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Posts Tagged ‘Helen McCrory’

I’d always known there were autobiographical elements to this Terence Rattigan masterpiece, but seeing it a few weeks after Mike Poulton’s excellent new play Kenny Morgan, about the incidents that inspired it, I now realise it’s a whole lot more than elements. It’s uncanny.

It starts, as does Kenny Morgan, with the rescue if its main character Hester Collyer from her attempted suicide, lying in front of the gas fire with a stomach full of aspirin. She’s tended by landlady Mrs Elton, young neighbours Philip and Ann Welch and Mr Miller, a former doctor. Similar characters appear in the other play. Hester’s estranged husband William, a judge, is called, as Rattigan was in the true story. The subject of Hester’s sadness, her young lover Freddie, returns, but not for long, as the incident spooks him and prompts his permanent departure. She declines to return to her husband and a second suicide attempt is aborted, and this is where the play diverges from the truth – oh, and the sex of the main character!

Tom Scutt has built a two-story house with Hester’s flat’s living area stage front and her bedroom, bathroom and the stairwell behind gauze, so that you can see characters moving there. This is very effective in representing the life of the house as well as focusing on its troubled occupant. There’s a background droning sound which creates a brooding, tense, expectant atmosphere. I thought Carrie Cracknell’s staging was terrific, with a very clever ending that told you Hester’s fate without a word being spoken.

It’s superbly well cast, with Marion Bailey excellent as an empathetic but disapproving Mrs Elton and Nick Fletcher great as the mysterious ‘Doctor’ Miller. Hubert Burton and Yolanda Kettle are lovely as the naïve young couple and Peter Sullivan has great presence as William Collyer. There’s real chemistry and a sexual frisson between Tom Burke’s Freddie and Helen McCrory’s Hester, both of whom so suit their roles and both of whom really inhabit these complex characters. McCrory really is stunning, a nuanced performance, acting with every inch of her body. It’s as fine an acting ensemble as you’re likely to get on any stage.

Probably the best production of this play I’ve ever seen; unmissable Rattigan.

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The first Medea I saw was 29 years ago in Japanese in an Edinburgh University courtyard in the open air in the pouring rain with the title role played by a man! Medea’s exit was in one of those hydraulic arms they use to reach the higher floors of buildings. It was an evening I will never forget. This production came to the Olivier stage, where this new modern adaptation is now staged, two years later.

Ben Power’s modern adaptation takes fewer liberties than Mike Bartlett’s 2012 touring version (which I liked, and which featured Rachael Sterling, whose mother Diana Rigg I had seen in the same part twenty years earlier!) and it’s the most credible and chilling version of this 2500 year-old play that I’ve seen. You really do believe this woman could kill four people, including her two sons.

Carrie Cracknell, one of our best new directors, and designer Tom Scutt, set it in a shabby building with French windows leading out to a wood and an upper level where Jason’s wedding to Kreusa takes place behind glass. There’s a large chorus of thirteen women looking spooky in matching frocks, a brilliant soundscape by Goldfrapp and Michaela Coel delivers the prologue and epilogue superbly in complete silence. For once, my front row seat added to the intensity and engagement with the piece.

I’ve always thought Helen McCrory would make a brilliant Lady Macbeth or Medea and she certainly does with the latter. She invests her interpretation with bucket-loads of emotionality, often visibly shaking, eyes welled up, nose running, tears flowing. It’s a stunning performance. Danny Sapani is a commanding Jason, more restrained but able to make the switch from anger to forgiveness completely believable. There’s luxury casting in support, with Dominic Rowan and Martin Turner as the two kings. Clemmie Sveaas’ Kreusa’s demise in a poisoned costume is an extraordinary dance of death.

This is a riveting 90 minutes, perfect for the Olivier stage and an opportunity to see a fine actress give a career defining performance. Unmissable indeed.

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It’s not often you leave a new play feeling deeply satisfied. Of late, the Royal Court has had the monopoly of those occasions and there are echoes of two of them – Jerusalem and Love Love Love – here. This is good enough to be the pinnacle of a playwrights career, but it’s  playwright Stephen Beresford’s first! At last, we have a fine new play at the National.

We’re on the Devon coast in the home of Judy, an ageing hippie and rebel, with her daughter Libby, son Nick and grand-daughter Summer, exploring the legacy of the 60’s generation and the relationships of the three generations on the stage. Neighbour and GP Peter is a frequent visitor and seemingly benevolent presence, as is shy young Daniel who grows up before your very eyes. Judy’s still rebelling (now against her nimby neighbours), Libby and Nick are rebelling against their mother and each other and young Summer is a teenager (nuff said). Neither Peter nor Daniel are what they at first seem. The characterisations are very deep and the sweep of the play is somehow both epic and personal. The writing is outstanding and often very funny.

This may well be Helen McCrory’s finest moment; from her first unrecognisable appearance, she completely inhabits the role of daughter Libby. Rory Kinnear too is spectacularly good as her drug fueled brother Nick, with the most realistic drunk / stoned acting I’ve seen since Peter O’Toole (and I’m still not convinced he wasn’t – O’Toole, that is).

You can see why Julie Walters wanted to play Judy. It’s one of those larger-than-life characters she excels in, though she is now so familiar we do see Julie underneath Judy at times. There’s also a brilliant performance from Isabella Laughland as Summer and another from Taron Egerton as neighbour Daniel (a professional debut, no less).

Vicki Mortimer has created an art deco  home as wild as its inhabitants which looks just like the famous hotel at Bigbury-on-Sea just down the road, which opens up to reveal three downstairs rooms as well as the garden. The music seems to be from the soundtrack of my life! As always, Howard Davies gets the best out the material and his actors.

This was such a treat that I really didn’t want it to end; I was so enjoying these characters company and their stories – but maybe that’s because I’m a 60’s child too? It will be intersting to see the thoughts of younger theatre-goers. For me, though, not to be missed at any cost.

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This Simon Gray play seems very out of character with the rest of his work, which may be why the nearest it got to London in 1999 was Watford! Though it has some of his trademark humour, it’s an unsettling and not particularly satisfying experience.

I didn’t know whether it was (Donmar Warehouse Theatre programmes really aren’t very good), but it felt autobiographical to me – post-performance research uncovered that the boy’s name is one of Gray’s middle names, Gray was also born on Hayling Island and also went to Westminster School and his father was a pathologist!

It tells the story of an eleven year old boy in the 1950’s whose parents show little genuine interest in him and are then surprised, and in one case outraged (justifiably or not is unclear), when someone else does. The lives of all of the characters are profoundly affected by the events of one weekend.

The first half tries your patience somewhat, but the (shorter) second half is very compelling. Overall, the story failed to satisfy me because of its ambiguity and uneven pace, but you can’t deny that it contains a handful of terrific performances. Eleanor Bron plays an old Austrian woman who spontaneously and seamlessly switches to speaking German when emotional and under pressure. Robert Glenister very successfully transforms from the older to younger piano teacher (and vice versa) and Peter Sullivan effectively doubles as the father and the child in later years. Helen McCrory is wonderful as the self-absorbed wife / mother. Above all there is an extraordinarily assured and subtle performance from Laurence Belcher, one of three young actors sharing the boy’s role.  

Great performance, but a flawed play I’m afraid.

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