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Posts Tagged ‘John Hodgkinson’

In the seven years between 1996 and 2003 we had six Martin McDonagh plays, then nothing for twelve years until this. Well, the McDonagh famine is over and his distinctive quirky black comedy voice is to be heard again at the Royal Court in what might be his best play to date, and the best new play at the Court for some time.

This is the first of his plays to be set in England rather than Ireland. It’s the early 60’s, capital punishment is being abolished and Britain’s hangmen take up new careers. Former hangman Harry, his wife April and daughter Shirley run a typical Northern boozer, whose regulars include Police Inspector Fry and a group of hardened drinkers who are in awe of Harry’s infamy. He decides to tell his story to a local cub reporter and the published article is unkind to his rival Pierrepoint, who pays him a visit later in the play. His ex assistant Syd, a mousy somewhat passive character, is intent on taking Harry down a peg or two and colludes with the mysterious and menacing Mooney, who may be connected to Harry’s last victim. How this plays out is the heart of the play, which I won’t spoil.

At the interval, I wasn’t sure what to make of it as there was so much to unravel, but the second half plays out brilliantly and unpredictably with horror and humour in equal measure in a style only McDonagh could write, with some of the most un-PC lines you’ll hear in a theatre today! The cast is outstanding. David Morrisssey is terrific as Harry, with a very commanding presence, and Reece Sheersmith is the perfect foil as the hapless Syd. Johnny Flynn captures the menace of Mooney in the best performance I’ve seen him give. The ever-present drinkers are superbly characterised by Ryan Hope, Graeme Hawley and especially Simon Rouse as partially deaf Arthur. When we eventually meet John Hodgkinson’s Pierrpoint, he’s every inch the No. 1 hangman, towering over Harry’s No. 2.

The first scene is two years earlier in prison and when the location changes, the transformation is quite a shock, and perhaps a bit over-engineered and unnecessarily expensive. There’s a third location, a cafe, which is cleverly created more modestly. There’s a real attention to period detail for the main pub set; Anna Fleschle’s design is impressive, as is Matthew Dunster’s direction.

I thought we might have lost McDonagh to films. He never completed the Aran Islands trilogy as he wasn’t happy with the third play and his only subsequent work was written specifically for New York and we haven’t seen it here, so this return is a real treat and the production and performances do full justice to a cracking play.

 

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This staging of former Labour MP & minister Chris Mullin’s diary of the period from 1997 to 2009 is surprisingly effective and entertaining. On a simple stage with six chairs in front of a 12-screen video wall, actor John Hodgkinson brilliantly narrates extracts from Mullin’s diary whilst the people he talks about – political and personal, known and unknown – step forward to briefly act out his perception of their part in his reflections.

In addition to Hodgkinson’s star turn, a versatile group of four actors – Sara Powell, Tracy Gilman, Hywel Morgan and Jim Kitson – switch roles completely convincingly, showing enough of the characteristics of the known people – including Blair, Prescott & Straw – to make any ‘signposting’ unnecessary, as well as playing people we don’t know (including his kids!).

What’s so clever about Michael Chaplin’s adaptation is that it tells both the personal story of Mullin’s 12 years, including his family life and visits to Africa as part of his work in the Foreign Office, but also a pretty good history (albeit with a personal spin) of the New Labour period. Mullin has a great self-deprecating humour, so it’s funny and entertaining despite the fact it’s primarily tracking a political journey.

Originated at the Live Theatre in Newcastle, it’s now at Soho Theatre, though staged downstairs with table seating so you can have a tipple while you watch. Great fun, but only 3 performances left!

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