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Posts Tagged ‘James McAvoy’

When I first saw this 1897 Edmund Rostand play 35 years ago, in a version by Anthony Burgess for the RSC, it was Derek Jacobi with a prosthetic nose swashbuckling around the Barbican stage with his sword. Last night there were no prosthetics or swords, it was staged in a plywood box with a few of those orange plastic chairs and some microphone stands and everyone was dressed in contemporary clothes. It’s certainly radical, but it works because its a play about words and poetry and we heard and absorbed them all.

Martin Crimp’s version uses modern language, with slang and expletives, spoken by the actors in their natural voices, all amplified, but it’s still in verse. From the outset you hear someone beatboxing over sacred music and then someone rapping, which is maybe what Cyrano would be doing today. Once the surprise wears off, you find yourself listening intently, more so than you would natural dialogue. It’s faithful to the original story; the only change I could detect was in the opening scene in the theatre where they are putting on Hamlet instead of Clorise. Some actions and interactions are implied or mimed, and it sometimes feels like a rehearsed reading.

In addition to emphasising the verse, some scenes become even more dramatic by being less dramatised. The best example is the balcony scene where Cyrano is feeding lines to Christian as he woos Roxanne. There’s no balcony, and they sit on chairs, but it’s brilliant, and the final scene, where Roxanne hears the truth from Cyrano, is very moving. There were other times like this when I was thinking ‘why is this working?’ while it was, well, working.

It’s the most diverse cast you may ever see on a West End stage, all superb. led of course by James McAvoy, who combines a breathtaking physicality with a visceral, passionate emotionality. He brings the same extraordinary conviction that he did to Macbeth. He’s surrounded by fine performances, though, including Eben Figueiredo as a besotted Christian and Anita-Joy Uwajeh as a somewhat demanding Roxanne. Tom Edden as De Guiche is the man you love to hate.

I wasn’t convinced by director Jamie Lloyd’s similar treatment of Evita as I felt it didn’t serve the story, but here a play which is really about the power of words, poetry and language brings those very much to the fore. I was surrounded by rapt young people, a lot there to see a film star, who having experienced something like this may well become lifetime theatregoers.

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This is the first major revival of a 45-year-old Peter Barnes play and I can see why director Jamie Lloyd wanted to do it now. It’s a satire on the aristocracy, the political class and the establishment – the ruling class – at a time when we appear to be a divided society once more, ‘them and us’ all over again. The House of Lords creaks on into the 21st century, MP’s are now mostly professional politicians with zero real life experiences, the cabinet is made up of millionaires, most from public schools, including former members of the notorious Bullington Club. From bank bailouts through MP’s expenses, Plebgate, phone hacking, celebrity & priest paedophilia, abuse of police and media power to Rochestergate, the new ‘ruling class’ contempt for ‘the people’ seems to be at an all time low…..and they’re surprised at the rise of parties like UKIP and yesterday’s events in Greece.

The 13th Earl of Gurney’s accidental death by asphyxiation (whilst trying to give himself a high!) means his paranoid schizophrenic son Jack becomes the 14th Earl. His uncle concocts a plan to marry Jack to his mistress so that she can give him a son, thereby enabling them to have him certified and ‘rule’ on behalf of the young 15th Earl. At the same time, Jack’s psychiatrist is trying to cure him and his aunt is trying to seduce him. At first Jack thinks he’s god, then seems to respond to the cure. The certification is unsuccessful and he takes his seat in the House of Lords, but now he secretly thinks, well more than thinks, he’s Jack the Ripper.

It’s all rather anarchic, with lashes of absurdity and surrealism, and they occasionally burst into song (and dance) for no real reason! It’s audacious and brash and the satire is certainly not subtle. It’s a touch too long, but there’s much to enjoy, not least a virtuoso performance from James McAvoy which stretches him once more. He brings the same visceral physicality he brought to Macbeth, adding manic comedy and some song and dance routines! Anthony O’Donnell is excellent as the Earls’ valet who turns out to be the ‘red under the bed’. Paul Leonard is outstanding as the 13th Earl and Mrs Piggot-Jones, a local worthy (with Forbes Masson also great as her side-kick Mrs Treadwell). Joshua McGuire continues to impress, this time as the Earl’s cousin and Tory candidate Dinsdale Gurney.

It’s not a classic, but it is fascinating to see it at last (there is a 1972 film with Peter O’Toole, but I’ve never seen it) and to see the excellent James McAvoy on stage again. The challenge of uncomfortable seating at Trafalgar Studio One was compounded on this occasion by sauna high temperatures, without which I might have enjoyed it even more.

