Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Joe Hill-Gibbins’

It would be difficult to find two productions of this play as far apart as this and Joe Hill-Gibbins staging at the Olivier just over five years ago (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2013/09/19/edward-II). The latter was on one of London’s biggest stages, this on one of its smallest. At the National, it was a radical take, with live video footage, here it oozes period. The NT’s thrilled me, but this left me rather cold I’m afraid.

It struck me for the first time how much weaker Marlowe’s dialogue is than Shakespeare’s verse; more accessible but nowhere near as beautiful. He packs in 20 years of history, and this production seems to have lost something like thirty minutes, which compounds the issue by making it feel rushed in a ‘let’s get it over with’ sort of way, with characters going into exile and back seeming a bit ‘here we go again’ tiresome. Like other contemporary staging’s, the true nature of Edward & Gaveston’s relationship is more overt but, given the setting of this production, the passionate kisses and embraces seemed at odds with the play. Above all, the story just didn’t engage, or even thrill, as it should. I felt no emotional involvement at all.

The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is a very suitable theatre, and the space is used well. Jessica Worrall’s period costumes are excellent, and the glistening black & gold backdrop takes you to the 14th century. The music mostly suits it, except the use of the West African Kora, beautiful though it is, which seemed totally out of place, conjuring up exotic foreign places rather than medieval Britain. Some of the touches of humour work, like Edward’s propensity to dish out titles played like a running joke, but sometimes it feels a bit flippant. The double and triple casting, using women in male roles, also works, though you have to suspend disbelief when you see a bishop who looks like he’s still at school.

I’ve rarely been disengaged in this lovely theatre by a play I have hitherto found fascinating. Maybe it hasn’t settled yet, but I’m afraid indifference was my primary reaction.

Read Full Post »

Rodney Ackland is a bit of a lost playwright; I’ve only known three of his twelve original plays and nine adaptations, including this one, produced in more than thirty-five years of London theatre-going. It was first staged in 1952 as The Pink Room, but it must have been in a very sanitised form, given the existence of theatre censorship at the time. It was very badly received and Ackland became dejected and only wrote two more plays, yet he lived for another forty years. Post-war London just didn’t have the stomach for his slice of bohemian Soho life. He returned to it thirty-six years later when this new, racier version was produced at the Orange Tree, on BBC TV and here at the Lyttelton, the latter two with Judi Dench in the lead.

It’s set in members club La Vie en Rose over a month in the summer after the end of the war in Europe, during the general election campaign where Labour ousted Churchill. It revolves around club proprietor Christine Foskett and her best customer, writer Hugh, who’s relationship with his partner Nigel and his career are both rocky, oblivious to his mum and her friend who he bizarrely invites to the club. Other members include Austrian black marketeer Siegfried and his girlfriend Elizabeth, film producer Maurice and his secretary Cyril, batty Julia and even battier Madge, a soapbox crusader, posh Lettice ‘the treacle queen’ and wild-man artist Michael, not forgetting assistant Doris and the cook. Into this melange, American GI’s Butch and Sam arrive to satisfy Christine and steal Elizabeth.

It’s character-driven rather than story-driven; the Labour Party offices visible next door link it to what’s happening outside the club. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but it is mine. Designer Lizzie Clachan turns the Lyttelton into a vast space, with stairs down to the kitchen and two floors up to the restaurant and beyond. I wasn’t convinced by the idea of prostitute Fifi almost continually walking around the space, and sometimes there’s so much going on, and so much background talk and music, that you’re struggling to focus on the essence of a scene, but that still didn’t detract from what was for me an enthralling, immersive experience which has lost 40 minutes, including two-thirds of the second interval, since the first preview and I suspect is better for it.

You’d be hard pressed to find so many fine performances on one stage in one night. Kate Fleetwood is superb as gin-soaked vamp Christine, as is Charles Edwards as highly-strung homosexual Hugh. Surrounding them are terrific turns from Jonathan Slinger as manipulative Maurice (hot-footing it over from The Old Vic), Patricia England as delightfully batty Julia, Joanna David as Hugh’s loyal but naive mum, Lloyd Hutchinson as larger-than-life artist Michael, Liza Sadovy as aloof Lettice, Esh Alladi as camp Cyril, Eileen Walsh as mad Madge and Prasanna Puwanarajah as Hugh’s on-off partner Nigel. There are twenty-four named parts and twenty-eight actors! Joe Hill-Gibbins marshals them very well.

