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Posts Tagged ‘John Hollingworth’

Playwright Lucy Prebble has given us some excellent plays, most notably ENRON, her second, but isn’t very prolific – she’s only written three plays in the 16 years since this debut, but then again she’s also successful in TV, notably with HBO’s current hit Succession. Her fourth play, A Very Expensive Poison, premiered just four months ago and her third, The Effect, will be revived at the Boulevard Theatre in March, so we’re having a bit of a Prebble Fest. I missed this one first time round, so I was delighted the Orange Tree have revived it.

The play revolves around 17-year-old Dani who lives with her somewhat neurotic mother. Dani’s father works away and plays away too, something they are both fully aware of. She suffers with an eating disorder and has recently returned from a residential clinic which she resents being forced to go to. She frequents internet chat rooms, where she meets two very different people – lonely 22-year-old Lewis, seeking a relationship, and thirty-something paedophile Tim, looking for boys. She meets up with Lewis, and they strike up some sort of relationship. By posing as an 11-year-old boy, she also meets up with Tim and they strike up an even odder relationship, where she becomes a friend and confidante. The two worlds collide when Lewis visits Tim and then her home, and her relationship with her mother is exorcised.

These very sensitive issues are handled really well, in the writing, staging and performances. All of the characters are treated sympathetically, even Tim, delicately played by John Hollingworth. Ali Barouti navigates Lewis’ journey from desperation to obsession beautifully. Alexandra Gilbreath handles the complexity of mother Jan with great skill. Jessica Rhodes’ performance as the very mercurial Dani, onstage virtually throughout, is superb, even more impressive when you realise it’s her professional debut.

Oscar Toeman’s excellent revival benefits from the intimacy of this theatre, but the sunken playing area brings sightline issues, as it did with Pamona at the same venue. This was my only gripe with what was otherwise a thoroughly satisfying evening of theatre.

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This play is about the period during the first half of the Second World War when Benjamin Britten was in exile in New York City, staying with his friend W H Auden in a sort of up-market arty commune in a Brooklyn brownstone, with the literary editor of Harper’s Bazaar as their mentor.  Gypsy Rose Lee and novelist Carson McCullers also stayed there, and people like Picasso and Dali regularly dropped in. The parties were renowned and the lifestyle hedonistic. During their time there, Britten and Auden wrote the ground-breaking but poorly received American folk operetta Paul Bunyan. Playwright Zoe Lewis and director Oli Rose have turned this fascinating situation into a deeply dull play.

It starts with a flash forward to Britten’s tribunal (on his return) as a conscientious objector. Much is made, in flashbacks, of his mother’s recent death. A British Naval Officer comes to make the British exiles situation clear, though on what authority, in a foreign land, is unclear. Other than that, it’s mostly dull conversations, excessive drinking and the on-off lesbian relationship between Lee & McCullers. It doesn’t really go anywhere and the journey is very dull. 

Part of the problem is that it’s difficult to convey such an interesting situation with just four main characters. The absence of Britten’s partner Peter Pears in particular is mystifying; they were virtually inseparable. The characters are merely sketched and both the structure and dialogue are weak. Ryan Sampson and John Hollingsworth do the best they can with the material they’re given to create Britten and Auden respectively. Ruby Bentall tries too hard and seems uncomfortable conveying McCullers masculinity. Sadie Frost doesn’t really act, she poses.

A big disappointment.

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If you visit the old prison in Freemantle, Australia, you can look at the records of those transported across the world for their crimes. One boy from South Wales had stolen a loaf of bread; he could have been an ancestor of mine. Still, I suppose their descendants in Australia today aren’t exactly unhappy!

Timberlake Wertenbaker’s 1988 play, based on Thomas Keneally’s book The Playmaker, tells the story of the first penal colony ‘down under’. Their crimes were petty but their punishment far from it. The military men who accompanied them were as merciless as the legal system which sent them, but one officer, with the senior officer’s support, attempts rehabilitation by staging a play – George Farquhar’s The Recruiting Officer.

We start on the voyage and end on ‘opening night’ and between the two we peep into the lives of both the convicts and the enforcers and see their relationships evolve as they rehearse the play. Theatre proves to be divisive but ultimately redemptive. Anyone who has seen a performance in a prison today will attest to this. My visits to Wormwood Scrubs, Brixton, Wandsworth & Send have been amongst the most moving of my theatre-going life.

The play has now become a classic and a set text (cue schoolgirls with enough rustling sweet packets to open a shop, something which marred the first half until I escaped to a far away seat) and this revival resonates as much as the Royal Court original, perhaps more so given we have 50% more prisoners 25 years on.

It’s performed very well by a cast of 10 playing multiple roles. I was impressed by the earnest passion of Dominic Thorburn as Second Lieutenant Ralph Clark, who directs the play within the play, and how Laura dos Santos conveyed the extraordinary journey of convict Mary Brennan. John Hollingworth doubles up as the senior officer Captain Arthur Phillip and Jewish convict John Wisehammer most effectively. Max Stafford-Clark’s staging moves swiftly and seamlessly between scenes on Tim Shorthall’s simple versatile set.

Great to see this multi-layered play still packs a punch and still makes its points so effectively after all these years, though I would have liked to have seen it ‘in rep’ with The Recruiting Officer as it originally was.

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