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Posts Tagged ‘Jerusalem’

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.

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It’s not often you leave a new play feeling deeply satisfied. Of late, the Royal Court has had the monopoly of those occasions and there are echoes of two of them – Jerusalem and Love Love Love – here. This is good enough to be the pinnacle of a playwrights career, but it’s  playwright Stephen Beresford’s first! At last, we have a fine new play at the National.

We’re on the Devon coast in the home of Judy, an ageing hippie and rebel, with her daughter Libby, son Nick and grand-daughter Summer, exploring the legacy of the 60’s generation and the relationships of the three generations on the stage. Neighbour and GP Peter is a frequent visitor and seemingly benevolent presence, as is shy young Daniel who grows up before your very eyes. Judy’s still rebelling (now against her nimby neighbours), Libby and Nick are rebelling against their mother and each other and young Summer is a teenager (nuff said). Neither Peter nor Daniel are what they at first seem. The characterisations are very deep and the sweep of the play is somehow both epic and personal. The writing is outstanding and often very funny.

This may well be Helen McCrory’s finest moment; from her first unrecognisable appearance, she completely inhabits the role of daughter Libby. Rory Kinnear too is spectacularly good as her drug fueled brother Nick, with the most realistic drunk / stoned acting I’ve seen since Peter O’Toole (and I’m still not convinced he wasn’t – O’Toole, that is).

You can see why Julie Walters wanted to play Judy. It’s one of those larger-than-life characters she excels in, though she is now so familiar we do see Julie underneath Judy at times. There’s also a brilliant performance from Isabella Laughland as Summer and another from Taron Egerton as neighbour Daniel (a professional debut, no less).

Vicki Mortimer has created an art deco  home as wild as its inhabitants which looks just like the famous hotel at Bigbury-on-Sea just down the road, which opens up to reveal three downstairs rooms as well as the garden. The music seems to be from the soundtrack of my life! As always, Howard Davies gets the best out the material and his actors.

This was such a treat that I really didn’t want it to end; I was so enjoying these characters company and their stories – but maybe that’s because I’m a 60’s child too? It will be intersting to see the thoughts of younger theatre-goers. For me, though, not to be missed at any cost.

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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!

 

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After an awful lot of revivals, at last here’s the first good new play of the year – and an original, often surprising & often funny one it is too.

The first half’s two scene set up is a bit long, but the second half’s five scenes snap and crackle. We’re with a somewhat dysfunctional family soon after husband / dad’s demise. His widow has MS and a toy boy (who we never see) and her daughter a complex but close relationship with someone her dad took in after his mother died. After a whirlwind romance, she marries the opposite of her ‘friend’ (a penchant for younger men like her mum), then springs a blind date on the ‘friend’. At this point we meet the Becky of the title and begin a whirlwind of unexpected events which is where the play really takes off.

I suspect this production benefits from Director Peter DubBois’ experience with its original US production(s), because its slick but very believable. Jonathan Fensom’s set, with revolve borrowed from the NT (good to se Nicholas Hytner’s sharing strategy in action) enables the action to move between seven locations without slowing it down. The play flows well and there’s a roundedness about it that is very satisfying. As one might expect from a playwright (Gina Gionfriddo) who also writes about rock music, the snatches of music between scenes are well-chosen.

American import David Wilson Barnes is excellent as Max (and a real double for Kevin Spacey), but he does have the best lines, and I loved Daisy Haggard’s hapless Becky. We don’t see much of Haydn Gwynne except in the first and last scenes, but she’s very good as the acid-tongued mum. Anna Madeley and Vincent Montuel do well with much drier parts.

It’s not in the Jerusalem and Clybourne Park league, but its a very good play and a return to form for the Almeida. I smell a West End transfer…..

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It took me a while to get into this intriguing and clever play, but by the end I felt deeply satisfied by a very funny yet unsettling drama. In many ways, my reaction was similar to the same venue’s Posh – the reviews led me to expect a more straightforward satirical comedy, but it had so much more depth than that.

There are many layers to this play, the first act of which is set in 1959 as a couple prepare to move home and the second act in the same house 50 years later as another couple are seeking to demolish it and rebuilt on the land. The attention to detail is extraordinary – from Robert Innes-Hopkins brilliant sets to the nuances of the acting. I was captivated throughout and there was a roundedness to the structure which I just loved.