 

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NEW PLAYS

Chimerica – Lucy Kirkwood’s play takes an historical starting point for a very contemporary debate on an epic scale at the Almeida

Jumpers for Goalposts – Tom Wells’ warm-hearted play had me laughing and crying simultaneously for the first time ever – Paines Plough at Watford Palace and the Bush Theatre

Handbagged – with HMQ and just one PM, Moira Buffini’s 2010 playlet expanded to bring more depth and more laughs than The Audience (Tricycle Theatre)

Gutted – Rikki Beale-Blair’s ambitious, brave, sprawling, epic, passionate family saga at the people’s theatre, Stratford East

Di & Viv & Rose – Amelia Bullimore’s delightful exploration of human friendship at Hampstead Theatre

Honourable mentions to the Young Vic’s Season in the Congo and NTS’ Let the Right One In at the Royal Court

SHAKESPEARE

2013 will go down as the year when some of our finest young actors took to the boards and made Shakespeare exciting, seriously cool and the hottest ticket in town. Tom Hiddleston’s Coriolanus at the Donmar and James McAvoy’s Macbeth for Jamie Lloyd Productions were both raw, visceral, physical & thrilling interpretations. The dream team of Adrian Lester and Rory Kinnear provided psychological depth in a very contemporary Othello at the NT. Jude Law and David Tennant as King’s Henry V for Michael Grandage Company and the RSC’s Richard II led more elegant, traditional but lucid interpretations. They all enhanced the theatrical year and I feel privileged to have seen them.

OTHER REVIVALS

Mies Julie – Strindberg in South Africa, tense and riveting, brilliantly acted (Riverside)

Edward II – a superb contemporary staging which illuminated this 400-year-old Marlowe play at the NT

Rutherford & Son – Northern Broadsides in an underated 100-year-old northern play visiting Kingston

Amen Corner – The NT director designate’s very musical staging of this 1950’s Black American play

The Pride – speedy revival but justified and timely, and one of many highlights of the Jamie Lloyd season

London Wall & Laburnam Grove – not one, but two early 20th century plays that came alive at the tiny Finborough Theatre

Honorable mentions for To Kill A Mockingbird at the Open Air, Beautiful Thing at the Arts, Fences in the West End, Purple Heart – early Bruce (Clybourne Park) Norris – at the Gate and The EL Train at Hoxton Hall, where the Eugene O’Neill experience included the venue.

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Contemporary Music

I didn’t consider SO Peter Gabriel’s ‘masterpiece’ until this concert. There are better songs on other albums, but somehow this one hangs together best. It was the ‘main course’ of a 140-minute meal which also included two new songs and lots more oldies. The visuals were excellent and the sound was superb. His voice sounds better than it ever did and the band of regulars were as tight as can be. There was a touch of theatricality and more than a touch of idiosyncrasy and I loved it!

I’ve waited 34 years to see Graham Parker with the Rumour again, but the wait was worth it. Always one of the great live bands, they never sounded better than this re-union. Combining songs from the new album with a whole load of oldies and no tuning and chatting time-wasting, this was 23 songs in 110 glorious minutes with his fans creating an extraordinary atmosphere at Shepherds Bush Empire. They even had The Silver Seas’ Daniel Tashian in support (though there was too much talking by otherwise excellent GP fans!)

A week / month for old rockers it seems.

Opera

The focal point of the autumn visit to WNO in Cardiff was ‘The Tudors’; a trilogy of operas by Donizetti in Italian based on British Tudor history – Anna Bolena, Maria Stuarda and Roberto Devereux – in chronological order on consecutive days! In truth, Bel Canto isn’t my favourite operatic sub-genre, but the prospect was enticing nonetheless. The orchestra and chorus were wonderful (sprightly young conductor Daniele Rustioni is a real fine) and there was some good singing but the productions, dressed almost entirely in black, were somewhat disappointing. The highlight turned out to be Tosca, added so that I could take some friends, with lovely singing from American Mary Elizabeth Williams as Tosca and Wales’ own Gwyn Hughes Jones as Cavaradossi.

Fiona Shaw’s production of Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia for Glyndebourne on tour is the darkest I’ve ever seen. The theatre in Woking was a bit big for it, but the singing and playing was uniformly excellent so I’m glad I added it to my centenary collection. It looks like there will be three operas I won’t catch this year – A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Billy Budd & Paul Bunyan, though I will catch up with that in Feb (having missed curtain up by falling asleep with jet-lag in Sept!); shame, that.

