Posts Tagged ‘Jamie Ballard’

I’ve seen a handful of Simon Gray plays before and though I admire his writing, I’ve never really taken to his plays. It’s hard to like his characters, difficult to identify with their predicaments and they’re all a bit cold and cynical for my taste. ‘So why go and see four in one day’ I hear you ask! Well, I like substantial theatrical feasts, I’m fond of experiments with form and structure and I suffer a bit with marathonitis, though nowhere as much as I used to.

Michael (Mikey) and Jason (Japes) are brothers, the former a successful writer (well, at first) and the latter, crippled in a diving accident in childhood, a teacher and wannabe writer (also at first). They share the family home now their parents have gone. They also share a woman and daughter, though they both didn’t always know that. In 7.5 stage hours, we see various permutations of their lives and relationships. All sorts of things change, including the parents mode of death, the children’s sex and names and the course of their careers.

The first play, Japes, follows the brothers over something like 30 years from when Mikey starts his first novel and his relationship with future wife Anita (Neets) through the birth, childhood and maturity of their daughter Wendy (Wenders) to a tragic conclusion. The second play in sequence, Michael, fills in Wendy’s teenage years and bolts on the same ending as Japes. The third, Japes Too, is essentially the same as Japes with subtle changes and a fundamentally different and happier ending. The fourth, Missing Dates, starts as Japes, expands the core scene of Michael and changes the end of Japes Too. We get a fifth character for one scene of this play – Wendy’s (Wednesday) husband Dominic (Thursday). Keep up!

It’s a fascinating experiment in form and structure, taking the same characters and changing their story and dialogue and making both subtle and dramatic changes. It must be extraordinarily difficult for the actors but director Tamara Harvey has a fine cast led by the brilliant Jamie Ballard and the superb Gethin Anthony.

It’s impossible to like any of these people and they do get on your tits more as the day progresses. You will gather from the bracketed nicknames that they, as did many other things, irritated me. I found Japes a satisfying start and Missing Dates (the funniest) an enjoyable finish, but Michael was a bit pointless and Japes Too much too repetitive. For entertainment, if I could do it all over again, I’d just do Japes or Japes Too + Missing Dates, though the theatrical intellectual in me appreciated the whole experience.

Eggs curate. Curate’s egg.

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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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Oh I do love a Greek tragedy – and I don’t mean an economic one – and it ceases to amaze me how fresh a 2500 year old play can be. This modern staging of the third part of Sophocles trilogy is no exception.

We’re in a present day tyranny like Syria, where the new leader Creon decrees that one of Antigone’s recently deceased brothers, Polynices, won’t be given the honour of a burial, which destines him to go to hell. She’s had a pretty shit life, what with her dad Oedipus blinding himself and sent into exile after discovering he’d killed his father and married his mother by mistake, and her mother committing suicide when she found out. What would Jeremy Kyle have made of it?

Of course, she defies Creon, which leads to her death and that of her intended, Creon’s son Haemon, the news of which leads to Creon’s wife taking her own life, all before Creon has had a chance to make things right after the seer Teiresias warns him that the gods are more than a bit pissed off. Sadly, all the death’s take place offstage.

Polly Findlay’s production has great pace and some welcome restraint (Greek tragedy is often OTT) and Soutra Gilmour’s set creates a government office complex with walls that match the NT’s own concrete. There’s superb lighting from Mark Henderson and a great soundscape from Sound & Fury’s Dan Jones.

Christopher Eccleston and Jodie Whittaker are excellent as Creon and Antigone and there’s very good work from Luke Norris as the soldier who brings the news of defiance and later responsibility for it and from Jamie Ballard as the blind Teiresias.

It might be 2500 years old, but it’s a completely believable story of tyrannical rule much like we still see in the world today on an all too regular basis. It fits the Olivier like a glove and makes for a crackingly dramatic 90 minutes. Loved it.

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