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Posts Tagged ‘Jeremy Herrin’

Though it’s still set in the 50’s, but relocated to the US, the moral message of Tony Kushner’s adaptation of Swiss playwright Friedrich Durrenmatt’s play seem very now. Though it’s a long evening, I really enjoyed it.

The North Eastern US town of Slurry is down on its luck. Factories have closed, jobs are hard to get and no-one has money to spend, but the world’s richest woman, Claire Zachanassian, is about to return home, and expectations are high. She has a track record of philanthropy, traveling the world scattering money as she goes. She also seems to collects husbands along the way. Trains no longer stop at Slurry, but she makes sure hers does.

It isn’t long before she offers an extraordinary sum – one billion dollars – to the town and its people, but there are conditions. People start spending, running up credit with willing retailers, and the town makes expensive plans. There’s a sense of anticipation, even though the price would be very high indeed, particularly for her old flame Alfred. Finally a meeting is called where the residents will vote on whether to accept the money, and therefore accept and implement her demands. Claire looks on, in control, vengeance on her mind.

Director Jeremy Herrin has resources only the NT could provide – a cast of twenty-eight, five musicians, a choir, children and supernumeraries. Designer Vicki Mortimer conjures up a railway station, town hall, shops, homes and a forest, with excellent period costumes by Moritz Junge and superb lighting from Paule Constable. Paul Englishby’s jazz infused score adds much to the period feel and atmosphere.

Hugo Weaving is superb as Alfred, with a huge physical presence and a pitch perfect vocal tone and accent. Lesley Manville plays Claire brilliantly, ice cool, determined, vindictive and unforgiving. They are surrounded by a terrific ensemble that includes luxury casting like Nicholas Woodeson as the Mayor, Sara Kestelman as the school principal and Joseph Mydell as the church minister.

They seem to have cut it considerably during previews, but it’s still too long at 3.5 hours, albeit with two intervals. That said, it’s a wonderful production which in my view has to be seen. The story of a town that sells its soul to the devil in a Faustian pact with the richest woman in the world proves timeless. As it is, was and forever will be, there’s nothing people won’t do for money.

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Coming full circle, Michael Frayn’s clever and funny subversive farce comes back to the theatre where it started 37 years ago. I’ve always had a soft spot for it, and subsequent productions – the NT in 2000, the Old Vic in 2011 – have confirmed it’s enduring power, as does this revival.

Frayn got the idea when he saw a short farce of his from backstage and realised it was even funnier, so he wrote a farce about a farce called Nothing On touring the UK. The first act is the final rehearsal, the ‘technical’, just hours before the premiere performance in Weston-super-Mare, the second is a month later in Ashton-under-Lyne at the midweek matinee, and the third is the final night of the three month tour in Stockton-on-Tees. The same act of Nothing On is performed in each act of Noises Off, except the second act is actually backstage during the performance. Still with me? As the tour progresses, relationships between the actors and backstage staff form, break and change, becoming very dysfunctional by Stockton.

Good farce is intricate, requiring high precision, but this even more so, and the pleasure you derive from the comedy is matched by the awe you have of the actors’ skills in pulling it off. The second act in particular is masterly, as it’s effectively two plays playing simultaneously, one a kind of dumb-show in front of you ‘backstage’ and another on the stage behind seen through the set window, Act One of Nothing On in front of the Ashton audience. When I wasn’t weeping with laughter, I was agape at the sheer hutzpah of it’s execution.

The class of 2019 are a match for those that went before, with Jonathan Cullen as Jonathan Fellowes playing Philip Brent and Daniel Rigby as Garry Lejeune playing Roger Tramplemain taking the brunt of the physical demands of Frayn’s play, though the other seven actors all shine too. Max Jones’ set makes an impressively short change between the interval-less backstage second act and the front-stage third. Jeremy Herrin’s staging is as slick at being unslick as you could wish for.

Though farce has gone out of fashion, Mischief Theatre, with their ‘goes wrong’ series, have proven that there’s still an audience for it if you make it clever and skilful. Frayn did that with this 37 years ago, and it’s still the pinnacle of the form, about as much fun as you can have with your clothes on! The previous three London productions all transferred to the West End, the first running five years and the second two years, both with multiple casts. It would be a brave person who bet against this following suit; it would be a particular tonic at the present time.

