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Posts Tagged ‘John Hopkins’

I caught the world premiere of Jake Brunger & Pippa Cleary’s musical adaptation of the late Sue Townsend’s book in it’s home town of Leicester just over two years ago (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2015/03/23/the-secret-diary-of-adrian-mole-aged-13-34-the-musical) so it’s good to report that I liked this London premiere even more. In a smaller space, trimmed by 20 minutes, with what seemed like a more unrestrained production and more energetic, infectious performances, it was a lot more fun.

Tom Rogers’ set is an extraordinary use of space, changing quickly from kitchen to bedroom to school and other locations, props turning up from all over the place. Luke Sheppard’s staging seems much more sprightly and the pace never lets up. A year in Adrian’s young life speeds by, through parental separations and reunions, falling in love with Pandora, being bullied by Barry, writing the school nativity play and the Royal Wedding. This is 1981, of course.

Benjamin Lewis is sensational as Adrian; a perfect characterisation with deadpan delivery and superb comic timing. Dean Chisnall has hot-footed it over from Working at Southwark Playhouse and makes a terrific dad, with Kelly Price excellent as mum. John Hopkins turns in a great cameo as neighbour Mr Lucas (and makes a hilarious schoolgirl with gymslip, pigtails and moustache!) and there’s a delightful pair of seniors in Gay Soper’s grandma and Barry James’ Bert Baxter. The whole ensemble seem to be having the time of their lives and it’s infectious.

I will be astonished if this doesn’t transfer, but I hope it isn’t scaled back up too much as it’s simply perfect as it is.

Catch it at the Menier if you can.

 

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It’s great to see writers given the opportunity to tackle big issues on a Shakespearean scale at The Globe. Here David Eldridge tackles the middle east, starting with the third crusade, or holy war, towards the end of the 12th century and including references to things that happened just last week.

The first half shows the third crusade, with Saladin leading the Muslims and Richard the Lionheart leading the Christians. We move between Saladin’s camp and Richard’s and meet family and loyal companions. The attitudes and views are as contemporary as the language Eldridge uses. I suppose the point is that it’s been like this now for a thousand years, but it’s a bit laboured. It ends with the arrival of a couple of characters that suggest we’re about to move forward hundreds of years.

In the first part of the second half we are in the 20th century and figures key to the more recent history of the middle east step forward to tell us their story of the conflict in modern times – Ben Gurion, Golda Meir & Begin, Sadat and Carter, Bush & Blair (but puzzlingly no Rabin, Barak, Arafat or Clinton, crucial to the situation in the 90’s). This bit is like a whistle-stop history lesson, watched in disbelief by Richard the Lionheart and his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine. It’s followed by the third part, which picks up the crusade where we left it, except that they’re in modern battle dress and you could be forgiven for thinking it’s a modern war – which I suppose is the point.

It’s a deeply complex issue which I felt was oversimplified. All it really tells us is it’s being going on forever and it’s mostly our fault. I didn’t feel I learnt much and I’m not sure the issue gets the depth or respect it deserves. What it really needs is one of those all-day Tricycle play cycles, like The Great Game. This didn’t really work for me, but I do think there’s a play(s) to be written and I admire the ambition if not the outcome.

James Dacre’s staging is heavy on spectacle, with lots of battles and bangs. Mike Britton’s period costumes in the first half are terrific and his slightly raked painted giant disc floor is excellent. This was only the second performance, so fluffed lines are to be forgiven; otherwise I thought it was well performed, with a particularly charismatic turn as Richard by John Hopkins. There’s a lot of music, particularly chanting, but too many ‘pitching & tuning’ issues dilute its impact, and the switch to rock music as we move to modern times is a bit heavy-handed.

This is very different territory for David Eldridge. He calls his play ‘a fantasia on the third crusade and the history of violent struggle in the holy lands’ and makes comparisons with the work of Caryl Churchill and Tony Kushner’s Angels in America. This is nowhere near as successful as the latter, but somewhere in here there is a good play crying to get out. I suspect it will improve in performance before opening on Wednesday but the play’s structure and content is set, for now at least.

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Chichester Festival Theatre will certainly get first prize when it comes to celebrating this Rattigan centenary. There are two revivals, a new play written as a ‘response’ to one of them, a play created from an unproduced screenplay and six rehearsed readings. Well, that puts our national companies to shame!

The Deep Blue Sea

Many consider this his finest play, though after recent revivals of After the Dance and Flare Path, I would question that. The first production I saw at the Almeida with Penelope Wilton was wonderful, but the second, by Edward Hall with Greta Scacchi, was a fusty mannered museum piece.

Unfortunately, I was in the Donmar the night before this, so seeing an intimate play in the vast Chichester main house space it was very hard to get involved, even from the ninth row. I really missed the proximity which the Minerva would have given it; I wasn’t moved.

Hester has left her knighted husband to live with the laddish Freddie. The play starts when she is discovered in front of the gas fire with the evidence of too much asprin at her side. Not knowing the whereabouts of Freddie, a neighbour contacts her ex. who rushes to her aid. Freddie returns and discovers her suicide note and thus begins the breakdown of their relationship. The ex. makes a bid for reunion, but this fails, so Hester is left alone.

It’s well designed and staged and the acting is uniformly good; Amanda Root is a fine Hester, Anthony Calf is very good as the ex. I particularly liked John Hopkin’s passionate Freddie and there is a lovely cameo from Susan Tracy as the landlady. In this space, though, I just couldn’t get involved as much as you need to be moved by this fine play that was way ahead of its time and, somewhat ironically, as radical in its way as the ‘angry young men’ that took Rattigan’s place at the heart of post-war British drama.

Rattigan’s Nijinsky

This late career screenplay about the life of dancer Nijinsky was never produced by the BBC, apparently because of objections from his wife. Unstageable in its written form, Nicholas Wright has created a play both about it and from it.

We’re in Rattigan’s Claridges suite shortly after his arrival from his Bermuda home, here to finalise the production of his screenplay. He gets visits from the man at the BBC and Nijinsky’s wife Romola, but the play is mostly imagined scenes from the screenplay / life of Nijinsky played out in front of us. It was a fascinating life, so it’s a fascinating story. The idea of the structure is better than the result, though, and it felt a bit clumsy – ‘now lets show the audition of Nijinsky as child’, ‘lets move to where he begins hid relationship with Diaghilev’, ‘OK, time for the journey to Buenos Aires’. Interesting story, but a play that ultimately doesn’t work.

Again, the design by Mike Britton and Philip Franks’ staging are fine and it suits the big space better than The Deep Blue Sea. Malcolm Sinclair as Rattigan and Jonathan Hyde as Diaghilev are very good and there’s good support from a large cast, most playing two or three roles. Again, Susan Tracy gives fine cameos as Romola Nijinsky and Rattigan’s mother.

Overall, this pair didn’t live up to expectations, but that doesn’t take away Chichester’s crown as Rattigan’s champion in this centenary year.

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