Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Jeremy Herrin’

My reaction to this play continues to evolve 14 hours after leaving the theatre. It’s received rave 5* reviews and one contemptuous 1* one and had I been a star, I’d have moved from 2 to 5 in the last 16 hours. Weird. There’s much to admire, but there are flaws in the structure, pacing and balance.

The Theatre Upstairs has had another of its extraordinary make-overs and now we’re in the living room of a rambling country house stuffed with books, pictures, paraphernalia, grand piano & stags (themselves stuffed) – oh, and a manual air raid siren. Sixty-something Bohemian Lily seems to have dementia and is being looked after by her son Robin who seems unable to look after himself let alone anyone else; he’s fragile and damaged (and stoned most of the time). He’s been homeschooled and mollycoddled and the relationship between them is mutually dependent but rather unhealthy.

Lily passes on and we meet older brother Oliver, chalk to Robin’s cheese. He’s a newly elected MP, seemingly contemptuous of his brother and now dead mother. Back in the house after Lily’s memorial service, Robin is now befriending his ex squaddie dealer Tommy, bribing him to stay. Others arrive – wild child twins Arlo & Scout, who Robin appears to have hooked up with during his post-bereavement escape, and locals 14-year old Coby and trainee policewoman Esme. There’s a touch of sexual ambiguity and a brilliantly staged rave which nearly ends tragically. In the final scene we get the full history during a very moving heart-to-heart between the brothers.

This is even better than playwright Polly Stenham’s promising debut play That Face, though it occupies the same world of the spoilt upper-middle class. However, it’s too slow to take off and holding back so much for the final scene makes it a bit contrived. Robin is treated far too sympathetically and placing all of the blame on the baby boomers (again) lacks objectivity. I went from ‘get on with it’ to ‘how fascinating’ to ‘oh, get a life’ to ‘oh, I understand now’ but after it finished I felt a bit conned. I’d almost succumbed to an attempt to make me feel sympathetic for people who fail to take responsibility for their own lives.

As others have observed, there are echoes of Jerusalem, Love Love Love and Last of the Hausmanns, but it doesn’t have the depth of the former, the warmth of the latter or the structural brilliance of Love Love Love. Production-wise, Jeremy Herrin’s staging and Tom Scutt’s design are excellent. Whatever I think of the character, Tom Sturridge as Robin fulfills all of the promise he showed in Punk Rock. I was impressed by Taron Egerton’s Tommy, a much edgier and dangerous character than his Daniel in the aforementioned Hausmanns. Joshua James & Zoe Boyle are very good indeed as the twins.

Flawed maybe, but definitely worth seeing and, for a third play by a twenty-something, way beyond expectations.

Read Full Post »

After a while I was wondering if it might be better to be curled up on the sofa in front of the TV with a glass of wine on a cold Friday evening. By the interval, I was interested enough to return. By the end, I was left unsatisfied and a bit disappointed. Though the subject matter, that tolerance may often be a veneer, is interesting, the play is too contrived to deal with it in any depth.

E V Crowe’s play is about a pair of primary school teachers. Danny is gay and he and his husband Joe have applied to adopt a child. Joe is a college friend of fellow teacher Jamie who, with partner Lisa, is trying a different route to parenthood through IVF. A child calls Jamie gay which horrifies him as he is soon on the receiving end of the sort or treatment he might expect if it were true. His seemingly liberal attitudes are challenged and his relationship with all three are tested. In the first half, we’re in Danny & Joe’s flat seeing things from Danny’s perspective and in the second  in Jamie & Lisa’s flat seeing things from Jamie’s perspective. We also learn that Joe was once married, and at one point Jamie’s sexuality is also questioned.

Daniel Mays is one of my favourite young actors and the role of highly strung Jamie suits him. Liam Garrigan plays Danny with a confidence, calmness and coolness. I think the fact that they are the opposite of the stereotypes is intentional, but for me if was part of the unbelievability. The parts of Joe and Lisa are underwritten so neither Tim Steed or Susannah Wise have much chance to shine.

Jeremy Herrin’s traverse staging and Mike Britton’s design, where the kitchens’ are inside a school gym, are effective and make it a somewhat voyeuristic experience. Sadly, the writing isn’t as strong as the staging or performances and though it held my attention, I left unsatisfied.

Read Full Post »

What an enthralling and entertaining evening in the theatre. Who’d have thought the period 1974-79 in British politics would make such a good play – and much more illuminating than living through it! From possibly the worst seat in the house on the upper level looking down, that’s praise indeed.