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There’s something astonishing and wonderful about having two Arthur Miller classics revived at the same time at theatres on the same street less than 200 meters apart, at the Old and Young Vic’s. They were first staged two years apart, this being his first big hit 72 years ago. I’ve seen a number of great revivals over the years and this one is up there with the best. Seeing it sixteen hours after I’d left Death os a Salesman made me think how alike they are, though this is entirely naturalistic, without flashbacks and imaginary scenes. As productions, they are very different, Jeremy Herrin taking his lead from this naturalism and opting for a more conventional take and a realistic setting. Both however are absolutely unmissable.

It’s just after the end of the Second World War and only one of Joe & Kate Keller’s two sons have returned. Older son Larry is still missing in action, his mother convinced he’s still alive, whilst most think he’s dead. Younger son Chris has survivors guilt, though Larry’s girlfriend Ann is visiting and he is set on proposing marriage, despite his mother’s conviction. Chris works in his dad’s engineering business, which sold faulty parts to the military, resulting in deaths. His father’s business partner Steve Deever, Ann’s dad, took the rap and went to prison, though many think Joe is really to blame.

It’s a surprise that Broadway could stomach this story just two years after the war ended, but they did, and it ran for almost a year and was made into a film just one year later. It’s timeless, as Miller often is, with corporate ethics as much of an issue today, but it’s a family tragedy, so its as much about the complex relationships within and between the Keller’s and the Deever’s. Max Jones’ uber-realistic design places a suburban home and garden on the Old Vic stage in a way that draws you in, seemingly shrinking this big theatre, well at least from the stalls.

Jeremy Herrin’s production is impeccable, building the tension slowly, taking hold of you. As I was across the road the night before, I was in awe of the acting talent on stage. Bill Pullman’s performance as Joe has a naturalism that makes you forget he’s acting. Sally Field is superb as Kate, holding on to hope her son is alive and belief in her husband’s innocence. Colin Morgan navigates Chris’ complex emotional journey brilliantly. This appears to be Jenna Coleman’s stage debut, and an auspicious one it is too. In an excellent supporting cast, I very much admired Oliver Johnstone as George Deever and Sule Rimi and neighbour Dr Jim Bayliss.

How lucky we are to have two outstanding revivals of these modern classics at the same time. The informal Miller fest becomes a Miller feast on The Cut!

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The backdrop to D C Moore’s new play is the enclosures of the late 18th / early 19th centuries, the greatest land-grab in history, when power shifted from the many to the few (to coin a topical phrase!). Then he adds a layer of supernatural, magical, pagan stuff. Then he adds the story of Mary returning from London to her village to reunite with her former lesbian lover and whisk her off to the US. It has it’s moments but turns out to be a bit of a muddle, I’m afraid

Before the enclosure acts, all land was common, regardless of ownership. Anyone could grow, graze or rear to make a living and feed their families. The acts gave landowners exclusive use, and most didn’t even employ the disenfranchised. Mary returns to her former home as it is about to become victim to one such act. Her backstory and future plans are interwoven with the political events and the mysterious goings on. Everyone thought she was dead, Laura’s brother King hates her, the Lord fancies her but his henchman Heron loathes her, young boy Eggy Tom befriends her and she ends up as the Lady of the manor.

It does have a boisterousness and an anarchic quality and there’s a lot to like in Jeremy Herrin’s staging and Richard Hudson’s design. There are fine performances from, amongst others, Cush Gumbo as Laura & Lois Chiminba as both Eggy Tom and Young Hannah and a virtuoso one from Anne-Marie Duff as Mary. It lacks pace at times, and not everyone will like the fruity and somewhat incongruous dialogue. It’s biggest issue, though, is that it lacks narrative cohesion and doesn’t really go anywhere.

They’ve chopped some 30 minutes off the published time, which may indicate a troubled birth. Though I liked things about it, I couldn’t honestly recommend it.

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A musical about an adventure playground in a suburb of Bristol in the 70’s doesn’t sound that promising, but its written by master playwright Jack Thorne, the man behind the Harry Potter plays, and directed by a directorial master, Jeremy Herrin. Stephen Warbeck’s score is so unconventional, I’d prefer to call it a musical play – think London Road, but not sung dialogue – and it’s anarchic and playful, with a great big heart. I loved it.

It’s based on Thorne’s dad’s real life experience in the Bristol adventure play movement. Rick, who we’d today call a teaching assistant, tries to recruit young teens to build an adventure playground in a troubled part of town. He works in the local secondary school, he visits parents and he tries to engage the kids. It takes a long while, but he makes it and six kids work with him creating something wild and fun. Even the head teacher approves (it’s on school land formerly earmarked for a maths block). It gets burnt down by vandals, so they rebuild it and take turns guarding it, until one of them is attacked and their world comes tumbling down.

