Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Joe Penhall’

Playwright Joe Penhall’s last work for the stage was the book for the Kinks musical Sunny Afternoon, much of which revolved around the exploitation of a bunch of sixties teens by a load of music biz men (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2014/04/20/sunny-afternoon). This is a contemporary tale of similar exploitation, of an artist by a producer. The artist is young and female, which adds another layer, and a timeliness.

Record producer Bernard takes on young Irish singer-songwriter Cat, produces her album and plays in the band that tours to promote it. He claims credit for much more than production and when it wins an award, claims recognition too. Their musical collaboration works well, but the power games result in them talking through lawyers and confiding in psychotherapists, amidst much debate about the importance of the truth of the music.

The structural idea of the lawyers and therapists is a good one, but too much is told through conversations between just two parties – the musical protagonists, artist and their lawyer, therapist and their client and lawyer to lawyer. This damages the dramatic narrative if not the debate, making it often too static. However, the discussion is wide-ranging, thorough and intelligent and its bang up-to-date, so I admired and enjoyed it nonetheless.

I’m not sure the thrust staging, presumably intended to bring an intimacy, worked that well; in truth, the play needs a smaller theatre like the Donmar or the Dorfman. Ben Chaplin’s performance as Bernard is reason enough to go, though; he’s simply brilliant as the manipulative, narcissistic, archetypal middle-aged pop-rock figure. Seana Kerslake plays Cat with a totally believable vulnerability and naivety. The therapist roles are a bit underwritten, both played as cool and detached, as they often are in reality, by Jemma Redgrave and Pip Carter; the lawyers are more fiery and confrontational, as lawyers are, played well by Neil Stuke and Kurt Egyiawan.

Yet again the indifferent critical reception lowered my expectations, which were exceeded on the day. Go and make your own mind up.

Read Full Post »

It’s sixteen years since this Joe Penhall play, probably his most successful (if we don’t count the Kinks musical Sunny Afternoon), premiered at the National Theatre and went on to win awards and transfer to the West End. It starred Bill Nighy, Andrew Lincoln and a young Chiwetel Ejiofor. I must have enjoyed it as I went twice.

We begin at a meeting between trainee psychiatrist Bruce and his patient, afro-caribbean Christopher, the day before his scheduled discharge from hospital. Bruce clearly believes Chris isn’t ready, but Chris is desperate to go home. They are joined by senior consultant Robert, Bruce’s boss, who is very much for discharge, though maybe for reasons of expediency (to free up a bed). 

Bruce and Robert disagree on the diagnosis, somewhere between borderline personality disorder and schizophrenia, and argue, sometimes in front of their patient. We learn Bruce has been sucking up to Robert socially and of Robert’s research into connections between mental health and ethnicity. In the second act, Robert meets Chris without Bruce and this results in an investigation which threatens Bruce’s career. In the third act, the senior and junior doctor play out their disagreements in front of Chris. In all of this, the patient’s interests are somewhat buried.

The play explores the motivations of the three characters as well as issues of medical ethics and racism, but I’m afraid I found it somewhat implausible this time around. Though I am prepared to believe health policies, the need for authority, research and career interests may all affect people’s behaviour, I just couldn’t believe that these two professionals would behave like they do in front of their patient. The acting of David Haig as Robert is unrestrained and over-the-top, as is that of Luke Norris as Bruce in the final act. Somewhat ironically, Daniel Kaluuya’s outstanding performance as Chris is more restrained, subtle and intelligent and his sudden switches from funny to manic are deftly handled.

Jeremy Herbert’s design echoes his one for Hamlet here four years ago, as he requires you to walk through a replica of the stage set consulting room underneath it, on a mystery tour to find your seats in one of the four banks of seating looking down on an island stage. 

I’m afraid I thought Matthew Xia’s production didn’t serve the play well, but it’s worth seeing for another fine performance by Daniel Kakuuya. 

 

Read Full Post »

Just before the interval in this show there’s a scene onstage in Cardiff where the conflict between The Kinks Mick & Dave comes to a head with an attack by one on the other. I was there! Hampstead Theatre can’t pass for Cardiff Capitol (now deceased), but a wave of nostalgia swept over me nonetheless. This bio-musical is much more than nostalgia, though, but it’s a particular treat for someone for whom The Kinks are part of the soundtrack of my life.

