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Posts Tagged ‘Ian Gelder’

David Storey’s rarely revived 1989 examination of ageing and family relationships & tensions gets the sort of delicate, sensitive, nuanced production we’re fast getting used to from Alice Hamilton, with as fine an ensemble as you’ll see anywhere. This is a very welcome revival of a work by a playwright we see all too little of.

The Pasmore’s are surprised by their three adult children on their 60th wedding anniversary and taken out to lunch. Tommy Pasmore is a retired miner and his wife a lifelong homemaker. They’ve had to struggle financially and there are current tensions evident. In the (longer) first half it’s mostly pleasantries, welcome reunions, some bickering and more than a touch of nostalgia. When they return from lunch though, there are home truths, skeletons leaving cupboards and the unsaid being said. The parents go to bed upset, so the ‘children’ decide to stay over.

The second half is a lot better than the first, which seemed to me to be overly ponderous, in a Checkovian way, and I struggled to maintain attention. The second half is a gem though, an excellent, very authentic family drama which may well be somewhat autobiographical. James Perkins’ superb period design places the coal fire centre stage and Sophia Simesky’s costumes complete the evocation of the period. Ian Gelder and Sue Wallace give marvellously calibrated performances as the parents, understated until emotions surface. The three siblings are all beautifully judged by Colin Tierney, Sarah Belcher and Connie Walker.

The Orange Tree continues it’s roll, on this occasion with something their traditional audience are welcoming with open arms.

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I saw an amazing site-specific play called Roadkill by playwright Stef Smith in Edinburgh almost six years ago. Her Royal Court debut is sort of amazing, but in a different way.

Something odd is going on. Animals and birds are being culled and their habitats destroyed in the belief that they are carrying disease. Our six characters react differently – complying, exploiting, rebelling or just plain resignation. As the situation gets worse, their relationships are damaged and reactions more and more hysterical. Alex has returned from her travels to see her widowed mother Nancy and ends up chained to the railings of the park they are trying to burn. Her mother just tries to get on with life, uninvolved with the decline outside. Jamie and Lisa, deeply in love, fall apart as Lisa starts working for a man who’s benefitting from the disaster and Jamie rescues and hides animals and birds. John has a strong friendship with Nancy but is puzzled by the intentions and attention of Si, Lisa’s new boss. We get a glimpse of what’s happening in the outside world through a Perspex wall.

I’m afraid I felt very ‘so what’ about it. It seems to be showing us how society can react with hysteria and panic, happy to blame nature for anything and everything, but it didn’t really go anywhere. There are six fine performances – Natalie Dew, Ian Gelder, Stella Gonet, Lisa McGrills, Sargon Yelda & Ashley Zhangazha – luxury casting indeed, the design by Camilla Clarke keeps surprising you (and sometimes challenges your tolerance – I was too close to cockroaches for my liking!) and it’s well staged by Hamish Pirie. In the end though I thought the material wasn’t worthy of the creative and acting talent.

Disappointed at the Royal Court again.

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This new play, like the 1998 film of the same name, is based on Christopher Bram’s book Father of Frankenstein, a novel whose central character was real life film director James Whale, responsible for a whole bunch of iconic horror films as well as the film of the musical Showboat. The fact it’s a fiction that purports to speculate and recreate the final days of someone who actually lived doesn’t sit entirely comfortably with me, though I much admired the production and the performances.

Whale’s story is a fascinating one. The son of a Dudley labourer who studied art before serving in the army in WWI, ending up in a prisoner of war camp where his interest in drama began. On his return, multi-tasking in the theatre, he ended up directing Journey’s End, which took him to the US – first Broadway, then Hollywood, where his film career started with the film of the same play. He lived with his male partner for over 20 years, but the play begins after he’s left and Whale is alone with his maid Maria, in poor physical and mental health, close to death, returning to art once more. From here, it speculates that he becomes a bit predatory, first with a student interviewer and then with the gardener. His early life painting and his war experiences are shown in flashback.

It’s exceptionally well staged, with well integrated projections and highly effective flashbacks. The acting is outstanding, led by Ian Gelder’s excellent performance as Whale. Will Austin and Joey Phillips make hugely impressive professional stage debuts as the gardner Clayton and student Kay respectively, with the latter also the young Whale in flashback. Lachele Carl beautifully captures both Maria’s love and affection for her boss and disapproval of his lifestyle and Will Rastall completes the cast as Whale’s doctor and the wartime Whale. Jason Denvir’s simple design allows the play to breathe whilst Russell Labey directs his own play with great delicacy.

I would have preferred pure fiction or pure biography (though impossible, I suspect), but there’s no denying this is première league theatre; quality in every department.

 

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Peter Nichols’ playwriting career is a real puzzle to me. Between 1969 and 1982 London saw almost a play each year. He was one of the freshest, most inventive and funny writers around. In the last 28 years we’ve had no new plays and a handful of revivals, two at the Donmar and one elsewhere in the West End. Apparently he has a drawer full of unproduced work and I understand his take on it is that he’s been deserted by institutions like the NT and RSC who had earlier championed his work. So I jumped at the chance to see this new Nichols play at the tiny Finborough; the stellar cast was a bonus.

Set in a language school on post-war Florence, it explores the lives of its Italian administrator and expatriate teachers; the students are just off-stage voices. The central character is new boy Steven (passionately played by Chris New) who may be autobiographical (in which case Nichols has written himself as a bit of a shit!). He is stalked by infatuated Peggy (Charlotte Randle no less) but beds holocaust-denying Heidi (well-played by Natalie Walter) who had the attentions of administrator Gennaro (an excellent performance from Enzo Cilenti, whose name suggests he’s well qualified to play it!) before an anti-semitic rant. Add to the cocktail Abigail McKern’s terrifically plain speaking Aussie, Ian Gelder’s very English Italophile (who makes no compromises for living in Italy) and Rula Lenska, perfectly cast as an elegant smokey-voiced Russian, and you have a fascinating cast of characters.

The play is an interesting look at sensibilities in post-war Europe, but the narrative doesn’t  really live up to the excellent characterisation. The dramatic flow is damaged by a profusion of very short scenes and monologues and the play doesn’t really go anywhere, though it’s an interesting slice-of-life set in a period few have dramatised. Designer James Macnamara has worked wonders with  four shutters and some projections and director Michael Gieleta uses the tiny space well, with a ‘sound scape’ for the city and the students.

Still, I’d rather be in the sweaty Finborough watching a cast any West End producer would be proud of put on a play that’s better than any new play the National have done recently whilst they (and the Donmar) are pre-occupied with pointless revivals of 19th century German mediocrity. On this form, I think I’m inclined to side with Mr Nichols.

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