The score is made up of short songs and snatches, played by just three musicians, but they do help tell the story. The set is, well, an adventure playground. The characterisations are terrific, with theee adults playing adults, including Calum Callaghan as gentle, empathetic Rick and six adults playing the kids, with feisty, cheeky Fiz at the centre, played superbly by Erin Doherty (who also impressed in a very different role in Wish List at the Royal Court recently). Fiz’s sister Debbie isn’t involved with the playground; she’s been following in her mother’s footsteps sleeping around, and is now pregnant by one of them, with two of the playground boys candidates! Seyi Omooba follows her auspicious professional debut in Ragtime with another very different but equally impressive performance as tomboy Tilly. Josef Davies is great as the skinhead who isn’t as hard as he looks, as is Enyi Okoronkwo as timid Talc with a crush on Fiz.

Sometimes the accents and kidspeak means words are missed, and there’s a lot of bad language, but that adds to the realism and authenticity. I thought it was original, edgy and captivating. Only one more week to catch it in Kingston.

 

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David Hare’s new play is about an art form I love and institution I loathe. The birth of Glyndeborne. It does come after a 26 day theatrical famine and a 36 day absence from London theatre, so perhaps that helped me enjoy it despite that – oh, and a brilliant performance from Roger Allam.

John Christie was clearly a true British eccentric. His plan for a 300-seat opera house on his Sussex country estate was more than a bit bonkers. When you add that he wanted it to stage Wagner, apparently with a full cast but only a string quartet and organ, even more insane. He persuaded two German pre-war exiles (though one was actually of Irish and Polish descent) and an Austrian to fulfil his ambition, though they persuaded him to start more modestly and appropriately with Mozart and to hand over much control (on condition his wife Audrey, the moderate soprano of the title, played Susanna in Figaro). Audrey was very much his muse, his visionary partner and his moderator.

It’s good subject matter, but Hare has focused so much on the role of Christie, who has all the best lines, that it comes out imbalanced, with other characters much less well developed. In the middle of a series of short scenes over just 100 minutes, there is a much longer central scene where the German’s provide background to their exile. Despite the importance of this background, it’s overlong relative to the rest of the piece. The time-hopping away from the core period wasn’t always clear enough too. There’s much to enjoy in the play, particularly it’s humour and its central character, but it is flawed and I was left feeling it could be developed into a better one.

What makes it unmissable is the central performance of Roger Allam as Christie, a very likeable character whose eccentricity charms the socks off you in Alam’s characterisation. I thought Paul Jesson was excellent too as the imported Musical Director Fritz Busch, but the part of Christie’s wife Audrey was underwritten so even an actress as good as Nancy Carroll had too little to work with. The same applies to Nick Sampson’s Carl Ebert and George Taylor’s Rudolf Bing (who went on to run The Met), both doing very well with what they had.

As much as I enjoyed it, and Jeremy Herrin’s staging and Rae Smith’s design both serve it well, it felt more like work-in-progress than the finished article. I also felt it might make a better TV play than a stage one. Worth a visit nonetheless.

 

 

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This wasn’t an easy watch. Duncan MacMillan’s play concerns an actress’ addiction to drink and drugs and it’s a harrowing affair. It’s something you admire rather than enjoy, but there’s a lot to admire in Jeremy Herrin’s production for Headlong at the NT.

There’s a brilliantly clever and disorientating opening scene, but we’re soon checking into rehab with very raw experiences of reception, withdrawal, group therapy and failures along the way. Our protagonist, Emma / Sarah isn’t very likeable but she is very plausible. She’s rather self-obsessed, with a tendency to talk down, and her commitment to, and motivation for, getting clean isn’t always clear. Her relationships with the medical and care staff and fellow ‘patients’ aren’t good. It’s a rocky road, made more rocky by her own attitude and disposition. Watching it is an intense, sometimes shocking and very emotional experience.

It’s staged in a white plastic structure (designed by Bunny Christie) with the audience in close proximity on the two open sides, which also provide two of the six entrances, settings rising from the floor. This makes for a fast-paced staging. Amongst Jeremy Herrin’s raft of ideas, the representation of her hallucinations is hugely inventive. The production makes you feel uncomfortable, guilty that you are invading someone’s private life, watching something that perhaps you shouldn’t. Though if you have any doubts about the damage drink and drugs can do, you certainly should.

Though it’s a uniformly excellent cast, Denise Gough carries the evening with a stunning central performance, on stage virtually the whole time. Very occasionally you see a performance you know will be a turning point in someone’s career and this is one of those occasions.

Important rather than entertaining, but I’m glad I saw it.

