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Posts Tagged ‘John Shrapnel’

This is the fourth Caryl Churchill play I’ve seen in the last twelve months – three revivals (two of which I’d seen before) and one new play(s). I first saw this seventeen years ago at the Royal Court with Michael Gambon and Daniel Craig. Cloning was a hot topic at the time. Eight years later there was a certain frisson seeing a real father and son – Timothy & Sam West – playing it at the Menier, something that was tried again at the Young Vic in 2015 with John & Rex Shrapnel. So this is my third exposure and I’m still confused. That’s Caryl Churchill for you.

It’s set in the home of Salter, where he is visited by someone who turns out to be a clone of his son, who was sent to some sort of home by his father when he was struggling after the suicide of his wife. Salter realises the doctors have created more than one clone and is preoccupied with suing them. His actual son then visits, furious with his father about the cloning. Salter now says he was just trying to have a second chance to bring up a son properly. The first clone returns, knowing the truth, now hating Salter. After another visit from his real son, now very troubled, Salter invites another of the clones, Michael, who proves to be very normal and unfazed by it all.

Polly Findlay’s excellent staging plays out in five scenes over sixty minutes, superbly performed by Colin Morgan as all of the boys and Roger Allam as Salter. In Lizzie Clachan’s clever set we’re in the same room, but from a different perspective in each scene, miraculously transforming in the darkness between them. It’s a much more realistic setting than previous productions, and Morgan is much better at creating different personalities than his predecessors. The nature versus nurture debate is interesting, but I was left wanting to understand more about Salter and the doctor’s motivations, and the extent of and reasons for the cloning.

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Well, the panto season has started early, and what a stellar cast this one has. Terence Rattigan’s 1948 one-act comedy, usually paired with the more serious and earnest The Browning Version, is a clever curtain raiser for Kenneth Branagh’s Garrick Theatre season and has a curtain raiser of its own with the very odd monologue All On Her Own. Though I enjoyed the evening, it doesn’t really add up to enough to launch this venture, particularly at West End prices, though it does, somewhat appropriately, have a real theatre company feel.

Rattigan’s play features a company rehearsing Romeo & Juliet for a tour for the newly formed CEMA (which evolved into the Arts Council). Archetypal actor-manager Gosport is playing Romeo way over his age against his wife Edna’s Juliet. The rest of his cast are a combination of old pros and newbies keen to make their mark. Whilst in the first venue, Gosport is visited by someone who’s a product of his last visit some twenty years before and this forms the basis of the farce amongst theatre folk.

Rattigan had a small part in a university production of Romeo & Juliet directed by John Gielgud and his character is featured here having the same problems with his one line that Rattigan had. Branagh’s new venture is an actor-manger led company like the play’s so it’s a good show to launch such a venture. Rattigan’s views on arts funding, and in particular taking culture ‘to the people’, still resonate today. Despite these pleasing convergences, it still isn’t quite enough to carry the evening, though it does whet your appetite for the season.

The quirky 20-minute monologue which precedes it was written as a BBC TV commission. It features a widow returning from a party where she has met a woman who talks to her dead husband at the same time he died every evening. She proceeds to do the same as she drinks heavily, imitating or perhaps channeling him. Zoe Wanamaker performs it well, but it’s a slight and odd piece nonetheless.

Branagh has put together a fine company. In Harlequinade, Wanamaker shines as a theatrical Dame. Branagh himself reminds us what a good comic actor he can be. Miranda Raison is great pairing as Edna and Tom Bateman is excellent as company manger Jack Wakefield. There are so many good supporting performances, but it’s worth singling out John Shrapnel’s fine turn as George Chudleigh.

 

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The last time I saw this restoration comedy was at the Edinburgh fringe a few years back by a company of stand-ups. It was like a panto and the chief pleasures were Lionel Blair hamming it up mercilessly and Stephen K Amos in a powdered wig – and it all came in at 90 minutes. Deborah Warner’s new production at the Barbican comes in at 3 hours 15 minutes and there isn’t a powdered wig in sight.

Fifteen minutes before curtain-up (not included in the running time above!), you can hear the rave music in the foyer; you’d be wise to go in at this point for a sort of fashion catwalk show in various types of dress and states of undress, with added cardboard signs. What follows is a particularly well spoken show in period costume (well, in a Vivienne Westwood sort of way) and period settings (well, cardboard cut-out with backstage and wings in view) from designer Jeremy Herbert, with a whole host of anachronistic contemporary references like burgers and coke – both types! – blackberries (the electronic variety), shopping bags from designer shops, video projections, flashing lights, binge drinking  and rave music. It’s sort of Sheridan on acid. Oh and there’s a tricorn hat that appears to have grown a lawn!

The story revolves around which of the Surface brothers Uncle Oliver will choose as his heir. He visits them in disguise, obviously, to help him determine who is the most deserving. Then there’s the question of the fidelity of Sir Peter’s new young bride, a husband for Sir Peter’s new ward Maria and the activities of the scandalmongers of the title. As always with restoration comedy we get delicious character names – this one also has Lady Sneerwell, Sir Benjamin Backbite and Careless.

Warner has assembled an outstanding cast, in which Leo Bill shines as Charles Surface. The more experienced actors fare best – John Shrapnel as Uncle (Sir) Oliver, John McEnery as Rowley and Alan Howard no less as Sir Peter Teazle. I particularly liked Vicki Pepperdine’s turn as chief scandalmonger Mrs Candour and Gary Sefton provides some excellent physical comedy playing drunk.

It was meant to shock c.235 years ago, so it seems to me legitimate to attempt to make it shocking today. Warner hasn’t done any damage, though she hasn’t added that much value – except to provide parallels with today’s equally decadent, gossip obsessed society. Having said that, there is a freshness about it (seeing a restoration comedy is often like visiting a museum) which I admired and it doesn’t feel like 3 hours 15 minutes. However, for a comedy, there weren’t really enough laughs.

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