The comments on exit and the walkers at the intervals proved it’s a marmite show, but those still there at the end cheered. Great to see it again after 23 years. More Ackland please!

Read Full Post »

When you’ve seen a play tens of times, you invariably focus on the interpretation you are now watching. For the first half of this heavily cut ‘Dream’ I couldn’t get the questions ‘what are you getting at here?’ and ‘where are you going with this?’ out of my head. In fact, they weren’t fully answered by the end.

The Young Vic has acquired a giant mud pit with a mirror wall behind it, in which the whole play takes place. Perhaps it’s a comment on the state of our countryside 400 years on? Running at just two unbroken hours, director Joe Hill-Gibbins has dispensed with most of the fairies (or maybe they walked out in protest at their working environment). The story is intact until the end, where madness seems to have replaced marriages (some would say they are the same thing). Puck has gone part-time, and the only fairy doesn’t really have her heart in it, though she sings beautifully. The spells are lame, and Bottom’s relationship with Hippolyta appears to continue with Titania. 

The two things it got right, in my view, are the chaotic who-loves-who scene (despite the lame spells) and one of the funniest rude mechanicals plays I’ve ever seen, courtesy of some sublime comic acting by Geoff Aymer, Aaron Heffernan, Douggie McMeekin, Sam Cox and a completely unrecognisable Leo Bill as Bottom. 

I’m not a purist; I just didn’t get it. It veered too far from Shakespeare’s original for me and just wasn’t anywhere near magical enough.

Read Full Post »

This is one of the most radical and heavily cut productions of a Shakespeare play I’ve ever seen, yet it retains the essence of the piece and doesn’t feel as if it’s missing much – despite running sone 40-50 mins less than any other production.

The opening scene is rather shocking – writhing bodies in a sea of blow-up sex dolls (which stay with us for most of the play, excepting those that deflate!) – but it does make it instantly clear we’re in a debauched Vienna. The Duke leaves town, placing Angelo in charge, returning disguised as a Friar to monitor events ‘in his absence’. Claudio has been arrested and sentenced to death for crimes against morality and his sister Isabella, about to become a nun, is distraught. Power corrupts Angelo and he offers to save Claudio in exchange for Isabella’s virginity, but the disguised Duke hatches a plot.

There’s great use of live video in Joe Hill-Gibbins production, both in the relatively small stage-front playing space and in a much bigger space behind, sometimes in view, sometimes not. He gives Shakespeare’s raciest play great pace and a contemporary sleaze relevance. Miriam Buether is responsible for the clever design, with Nicky Gillibrand the costumes and Chris Kondek the video. The speedy transition to the Viennese court for the final scene is masterly. I surprised myself by enjoying it so much, not really offended by the liberties taken.

The three central performances are terrific – Paul Ready as the righteous Angelo who becomes a sleazeball, Romola Garai as the virginal Isabella and Zubin Varla as a very passionate Duke. They have fine support, particularly from John Mackay, who makes much of Lucio, and Hammed Animashaun as the Provost.

The Young Vic leading the way with fresh, inventive productions again.

 

Read Full Post »

Just when you thought the verbatim theatre phase might have passed, the Almeida makes its first foray into the genre. They are lucky to have writer Alecky Blythe, who has been a leader in this field. She pioneered the technique of playing the interview subjects’ words into actors ears as they recreate them over 10 years ago. In London Road, she had the interviews set to music. Here, she uses a community chorus (in the Greek sense, rather than the vocal sense) very effectively. Director Joe Hill-Gibbins takes a fresh approach to staging too, avoiding the pitfall of a lot of static talking heads, and designer Ian McNeil has created Almeida-in-the-round, which effectively blurs the line between audience and performers / chorus in another original approach.

The 2011 riots are a big issue and Blythe has chosen to focus on the effect on, and the reaction of, the local community, with the story of how people rallied around shopkeeper Siva at its core. It’s good at presenting the motivations of those involved in this, and another campaign in defence of young people, but that does mean we skirt over the causes, reasons and motivation of others, though the excellent programme helps present the bigger picture. This focus also gives the piece a surprisingly light touch, though I did think it resulted in sending up some of the interviewees, particularly the middle class do-gooders – though in all fairness this included Blythe who plays herself! Though she chose the final interview well, its staging provided too abrupt an ending.

