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Posts Tagged ‘John Mackay’

I’m a big fan of both designer Miriam Buether and director James Macdonald, but why on earth didn’t they check the audience sightlines when they were creating this? Their failure to do so certainly spoilt my evening – from my top price seat! If you’ve already got side seats, change them now. If you haven’t booked, make sure you’re in the centre.

Mike Bartlett’s new play takes Edward Snowden as its starting point. We’re in a Moscow hotel room with the Snowden-like character Andrew and a woman who appears to be his ‘handler’. She’s rather off-the-wall, playful and cheeky. In the next scene there’s a male ‘handler’ with the same name, much more earnest and serious, but the woman’s back for the next scene. Assumptions are made by Andrew (and us) about who they represent – Wikileaks he hopes – but ambiguity reigns as we explore the ease and consequences of leaks and the idea of identity. Nothing is what it seems, which is the theme of the rest of the play and it’s coup d’theatre. Sadly on the night I went a technical glitch halted the final scene and by the time it restarted people were playing with their phones, then the sight lines (which hadn’t been good at the sides from the start) got so bad (particularly on the right facing the stage) it rather spoilt it, but I won’t spoil it for you by saying more.

I’m also a big Mike Bartlett fan, but this isn’t his best work. It’s a good rather than great play, like many of the others. Notwithstanding the sightline issues, it’s well staged and very well performed by Jack Farthing as Andrew and Caoifhionn Dunne & John Mackay as the ‘handlers’. It’s hard to ignore my personal experience and no doubt it affects my view, but I’m a full-price paying punter so I’m entiltled to it and to share it. Sorry, Hampstead, but you need to see things from the audience perspective if you want to please them.

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This is one of the most radical and heavily cut productions of a Shakespeare play I’ve ever seen, yet it retains the essence of the piece and doesn’t feel as if it’s missing much – despite running sone 40-50 mins less than any other production.

The opening scene is rather shocking – writhing bodies in a sea of blow-up sex dolls (which stay with us for most of the play, excepting those that deflate!) – but it does make it instantly clear we’re in a debauched Vienna. The Duke leaves town, placing Angelo in charge, returning disguised as a Friar to monitor events ‘in his absence’. Claudio has been arrested and sentenced to death for crimes against morality and his sister Isabella, about to become a nun, is distraught. Power corrupts Angelo and he offers to save Claudio in exchange for Isabella’s virginity, but the disguised Duke hatches a plot.

There’s great use of live video in Joe Hill-Gibbins production, both in the relatively small stage-front playing space and in a much bigger space behind, sometimes in view, sometimes not. He gives Shakespeare’s raciest play great pace and a contemporary sleaze relevance. Miriam Buether is responsible for the clever design, with Nicky Gillibrand the costumes and Chris Kondek the video. The speedy transition to the Viennese court for the final scene is masterly. I surprised myself by enjoying it so much, not really offended by the liberties taken.

The three central performances are terrific – Paul Ready as the righteous Angelo who becomes a sleazeball, Romola Garai as the virginal Isabella and Zubin Varla as a very passionate Duke. They have fine support, particularly from John Mackay, who makes much of Lucio, and Hammed Animashaun as the Provost.

The Young Vic leading the way with fresh, inventive productions again.

 

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