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Posts Tagged ‘Isabella Laughland’

A play about the no win-no fee compensation culture has been a long time coming. Playwright Nick Payne’s Constellations was one of the most original plays of recent years and one of last year’s big hits. The Donmar is a great, intimate space for new plays. My expectations were going to be difficult to live up to and so it was. They make the best of the material, but the material isn’t really good enough.

Barry and Andrew are no win-no fee merchants, though there is clear ethical blue water between them. Kevin, an old school chum of Andrew (married to his first lay) lures him into serial fake claims. One target decides to defend which, unusually in these cases, leads them to court. It becomes much more than a claim as the relationship between Barry and Andrew is strained to breaking point and the relationship between Andrew and Kevin’s wife is recalled.

In the first half, we’re in the solicitor’s offices and in (most of) the second half we’re in court – something I wasn’t expecting until I returned to the theatre after the interval to see the extraordinary transformation. The problem is that the issues are touched on but not fully explored, so the play lacks depth. I liked the introduction of personal stories, but again they are glimpses. It was often just too slow. Scott Pask’s designs are superbly realistic, though the configuration of the courtroom means some actors have their backs to you much of the time (a bit like a court, really!).

The performances are uniformly excellent. Daniel Mays & Nigel Lindsay’s characterisations of Andrew & Barry compensate in part for the writing; their relationship evolves satisfyingly. Marc Wootton is brilliant as Kevin, the chancer you love to hate but can’t help loving. Monica Dolan and Peter Forbes make delicious transformations from Kevin’s co-conspirators in the first half to barrister and judge in the second. Niky Wardley brings Kevin’s put-upon pregnant wife to life, complete with courtroom vomiting (!) and Joanna Griffin and Isabella Laughland’s cameos are terrific; the latter so good she gets a round of applause as she leaves the witness-box.

It felt like an unfinished pay to me; edited and rewritten I suspect it would be a much better play. As it is, it’s down to superlative performances to make the evening worthwhile.

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The Finborough Theatre has an uncanny timeliness when it comes to revivals. If you ignore the clothes, decor, period references and what’s going on outside the Brixton house in which it is set, Hard Feelings could easily be a contemporary play. This could be because nothing’s really changed or it could be that we’ve gone full circle.

Doug Lucie’s play takes place during the 1981 Brixton riots. A bunch of Oxford University graduates are sharing the house rich kid Viv’s parents have bought for her. You have to keep on the right side of Viv and fellow rich kids Annie & Rusty do so by providing her with a drink and drug fuelled social life and sex. Working class Baz (who sells frisbees!) and trainee lawyer Jane opt for the quiet life, not joining in but not challenging, as Viv becomes more and more of a control freak day by day. Jane’s boyfriend Tone, a left-wing cockney journo, is afraid of no-one and brings some welcome home truths with news of what’s happening outside, something that for them is just getting in the way of having fun. This is Thatcher’s Britain, so there’s no such thing as society. Only two are left to join Viv in welcoming her parents.

It’s a slow burn at first, but it draws you in to this world. It’s a credit to Isabella Laughland, Margaret Clunie & Jesse Fox that I hated rich kids Viv, Annie & Rusty almost enough to get out of my seat and give them a slap! I also wanted to shake Nick Blakeley’s passive Baz and tell him to grow some balls. Zora Bishop does well transitioning from compliant Jane to angry Jane and Callum Turner is testosterone on legs as brittle Tone. Stephanie Williams’s uber-realistic (and, for me, nostalgic!) design is brilliant and in James Hillier’s excellent traverse staging you’re virtually in the room with them.

Doug Luice wrote 15 or so plays in the 80’s and 90’s (and just into the 00’s). They were produced at places like the Bush, Tricycle, Royal Court, Hampstead, Lyric and even the RSC. I saw seven of them, including the first London outing for this play 30 years ago, and just can’t understand why he isn’t revived more. He doesn’t even get a Wikipedia entry! What would we do without the Finborough? Indispensable theatre, unmissable revival.

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It’s not often you leave a new play feeling deeply satisfied. Of late, the Royal Court has had the monopoly of those occasions and there are echoes of two of them – Jerusalem and Love Love Love – here. This is good enough to be the pinnacle of a playwrights career, but it’s  playwright Stephen Beresford’s first! At last, we have a fine new play at the National.

We’re on the Devon coast in the home of Judy, an ageing hippie and rebel, with her daughter Libby, son Nick and grand-daughter Summer, exploring the legacy of the 60’s generation and the relationships of the three generations on the stage. Neighbour and GP Peter is a frequent visitor and seemingly benevolent presence, as is shy young Daniel who grows up before your very eyes. Judy’s still rebelling (now against her nimby neighbours), Libby and Nick are rebelling against their mother and each other and young Summer is a teenager (nuff said). Neither Peter nor Daniel are what they at first seem. The characterisations are very deep and the sweep of the play is somehow both epic and personal. The writing is outstanding and often very funny.

This may well be Helen McCrory’s finest moment; from her first unrecognisable appearance, she completely inhabits the role of daughter Libby. Rory Kinnear too is spectacularly good as her drug fueled brother Nick, with the most realistic drunk / stoned acting I’ve seen since Peter O’Toole (and I’m still not convinced he wasn’t – O’Toole, that is).

You can see why Julie Walters wanted to play Judy. It’s one of those larger-than-life characters she excels in, though she is now so familiar we do see Julie underneath Judy at times. There’s also a brilliant performance from Isabella Laughland as Summer and another from Taron Egerton as neighbour Daniel (a professional debut, no less).

Vicki Mortimer has created an art deco  home as wild as its inhabitants which looks just like the famous hotel at Bigbury-on-Sea just down the road, which opens up to reveal three downstairs rooms as well as the garden. The music seems to be from the soundtrack of my life! As always, Howard Davies gets the best out the material and his actors.

This was such a treat that I really didn’t want it to end; I was so enjoying these characters company and their stories – but maybe that’s because I’m a 60’s child too? It will be intersting to see the thoughts of younger theatre-goers. For me, though, not to be missed at any cost.

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I suffer from Wanderlust, so I was expecting a play that examined this very condition. Of course, it’s a play on words which is about lust and how and why people wander. I don’t suffer from that.

At its centre there’s a middle-aged middle-class couple struggling to maintain a healthy sex life. One flirts with and fantasises about an old flame and the other more than flirts with a work colleague. Set against this we have their teenage son’s sexual awakening and experimentation, which proves less trite than you might think. Cue stuff about love versus sex, funny stuff, clumsy stuff, embarrassing stuff but no profound stuff. It’s the charming teenage story which proves to be the heart of the play, though at 80 minutes, a playlet might be more apt description.

There was nothing ground-breaking about the staging or the design and the performances were OK – except the teenagers, James Musgrave and Isabella Laughland, who seemed to find more depth in their characters than the rest and raised the bar acting-wise.

A perfectly acceptable evening, but not one I’ll be talking about next month let alone next year, I’m afraid – and nowhere near as good as playwright Nick Payne’s earlier play ‘If there is, I haven’t found it yet’ at the Bush last year.

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