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Posts Tagged ‘J T Rogers’

The Best Theatre of 2017

Time to reflect on, and celebrate, the shows I saw in 2017 – 200 of them, mostly in London, but also in Edinburgh, Leeds, Cardiff, Brighton, Chichester, Newbury and Reading.

BEST NEW PLAY – THE FERRYMAN

We appear to be in a golden age of new writing, with 21 of the 83 I saw contenders. Most of our finest living playwrights delivered outstanding work this year, topped by James Graham’s three treats – Ink, Labour of Love and Quiz. The Almeida, which gave us Ink, also gave us Mike Bartlett’s Albion. The National had its best year for some time, topped by David Eldridge’s West End bound Beginning, as well as Inua Ellams’ The Barbershop Chronicles, Lee Hall’s adaptation of Network, Nina Raine’s Consent, Lucy Kirkwood’s Mosquitos and J T Rogers’ Oslo, already in the West End. The Young Vic continued to challenge and impress with David Greig’s updating of 2500-year-old Greek play The Suppliant Womenand the immersive, urgent and important Jungle by Joe’s Murphy & Robertson. Richard Bean’s Young Marxopened the new Bridge Theatre with a funny take on 19th century history. On a smaller scale, I very much enjoyed Wish List at the Royal Court Upstairs, Chinglish at the Park Theatre, Late Companyat the Finborough, Nassim at the Bush and Jess & Joe at the Traverse during the Edinburgh fringe. Though they weren’t new this year, I finally got to see Harry Potter & the Cursed Child I & II and they more than lived up to the hype. At the Brighton Festival, Richard Nelson’s Gabriels trilogycaptivated and in Stratford Imperium thrilled, but it was impossible to topple Jez Butterworth’s THE FERRYMAN from it’s rightful place as BEST NEW PLAY.

BEST REVIVAL – ANGELS IN AMERICA / WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF

Much fewer in this category, but then again I saw only 53 revivals. The National’s revival of Angels in America was everything I hoped it would be and shares BEST REVIVAL with Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. The Almeida’s Hamlet was the best Shakespearean revival, with Macbeth in Welsh in Caerphilly Castle, my home town, runner up. Though it’s not my genre, the marriage of play and venue made Witness for the Prosecution a highlight, with Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Apologia the only other West End contributions in this category. On the fringe, the Finborough discovered another gem, Just to Get Married, and put on a fine revival of Arthur Miller’s Incident at Vichy. In the end, though, the big hitters hit big and ANGELS IN AMERICA & WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF shone brightest.

BEST NEW MUSICAL – ROMANTICS ANONYMOUS

Well, I’d better start by saying I’m not seeing Hamilton until the end of the month! I had thirty-two to choose from here. The West End had screen-to-stage shows Dreamgirlsand School of Rock, which I saw in 2017 even though they opened the year before, and both surprised me in how much I enjoyed them. Two more, Girls and Young Frankenstein, proved even more welcome, then at the end of the year Everybody’s Talking About Jamie joined them ‘up West’, then a superb late entry by The Grinning Man. The West End bound Strictly Ballroom wowed me in Leeds as it had in Melbourne in 2015 and Adrian Mole at the Menier improved on it’s Leicester outing, becoming a delightful treat. Tiger Bay took me to in Cardiff and, despite its flaws, thrilled me. The Royal Academy of Music produced an excellent musical adaptation of Loves Labours Lost at Hackney Empire, but it was the Walthamstow powerhouse Ye Olde Rose & Crown that blew me away with the Welsh Les Mis, My Lands Shore, until ROMANTICS ANONYMOUS at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at The Globe stole my heart and the BEST NEW MUSICAL category.

BEST MUSICAL REVIVAL – A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC / FOLLIES

Thirty-two in this category too. The year started with a fine revival of Rent before Sharon D Clarke stole The Life at Southwark Playhouse and Caroline, or Change in Chichester (heading for Hampstead) in quick succession. Southwark shone again with Working, Walthamstow with Metropolis and the Union with Privates on Parade. At the Open Air, On the Town was a real treat, despite the cold and wet conditions, and Tommyat Stratford with a fully inclusive company was wonderful. NYMT’s Sunday in the Park With George and GSMD’s Crazy for You proved that the future is in safe hands. The year ended In style with a lovely My Fair Lady at the Mill in Sonning, but in the end it was two difficult Sondheim’s five days apart – A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC at the Watermill in Newbury and FOLLIES at the National – that made me truly appreciate these shows by my musical theatre hero and share BEST MUSICAL REVIVAL

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After twenty-six days without theatre, I would probably have been satisfied with a light snack. I started the famine after a musical feast, Follies, and I end it with this dramatic banquet. This is a terrific play, superbly performed.

American playwright J T Rogers gift for taking historical events and turning them into brilliant entertainment was first seen here in Blood & Gifts (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2010/11/02/blood-gifts). Our own more prolific James Graham (two shows now in the West End!) has a similar gift, though with subjects closer to home. Rogers has chosen to dramatise the secret talks between Israel and the PLO which ran in parallel with the much bigger formal ones which excluded the PLO, before eclipsing them by securing the deal signed the following year at the White House with that iconic handshake between Rabin and Arafat, which resulted in their shared Nobel prize.

Terje is a Norwegian sociologist running a think-tank. He and his wife Mona, a Norwegian foreign office employee, had the idea and instigated the process in 1992, initially without Norwegian government approval, and managed the talks without actual involvement in the substance of them. By focusing on building relationships and trust, in an informal setting in a country house (with good homemade food and lots to drink!), in seven short rounds of talks they made extraordinary progress, taking it so far that Rabin and Arafat were able to conclude it by phone in seven hours. The first half starts when the Norwegian FO are informed and flashes back to the seed of the idea in Cairo, then back to where we started. The second half moves chronologically from here to the White House signing. It’s packed with humour, adding to rather than detracting from the seriousness of the subject and it grips throughout.

On a plain wall, projections are used very effectively to change location and show real time events happening elsewhere. It’s a superb ensemble led by Toby Stevens as Terje and Lydia Leonard as his wife Mona, onstage for almost all of the three hours. Peter Polycarpou continues to demonstrate his extraordinary range as the senior PLO negotiator. His more hardened and defiant colleague Hassan eventually softens, an excellent transition from Nabil Elouahabi. The Israeli’s initially field a pair of academics, beautifully played as a bumbling double-act by Paul Herzberg and Thomas Arnold, the former channelling Stan Laurel!, before Philip Arditti’s hard-line, abrasive Uri Savir upgrades their delegation and then the even tougher Israeli-American lawyer Joel Singer takes an  even more aggressive stance, a pitch perfect performance from Yair Jonah Lotan. There’s a delightful cameo from Geraldine Alexander as the housekeeper whose food is the one thing they can all agree on.

It steers an objective course, enabling you to see the reasons for the impasse and the deep emotional foundations of the conflict. Even though the peace never lasted, it was a partial success and the play is ultimately hopeful. A real theatrical feast which lives up to all the hype.

 

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This play about Afghanistan during the 80’s started as one of the Tricycle’s Great Game playlets a couple of years ago; it has now become a very interesting and satisfying full length play.

It was the decade when the then USSR occupied this troubled land whilst the US, with British help, sought to undermine them by funding and arming Pakistani security forces and Afghan militias. It followed periods of western influence and was followed by the rise of the Taliban and subsequent US / British invasion and occupation. The geopolitical history is absolutely fascinating and playwright J T Rogers achievement is to make this so entertaining! It unfolds like a thriller and is packed with irony and humour, without ever debasing the seriousness of the events it presents. It also weaves in the stories of the home lives, and in particular the sons, of the three main players which adds an important personal dimension.

Designer Ultz use of sliding screens enables Howard Davies production to have real pace, moving quickly between the many short scenes without losing impetus. The central character of CIA agent James Warnock is excellently played by Lloyd Owen, who is onstage throughout, torn between his country’s pragmatism and his personal idealism. His British counterpart has been around longer and is therefore more realistic and cynical; also well played by Adam James. These performances are well matched by the other two key characters – Russian Dmitri (Matthew Marsh) and Afghan Abdullah (Demosthenes Chrysan) and there are fine supporting performances from Gerald Kyd as the representative of Pakistani security and Philip Arditti as Abdullah’s son (whose obsession with Western music and quoting of their lyrics is hysterical) and excellent cameos from Simon Kunz as James’ boss and Danny Ashok as the Pakistani military clerk.

I liked this play a lot; it explains so much about how we got to where we are in Afghanistan and the hopelessness of it all – but above all it’s a deeply satisfying evening modern drama.

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