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Posts Tagged ‘Jenny Galloway’

After contemporary works about China – US relations, a nuclear incident and a sibling relationship as experimental physics, playwright Lucy Kirkwood has turned her hand to something set 260 years ago, women’s place in society at that time, in particular the legal and political worlds. I thought it was a fascinating play, with a superb ensemble of fine actors and a stunning design by Bunny Christie.

We start by briefly watching these women carrying out their daily chores, underlining their limited roles in the world. After a crime is committed and a young girl, Sally Poppy, arrested and tried, a ‘jury of matrons’ is formed to establish if she is pregnant, as she says she is. If she is, her execution will be postponed or she may be transported instead. The jury of matrons for this specific purpose provides the only role women can have in legal affairs at the time; they cannot be jurors who convict.

The final person to join this group of twelve women is midwife Elizabeth Luke, who is sympathetic to Sally. She proves Sally is pregnant, but not all of the others will accept this. As their deliberations progress, conflicts of interest and prejudices emerge. They are offered a (male) doctor to examine Sally and they accept this, but even this doesn’t break the impasse. It twists and turns in ways that surprise you and when they do reach a conclusion, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be implemented.

Bunny Christie has created a brilliant design whose jury room fills the Lyttleton stage, beautifully lit by Lee Curran, with Carolyn Downing’s sound design letting us know there’s an angry lynch mob just outside. The costumes establish the period and the accents the location as East Anglia. The ensemble, led by Maxine Peake in the best role I’ve seen her in, contains fine actors like Cecilia Noble, June Watson, Jenny Galloway and Haydn Gwynne. Ria Zmitrowicz is superb as feisty Poppy. James Macdonald’s staging is masterly.

Good to see another Lucy Kirkwood play, a bit of a departure, of a fascinating subject I’m not sure anyone has tackled before.

 

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Samuel Foote, an eighteenth century actor, the subject of Ian Kelly’s play, may well be the most fascinating person you’ve never heard of – well, I hadn’t. He was a friend of David Garrick and Peg Woffington, the most famous actors of their day, Samuel Johnson, Benjamin Franklin and King George III. He appears to have invented a new form of theatre – improv! – getting around the stringent restrictions of the day by having no script to be approved and charging for the tea rather than the entertainment. The play is as enthralling as it is entertaining.

We meet Foote as a well-established member of London society. He’s moved on from acting to semi-improvised prologues and epilogues and on again to create comic and satirical one-man ‘entertainments’ and impersonations of infamous brothel madam ‘Mrs Cole’. He runs the second largest theatre company in the land, but after a riding accident he has to have his leg amputated, which of course impacts his career (and may have affected his mental condition). He does get a prosthetic leg, something that was being pioneered by John Hunter, the father of modern surgery, at that time, but he never really recovers. The sympathetic George III grants him a Theatre Royal license for the Haymarket Theatre, but his fortunes begin to decline when he satirises a Duchess who responds with accusations of sodomy which ultimately bring him down. Why have I never heard of this man or his plays!

Richard Eyre’s production is uproariously funny, though it does get darker as it progresses. Tim Hatley seems to have designed an intentionally small set which is both faithful to the period and rather intimate. Simon Russell Beale’s towering performance is amongst his best, showcasing his brilliant comic timing and ability to raise a laugh without speaking a word. He is as extraordinary as a large eighteenth century society lady as he was as a Carmen Miranda impersonator in Privates on Parade. He’s surrounded by a host of other lovely performances, with Joseph Millson as Garrick and Dervla Kirwan as Woffington and the writer himself as Prince / King George. I was hugely impressed by Micah Balfour as his ‘blackamoor’ servant and Jenny Galloway was a delight as his other help, Mrs Garner.

It was another co-incidence that this play about 18th century theatre folk followed the previous day’s play about 17th century theatre folk, and I thoroughly enjoyed both. It is unthinkable that this doesn’t transfer, and it would be particularly wonderful if it were to be to the Theatre Royal Haymarket which he took over 250 years ago next year!

