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Posts Tagged ‘James Dacre’

It’s ten years since American playwright Katori Hall wowed London with the world premiere of her debut play The Mountaintop, about Martin Luther King. All we’ve had since then is her excellent book for the musical Tina, but now she’s back with the same director, James Dacre, at his Northampton base, for the UK premier of a play about visions of the Virgin Mary in Rwanda, which fully justified a day-trip from London, even for a non-believer like me.

It revolves around a convent school in Kibeho in 1981 where one girl has a vision. She is disbelieved and persecuted by the Deputy Head Sister Evangelique and most of her fellow pupils. The Head, Father Tuyishime, is more inclined to believe her, then two more girls make the same claim. Bishop Gahamanyi turns up smelling a commercial proposition. The Vatican send Father Flavia to obtain evidence for possible confirmation. Local people start to buy in and nickname the girls The Trinity, with local boy Emmanuel claiming visitations too.

The ghost of Belgian colonialism is ever present in this Roman Catholic community, and there is an undercurrent of hate between the Hutu and the Tutsi. The visions continue as Father Flavia continues to gather evidence and people’s positions change and evolve until a special visitation is announced by the girls and the local community comes in numbers to hear prophesies of doom, the conflict and genocide that actually followed. Father Flavia is convinced, the Bishop sees his hope of a pilgrimage site disappear and Father Tuyishime refuses to believe in fear the prophesies might be true.

The story is brilliantly told by a terrific cast of twelve, supplemented by a community ensemble of another eleven. Jonathan Fensom’s design, with video projections by Duncan McLean, beautifully lit by Charles Balfour, is truly evocative. Orlando Gough had added both incidental music and gorgeous acapella songs, with Claire Windsor’s soundscape, both adding so much to the atmosphere. Dacre’s staging is nothing short of masterly.

Quality oozes from every department in this outstanding production which will hopefully have a life beyond this three week run. So glad I went.

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A thrilling production of a world première of a stage adaptation of a 1951 unproduced Arthur Miller screenplay at the lovely Royal Theatre in Northampton. Wow!

Miller took the screenplay to Hollywood with his girlfriend Marilyn Monroe and friend / collaborator director Elia Kazan, who shortly after named him to McCarthy and lost his friendship for good (he also went on to make his own film about longshoremen – On the Waterfront). Miller was faced with demands for radical changes which would make the dockers less sympathetic and whitewash the employers and the union hierarchy, something he would not do. Even the FBI became involved because they thought it might lead to social unrest, and in one of those deeply ironic ‘life imitates art’ moments, the unions said that if it was made they would stop every projectionist in America from showing it!

We’re back in A View from the Bridge territory, with the longshoremen of Red Hook, New York (Miller’s birthplace) but a very different story, inspired by real life events. The dockers are mostly US born rather than illegal immigrants, but they’re still exploited. The corrupt union president is in cahoots with their employers and the Mafia, taking enough of a cut for unheard of 50’s luxuries like holidays in Florida. After the accidental death of colleague Barney under pressure to work faster, Marty Ferrera leads a revolt, only to be faced with an assassination attempt, rigged ballots and even the fears of reprisals felt by his colleagues and supporters. It’s a series of short, fast-moving scenes which makes it feel like a screenplay and it soon grabs you and has you on the edge of your seat. Playwright Ron Hutchison, now virtually lost to film & TV in the US, has created a gripping drama.

James Dacre’s production is stunning, with a brilliant set by Patrick Connellan, terrific video by Nina Dunn, atmospheric lighting from Charles Balfour and a superb soundtrack by Isobel Waller-Bridge that combine to create an evocative picture of both the location and period. Jamie Sives conveys the determination, commitment and passion of Marty wonderfully. Joseph Alessi is excellent as defiant union president Louis, determined not to lose his grip on power and to stay on his gravy train. Susie Trayling plays Marty’s wife, supportive but fearful, with great sensitivity and feeling. The other eight members of this great ensemble are supplemented by fifteen from the community who make the big scenes like dockside gatherings and union meetings tense and gripping.

This was such a treat for a Miller fan like me and it was great to see so many of the matinee audience give it a standing ovation (unheard of in my experience of regional theatre). If only Miller had lived to see his work come alive like this over sixty years on, in his centenary year, resonating still in a world of zero hour contracts and corporate corruption.

