasn’t sure I understood the point of all of the design / staging choices (which might mean they were seemless and effective!). High black back panels have been added to the Young Vic seats. There is a revolve, but it’s so slow it doesn’t complete one revolution in each half. There is a pit which is a kitchen in the first half and an orchestra pit in the second. In one short scene, the house lights are turned on. 

In the end, though, I was gripped by the intrigue, the sexual chemistry and the relationships. I almost gave it a miss – it was a visit I only planned at short notice – but I was very glad I didn’t.

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