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Posts Tagged ‘John Tiffany’

Writer Jack Thorne has covered a very wide range of subjects in his stage and TV work, including adaptations of other’s material. This one is inspired by his own family history and I liked it a lot, but it could be that it resonates more with my generation.

It takes place at three points in time, each ten years apart, in the shabby chic home of David & Sal near Newbury. On each occasion their three children are either living there or visiting, and a meal is being prepared or delivered. They are idealistic lefties, old labour, regularly protesting or supporting causes. They’ve tried hard to pass on their values to their children whilst at the same time encouraging independent thought.

In 1997, just after the general election which elected New Labour, daughter Polly is home from Cambridge where she’s studying law, son Carl brings home his posh new girlfriend Harriet and wayward teen Tom is late home from school where’s he’s been in a drug related detention. The focus of this act is Carl & girlfriend Harriet’s bombshell. In 2007, Carl, who is now part of his father-in-law’s hotel business, comes with Harriet but without their children. Polly has sold her soul to corporate law and Tom is even more troubled. They’ve been called home to discuss their inheritance, but Tom becomes the centre of attention when his troubled soul erupts. In 2017, they’re there for a funeral, Polly now an associate partner in her law firm, Carl & Harriet’s marriage in trouble and Tom still trying to find his way in the world.

In between acts, the intervening years are signalled by changes of props, items and the calendar, with highly effective dance and movement staged by Steven Hoggett. The play tells the story of one family’s journey from the point at which the children leave the nest, whilst at the same time charting the concurrent political and social changes and in particular the differences in values and attitudes between the generations. The dialogue sparkles and the characters are well drawn. It all felt very authentic to me, perhaps because I’m of the same generation as David & Sal.

Leslie Sharp’s Sal and Kate Flynn’s Polly are occasionally overplayed. David Morrissey was more restrained and ultimately moving as David. I really liked Sam Swainsbury and Zoe Boyle as Carl and Harriett and Laurie Davidson was particularly good at conveys the three very different Tom’s. John Tiffany’s finely tuned direction and Grace Smart’s superb design bring the story alive.

Thorne yet again proves both his talent and his range, one of the most exciting of this extraordinary new generation of playwrights.

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If Walt Disney hadn’t adapted this late nineteenth century Italian novel by Carlo Collodi for his second full-length animated film just before the Second World War, it would probably never have become the iconic tale it has, told around the world in many forms and languages. Here we are almost eighty years later seeing a stage adaptation at the National Theatre, and what a treat it proves to be.

The tale struck me as darker (the hand of playwright Dennis Kelly?) and more moralistic than I remembered, with a strong emphasis on the importance of values and truth. In learning these en route from being a puppet to being a boy, Pinocchio encounters a trio of baddies – a sly trickster Fox, puppet-master Stromboli and fairground-master The Coachman. These are juxtaposed with his loving dad, puppet-maker Geppetto, and the Blue Fairy, who adds that touch of magic.

John Tiffany’s staging doesn’t rely on technology, as much modern theatre does, but it is utterly charming and completely magical. Bob Crowley provides a simple, appropriately wooden design of benches, trees and ladders until we move to the puppet theatre’s proscenium and the fairground’s lights. The underwater scene is an understated marvel. Puppets are used for some of the main characters (except the puppet Pinocchio himself!) with Geppetto, Stromboli and the Coachman twice life size, with three handlers as well as the actor in identical dress; this gives the production a somewhat surreal quality and a period feel.

Tiffany’s regular movement collaborator Steven Hoggett creates an athletic child-like world. and the illusions by Jamie Harrison (whose work so impressed me at the Harry Potter plays recently) are brilliant (though there was a minor nose malfunction on the night I went!). Martin Lowe provides a wonderful score to supplement the film’s original five songs and inspired by its incidental music and Italian and Alpine folk music, including the recurrent standard When You Wish Upon a Star, which sounds suitably lush with a 15-piece orchestra under Tom Brady in the pit.

Mark Hadfield’s Geppetto is very moving (was that a real tear I saw at the end?) and Joe Idris-Roberts is an absolute delight as a very malleable Pinocchio. All three baddies deliver the required badness – David Langham’s Fox, Gershwyn Eustache Jnr as Stromboli and David Kirkbride as The Coachman. Audrey Brisson makes Pinocchio’s conscience Jiminy Cricket a lovely companion and Annette McLaughlin is every bit the fairy of your imagination.

Younger kids might be a bit scared, but older ones will love it’s darkness and adults it’s timeless charm and glorious theatricality. One of the best Christmas shows at the National, adding to its impressive seasonal track record.

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I’m sure no-one is interested in my view, fifteen months after the show opened, but I shall record it nonetheless. What could have been cashing in on, or spinning out, a franchise is nothing like it. Though it is clearly a license to print money, its also some of the best storytelling and stagecraft I’ve ever seen. From page to screen to stage, Harry Potter proves to be the most enduring phenomenon.

