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Posts Tagged ‘Indira Varma’

A lot of characters in plays have changed gender of late, in Emma Rice’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Shakespeare’s Globe, the RSC’s current Taming of the Shrew and Sondheim’s Company, where it breathed new life into the show. Now the gender of two of Noel Coward’s characters have been changed to produce something extraordinarily fresh, which would never have seen the light of day when it was first staged during the Second World War, but in my view is the play Coward may well have written today.

Actor Garry Essendine is surrounded by his staff – secretary Monica, valet Fred and Swedish housekeeper Miss Erikson – and a coterie of producers – Morris, estranged wife Liz, Helen and her husband Joe – and then two ‘super-fans’, Daphne and Roland, crash into his life. He both loves the attention and adulation and feels suffocated by it. As he prepares to tour six plays to Africa, Monica and Liz try to keep him in control whilst Helen and Morris go against his wishes for his next project, Daphne and Roland’s obsession gets out of control and his promiscuity runs rampant. Coward’s dialogue crackles and sparkles right up to a surprisingly poignant ending. The issues around fame seem bang up-to-date.

Matthew Warchus’ production makes it feels like a newly minted piece, set in Rob Howell’s brilliantly designed art deco apartment that is thrust forward to bring more intimacy in this big theatre, with as fine a set of performances as you could wish for. Essendine is a larger-than-life character who gets a stunning larger-than-life, finely detailed characterisation from Andrew Scott, with a hitherto unseen (by me) flair for comedy. The role of Monica suits Sophie Thompson’s style of acting and here she milks it for every ounce of comedy. Indira Varma’s Liz is the perfect foil to Scott’s Essendine, with their final moments together movingly underlining the play’s original title Sweet Sorrow. Liza Sadovy does some nifty doubling-up as Miss Erikson and Daphne’s Great Aunt Lady Saltburn and Joshua Hill as Fred delivers some great lines so well he makes them even greater.

Above all, it’s very funny and hugely entertaining and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

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We don’t see many Theatre of the Absurd plays these days (well, apart from Beckett, if you include him), and its an important part of the history of modern theatre, so it’s good to catch this one. Ionesco only wrote something like nine full-length plays, and four of them feature the character Berenger, three as some sort of everyman, but here as King Berenger, in the last 98 minutes if his life.

He’s lived for 483 years, but his kingdom is shrinking and crumbling and his health deteriorating. His household consists of two Queens, doctor, guard and servant. They encourage him to accept his fate, but he’s determined to hang on to life and power, which is how we spend the 98 minutes. Queen Marguerite (Indira Varma, lots of majestic presence and authority) is the realistic, stern one. Queen Marie (Amy Morgan, delightfully coquettish), his favourite, French, is much more flaky and emotional. The Doctor (the excellent Adrian Scarborough) is a somewhat offhand doom merchant. The very put-upon servant is forever clearing up (Debra Gillet, lovely) and the Guard (a rare appearance from Derek Griffiths) acts as a sort of MC, most of the time from his elevated position in the Throne Room.

Anthony Ward’s cartoonish design cleverly reduces the stage size by a back wall, and projects the action forward into the stalls with a carpeted platform. I don’t know if or how Patrick Marber’s adaptation differs (he also directs, again). It’s impossible to say what it is about because it’s not clear what it’s about, except coming to terms with death. You just need to go along for the ride, enjoy the fine acting, especially Rhys Ifans’ towering performance as The King, and add to your education in 20th century drama. Ionesco plays don’t come along that often (I’ve only seen two others), and it’s good to see this one at last. Just don’t ask me to explain it!

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Playwright Martin Crimp has been very loyal to theatres and they to him. His first seven plays were staged at Richmond’s Orange Tree Theatre, who appear to have nurtured him. The next nine were at the Royal Court, where he was writer in residence. Another one back at OTT and one at the Young Vic and that’s it. He’s been more promiscuous with his eleven translations / adaptations, including one here at the Almeida. His plays are rarely revived here in London, with the NT’s Attempts On Her Life a notable exception ten years ago. This one was his first Royal Court main stage play in 1993 and I think this might be the first major London revival.

Anne is bullied by her husband Simon, who tapes her mouth, amongst other things. Somehow she gets to tell her story to husband and wife Andrew & Jennifer who are in the business of developing films. They may live in the same big city but Anne’s and Jenifer’s worlds are far apart. They bring on board writer Clifford and big name John and Anne’s story gets changed beyond recognition. Anne has a fling with Andrew and their sex is observed by Clifford, which makes her so mad she returns to Simon and draws him into her plan for revenge. The film gets released, but by now Anne isn’t involved, and its not her story any more. On the night of the premiere Andrew goes looking for her and Jennifer follows. Along the way the play takes a surreal turn when Anne gets a blind cab driver, who turns up again later when Clifford needs a cab! It’s a satire, but it covers a lot of other ground too.

It’s played out in a series of short scenes moving from Andrew & Jennifer’s office to their favourite Japanese restaurant to the street and the subway and eventually to Anne & Simon’s home. Fifteen ‘extras’ populate the office, street, subway and first night party. It’s a pretty bland design, so the extras brought a bit of life to the stage. It is very well performed, with Aisling Loftus and Matthew Needham excellent as Anne & Simon and Indira Varma hitting just the right satirical note as Jennifer. Gary Beadle has hot-footed it over form the Royal Court Upstairs for fine turns as John and a New York cop. The original was directed by Lindsay Posner who has passed the baton to Lyndsey Turner for this revival.

I appear to have wiped the Royal Court production from my memory, so it was good to see it again. It hasn’t dated, though it isn’t a classic, and it may provide an illustration as to why Crimp is rarely revived.

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With a cast including favourites Simon Russell Beale, John Simm, John Heffernan, Harry Melling and Clive Rowe, it didn’t take much to break my self-imposed Pinter ban, and indeed it lived up to expectations – it was the brilliant acting that made the evening worthwhile.

It seemed a very different play to the one I saw at the NT in 2007 – Jamie Lloyd’s production is 30 minutes shorter, more hysterical than chilling and could easily be retitled ‘When did you last see the patient?’ and billed as farce. Its point about state repression and torture is still made, still obtusely, though somewhat hidden by more laughs. I still think it’s pumped up and over-rated as a play.

Simon Russell Beale continues to show us his range with a masterclass in manic comedy as Roote. When he’s got the specs on, he’s a dead ringer for Ronnie Barker and yet again he acts with those big white eyes. Like Elling, John Simm’s channelling his inner nerd again as Gibbs and it’s delicious. John Heffernan’s very physical performance as Lush is simply superb. Harry Melling’s Lamb’s electrocution is masterly. Indira Varma is a delight as the predatory Miss Cutts.

Well worth the trip for such fine acting. Pity about the play.

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