Designer Rae Smith has built a replica of the House of Commons in the Cottesloe Theatre. The pit audience sit on the green benches on either side, whilst most of the play takes place in the respective whips offices created from a few tables and chairs on the floor of the house. The Speaker’s chair is at one end, as it should be, and there’s a giant projection of the face of Big Ben high at the same end. They’ve even put the gargoyles of Westminster Hall on the upper level railings.

This was the last period when we had parties with slim or non-existent majorities leading to minority governments reliant on bargaining with ‘the odds and sods’ or more formal arrangements like the Lib-Lab Pact. The premiership moved from Wilson to Heath to Callaghan with Thatcher rising to lead her party and become PM as the play ends.

James Graham’s play focuses on these bargaining processes, together with the party discipline necessary to ensure everyone turned out, the process of ‘pairing’ whereby the absence of one member would be matched with the non-attendance of another in the opposing party and the absurd lengths they had to go to, bringing in the sick and infirm and propping up the drunk.

It’s surprisingly thrilling stuff and often very funny too. Jeremy Herrin’s staging is brilliant (with an occasional nod to Enron’s movement and music). I was gripped for the duration as I laughed, gasped and nodded in recognition. It somehow showed the best and worst of our parliamentary system.

The Labour whips are brilliantly played by Vincent Franklin, Philip Glenister, Richard Ridings and Lauren O’Neill (plus Phil Daniels in the first half) and the Tory whips equally well by Julian Wadham, Charles Edwards and Ed Hughes and there’s a great supporting company of eight who between them play 29 other characters, mostly MP’s, requiring quick change accents as well as costumes (though the Welsh was South East when it should have been South West!). I loved the way the MP’s were referred to by their parliamentary seat rather than their names, as they are in ‘real life’.

The timing of this play, during the next period of minority government (albeit this time a proper coalition), is impeccable and despite the period clothes, dodgy wigs and dated behaviour (Philip Glenister is well-practiced at this after TV’s 70’s Life on Mars and 80’s Ashes to Ashes) it’s relevant and fresh. I adored it.

Read Full Post »

Why didn’t the director Jeremy Herrin or the Almeida Theatre’s artistic director / literary manager / dramaturg reign in the excesses of Matthew Dunster’s writing? I think there is a good play hiding in here, but I’m afraid it gets lost by throwing in a housing estate full of kitchen sinks!

The core idea is very good. The play follows the lives of actor’s Michael and Gordon, who meet at drama school, and their alternating fortunes. At first Gordon’s successful and  a struggling Michael & his first wife take refuge in his home. Then Michael’s rise to fame as Mr Saturday Night TV makes him the benefactor of Gordon, his wife Sally and daughter / god-daughter Effie; something they ultimately exploit. Then Sally gets soap stardom as scandal puts pay to Michael’s career, though he gets short shrift when he needs help.

Along the way, lots of political / moral / ethical issues get thrown in – gas flaring in the Niger delta, (un)fair trade, Zimbabwean totalitarianism, environmental damage by the oil industry on Sakhalin Island…….and this just swamps the play and gives it a tone of preachy artificiality. You can almost hear the playwright saying ‘I know, I’ll put something in about child labour now’. However worthy the causes he’s trying to highlight, they ultimately detract from the worth of his play and by the third act the melodrama wears you out; as the actors shouting became relentless, I came very close to shouting ‘shut the fuck up!’

They’ve gone to a lot of trouble to create three completely realistic homes on the Almeida stage, but this realism is soon challenged by unrealistic characterisation (caricatures). I felt very sorry for a perfectly good group of actors who appeared to have been instructed to go so over-the-top there would be no way back. It was all so heavy-handed that I felt I was being continually thumped in the hope I would submit. I didn’t – I just got more and more irritated.

Maybe if someone had challenged the creative team, we’d have got something a whole lot better from the same ideas.

Read Full Post »

I vividly remember the tension in the theatre and the gasps from the audience when this was first produced at the Royal Court Theatre 20 years ago. I’m not entirely sure why this is so different, but there was about as much tension last night as an average episode of Heartbeat.

It’s not as if the play has become any less relevant. If anything, Ariel Dorfman’s study of torture and the tortured is even more relevant given formerly civilised countries seem to have adopted it post 9/11. Paulina is a victim finding it difficult to return to normality. Her husband has just been appointed to a tribunal set up to hear cases of death and torture (but not torture without death). She becomes convinced her husband’s good samaritan (he brought him home after his car broke down and pays an unexpected visit later that night) was her torturer and seeks revenge. The late night visit now seems completely implausible, but the rest of the story is believable.

