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Posts Tagged ‘Ian McDiarmid’

I’ve long had a problem with staged monologues; I like to see characters interacting in my plays. I thought I might have melted after all those streamed performances, having enjoyed Sea Wall & Three Kings with Andrew Scott in particular. This 1979 play by Brian Friel consists of four monologues by three characters, but I’m afraid at 2.5 unbroken hours it did’t hold my attention, as it hadn’t on stage.

Frank Hardy is a faith healer who tours Scotland and Wales, and latterly his home country of Ireland. The other characters are his wife Grace and manager Teddy. We hear from them in that order, with Hardy returning to conclude the piece. In addition to their experiences on the road, events like Hardy’s return home after twenty years as his mother dies, the loss of Frank and Grace’s child and Grace’s death are also covered, Friel leaving some questions unanswered. Though the prose is appealingly poetic, the narrative didn’t satisfy me, and it certainly doesn’t sustain its length.

Some great actors have been attracted to these roles over the years. The original London Hardy was Patrick Magee, who was followed by Ken Stott & Stephen Dillane, and now Michael Sheen, who it has to be said is mesmerising. Helen Mirren was London’s first Grace and Sinead Cusack, Geraldine James, Gina McKee, and now Indira Varma, who is excellent, have followed in her footsteps. Ron Cook, Iain McDiarmid and Warren Mitchell (on radio) have all played Teddy, with David Threlfall on top form in this production.

I can’t help making comparisons with Alan Bennet’s recently revived Talking Heads. Their economy and brevity contrasts with this play’s verbosity and they are like colour to Faith Healer’s black & white. Sadly more is less, despite a trio of fine performances.

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The fact that we’re seeing a play that revolves around one speech to ninety people forty years ago tells you something about the significance of that speech. Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ had, and still has, such impact, perhaps more-so today than at any time since it was given.

Chris Hannan’s play moves between 1967, when the speech was made, and 1992, when a young girl (a fictional character) affected by it is now an eminent historian writing about it. In 1967 we see how it isolates him, in particular the profoundly negative affect on his relationship with best friends Clem & Marjorie Jones. We also get a glimpse of the effect on people in his constituency. In 1992, one of those people, then a child, now a professor of history, seeks to collaborate on a book about it, somewhat implausibly with someone she helped hound out of academia for alleged racism, with the hope and aim of confronting Powell himself, a final scene which comes a bit too late and doesn’t really last long enough.

We seem to have an appetite for plays about recent history, with Oslo, Ink & Labour of Love all running in the West End. This is more uneven, more earnest and less entertaining, but it’s a welcome addition nonetheless. It shows Powell to be an intelligent man and a great orator, seemingly channelling what his constituents think. My problem with that is that a lot of his constituents were from ethnic minorities, whose views he certainly wasn’t channelling, and he was after all a politician, who may well have been making a cynical grab for attention, even power, which misfired, isolating and ostracising him – think Boris and Brexit.

It has it’s flaws, but it makes you think and provokes debate, and at its centre is a mesmerising performance by Ian McDiarmid, which alone is a reason to see it.

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This radical resetting of Shakespeare’s play started out in Stratford 3.5 years ago and has now travelled 100 miles south east to get a second showing in its director Rupert Goold’s new home in Islington. It’s a much smaller venue, which makes it less grand and more intimate, but designer Tom Scutt has redesigned it to fit the new space well and I feel very much the same as I did first time round (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2011/07/18/the-merchant-of-venice-rsc-stratford).

The Almeida’s former joint AD, Ian McDiarmid, gives a more assertively defiant, more Jewish and ultimately more tragic Shylock than Patrick Stewart in a great role take-over. I was more positive this time round about Scott Handy’s introspective Antonio, because the intimacy of the space brought out the subtlety of his performance. The new Bassanio (Tom Weston-Jones) and Gratiano (Anthony Welsh) both give equally fine interpretations as their predecessors. Staging the battle for Portia’s hand as reality show Destiny brings the comedy that in turn heightens the tension and Susannah Fielding and Emily Plumtree now both steal the show as Portia and Nerissa, with a simply terrific turn again from Jamie Beamish’s Elvis impersonating Lancelot Gobbo.

I overheard an American audience member saying he thought it was sending up American culture. There’s some truth in that, but more important that the Las Vegas setting provides a modern context and cohesion that gives the play an ongoing relevance and accessibility, particularly good for introducing and enthusing young audiences I’d say. Good to see it again.

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This is one of those thought-provoking stimulating ‘state of the world’ plays that are right up my street! It’s more about morality & ethics than faith in a religious sense, with two central issues explored through the lives of Tom, Sophie and her dad – abandoning your principles for success and the Anglican church attitude to homosexuality.

In three acts each of two scenes, Alexi Kaye Campbell’s play spans 13 years but doesn’t do so chronologically. We move between Tom’s first meeting with Sophie’s dad to a later visit when he’s ill, their break-up, their reunion at a friend’s civil partnership, another reunion when they’ve parted from their respective new partners and a final scene which I won’t spoil but provides the last jigsaw piece for you to complete the picture. It is both the story of people’s lives and an examination of issues of our time. It occasionally feels contrived, most notably when you realise Sophie’s ultimatum was rather belated, but it’s very good writing and stimilating debate that I’m still thinking about more than 12 hours later.

Kyle Soller has already impressed at the Young Vic in both The Glass Menagerie and The Government Inspector, and he impresses again here as a gangly, highly strung and clumsy bundle of energy. Hayley Atwell plays Sophie as a much cooler worldly wise moralist. My only criticism is that neither really age the 13 years on stage that they do on the page. Ian McDiarmid has a tough task to pull off the father / bishop struggling with his beliefs and his health, but he does so very well. In a uniformly fine cast, Bronagh Gallagher is terrific as the Ukrainian housekeeper / ex-prostitute who provides most of the play’s many funny moments and Jude Akuwudike as both a Kenyan bishop and a gay Nigerian Brit (with some playfulness about the double-up along the way). Jamie Lloyd’s fine direction gives the play great pace, though I’m not convinced two intervals were necessary.

Though it’s a stimulating debate, it’s also a fine personal story as well as being hugely entertaining. The Royal Court continues to lead the way with contemporary drama that reflects what’s happening in the world and this one complements others like The Heretic, Tribes, Posh, Clybourne Park, Enron and Jerusalem. I loved it.

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It’s not often you get to see the British premiere of a 138-year old play by a world-famous dramatist. In this case, it’s probably because few theatres have the resources (or the balls) to put on such an epic. Fortunately, we have the National Theatre.

It’s a fascinating 12-year slice of history, from the beginning of soon-to-be emperor Julian’s crisis of faith in AD 351 to his death in AD 363, soon after becoming Emperor. The 20-year old goes from Constantinople to Athens where he dumps christianity for paganism. He returns briefly, to Ephesus, before he’s despatched for a sortie in Gaul (France) from where he returns to become Emperor. Though he claims to champion religious freedom, in actuality he suppresses christianity. He heads off to war with Persia, where he meets his maker on the battlefield.

Ben Power’s adaptation makes all of this very clear and lucid, with modern dialogue peppered with wit. Jonathan Kent’s epic production makes full use of the Olivier drum & revolve with giant projections from Nina Dunn adding to the impact (though the inclusion of helicopters jarred with me). Paul Brown’s design is timeless and classic and allows the drama to unfold without smothering it with concept or detail and slowing it down. Jonathan Dove’s music, using four percussionists, adds atmosphere but I found Mark Henderson’s lighting occasionally too dark. Though there is real pace, a few judicious cuts to the early years in Constantinople and Athens would have sharpened it further and cut the running time by 10 to 20 minutes to a more accessible 3 hours.

The role of Julian is a real challenge but fortunately Andrew Scott is more than a match for it. He’s hardly ever off the stage and speaking most of the time he’s on it. He acts with great passion and evolves believably and seamlessly from troubled youth to troubled tyrant. There’s a fine supporting cast of 49 (half of them from drama schools getting an early shot at the Olivier stage) plus 4 musicians – the largest I think I’ve seen on this stage – which includes the excellent Ian McDiarmid in what I think is only his second National performance.

It’s not a great play, but I’d be surprised if it has ever had such a good adaptation and production and I think it’s part of the NT’s role to stage work that would never otherwise be staged. I’m glad I had the opportunity to see it.

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