It’s rare you get a set of seven impeccable performances, but here you get that and more as each actor has two very different roles. They’re all terrific – Steffan Rhodri morphs from bereaved dad to straightforward workman, Sophie Thompson from highly strung unfulfilled housewife to icy cold lawyer, Lorna Brown for servile to assertive, Sam Spreull from passive priest to gay lawyer, Lucien Msamati from quiet disbelief to assured confidence , Martin Freeman from 50’s racist neighbour to fashionably liberal and Sarah Goldberg goes from deaf & dependent  to politically correct & defiant. Under Dominic Cooke’s direction, these characters come alive and Bruce Norris’ dialogue sparkles.

The play’s devastating message is that in 50 years everything’s changed but nothing has changed. Clybourne Park is this year’s Jerusalem and I suspect we won’t see a better new play for some time. Go! Go! Go!

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The two Mike Bartlett plays I’ve seen before this were short but substantial one-acters – My Child and Cock, both at the Royal Court – so I was surprised when I heard his latest at the NT’s Cottesloe was a marathon 3.25 hours. The other surprise was that the ‘epic play about climate change’ turned out to be more of a family drama with a climate change backdrop.

Designer Miriam Buether has done another extraordinary transformation, with an S-shaped orange catwalk lined with bar stools on the ground floor, two elevated stages at either end and projections on all four sides. It makes for a swift change from scene-to-scene – and there are a lot of scenes!

It centres around environmental academic Robert, who sold his soul to the corporate devil as a young man, casting out his three daughters when his wife dies. One eventually becomes Environment Minister in the new coalition government (up-to-date stuff this) and is also enticed to take the corporate shilling, the second is a troubled pregnant wife and the third a rebellious student. His son-in-law visits to find out why his wife’s earlier visit  has made her troubled only to receive a devastating revelation.

It’s epic in the way Angels in America was epic (though half the length and less substantial) and I found myself gripped from the start. Despite its length, the writing is sharp and succinct and Rupert Goold’s direction is full of his usual inventiveness including a B&Q full of kitchen sinks! The ensemble of 17 is excellent it would be invidious to single any out.

The Cottesloe was made for re-inventions like this and the play, though not a classic like Jerusalem (which is now be the benchmark for modern classics), is by far the best new play at the NT for some time. I much admired the ambition of it all and felt it was very satisfying if not exactly life-changing.

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My second Arthur Miller revival of the year proves to be much more than the Suchet-Wanamaker show, though they are both at the height of their powers and give terrific performances.

The first star is Bill Dudley’s extraordinary set – a life-size American suburban house and garden surrounded by giant trees have taken over from Jerusalem’s English wood with Airstream caravan! Similar (the same?) as the National ten years ago, from the third row of the stalls you felt like you were peering over the fence into a neighbour’s garden.

The rest of the cast is excellent indeed, including Stephen Campbell Moore’s principled son, Jemima Rooper’s tortured  soul and an angry David Lapaine. Director Howard Davies has indeed assembled a uniformly excellent cast for this revival

The main star, of course, is Millers’ play – a masterpiece of the 20th century which could just as easily be about contemporary families torn apart by profiteering out of the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan. It has so much humanity and so much depth.

It’s great to see ‘House Full’ signs on a Monday for a modern classic, and it proved to be a thrilling evening in the theatre.

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Somehow the reviews led me to believe I was in for a raucous satire, so I was very surprised to find this play so disturbing, with a positively chilling final scene.

An Oxford University dining society (think Bullingdon Club) is meeting in the private room of an out-of-town gastropub, their penchant for trashing their venues (but paying the full cost, as if this means it’s OK) having been rumbled in the city. The power struggle to depose the current weak president leads to one trying to prove his point by menu choices, another by hiring a prostitute and a third by organising a post-dinner outing to Reykjavik (good timing, there!) in Dad’s private plane. As the evening progresses, wine is consumed, rituals are observed, behaviour declines and underlying attitudes emerge.

It’s a very cleverly structured play, because it leaves you to make connections and consider what the consequences of these attitudes are. In my case, it explained much of the arrogance of the last few years where our society has been threatened by people who think they have rights to rule and rights to exploit. This is what was so devastating for me, and the ending – which I won’t reveal – is both chilling and depressing in its believability.

The acting is uniformly excellent, with David Dawson – fast becoming the one to watch in his generation – following The Old Vic’s Entertainer, Chichester’s Nicholas Nickleby and Lyric Hammersmith’s Comedians with another terrific performance and Leo Bill a thrillingly vicious toff. Anthony Ward’s extraordinary lifelike set makes you feel like a fly on the wall rather than a member of an audience, but most importantly two young women – playwright Laura Wade and director Lyndsey Turner – have put up a mirror to a small but very real and powerful part of our society in an entertaining but thought-provoking and revealing way without preaching.

After Jerusalem and Enron, this feels like the third in a state-of-the-nation/world trilogy and another theatrical feast.

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