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Posts Tagged ‘Jenny Jules’

Theatre owes a lot to The Restoration, the fifty-year period from 1660 to 1710 that followed an eighteen-year theatre ban. Playwrights, including the first women playwrights like Aphra Behn, wrote meaty roles for women who could at last play them themselves. Many of these ‘comedies of manners’, like this, have survived. I’ve seen around a dozenn and the last one, The Beaux Stratagem at the NT, sparkled. So I was looking forward to William Congreve’s last play, returning home to Covent Garden.

It’s a convoluted plot revolving around the relationship between Mirabell (an excellent Geoffrey Streatfield) and Millamant (wonderfully played by Justine Mitchell, hotfooting it over from Beginning at the Ambassadors around the corner). They need Lady Wishforth’s blessing to marry, but she wants Millamant’s hand for her nephew Sir Wilfull Witwoud. Mirabell’s friend Fainall is having an affair with Mrs Marwood, who once had an affair with him. Mirabell’s servant secretly marries Lady Wishforth’s servant and they plot to help Mirabell by deceiving Lady Wishforth.  As with all restoration comedy, it’s flowery character names, social satire that’s a bit lost on us three-hundred years on and much wordplay. The production is beautifully designed by Anna Fleischle, whose costumes are simply gorgeous, and it’s atmospherically lit by Peter Mumford.

For a comedy there are nowhere near enough laughs, particularly in the first half, which is one long, dull set-up. It picks up after the interval, with some particularly good scenes, notably the ‘proviso’ scene where Mirabell and Milamant negotiate the terms of their marriage, but it’s too late (particularly for the significant number who didn’t return!). It’s an excellent ensemble, with great performances from Jenny Jules as Mrs Marwood and Tom Mison as Fainall, both cold and calculating, and Christian Patterson as a very hearty and funny Sir Wilfull. There are lovely cameos from Fisayao Akinade and Simon Manyonda as Witwoud and Petulant and Alex Beckett and Sarah Hadland as the pair of plotting servants.

I came to the conclusion that the play is of its time and has nothing to say to a contemporary audience. If it was entertaining, it might still be worth reviving, but it isn’t – at 3 hours 15 minutes, it’s a long, dull evening. So much talent, but a play not worthy of it today.

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When I first heard that the Donmar had programmed an all-female Julius Caesar, I thought it was the new (female) Artistic Director making a point. A bit of a gimmick. I nearly didn’t book. Well, gobble gobble (sound of me eating my words).

The RSC’s African version earlier in the year had me thinking how much more relevant it was in a 20th century banana republic with all the intrigue and machiavellian machinations. This one, set in a women’s prison, made me feel just the same. Somewhere where power, control and ‘politics’ loom large.

The Donmar has had another one of its extraordinary transformations. Fading painted walls, metal walkways and even authentic light switches; it’s every inch a prison – right down to the grey plastic chairs replacing the usual padded benches; not that my bum noticed – I was too engrossed. Bunny Christie’s design is superb.

Even though it is done as a play-within-a-play, its with a very light touch in Philida Lloyd’s production and Shakespeare’s play doesn’t get swamped in any way. It seemed to me perfectly plausible that Caesar would get done over by a gang of fellow prisoners, leading to tussles for control and  power games. It just worked, no better than in Mark Anthony’s great speech, which was electrifying.

It’s a great cast and the four central performances tower. Seeing Frances Barber as Julius reminds you how good an actor she is. Cush Gumbo, who I’ve only seen in a restoration comedy(!), is a revelation as Mark Anthony. Harriet Walter is a passionate, defiant yet vulnerable Brutus. Only months after welcoming Jenny Jules in her first Shakespearean role, here she is as the best Cassius I’ve ever seen.

This is as gripping and thrilling a couple of hours can get in a theatre. Don’t miss it.

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It seems to me the chief reason why Michael Attenborough’s King Lear is so successful is that he hasn’t messed with it! No overwhelming concept, no directorial conceit, no gimmicks. A play as good as Lear needs none of these – just good staging, fine performances and excellent verse speaking and this Almeida production has all three.

