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Posts Tagged ‘John Hodgkinson’

The master chronicler of British politics of the late 20th / early 21st centuries turns his attention to the US in 1968, a year that may have heralded the beginning of the polarisation we’ve been living through for the last five years or so, inspired by the documentary by Morgan Neville & Robert Gordon. An extraordinarily eventful year in which the Vietnam War continued to divide the nation and the world, Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King were assassinated, student riots across the globe, civil rights protests the US, the Democratic Convention beleaguered by protest and division and Nixon was elected President, to replace LBJ.

The focus of James Graham’s new play is the adversarial ABC TV debates between William F Buckley Jr and Gore Vidal, which took place prior to and during the 1968 Democratic Convention, but the play is populated with other real life characters from the period, including writer James Baldwin, singers Aretha Franklin, Petula Clark and Harry Belafonte and artist Andy Warhol, with Enoch Powell and Tariq Ali representing the UK! Graham says the debates are verbatim, but everything else is speculation. It’s an extraordinary sweep of events which feels more like a decade than a year, that comes over as historically significant.

Jeremy Herrin marshals his outstanding cast of just ten, some playing up to seven characters, to make this all very real, from TV studios to protests to rallies to more intimate scenes in hotel bedrooms. David Harewood and Charles Edwards are terrific as Buckley and Vidal, sparring on camera and off. John Hodgkinson’s three roles include the contrasting somewhat calm TV interviewer Howard K Smith and the bombastic larger-than-life Mayor Daley of Chicago, both brilliantly done. Tom Godwin manages to characterise people as diverse as Andy Warhol, Bobby Kennedy and Enoch Powell to great success. Similarly, Surus Lowe brings James Baldwin, Harry Belafonte and Martin Luther King to life.

I didn’t engage with the play as much as I have with Graham’s British material, and I did feel it needed tightening up occasionally, but it’s great new writing given a thrilling production and I left the theatre replete, still thinking about these historical events and their contemporary relevance. Another great night at the Young Vic.

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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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