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This is a clever but disturbing play that will be hard to talk about without spoiling it, but I’ll try. If you’re planning to go, you may wish to stop here.

Playwright Jennifer Haley has created a future world where the internet is ‘the nether’ and virtual reality is highly sophisticated. People share their time between ‘in-world’ and the nether, which does a lot of good things like education, but a lot of more dubious things too which are almost impossible to control. Sims creates one of the most sophisticated virtual experiences which others can buy in to, which he rationalises as better virtual than real. Doyle appears to be one of his best customers. Morris, a detective, pursues both. The play switches between interviews where Morris confronts Sims and Doyle (separately) and the virtual world of Sims’ creation.

It packs a hell of a punch in 80 minutes and really makes you think about where we might be heading. It’s all the more unsettling because of its plausibility; I found it somewhat prophetic. The virtual world, a seemingly vast space, is brilliantly created by Es Devlin with video design by Luke Halls and the performances are all superb. Stanley Townsend is absolutely chilling as Sims and Amanda Hale as Morris, initially ice cool determination, makes a surprising and deeply effecting transition. Isabella Pappas, who plays a young girl called Iris, was simply extraordinary; though after the play we were debating the consequences of such young casting (though the play wouldn’t work without it) as well as the issues in the play.

The Royal Court has been a bit hit or miss of late, but this co-production with Headlong, directed by their new AD Jeremy Herrin, is exactly what they do best and should do more of. Essential.

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The original leads of the 1982 West End premiere of Julian Mitchell’s play have done rather well for themselves. Rupert Everett was the first Bennett, followed by Daniel Day-Lewis and Colin Frith, and Kenneth Branagh was the original Judd! The class of 2014, who seem a lot younger, are excellent (and include an Attenborough!) so it will be interesting to see if history repeats itself.

It’s particularly fascinating seeing one’s reaction to the play in three productions over 32 years. In 1982, Thatcher was challenging the old boy network in her own party and this grammar school / polytechnic / manufacturing industry boy felt like he was peering into some mysterious other world. In 2000, New Labour had caught our imagination and this seemed like distant history. Today, it’s like seeing the formative years of our current rulers, helping you understand where all the hypocrisy and duplicitousness comes from and realising that nothing has actually changed. I found that annoying and profoundly irritating.

It’s a 30’s British public school, breeding ground for leaders and spies. Bennett is openly gay, behaving like a child in a toyshop. Judd is a Marxist revolutionary, all idealism and rebellion. Their bond is that they won’t play the conservative game and conform with the absurd traditions. The rest are chips off the old blocks, clones of their dads, being brainwashed into following in their footsteps. The suicide of a boy caught inflagrante delicto with another and the visit of an old boy, uncle of a present one, are used to stimulate the debate about what these places actually breed.

It is an extremely well written play, superbly staged by Jeremy Herrin within Peter McKintosh’s simple wood-panelled world, and it’s beautifully performed by nine young actors and Julian Wadham as the old boy, who appeared as one of the boys in the original production. Somehow, though, it made me frustrated, hopeless and angry and I couldn’t shake that off.

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Seeing both of these plays in the same day immerses you in 35 years of Tudor history, but it seems odd to hear it unfold in 21st century speech as we’re so used to our history plays being written hundreds of years ago. It’s Shakespearean in scale, narrative drive and characterisation and somehow it feels like something Shakespeare would have written if he’d been writing today. Mike Poulton’s adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s books are actually a bit of a triumph.

Wolf Hall covers the period from Henry VIII’s decision to dump Katherine through to his courting of Jane Seymour whilst still married to Anne Boleyn. Bring Up The Bodies covers a shorter period up to Anne’s execution. Both are told through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell. It’s an unusual way to present history and it works well because it broadens the canvas from ‘the royals’ to embrace the stories of all of the characters. We don’t have to concentrate so much on the dialogue because it’s everyday speech, so we think more about people’s motivations. In Jeremy Herrin’s production, it races along without feeling rushed and rarely lags.

The Swan space is unadorned; just a few props and some fire. There’s an atmospheric (mostly musical) soundscape. Christopher Oram’s costumes are superb and you see the passage of time through Cromwell’s increasingly grander outfits and Henry’s additional padding! Ben Miles is excellent as Cromwell, unassuming but loyal and determined. I loved Nathaniel Parker’s Henry; I particularly admired the way he captured the changes in him over the period of the plays. Theer are too many more fine performances to single any out; suffice to say it’s an excellent ensmeble.

This is accessible historical fiction. Easy to digest, often funny and always entertaining. I left the theatre feeling very satisifed indeed.

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