Thandie Newton is one reason for the lack of tension. I never really believed in her as a victim. She didn’t convey the emotional complexity Juliet Stevenson did 20 years ago (I understand the commercial imperative of star casting, but giving such a complex role to someone with no stage experience?). She wasn’t angry enough and her determination for revenge just didn’t seem real. Tom Goodman-Hill and Anthony Calf fare better, but the play revolves around Paulina, so if you can’t believe in her plight, you can’t believe in the story. Then again, maybe Jeremy Herrin’s somewhat clinical production is partly to blame? Or maybe we’re all blase about such issues after 10 years of real war, real torture and real tension?

Given the poor Friday evening house, I don’t think you’ve got long to find out for yourself.

Read Full Post »

This is the sixth, and probably last, of my Rattigan centenary productions. His short one-acter, The Browning Version, set in a public school in the 40’s is usually paired with another one-acter called Harlequinade. Here it’s paired with a new play from David Hare set in a similar school 20 years later.

Rattigan’s play is a deeply moving tale of a school master with an unfaithful wife and unfair employer, but at its heart is an act of kindness by a pupil. A set of superb performances make Angus Jackson’s production shine like a gem. Nicholas Farrell as the master is initially pompous and irritating, but then almost breaks your heart. Anna Chancellor is icy cold as his unfaithful wife and Mark Umbers diffident but ultimately sympathetic as her lover. Liam Morton gives a very nuanced performance as the boy, a most auspicious professional debut. It’s a subtle and sensitive staging which benefits greatly from the intimacy of the Minerva space.

Hare’s ‘curtain raiser’ shows 60’s boys more questioning and challenging, but little else has changed in public schools with bullying a fact of daily school life. Older pupil Jeremy takes young John under his wing introducing him to his mother, Anna Chancellor now in a much more sympathetic role.  Again, an act of kindness is at the heart of the play, but this time we see things from the perspective of the pupil. The younger boys – Alex Lawther’s John, Jack Elliott’s Gunter (two more outstanding professional debuts) and Bradley Hall’s Jenkins are terrific and again the staging, this time by Jeremy Herrin, is subtle and sensitive.

Though they are very different plays, they sit very comfortably together and provide a deeply rewarding and very human evening, linked by these acts of kindness 20 years apart and 50-70 years ago, yet timeless.

Read Full Post »

The Royal Court really is on a roll. In less than two years, we’ve had great new plays like Jerusalem, Enron, Posh, Clybourne Park, Sucker Punch and Tribes – and now Richard Bean’s terrific new play The Heretic. Its evenings like this that remind me why go to the theatre; I’d sit through five Greenland’s for one play as good as this!

I’ve long been a fan of Bean, but he’s excelled himself here. Unlike the NT’s Greenland, this isn’t a play about climate change, but it uses it as a back-drop to develop its main themes of science v activism whilst weaving in the stories of the complex relationships of its four main protagonists. It’s rich in detailed story-telling, well developed characters, sparklingly sharp & funny dialogue and boy does it make you think. It twists and turns continually – sometimes you see them coming and grin in expectation, but sometimes you don’t and smirk at the surprise. He sets you up for an obvious outcome, only to confound you by doing the opposite. It’s clearly well researched; he even shows a HR Manager arranging the chairs for a disciplinary meeting exactly as HR managers do!

As someone who was heavily involved in a major employment law case which resulted in the interpretation of ‘religious or similar philosophical beliefs’ to include views on climate change, I’d already begun to buy Bean’s proposition that climate change has become a religion and in doing so the debate has ceased to be objective. He puts this point centre stage and debates it more eloquently and entertainingly than you would ever think possible – whilst, unlike Greenland, remaining objective and not patronising or preaching to his audience.

Peter McKintosh has created two excellent realistic sets and Jeremy Herrin’s direction is impeccable. The performances are terrific. The wonderful Juliet Stevenson clearly relishes her meaty role. James Fleet has never been better than here as her boss. Johnny Flynn and Lydia Wilson are both terrific in the complex roles of Ben and Phoebe, and there are fine cameos from Adrian Hood and Leah Whitaker.

The Royal Court is now fully established as the place where you go for intelligent, thought-provoking, topical, entertaining plays and this one is an absolute unmissable treat!

 

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts