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Posts Tagged ‘Jake Davies’

I have to confess I wasn’t looking forward to this. It wasn’t received well at the Edinburgh Festival last August, when it was in two parts with a total playing time of 5.5 hours. The anticipation of even one part at just over four hours filled me with dread. Perhaps that’s why I enjoyed it so much!

It’s set in a future where men and women are segregated after a plague which killed many men. They believe the women are infected carriers. Same sex partnerships have, by necessity, become the norm and in their half of The Divide the women partner with one another as MaMa and MaPa, the former having children by some form of artificial insemination. Male children are sent to the other half of the divide when they come of age. There is a governing council with three parties whose names speak for themselves – orthodox, moderate and progressive – ruled by the Book of Certitude. The story revolves around the orthodox Clay family, and in particular brother and sister Elihu and Soween, told in flashback by the latter reading her teenage diary which goes on become a book, but its Elihu who threatens the equilibrium of this dystopian state when he falls in love with Giella, the daughter of progressives, whom his sister has already identified as her future life partner.

There was too much talking direct to the audience at the expense of character interaction, but given it was written in prose as a diary / memoir, that’s not surprising. The staging is well paced and it didn’t feel like 3.5 hours playing time; in fact, it felt shorter than last week’s marathons, John and Long Day’s Journey Into Night. Annabel Bolton’s production is full of invention, with great use of projections and curtains, and has an organic flow to it. At first I found the black / white palette a bit dull, but I warmed to it. The big surprise was a live ensemble and 26-piece choir and Christopher Nightingale’s music added much to the feel of the piece.

The role of Soween is huge and Erin Doherty, who has already impressed me three times in the last year, is sensational, investing an extraordinary amount of emotion into her performance. Jake Davies as Elihu and Weruche Opia as Giella are also terrific, with a fine ensemble who have learnt their parts for an unfathomably short run of ten days.

It owes something to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaidens Tale and it’s the most un-Ayckbourn of Ayckbourn plays, which wasn’t even meant to be a play. It’s a cry for tolerance and a rage against fundamentalism, much lighter than you might think, and an evening I wasn’t looking forward to became a very pleasant surprise indeed.

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Another show I had no plans to see until I saw Jumpers for Goalposts, a lovely new play which feels much like it, which prompted me to catch this 20th anniversary revival of Jonathan Harvey’s play before it closed. I’d seen the premiere of this heartwarming, funny and moving play at the Bush and the 2006 outing at the Sound Theatre and I enjoyed this one just as much.

Nikolai Foster’s new production keeps the setting in early 90’s Thamesmead. Single mum and barmaid Sandra is devoted to her teenage son Jamie. Her latest man is socially clumsy but charming artist Tony. Spiky teenage neighbour Leah is obsessed with sex and Mama Cass and has been expelled from school. Other teenage neighbour Ste lives with his dad and brothers; his reward for looking after them is to get beaten senseless. He takes refuge at Sandra’s where his friendship with, and comfort from, Jamie develops into first love.

It’s a timeless story which doesn’t feel the slightest bit dated. You can’t help but love all of the onstage characters, whatever their irritations and quirks; each struggling to make their way in the world or find themselves. The tough life of a singe parent, a dispossessed child, parental and sibling abuse and most importantly coming to terms with your sexuality are all explored sensitively in what is one of the great life affirming feel-good shows. The dialogue crackles and it holds you in its grip from the off.

The Beautiful Thing alumni is impressive. Sophie Stanton played Sandra in both 1993 and 2006. At the Bush, we had Philip Glenister and Jonny Lee Miller no less. In 2006, Leo Bill and Andrew Garfield picked up the baton. Here we have one of Coronation Street’s finest, Suranne Jones, a terrific performance which makes Sandra a bit more feisty and a bit more loving. Oliver Farnsworth’s excellent Tony seems to be a touch cooler, a hippy out of time and in the wrong place. Zaraah Abrahams’ Leah hides her loyalty and warmth underneath bucket-loads of attitude. Above all though, a totally believable journey for Jamie and Ste played with great delicacy and sensitivity by Jake Davies (also great in London Wall at the Finborough recently)  & Danny-Boy Hatchard (an astonishing professional debut).

I’m so glad I caught the last night of this finely cast and beautifully staged revival. Happy Anniversary – see you at the next one no doubt.

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For the second time this weekend, I found myself captivated by a 80 / 90 year-old play, though this one had more success first time round and was made into a film & also televised – but it hasn’t been staged for more than 80 years until this impeccable production by the ever enterprising Finborough Theatre. Why?!

John Van Druten’s play is set in a solicitor’s office in The City, but the play really revolves around the love lives of the secretaries. One is going nowhere with a Dutch diplomat. Another is going nowhere with a married man. A third is going nowhere with someone who’s too shy to say what he feels. This is all set against a backdrop of 30’s office life with the conformity, sexism & misogyny you might expect at that time, and people rushing around with rubber stamps and pink ribbons (I think they still use those today!).

It’s a beautifully structured play, with well drawn characters. There’s the old buffer who runs the firm, a young solicitor who thinks he’s god’s gift, a cheeky chappie office boy, the four secretaries & one of their beau’s and just one client. Alex Marker’s period set and Emily Stuart’s costumes are superb and the set changes are a delight, as the actors stay in character. Tricia Thorns staging has a fine attention to detail and brings out all the charming period idiosyncrasies.

It’s yet another terrific Finborough ensemble, anchored by Alix Dunmore’s superb interpretation of Miss Janus and Alex Robertson’s sleaze ball Brewer, who moves from flirting to predatory sexual harassment. Jake Davies is a brilliant bundle of energy as the office boy (a young John Mills in 1931!) and David Whitworth has real presence and authority as the firm’s principal. There are delightful cameos from Marty Cruickshank as a bonkers customer and Timothy O’Hara as secretary Miss Milligan’s love interest.

This is a thoroughly satisfying and hugely entertaining evening that I’m so glad I didn’t miss. The Finborough is turning into the sort of venue you just have to trust, as it sells out soon after openings (or before, in the case of the forthcoming Laburnum Grove by J. B. Priestly!).

After this and The Stepmother at The Orange Tree Theatre on Friday, I feel like time travelling to the 20’s / 30’s, when they clearly knew how to write proper plays!

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