Classical Music

The LPO‘s Britten Centenary concert at the RFH put together an intriguing selection of rarely performed works. The lighter first half featured a ballet suite and a folk songs suite, but the second half was more melancholic, with the song cycle Nocturne, brilliantly sung by Mark Padmore, and the Cello Symphony with soloist Truls Mork. The orchestra under Vladimir Jurowski sounded wonderful and it made me regret not booking more of the The Rest is Noise series of 20th Century music, of which this was a part.

Film

I sneaked off for an afternoon to make a dent in my growing film hit list and saw both Sunshine on Leith and Le Weekend back-to-back. Though I enjoyed both, the former probably suited me better. There are too few film musicals these days and I found SoL heart-warming, moving and funny. LW is a great and highly original midlife crisis film and it’s good to see Hanif Kureshi back in the screenplay saddle and Lindsay Duncan back on the big screen.

Filth also lived up to expectations – a thoroughly original and anarchic film that could only be made in Britain. James McAvoy’s range as an actor really is remarkable and here he’s a drink and drug addled copper with a past he can’t shake off.

Another sneaky late afternoon / evening double-bill paired Blue Jasmine and Captain Phillips. The former really is a career high for Woody Allen, who already has a whole load of career high’s. Cate Blanchet is superb, but in getting all the attention, Sally Phillips brilliant performance is being neglected (A Brit & a Kiwi leading a US film – what do we make of that?). I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a film which sustains tension for over two hours, but Captain Phillips certainly does. It’s a stunning achievement for director Paul Gereengrass and again, the attention on Tom Hanks (who is excellent) ignores the superb performances by the Somalian actors playing the pirates.

Art

Elmgreen & Dragset’s six-room installation at the V&A tells the story of a failed architect by letting you view his home, now up for sale. Butlers and maids occasionally engage you in conversation, telling you stories about him and you’re even given a copy of a play called Tomorrow that features him. Outside the building, a hoarding invites you to view the apartment. An extraordinary installation.

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If you have a vote in the forthcoming Scottish referendum, you’d better stay away from this most Scottish of Macbeth’s; it’s set in a dystopian near future after we finally screwed everything up and the Scots have gone completely feral. The rest of you had better snap any tickets that are left now because it’s bloody brilliant (often literally)!

Trafalgar Studio One has had a makeover, with a new set of onstage seating with the actor’s main entrance cut through the middle. The space has much more intimacy, intensity and immediacy which certainly suits this in-your-face grubby Macbeth. The setting is like a disused building, the props look like they were picked up from a tip and the ‘costumes’ are filthy – they’ll save a fortune on the dry-cleaning bill. Adam Silverman’s lighting of Soutra Gilmour’s set is outstanding and contributes much to the evening’s success.

It’s not the most coherent Macbeth and verse pedants may not like it. The Scottish accents, traverse staging and occasional masks (witches and assassins only) mean you lose some clarity, but in my view its more than made up for by the staging. It’s an energetic fast-paced thriller which holds nothing back. At times it feels like you’re watching a horror film or the latest Tarantino. I squirmed and gasped and occasionally turned, such was the realism of this most violent of plays. I fear for the health and safety of the cast, James McAvoy in particular, who throw themselves around the stage with abandon and fight like they mean it. At one stage, McAvoy ingests water from a bucket so quickly that he has to catch several breaths before his next line and this ratchets up the tension.

I was riveted from start to finish and you could almost feel the intense concentration of the younger than average audience, which was refreshingly quiet. McAvoy acts with great physicality and utter conviction, at times dangerous. This is a career defining performance, but it’s within a superb ensemble and it’s never starry, not even at the curtain calls. Clare Foy is a very young Lady Macbeth, but it’s a restrained interpretation which I thought was very intelligent. Forbes Masson’s Banquo and Jamie Ballard’s Macduff are intensely passionate; when the latter hears of the fate of his family, it’s truly heartbreaking.

These are hugely impressive Shakespearean debuts from McAvoy & Foy and director Jamie Lloyd. I haven’t seen the play done so well since Rupert Goold’s Stalinesque take with Patrick Stewart and McAvoy is at least a match for Stewart, Sher, Sapani & Pryce, the most memorable of my previous Macbeth’s.

With Jamie Lloyd Productions joining the Michael Grandage Company in the West End, these are exciting times indeed.

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