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Posts Tagged ‘John Donnelly’

If you changed the title, and maybe the character names, you’d never know this was an adaptation of a 350-year-old French play. You’d think it was a contemporary farce set in North London with a touch of social satire. It’s jolly good fun, but it’s not really Moliere.

Making it contemporary stretches the plausibility of Orgon falling under the spell of imposter Tartuffe rather a lot, so suspending disbelief is mandatory. Here Tartuffe is some sort of guru, with a hint of religiosity and Buddhism, who looks like an ageing hippy and spends a lot of time in his pants. Both Orgon and his mother Pernelle worship him, believing he is the antidote to the decadence of the family – wife Elmire and her brother Cleante, son Damis & daughter Mariane and her boyfriend Valere, plus housekeeper Dorine.

Orgon tries to marry Mariane to Tartuffe, who is trying to bed Elmire. All are concerned about Orgon’s wealth and Orgon has a bit of a secret that looks like its going to come back to haunt him. The family seek to entrap Tartuffe in order to avoid Mariane’s marriage and keep the money in the family. With the exception of a changed ending to accomodate the updating, the story is intact, though John Donnelly’s new version dispenses with the rhyming couplets, but it does go into verse at the denouement.

Robert Jones superb design is tasteless nouveau riche. The performance style in Blanche McIntyre’s production of John Donnelly’s adaptation is uniformly broad and loud, which does suit farce. Denis O’Hare plays Tartuffe very physically, a larger than life figure, which suits the role well. Kevin Doyle is the perfect foil as Orgon. As Elmire, Olivia Williams proves very adept at the comedy, also becoming very physical as the play progresses. I loved Kitty Archer and Enyi Okoronkwo as the spoilt kids. There’s great work from Kathy Kiera Clarke as the all knowing housekeeper, Hari Dhillon as an indignant Cleante and Geoffrey Lumb as lover & poet Valere, and a delightful cameo from Susan Engel as Pernelle, who gets the show off to a terrific start.

Just go for some fun and you’ll enjoy it, just don’t go expecting a faithful revival of a French classic.

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I’ve not seen anything by playwright John Donnelly before and on this form he’s one to add to my catch-them-when-you-can list. I like my plays well structured and this has a roundedness that makes it very satisfying.

His play starts in a Bulgarian hotel room the night before a football match where Jason & Ade, two 17-year-old ‘academy’ players and good friends, will be assessed for the first team. They dart around the room playing practical jokes on one another, overdosing on banter, before a frisson of attraction changes their relationship forever. It is likely only one will make it to the first team and so it is.

Their lives diverge and in the second act we’re in another hotel room, this time in Spain seven years later, glimpsing some of the more unpleasant results of success with the chosen one and a table dancer. In the third act, the boys are reunited after twelve years in a UK hotel room. What follows is a wild scene where they are joined by a concierge, the same age as they were when they met, on an alcohol and pill-fuelled binge of dangerous games and hotel damage before the boy leaves and they revisit that first night.

In Laura Hopkins’ design, with traverse staging, the hotel rooms are created by reconfiguring beds and minibars. There’s a balcony at one end and a shower room at the other. The floor’s green covering resembles a football pitch, with floodlights high in each corner to complete the reference. John Tiffany’s superb staging is energetic, highly physical, edgy and sometimes unpredictable, with touches of the stylised ‘movement’ we saw in Black Watch and more recently Let The Right One In downstairs. The pace never lagged and the time flew by.

Russell Tovey has clearly worked hard to look the part and probably needed to given that he spends almost the entire evening in his pants. He has to age 12 years without physical change and from naive young lad to manipulative, materialistic and somewhat obnoxious celebrity footballer and he does so very well by subtle changes in behaviour, demeanour and manner. Gary Carr has to show more restraint and jump from twelve to twenty-nine between his two scenes; this is another fine performance. Lisa McGrillis & Nico Mirallegro (an auspicious professional stage debut)have smaller but pivotal roles which they play to perfection.

We’re used to shorter less substantial fare at the Royal Court’s Theatre Upstairs. I felt this was a fully-formed play with a lot to say which it did so unpredictably and entertainingly. The first contender for this year’s best new play.

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