One more week, then Liverpool. Not to be missed.

 

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I don’t really understand why Shakespeare takes as fascinating a short slice of British history as any, but fails to make it as interesting as any of his other history plays. It’s rarely staged and though you can see why, this is a good production and rather timely given that I saw it on the eve of the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, which King John will forever me remembered for but which hardly gets a mention in Shakespeare’s play.

John’s secession is challenged by his father’s illegitimate son, who he buys off with a knighthood. That doesn’t stop the bloody French trying to replace him with his young nephew Arthur. The Pope interferes via his legate and the people of Angiers (in John’s realm) suggest he marry his niece to the French Dauphin to make peace with them. John captures Arthur and the consequences, and his fate, forms the core of the piece. The English nobles flip-flop their allegiance between John and the French (how dare they!). Somehow it doesn’t come together to create as compelling a story as we’re used to from Will, but it has its moments.

I’m not sure I fully understand why religion is so prominent in director James Dacre’s production. It’s set on a red cross which extends into the groundling space and sideways to steps leading to the exits and there are monks chanting all over the place. John is apparently poisoned by a monk, but I wasn’t clear why. It also places the interval very late which, given the uneven quality of the play, makes the first part a real challenge to the attention span. It finds some unexpected humour and The Bastard’s engagement with the audience is fun. Overall I liked the production.

Jo Stone-Fewings gives a very good performance as a troubled John, somewhat out of his depth and perhaps less interested in ruling than a king needs to be. I also liked Alex Waldmann as The Bastard and Laurence Belcher as both Arthur and John’s son and successor Henry. Tanya Moodie is terrific as Constance.

A good production and timely staging of one of Shakespeare’s weaker plays.

 

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It’s great to see writers given the opportunity to tackle big issues on a Shakespearean scale at The Globe. Here David Eldridge tackles the middle east, starting with the third crusade, or holy war, towards the end of the 12th century and including references to things that happened just last week.

The first half shows the third crusade, with Saladin leading the Muslims and Richard the Lionheart leading the Christians. We move between Saladin’s camp and Richard’s and meet family and loyal companions. The attitudes and views are as contemporary as the language Eldridge uses. I suppose the point is that it’s been like this now for a thousand years, but it’s a bit laboured. It ends with the arrival of a couple of characters that suggest we’re about to move forward hundreds of years.

In the first part of the second half we are in the 20th century and figures key to the more recent history of the middle east step forward to tell us their story of the conflict in modern times – Ben Gurion, Golda Meir & Begin, Sadat and Carter, Bush & Blair (but puzzlingly no Rabin, Barak, Arafat or Clinton, crucial to the situation in the 90’s). This bit is like a whistle-stop history lesson, watched in disbelief by Richard the Lionheart and his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine. It’s followed by the third part, which picks up the crusade where we left it, except that they’re in modern battle dress and you could be forgiven for thinking it’s a modern war – which I suppose is the point.

It’s a deeply complex issue which I felt was oversimplified. All it really tells us is it’s being going on forever and it’s mostly our fault. I didn’t feel I learnt much and I’m not sure the issue gets the depth or respect it deserves. What it really needs is one of those all-day Tricycle play cycles, like The Great Game. This didn’t really work for me, but I do think there’s a play(s) to be written and I admire the ambition if not the outcome.

James Dacre’s staging is heavy on spectacle, with lots of battles and bangs. Mike Britton’s period costumes in the first half are terrific and his slightly raked painted giant disc floor is excellent. This was only the second performance, so fluffed lines are to be forgiven; otherwise I thought it was well performed, with a particularly charismatic turn as Richard by John Hopkins. There’s a lot of music, particularly chanting, but too many ‘pitching & tuning’ issues dilute its impact, and the switch to rock music as we move to modern times is a bit heavy-handed.

This is very different territory for David Eldridge. He calls his play ‘a fantasia on the third crusade and the history of violent struggle in the holy lands’ and makes comparisons with the work of Caryl Churchill and Tony Kushner’s Angels in America. This is nowhere near as successful as the latter, but somewhere in here there is a good play crying to get out. I suspect it will improve in performance before opening on Wednesday but the play’s structure and content is set, for now at least.

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