The theatre has acquired an additional curved back wall, identical except for several entrances. A handful of props and atmospheric lighting do the rest. Simple. This gives the play great pace, unencumbered by scene changes. The tale of two dysfunctional families, ungrateful daughters and feuding sons, grips from the start and never lets you go. The verse is beautifully spoken and you seem to be hearing words and phrases you never heard before.

In a uniformly fine cast, it’s great to see one of my favourite actresses, Jenny Jules, in a classical role as Regan. Clive Wood continues his career renaissance with a superb Gloucester, the newer / younger Kieran Bew delivers another impressive performance as Edmund and my favourite Geordie, Trevor Fox, is great as The Fool. Towering over them all is a magnificent Lear from Jonathan Pryce. I’ve seen some fine Lear’s in my time – Robert Stephens, Anthony Hopkins, Brain Cox, Ian Holm, Ian McKellern, Derek Jacobi, Nigel Hawthorne, Pete Postlethwaite – and this interpretation is as good as any of them. I usually find it hard to believe he turns on Cordelia, but here I didn’t. His madness was more subtle and more authentic. For once, his journey seemed completely plausible.

I think this is Michael Attenborough’s second Shakespeare at the Almeida. The other, Measure for Measure, was also a fine production. This space suits simple interpretations of the bard, so more please!

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Fifty-four years after it’s premiere, and 24 years after I first saw it, this new National Theatre production of Errol John’s play set in post-war Trinidad in the dying days of the colonial period proves itself a classic.

It’s a fascinating piece of social history as well as the personal story of five adults and two children sharing a backyard (and a water supply) surrounding their small homes. Soutra Gilmour’s brilliantly realistic design is atmospheric and suitably claustrophobic, with audience on two sides providing an intimate staging – you’re as ‘on top’ of them as they are ‘on top’ of each other.

Trolley bus driver Ephraim (a passionate Danny Sapani) decides to emigrate to Liverpool instead of settling for a promotion to inspector, leaving behind his girlfriend Rosa who he thinks is trying to entrap him. Mavis (a terrific Jenny Jules) decides to stop ‘entertaining’ the visiting US military and becomes engaged to clownish wide boy Prince (a superb Ray Emmet Brown). The lives of Sophia and Charlie (two more excellent performances by Martina Laird & Jude Akuwudike), proud at their daughter Esther’s scholarship to high school, are turned upside down when Charlie makes one big mistake whilst out on a bender.

All of this takes place as troops are returning victorious from the war, the Americans are using the island as a base and the country is approaching independence. It takes a while to attune to the dialect and for these peoples lives to unfold, but it proves to be a thoroughly satisfying story which gets a perfect staging by Michael Buffong. In addition to the ones I’ve already named, there are other great performances here – notably Tahirah Sharif’s sweetly innocent Esther and Burt Caesar’s predatory Old Mack.

A very welcome revival which at last gets the production the writer wanted, sadly when he’s no longer here to see it. Not to be missed.

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This is a hugely important play, helping us to understand the ongoing conflict in Congo and those caught in the middle of it, particularly women. It has clearly moved beyond political power (was it ever?) and taken on a life of its own with many self-interested factions fighting over money (and access to it) as much as anything else and prepared to commit appalling crimes including rape and mutilation to achieve their ends.

You may think  ‘what has theatre got to do with this?’ – well, I happen to think it has a role to explain and illuminate what’s going on in our world and this play, by American writer Lynn Nottage, is therefore very welcome…..but seing it is often a disturbing and very harrowing experience.

The first act sets the scene, introduces the characters and puts their situation into context. Mama runs a bar for miners, soldiers and those passing through offering rather more than beer. Her girls are refugees, disowned by their families after having been raped and mutilated for no fault of their own. It is in the second act – a masterpiece of writing, direction and acting – where the full truth emerges as events turn violent. Salima’s story (based on a very real person’s experiences) breaks your heart and the situation seems completely hopeless. However, the play ends with a humanity which lifts you and provides a modicum of hope for you to take away from the theatre.

Indhu Rubasingham’s direction is impeccable. Robert Jones has created an extraordinarily believable bush hut which revolves to provide the bar, porch and bedroom. The ensemble is excellent and at its core there are two truly magnificent performances from Jenny Jules and Lucian Msamati. I’ve never seen a standing ovation in my many visits to the Almeida, and this completely impulsive one was richly deserved.

Not an easy evening, but an absolute must-see experience.

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