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Posts Tagged ‘Iqbal Khan’

With this third play (in the order I’m seeing them), the RSC’s Romans season comes alive. In my view, that’s down to a period staging, an excellent design and a set of fine performances. Not a mobile phone in sight! My luck with this play continues.

For someone who’s only directed a handful of Shakespeare plays, I thought Iqbal Khan’s staging was masterly. He gets so much right – the passionate relationship at it’s core, the ruthless ambition of Octavius, the dignity of the Egyptian women and the essence of the conflicts. After being critical of Robert Innes Hopkins designs for Coriolanus and Titus Andronicus, here he delivers a beautiful, classical setting with wonderful costumes. There’s even a superb score by favourite Laura Mvula.

I’ve seen some great pairings in the titular roles – Anthony Hopkins & Judi Dench, Alan Rickman & Helen Mirren, Patrick Stewart & Harriet Walter, Paul Sheeley & Mark Rylance (!) – and Anthony Byrne & Josette Simon are a match for any of them; intelligent, passionate, nuanced performances. They have a fine supporting cast, many of whom have been in the other plays. In particular, Andrew Woodall is exceptional as Enobarbus and Ben Allen’s characterisation of Octavius is outstanding.

In one of those connections I’m fond of, this play begins shortly after the end of the Imperium plays (which I saw nine days before in Stratford), and though there’s 400 years between their authorship, it almost feels like a sequel.

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I vividly remember being at the UK premiere of this play 16 years ago. At the end, lead actor Henry Goodman pointed to a man a few rows behind me and the audience rose to its feet to give Arthur Miller a standing ovation.

Not everyone agreed (nothing new there, then) but I thought it was his best play in the 40 years since a row of four classics – All My Sons, Death of a Salesman, The Crucible & A View From A Bridge – between 1947 and 1955. We’ve seen a lot of these four since, but not Broken Glass. The National hosted the UK premiere, but again it’s a fringe venue – the Tricycle – that gives us a second look.

Set in 1938 in New York, Sylvia Gellburg is mysteriously paralysed. The initial diagnosis is hysterical paralysis, a reaction to events in Nazi Germany, but as the play unfolds the relationship with, and behaviour of, her husband comes into the frame. She abandoned her business career, her sex life is unfulfilled, her husband possesses her.

Phillip Gellburg is one of the most complex characters Miller wrote – proud to be ‘the only Jew’ in his company with his son heading to be ‘the only Jew’ army General in a way that is distancing himself, even denying, his heritage. At the same time, he sees anti-Semitism when it might not even be there and is racked with feelings of inadequacy, persecution and inferiority complexes and paranoia.

Anthony Sher is mesmerizing, he IS Phillip Gellburg, and as the play unfolds his character becomes more exposed and develops emotional depth. Sylvia Gellberg is a tough role, changing significantly between the first and second acts. Playing a little older than her age, Lucy Cohu really pulls it off. The third key character, Dr Harry Hyman, who is fascinated by the case and attracted to his patient, sees Nigel Lindsay cast against type and more than a match for Sher and Cohu. These are fine performances indeed.

I’m not very familiar with director Iqbal Khan’s work, but I’ll make sure I am in the future, for this is a very intelligent production, deeply moving but without descending into sentimentality. Mike Britton has designed an impressionistic space which allows the drama to breath and the onstage cello playing of Laura Moody maintains the tension between scenes.

This play was followed by two disappointing late works – Mr Peter’s Connections and Resurrection Blues – and a third play, Finishing the Picture, which we haven’t seen here. Looking back now, it is clear that it was the last great work of a giant of theatre and seeing it again was as thrilling as seeing it for the first time.

Yet another triumph for the regularly triumphant and completely indispensable Tricycle!

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