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Posts Tagged ‘Hugh Skinner’

Though it wasn’t published until 1925, after his death, Kafka wrote his novel exactly 100 years ago. It has been named second and third in lists of the best novels of the 20th century (in France & Germany!) and has that dark, bleak quality that German works often do. It’s no less dark and bleak in Nick Gill’s new stage adaptation, but the production and performances give it new life, if not meaning, for a 21st century non-German audience, starting with a dis-orientating walk to your jury seat in front of an orange platform with a giant keyhole cut-out, which soon rises to reveal the playing space.

Joseph K is arrested on his 30th birthday and what follows is a personal nightmare, as he struggles to understand why, and how to navigate the faceless system that has chosen to torment him. The authorities never specify an offence. He could be in a totalitarian state, a giant bureaucracy, an impersonal corporation, indeed anywhere where it’s possible to get lost in the confusing world around you. In two unbroken hours we move speedily through this nightmare, confronting figures representing various authorities and the legal system. We also meet his neighbours, his work colleagues, his Uncle Albert and others along the way.

Director Richard Jones and designer Miriam Buether always have big ideas and this time it’s to stage the play on a conveyor belt in a traverse setting (think Generation Game – if you’re old enough!). The sparse sets and characters enter, ride along and stop to play their scene before it quickly moves us to the next. Playwright Nick Gill’s big idea is for Joseph K to have an inner language, a sort or pidgin English / shorthand, when he’s alone. This cleverly emphasises his personal nightmare. The closing scene is a particularly modern take on Joseph’s end which I won’t give away.

Rory Kinnear lives this life (and the entire play!) on this conveyor and it’s a real tour de force performance, laying bare his psychological torture and helplessness throughout a challenging physical journey. Kate O’Flynn has to transform into six different characters, and she does so remarkably. I liked Sian Thomas’ characterisations of both lawyer and doctor and though I struggled to shake off Hugh Skinner’s last characterisation as Will in W1A (cool, yeh, no worries), his two roles were very well played. This is a real ensemble piece with only 11 actors (it seemed like a lot more) playing 29 roles.

It’s not the easiest of rides, it pushes it’s luck a bit at 120 minutes and its not what you’d choose for a ‘good night out’, but it somehow resonates a century on as a picture of how we can so easily be lost in the system – whatever system it is. I suspect it will mean different things to different people, like a mirror to their own experiences and phobias. A challenging evening for people who like to be challenged.

 

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When I heard that the Bush Theatre was on the move, my heart sank. I’ve been going to that room above a pub in Shepherd’s Bush for nigh on 30 years and have lost track of how many plays I’ve seen there (somewhere between 100 and 200 I’d think) with a ‘hit rate’ that is second to none. Other theatre moves, notably Hampstead, have resulted in a loss of magic associated with the space and I found the thought that this might also happen with the Bush positively devastating.

So it was with some trepidation that I went to this playful exploration of the yet-to-be-finished new space in an old library round the corner, where three short plays in three configurations (thrust, in-the-round and end on staging) using nine props from the NT’s store are coupled with wanders around the building, giving feedback on how you’d like it to be. It’s a terrific idea and it was brilliantly executed (helped by an unplanned evacuation between the first two plays for the fire brigade to deal with an exploding light!). It has, for now, put my mind to rest, though my fingers remain crossed.

The first play was the most successful for me as it fitted so well with the concept. Deidre Kinahan’s piece shows a theatre company rehearsing a PC adaptation of Wind in the Willows and the resulting theatrical send-up seemed so appropriate. One of the contrivances is to ask three directorial luminaries to provide stage directions, and Alan Ayckbourn’s for Tom Wells play seem longer than the play itself, which may be why it was less successful. Jack Thorne’s piece was the best written, but coming last and being far from playful, it somehow didn’t have the impact it might have done in other circumstances; maybe he  should work it up for a proper production.

They’ve attracted some great actors to participate in the experiment, with Nina Sosanya shining both as the first play’s play-within-a-play director and a more tragic and moving role in the final piece. I liked Francesca Annis as the old school theatrical in the first play more than as dotty Helen in the second play. Richard Cordery, Hugo Speer, Debbie Chasen and Hugh Skinner complete the excellent cast. Nathan Curry, with designers Amy Cook & Lucy Osborne, has done a terrific job of covering the building with fun-filled opportunities for the audience to explore and comment on everything from desired seating to programming to the bar. I loved the fact that the playing space had been wallpapered with scripts of previous Bush shows, reminding us of tis illustrious past.

This wasn’t great theatre (I don’t think it was meant to be), but it was a great experience and has moved me from dread to cautious anticipation of my old friend’s new home!

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