Covering just four years their their formation to Waterloo Sunset, Joe Penhall’s biography of The Kinks, with Ray Davies’ songs, takes us from Dave Davies’ band The Ravens, backing a stockbroker at posh parties, through their signing to not one but four managers, their disastrous US tour (where their refusal to toe the union line got them banned from the country), their signing by serial turnaround manager Alan Klein to the redemptive recording of Waterloo Sunset and the triumphant return to the US to play Madison Square Gardens. The music pervades it all, in snatches and full songs, a lot now iconic but many rarely heard.

I gasped when I entered to see Miriam Buether’s set of three walls of speakers. The auditorium has been reconfigured with a central platform thrust halfway into the stalls and a middle horizontal aisle and two side aisles which bring the action into the audience very effectively. The period feel is conveyed by the clothing, including those now infamous bright red suits – great retro style, looking completely authentic. Edward Hall’s staging, with choreography by Adam Cooper no less, is excellent.

The songs feel as if they belong with their scenes. Ray & Dave’s dad sings Deadend Street like he’s telling you his life story. Dedicated Follower of Fashion accompanies their first visit to the stylist who created those suits. Days is sung acapella as they look like they’re about to break up. Sunny Afternoon accompanies a summer of World Cup euphoria. Waterloo Sunset becomes their reconciliation and seems to be created for the first time before your very eyes.

It’s a great story and its great storytelling, with a soundtrack to die for of songs that seem to have been especially written. In his programme note, Penhall says he wants people to come out ‘profoundly moved, euphoric and transported’. Well, he succeeded for me. This is no juke-box musical; like Jersey Boys, it’s musical biography, but this one’s British and maybe easier to identify with. I adored it.

George Maguire looks every inch the pop star, spending most of the evening with bottle in hand and some of it in a frock! John Dagliesh’s Ray is more restrained and thoughtful as is the man himself, and the relationship between them feels very real. Lillie Flynn (Johnny’s sister!) is lovely as Ray’s child bride Rasa and Adam Sopp & Ned Derrington, as Mick & Pete respectively, complete the band with fine characterisations.

It’s still in preview, but it seems pretty ready to me – though the sound needs a bit of attention. Ray Davies’ music is like bottled London and potted Englishness. It’s the essence of living here, nostalgic but fresh and timeless. By the end I was on my feet, singing along, with a warm glow and a tear in my eye (and none of that bloody screaming at Cardiff Capitol). A triumph for all involved, but particularly for the bard of Muswell Hill. Time to book again, I think…..

Read Full Post »

Even though the play’s premise is implausible – men can now carry and give birth to a child by cesarian section – it does provide a suitable device to explore issues of childbirth from the perspective of both sexes.

The play takes place in a hospital immediately before, during and after the birth of Ed & Lisa’s child. The roles have been reversed, in part because of Lisa’s bad experience with childbirth and in part to accommodate her career. You don’t have to be a parent to recognise the detail of the role reversal as Ed is humiliated, patronised and humoured by his wife and the hospital staff. He’s a man, so of course everything is more painful and less dignified. Playwright Joe Penhall and Stephen Mangan as Ed deliver a lot of laughs, some somewhat unfairly at the expense of the NHS and a young doctor and an African nurse in particular. It’s amazing how funny requesting raspberry leaf tea can be!

I suspect men and women will see a different play, but I’ve yet to ask any women so I don’t if that’s true and if so how much. I suspect we’ll have a reversal of the ‘women critics like it more than men’ we had with Last of the Haussmans. For a man, there are moments where you turn your head, squirm, sympathise and clench your buttocks! Both Joe Penhall and Stephen Mangan are newish dad’s, so I suspect there’s more than a touch of real experience portrayed on stage – from a man’s perspective.

Though the emotional rollercoaster is occasionally too highly strung and somewhat relentless, Stephen Mangan really does play Ed very well indeed, using every ounce of his exceptional comic talent. It’s hard for anyone to play against that, but Lisa Dillon does well and starts the slow process (in my eyes) of recovering from the career low of Knot of the Heart. There’s fine support from Llewella Gideon and Louise Brealey as nurse and doctor respectively, the targets for much of the anger of both Ed and Lisa.

It was an entertaining and funny 90 minutes, but it was limited in its depth and I suspect I won’t remember it as long as other recent Court hits like Jerusalem, Enron, Clybourne Park and Posh. Mark Thompson’s simple circular set creates a hyper-realistic hospital room that revolves between scenes and opens up for the actual birth to take place at the back and Ed’s prosthetic belly and tits (credited to Paul Hyett) are extraordinarily realistic! Roger Mitchell has staged and paced the show very well.

A good but not great evening. The fact I came out craving fish and chips was purely coincidental……

Read Full Post »