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The US gave us three great playwrights in the 20th century and Eugene O’Neill was one of them. I’ve been lucky enough to see 10 of his plays, but this one has evaded me. So a chance to see it in a favourite theatre with a favourite actress. Treat watch!

O’Neill was apparently a seaman, and his insight into this world shows. We’re in the bar of an East Coast port with Swedish bargeman Chris and his woman Mathy. At first I wasn’t convinced by David Hayman (an actor who, surprisingly, I’ve never seen on stage before), largely because of his odd accent, but after the play settled, I got there. Jenny Galloway was, as always, excellent as Marthy. When Chris’ long lost daughter turns up, her female intuition means she susses her  profession – a prostitute – quick as a flash. Ruth Wilson in the title role is mesmerizing, with a defensive brashness masking her vulnerability. She is at times delicate and at times hard, prowls the stage with a sexiness and excitement that means you just can’t take your eyes off her. This is her finest performance so far, but I suspect there’s a lot more to come. A Dame in waiting!

We move to sea as a storm erupts, the stage becomes a barge and rises, and we get one of the most exciting stage entrances I’ve ever witnessed as Irish seaman Mat climbs a rope and boards the barge drenched and half-naked. I’ve liked the handful of Jude Law’s performances I’ve seen before, but this is on another level altogether. It’s extraordinarily physical as he picks up Chris like he was a sack of flour, throws an empty crate at a wall to see it shatter and lifts a bed on which Anna lies as if it were a bag of shopping. He acts with every inch of his body, looking every bit the seaman – at home in working clothes but clumsy in a suit, the pupils of his eyes piercing when he’s angry.

The balance of the play explores the relationship between Anna, the dad who deserted her and the man she falls for (and the relationship between the two men) as her profession is revealed. The chemistry between the three actors is terrific and the triangle completely believable and compelling. The proximity and intimacy of the Donmar again works to bring you right in to the minds of the characters and the heart of their story. Wonderful.

For a choreographer, Rob Ashford is turning into one hell of a director. This equals his Streetcar, also here, for impeccable staging. Paul Wills design and Howard Harrison’s lighting create the bar, barge at sea and barge interior superbly with next to no props. The stage tilt (a first at the Donmar?) is an inspired ides.

There have been many great evenings at the Donmar and this is up there with the best of them. I’d like to say ‘book now’ but I’m afraid you’ve missed the boat, as it were.

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With The White Guard, The Habit of Art and this all running in rep. in the Lyttleton at the same time, you’d be forgiven for moving in. I will be showering this ‘lost’ Terence Rattigan play with even more superlatives than I did the other two; it will go down in the NT’s history as one of its great achievements.

Soon after it begins, you think you’re at a Noel Coward play; it doesn’t seem like Rattigan at all. It isn’t until the second act when the depth and complexity comes through. What at first seems to be a satire on the decadent lives of the pre-war upper middle classes soon becomes a fascinating study of relationships and love. Quite why it is rarely produced is beyond me; I love Rattigan’s plays and this is without doubt the best of the seven I’ve seen.

Thea Sharrock’s production is masterly; so subtle and nuanced, every word, expression and movement has meaning. Hildegard Bechtler’s Drawing Room set is so realistic it’s like time travelling back 70 years. It has one of the best acting company’s put together at the National; many of them new to the NT. Adrian Scarborough moves from court jester to knowing friend and confidante (just about the only emotionally intelligent character in the play) seamlessly. Nancy Carroll is so good as the superficial socialite when she break’s down its devastating. Benedict Cumberbatch’s repression is so real you jump when he explodes. In the supporting company, Pandora Colin is a superbly comic party animal and Jenny Galloway a wonderfully pessimistic secretary.

This is such a satisfying theatrical experience – great play, terrific performances, faultless direction & design – you’d be completely bonkers to miss it.

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