In addition to an excellent ensemble of twelve actors playing multiple roles, the chorus of 31 volunteers from the local community animate the piece and contribute a lot to its effectiveness. They were exceptionally well integrated and it was sometimes hard to differentiate between the professionals and the volunteers. The audience on two levels closely surround a relatively small space, which most of the time represents a meeting space for the community leaders and campaigners. Multi -level platforms and four entrances ensure the whole theatre becomes the playing space; even the main entrance and upstairs windows play their part. Guy Hoare’s lighting moves us between locations and Paul Arditti’s sound design connects us with off-stage events.

There is a limit to what you can achieve in 90 minutes, and the three years that have passed since these events means we lose immediacy, but it’s a fine example of how the verbatim style can tackle things no other style can and there’s a freshness of approach here which makes it stand out. I’m not sure what Sarah and Tony from Clapton Green will think, though…..

Read Full Post »

There is so much incongruity in this show, about events in the early 14th century, that at first I wasn’t convinced I was going to like it. The actors are miked and there are giant screens high up on both sides of the auditorium showing scene titles plus live footage of off-stage scenes, recorded scenes & some live ones. The costumes are an eclectic collection. Kyle Soller uses his natural American accent and women pay the roles of Pembroke & the young Prince Edward. The queen chain-smokes and swigs champagne from the bottle. There’s an onstage electric piano which at one point plays the hokey cokey. Yet there is an extraordinary tension from the outset which keeps you gripped throughout. I loved it.

Playwright Christopher Marlowe, a. contemporary of Shakespeare, was only 29 when he died, yet this is one of four of his plays still regularly produced more than 400 years on. He was more radical than Shakespeare – this play focuses on the king’s male lover and the effect it has on the court and nobility of England! The lover, Galveston, is twice exiled and eventually murdered and his replacements receive the same treatment. The establishment is having none of it and it ultimately leads to the king’s downfall. Homophobia in the 14th century written about in the 16th.

Director Joe Hill-Gibbins presents it as current events unfolding and it works brilliantly. He is lucky to have such a superb ensemble of 22 actors without a weak link. I’ve never seen Vanessa Kirby before and she’s hugely impressive here as the queen. Kobna Holdbrook-Smith is wonderful as the power-crazed (young) Mortimer. Casting Bettrys Joes as the young prince makes so much sense when you see how she illuminates the role. From his dangerous first entrance, Kyle Soller is mesmerizing as Galveston and in an inspired move he’s also cast as Edward’s killer. Then there’s John Heffernan’s king, sometimes bursting with passion, sometimes restrained and resigned to the hopelessness of his plight. It’s great to see this terrific actor deliver such a stunning performance on what is arguably Britain’s most important but difficult stage.

This is Edward II out of the closet. Seeing the production made me wonder what Marlowe would have produced if he’d lived to Shakespeare’s age. The competition would have been thrilling and he may well have eclipsed the bard. This captivating production conclusively proves his talent and has to be seen.

Read Full Post »

Laden with superlative reviews, I suppose it was going to be difficult to live up to them – and so it proved. Perhaps I was a little over-excited. Tennessee Williams is one of my top ten playwrights. Director Joe Hill-Gibbins is new to be but I was bowled over by his Beauty Queen of Leenane earlier in the year in the same theatre. Deborah Findlay is a favourite actress who we don’t get to see anywhere near often enough.

There was a little too much of deconstructionist Katie Mitchell’s influence in the staging, like musicians and ‘backstage’ on view throughout, which I’m not convinced suits an intense drama where it seems to me realism is crucial. As much as I Love Deborah Findlay, I felt she was OTT, turning Amanda into too much of a comic creation. The concept, and Jeremy Herbert’s design, distanced the audience from the play and the characters where I feel you need to be on top of it – maybe I just can’t get the Donmar’s terrific staging out of my head.

The only scene which gripped fully was the ‘courting’ of Laura (a little over-acted by Sinead Matthews) & Jim (an excellent Kyle Soller), where a back curtain brought the scene nearer to the audience and blocked out the backstage distractions. Otherwise, the acting honours mostly belonged to Leo Bill, who brought the sort of light and shade TW needs – passion where the role needs passion, diffidence where necessary etc. The music / soundscape was very atmospheric but I think would have been more so had it not been given such visual prominence.

There was much to enjoy, but it wasn’t the exciting re-invention I was led to expect. I didn’t read the reviews, but caught the stars in passing – maybe I should avoid this in future lest it makes me expect too much (or too little!).

Read Full Post »