Posts Tagged ‘Joe Wright’

There was a time when I thought Brecht was rather earnest and somewhat dated, but Arturo Ui scrubbed up well at the Donmar Warehouse last month and now Life of Galileo comes out even fresher at the Young Vic. I’ve been critical of some theatre’s exaggerated claims of resonance with contemporary issues like Brexit and Trump of late, but at times I felt this could have been a current debate between evolutionists and Darwin denying creationists or climate change scientists and that other religion, big businesses, and their puppet president.

It follows Galileo’s story reasonably faithfully, from his application of the Dutch telescope invention to validate Copernicus’ theory of the solar system to his own original theories and inventions. Along the way, he has to pussyfoot around the control freakery of the catholic church and even the inquisition. He appears to recant, much to the disappointment of his followers, but in reality he’s buying time and continuing his work clandestinely. His promotion of truth through science even impacts his family, scuppering his daughter’s marriage to a nobleman.

Designer Lizzie Clachan has configured the theatre in-the-round, with audience members in a central pit, surrounded by a circular walkway with four bigger playing areas around it. There’s a giant dome overhead, upon which there are stunning projections by 59 Productions, from the planets to the ceilings of buildings and the sky, and excellent lighting by Jon Clark. Tom Rowlands soundtrack adds much. Joe Wright’s production is hugely inventive, but it’s not at all gimmicky. Everything seemed to be in keeping with the material and the satirical, even anarchic spirit of Brecht.

Brendan Cowell, who we last saw here in Yerma, is terrific as Galileo, a very physical and very emotional performance; his engagement with the audience is such that at times you feel you’re at his lecture, or in a personal conversation with him. He has an excellent supporting cast, from which I would single out Billy Howle, who plays five roles, most notably Galileo’s pupil Andrea from aged 10 to his adulthood journey to more science-friendly The Netherlands.

Another captivating evening at the Young Vic.

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Walking through the doors into the Young Vic auditorium has become one of life’s exciting little adventures; you never know what you’re going to see. This occasion was particularly exciting, confronted by Lizzie (Shunt) Clachan’s giant two-tier set that takes up half the space, with a disused empty swimming pool filled with tables & chairs for the audience!

I have to confess that this is a slice of history which has passed me by, probably because I was too young to engage with it as ‘current affairs’ and it somehow hasn’t become modern history yet. We’re in the Congo as the 50’s become the 60’s. It’s still a Belgian colony when charismatic beer salesman Patrice Lumumba sets up a political party. Within 5 years he’s Prime Minister. Within 7 months he’s dead.

Though Aime Cesaire’s 1966 play focuses on little more than a year in one African country, it could be the story of the African continent – predatory European colonists (Belgium, Britain, France, Portugal) and their greedy unprincipled corporations followed by imperialist superpowers (The US, USSR and now China), an ineffectual UN and local bullies all after the same thing, none giving a shit about the African people. We get Lumumba’s tragic personal story, but we also get the big geopolitical picture. It’s fascinating.

Erstwhile film director Joe Wright’s staging is, as one might expect, on a spectacular scale. There’s an atmospheric soundtrack and lots of wonderful Congolese music, some played live by Kaspy N’Dia. The US, USSR and greedy businessmen are represented by puppets. With the help of choreographer-of-the-moment Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, there’s great dancing and stylised movement. Kabongo Yshisensa, when not playing beautiful Likembe, acts as a sort of spirit-of-Africa narrator, speaking in Congolese and translated by other actors. Women play men and black actors play white roles with elasticated noses or blonde wigs!

Joseph Mydell is excellent as the president who turns and Daniel Kaluuya is terrific as Mobuto, the army colonel who goes on to rule for 32 years – what a long way Kaluuya as come since Sucker Punch & Oxford Street at the Royal Court. Towering above them all is Chiwetel Ejiofor as Lumumba, whose trajectory from humble salesman to Mandela-like hero and ultimately martyr is played with great subtlety; a stunning performance.

Another triumph for the Young Vic; not to be missed!

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Pinero’s 1898 play is about the theatre and theatre folk at a time of transition from the mannered to the naturalistic. Though I saw the 1994 NT production, I can hardly remember it. I suspect it will now return to my mental theatrical archive even more quickly.

The play opens as her fellow (presumably Sadler’s Wells) actors bid farewell to Rose Trelawny, who is giving up theatre for a life with new love Arthur Gower, initially living with his grandfather Sir William Gower and his Great Aunt Trafalgar(!) in Cavendish Square. She misses the theatre and her theatre friends so much, she escapes and returns to the theatre, despite her love for Arthur. Sadly, her pining gets in the way of her acting and she’s soon confined to bit parts and then sacked. Fellow actors Tom (sometime playwright) and Imogen (aspiring theatre manager) plot to reunite the lovers by opening up a disused theatre to stage Tom’s play starring both of the lovers.

Director Joe Wright has got himself a fine design (Hildegard Bechtler) and a fine company. For some reason, he then decides it’s really a panto, as a result of which there’s more ham than in a fully stocked pork butcher. To make matters worse, the style varies between characters / actors and through the play. Some get away with it most of the time (Ron Cook cleverly doubling as Sir William and theatrical digs landlady Mrs Mossop), some get away with it some of the time (Daniel Mays as camp actor Ferdinand), some get away with it in one of their roles (Jamie Beamish as Ablett, but not as O’Dwyer) and some don’t get away with it at all ( Aimee-Ffion Edwards as Avonia).

Clearly, the play would have meant more in its day, but it’s difficult to see the point of reviving it (yet again at Josie Rourke’s Donmar). If you’re going to, though, why bury the context of a theatre in transition in an eton mess of acting styles? A misfire for Wright’s high-profile theatrical debut and again for this (former?) powerhouse.

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