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Posts Tagged ‘Howard Davies’

When the curtain opens at the Lyttleton (yes, a curtain – that’s a novelty these days) you’re a bit baffled. We’re in what appears to be a squat in an abandoned stately home, yet the play takes place in a Dublin tenement. This is partly explained in a programme essay, but the crux of it is that it robs the play of the intensity of tenement life, even though it is a brilliant design by Bob Crowley.

The problem with the play is its unevenness. The first half is a domestic (black) comedy with not much more than a hint at what’s happening outside (civil war!), played for laughs in Howard Davies’ production, dangerously close to cartoonish. O’Casey leaves much of the story and most of the context to the (shorter) second half which for me is the fundamental flaw. A bit like The Veil, which is currently sharing this theatre (with a design that could be the same stately home before it was abandoned), he could have made so much more of what’s going on outside in a crucial point in Ireland’s history (or at the time he wrote it, current affairs). 

We’re with the Boyle family – father Jack, an old sea dog, is a work shy drunkard; son Johnny is involved with a pre-cursor of the IRA and has lost an arm as a result and daughter Mary has left boyfriend Jerry behind and taken up with Charles (more prospects) Bentham. The family is held together by mother Juno, a feisty matriarch who is both breadwinner and homemaker. Jack’s drinking mate Joxer, who’s cynically taking advantage, is omnipresent – when Juno lets him. They get news of an inheritance and start spending the money before they’ve got it. In the second half, it all unravels. The inheritance never comes through and everything is repossessed, Mary gets pregnant and the IRA come for Johnny who has allegations to answer. 

The real reason for seeing this revival is a set of performances it would be hard to match on any stage. This is the best performance I’ve seen Sinead Cusack give. She beautifully balances the love of her family with the assertiveness needed to keep them together. Ciaran Hinds inhabits Jack, his main concern almost always his next drink, yet naive to Joxer’s exploitation. Risteard Cooper’s Joxer is a brilliant creation, going through life as a chancer and parasite, but with a charm and a swagger. Clare Dunne and Ronan Raftery do well as Mary and Johnny and there’s a fine supporting cast.

It’s an uneven evening, but well worth the visit for the performances alone.

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This play about Afghanistan during the 80’s started as one of the Tricycle’s Great Game playlets a couple of years ago; it has now become a very interesting and satisfying full length play.

It was the decade when the then USSR occupied this troubled land whilst the US, with British help, sought to undermine them by funding and arming Pakistani security forces and Afghan militias. It followed periods of western influence and was followed by the rise of the Taliban and subsequent US / British invasion and occupation. The geopolitical history is absolutely fascinating and playwright J T Rogers achievement is to make this so entertaining! It unfolds like a thriller and is packed with irony and humour, without ever debasing the seriousness of the events it presents. It also weaves in the stories of the home lives, and in particular the sons, of the three main players which adds an important personal dimension.

Designer Ultz use of sliding screens enables Howard Davies production to have real pace, moving quickly between the many short scenes without losing impetus. The central character of CIA agent James Warnock is excellently played by Lloyd Owen, who is onstage throughout, torn between his country’s pragmatism and his personal idealism. His British counterpart has been around longer and is therefore more realistic and cynical; also well played by Adam James. These performances are well matched by the other two key characters – Russian Dmitri (Matthew Marsh) and Afghan Abdullah (Demosthenes Chrysan) and there are fine supporting performances from Gerald Kyd as the representative of Pakistani security and Philip Arditti as Abdullah’s son (whose obsession with Western music and quoting of their lyrics is hysterical) and excellent cameos from Simon Kunz as James’ boss and Danny Ashok as the Pakistani military clerk.

I liked this play a lot; it explains so much about how we got to where we are in Afghanistan and the hopelessness of it all – but above all it’s a deeply satisfying evening modern drama.

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My second Arthur Miller revival of the year proves to be much more than the Suchet-Wanamaker show, though they are both at the height of their powers and give terrific performances.

The first star is Bill Dudley’s extraordinary set – a life-size American suburban house and garden surrounded by giant trees have taken over from Jerusalem’s English wood with Airstream caravan! Similar (the same?) as the National ten years ago, from the third row of the stalls you felt like you were peering over the fence into a neighbour’s garden.

The rest of the cast is excellent indeed, including Stephen Campbell Moore’s principled son, Jemima Rooper’s tortured  soul and an angry David Lapaine. Director Howard Davies has indeed assembled a uniformly excellent cast for this revival

The main star, of course, is Millers’ play – a masterpiece of the 20th century which could just as easily be about contemporary families torn apart by profiteering out of the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan. It has so much humanity and so much depth.

It’s great to see ‘House Full’ signs on a Monday for a modern classic, and it proved to be a thrilling evening in the theatre.

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Just four days after my return from Ukraine, and for the second day running, I find myself at a play set in Ukraine; and this was not planned!

This one covers events during the First World War when the country changes from a part of tsarist Russia to German occupation to independence to the pro-tzarist White Guard of the title to Bolshevik Russia in an alarmingly short period which must have seemed like anarchy at the time.

This is a terrific adaptation of Bugalov’s novel / play and a terrific production that only the National could do. It’s such a fascinating piece of history and the twists and turns of the play reflect the realities of the real events. It probably sounds heavy but it’s far from it – Andrew Upton, whilst being faithful to his source, has produced an accessible fresh adaptation which moves from tragic to cynical to funny seamlessly, but never lets up on showing the pointlessness of it all.

There are some great performances and it’s brilliantly staged by Howard Davies on Bunny Christie’s extraordinary sets that take you from apartment to palace to school to army camp and back to apartment – and there are special effects that make you jump!

What the NT is for…..

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