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Posts Tagged ‘James Fleet’

Whoever had the idea of asking Graham Linehan to write, and Sean Foley to direct, this new version of a classic Ealing comedy was inspired. They bring a touch of absurdity, a sprinkling of surrealism and a cartoon-like quality, add lots of physical comedy and create a homage to the film rather than a film-to-stage transfer. Think Patrick Barlow’s 39 Steps meets Improbable’s Theatre of Blood and you’re getting warm.

It’s still set in 1956 and it’s faithful to the story, but freshly written. Designer Michael Taylor’s has created an enormous higgledy-piggledy multi-level house, with a nod to Heath Robinson, which moves to provide exterior locations and itself  ‘performs’, aided by terrific (and largely appropriately low-tech) special effects by Scott Penrose.

‘Professor’ Marcus has put together a team for a heist at Kings Cross and hires a room in Mrs Wilberforce’s house where, under the guise of rehearsing his string quintet, they plan their robbery. The successful (off-stage) robbery is cleverly staged, and the spoils brought to the house. Most of the play, however, revolves around their ‘getaway’.

It’s cast to perfection. Peter Capaldi is excellent as a gangling manic Professor, increasingly desperate in his attempts to keep it all together. James Fleet is perfect as a military con (gentle)man who seems a little fond of dresses. Stephen Wight is brilliant at the physical comedy required of his pill-popping cockney kleptomaniac (I just don’t understand why he isn’t covered in bruises – I winced a lot!). Clive Rowe is a wonderful big clumsy intellectually challenged bruiser with foot forever in mouth. Ben Miller is a delicious foreign Mafioso with a penchant for knives and a phobia of old ladies. Harry Peacock’s cameo as the tolerant local bobby is lovely. Then there’s Marcia Warren. What can I say? She’s so perfect as the post-war eccentric old dear who invented neighbourhood watch and quite how she keeps a straight face on stage all evening whilst all the chaos is going on is beyond me.

The original story apparently came fully formed in the dream of original screen writer William Rose and there’s a dreamlike quality to this version and this production. I found it delightfully charming; a smile never left my face and I laughed out loud often. It’s a big theatre to fill, but I do hope it finds its audience because it’s a very welcome, beautifully crafted evening.

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The Royal Court really is on a roll. In less than two years, we’ve had great new plays like Jerusalem, Enron, Posh, Clybourne Park, Sucker Punch and Tribes – and now Richard Bean’s terrific new play The Heretic. Its evenings like this that remind me why go to the theatre; I’d sit through five Greenland’s for one play as good as this!

I’ve long been a fan of Bean, but he’s excelled himself here. Unlike the NT’s Greenland, this isn’t a play about climate change, but it uses it as a back-drop to develop its main themes of science v activism whilst weaving in the stories of the complex relationships of its four main protagonists. It’s rich in detailed story-telling, well developed characters, sparklingly sharp & funny dialogue and boy does it make you think. It twists and turns continually – sometimes you see them coming and grin in expectation, but sometimes you don’t and smirk at the surprise. He sets you up for an obvious outcome, only to confound you by doing the opposite. It’s clearly well researched; he even shows a HR Manager arranging the chairs for a disciplinary meeting exactly as HR managers do!

As someone who was heavily involved in a major employment law case which resulted in the interpretation of ‘religious or similar philosophical beliefs’ to include views on climate change, I’d already begun to buy Bean’s proposition that climate change has become a religion and in doing so the debate has ceased to be objective. He puts this point centre stage and debates it more eloquently and entertainingly than you would ever think possible – whilst, unlike Greenland, remaining objective and not patronising or preaching to his audience.

Peter McKintosh has created two excellent realistic sets and Jeremy Herrin’s direction is impeccable. The performances are terrific. The wonderful Juliet Stevenson clearly relishes her meaty role. James Fleet has never been better than here as her boss. Johnny Flynn and Lydia Wilson are both terrific in the complex roles of Ben and Phoebe, and there are fine cameos from Adrian Hood and Leah Whitaker.

The Royal Court is now fully established as the place where you go for intelligent, thought-provoking, topical, entertaining plays and this one is an absolute unmissable treat!

 

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