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Posts Tagged ‘Jessica Raine’

Old Vic in Camera showed me the difference between viewing plays live online and viewing recorded streams; the former are more engaging, probably just because you know you’re watching as it happens. This one from Nottingham Playhouse has the addition of a live audience in the theatre, which was a bonus, adding atmosphere.

James Graham’s Rom Com revolves around a couple whose first date is just before lockdown. They are faced with the choice of putting the relationship on ice for the duration of it, or moving in together and forming a bubble, after only one date! Both options are played out in parallel, by split screens online (I’m not sure how in the theatre).

Though it is primarily the story of an unlikely relationship, there’s a fair bit of lockdown reality in there too, but it’s always light, never heavy. Jessica Raine plays teacher Morgan, who hosts the bubble option in her flat, her excitement making her seem more like a teenager. Pearl Mackie plays Ashley, a modern woman running a micro-pub, bubbling with enthusiasm. Both performances on a virtually empty stage carry the narrative well.

Given the depth, quality and detail of Graham’s other work, it did seem like a work-in-progress, but it was an engaging seventy minutes which worked well online.

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Perhaps this should be called ‘Waiting for Ronnie’, as we spend almost three hours doing so. Not a lot happens and, until the last few minutes, it seems to be a ‘slice of life’ play, but in the end Arnold Wesker makes his points. Along the way, though, it’s a masterclass in staging and acting.

Beatie is the youngest of the Bryant’s four daughters. They are Norfolk farm labourers, struggling to make a living but happy with their lot. Beatie returns home from London with her fancy ways and fancy ideas for a two-week holiday. Her socialist boyfriend of three years, Ronnie, with whom she is besotted, will follow, to meet the family for the first time. She spends the first couple of days with sister Jenny and her husband Jimmy, before arriving at her parents home where in Act Three they all assemble (apart from sister Susan, who has fallen out with her mother) for tea with Ronnie.

It’s beautifully staged by James Macdonald on an evocative 50’s set of two kitchens and a parlour by Hildegard Bechtler. It’s full of meaningful pauses, but not in a menacing Pinteresqe way! There isn’t a weak link in the casting, with the ladies shining most. It revolves around Jessica Raine’s Beatie and she invests her with passion and naivety in equal measure. Linda Bassett is simply marvellous as Mrs Bryant, resigned to her lot but still restless. Sisters Jenny and Pearl are beautifully played by Lisa Ellis and Emma Stansfield.

At the conclusion Beatie proves she is her own woman, emerging from the influence of Ronnie with a passionate speech of hope and hopelessness. The play doesn’t go very far, but I enjoyed the ride greatly.

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This is like looking at a 30’s Hollywood movie in 3D on a giant screen. The period detail is extraordinary. Unfortunately, in the first half at least, it’s a B movie without much of a story, a poor screenplay and three exaggerated central performances. It is fatally slow and even though it picks up after the interval, it’s too late to recover.

Having a dentist as your central character may be original but is hardly an enticing prospect (unless he is a sadomasochistic dentist like in Little Shop of Horrors, of course). This one’s a real wimp, with a nagging neglected wife, a manipulative father-in-law as benefactor and a tenant dentist who gets away with rent default. There’s another health practitioner in the building (I didn’t quite get his specialty, but it might be something to do with feet) and another neighbour with a fine selection of sharp ties. It’s an offstage character who might provide the clue to why the NT decided to stage this – a certain Mrs Hytner!

The dentist falls for his assistant, as does his father-in-law and the neighbour with sharp ties. His wife is prepared to forgive and forget. The father-in-law wants to  marry her. The neighbour wants a less committed but equally close relationship. The dentist is a wimp…..

I really was puzzled why Joseph Millson, Keeley Hawes and Jessica Raine over-acted. This makes it easy for Nicholas Woodeson to steal the show when he comes on and lights up the stage, though to be fair Peter Sullivan, Sebastian Armesto and Tim Steed do well bringing life to their supporting characters. Anthony Ward’s design is lovely, though so huge the characters do seem a bit lost.

I recall finding it a good play when I saw it forever ago in the West End, so I kept wondering if it was indeed a better play than this production revealed. Director Angus Jackson has form as a plodder (Desperately Seeking Susan – the case for the prosecution rests); perhaps a director with more experience of the great 20th Century American dramatists (not that Clifford – a name subsequently requisitioned forever by Victoria Wood for the classic Acorn Antiques – Odets is one) like Howard Davies might have made more of it.

Today’s word is ‘indifference’……

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