Let’s start with the writing. J K Rowling, director John Tiffany and playwright Jack Thorne’s story begins nineteen years later, when school friends Harry, Hermione and Ron are married and parents themselves. This is an inspired idea, though it is the same as the epilogues of both the final book and final film, so Rowling may already have had the idea, if not the form. It enables us to return to Hogwarts with the next generation and to see the development of the generation we’ve grown up with, with flashbacks to their time in school, and even further. It’s densely plotted but completely lucid. Brilliant storytelling, just like the books.

Tiffany’s staging is fast-paced, with beautiful movement by regular collaborator Steven Hoggett, and it flows like a dream. Jamie Harrison’s special effects are some of the best I’ve ever seen on stage; to say more about them would be a spoiler. Christine Jones’ design manages to make us believe we’re in Kings Cross Station or Hogwarts’ Great Hall, but also smaller spaces like offices and libraries, even under the stairs at the Dursley’s. It’s brilliantly lit by Neil Austin, crucial to many of the illusions, and Imogen Heap provides a suitably atmospheric soundtrack.

This is the second cast, but they all seemed top notch to me, with Jamie Glover even looking like Jamie Parker! The trio of friends have grown up as you would expect – serious Harry (Glover), earnest Hermione (Rakie Ayola) and joker Ron (Thomas Aldridge) – all excellent, but I particularly liked Aldridge’s characterisation of Ron. In the next generation, Samuel Blenkin is terrific as young Scorpius Malfoy, son of Draco and a Hogwarts contemporary of Harry’s son Albus (Theo Ancient – very good). In what must be the biggest ever company for a West End play (38!), David Annen and Elizabeth Hill make excellent contributions in their multiple roles, Annabel Baldwin shines in her transformation and April Hughes gives a lovely cameo as Moaning Myrtle.

Late I may be, but terrific to report that it’s such a welcome and high quality addition to the London stage, about to become an export success too.

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I thought Jim Cartwright’s 80’s slice of working class life might have become a period piece, but despite it’s foundations in Thatcher’s Britain and the period clothes, props and references, it’s themes are not in the slightest bit dated, and it’s time may have well come again, along with the food banks! John Tiffany’s fresh look proves that it was, and is, ground-breaking theatre.

It struck me last night how poetic it is, so how appropriate that our narrator is poet Lemn Sissay, who glues it all together brilliantly. He presides over a series of scenes which take place over one night in the houses of and on the unnamed road, in the unnamed northern town. We meet fourteen of the residents, going about their business, domestic chores, reflections and escapes. It has an extraordinary ability to switch from uproarious comedy to bleakness and sadness. A number of scenes take place in a glass box which rises from below the stage and these prove particularly voyeuristic. The piece really gets under your skin.

When I saw it 31 years ago, it was a promenade staging and though it was more immersive, the performances were less subtle and nuanced than they are here by a superb ensemble of eight actors playing the fourteen roles, with some of the best drunken scenes I’ve seen anywhere! Michelle Fairley creates three extraordinary larger-than-life characters. I’m not sure I’d have known Mike Noble played both the Skin-Lad and Eddie if I hadn’t seen it in the programme, outstanding characterisations of roles that are poles apart. Mark Hadfield has two very different roles as well, both superbly handled. Liz White was a revelation in roles unlike any I’ve seen her in before. June Watson gives another pair of acting masterclasses; such a fine actress. Faye Marsay makes an auspicious stage debut in her two roles and Shane Zaza and Dan Parr excel in their solo turns.

John Tiffany has an ability to animate a play and tease terrific performances from his cast, and so it is here. Sometimes hilarious, somewhat bleak, but brilliant, timeless theatre.

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This much lauded revival of Tennessee Williams’ autobiographical first hit has travelled from Harvard to Broadway & the Edinburgh Festival en route to the West End, with two of its original cast staying with it. The Director and Designer are our own John Tiffany and Bob Crowley. It’s my fourth production in just over twenty years and that may be why I’m less euphoric than most.

The Wingfield family have fallen on hard times since Mr Wingfield deserted them. They live in an apartment in St Louis. Mother Amanda is a southern belle, a former debutante, who forever reminisces about her past. Her children are both her whole life and a disappointment to her. Son Tom works in a warehouse and escapes regularly from the confines of his stifling home life to ‘the movies’. His sister Laura has a small disability, though she’s referred to as ‘a cripple’, and seems to be somewhat unstable. She dropped out of high school and college and now sits at home tending and playing with her collection of glass animals. Amanda is obsessed with marrying off Laura and is thrilled when Tom brings hime a ‘a gentleman caller’, his more successful colleague Jim. At first Laura is too shy and withdrawn to engage with them and join in the dinner, but Jim turns out to be an obsession from her past and things begin to go a lot better – until Jim drops a bombshell and upsets both Laura and Amanda and provokes Tom’s planned departure for pastures new.

Bob Crowley’s beautiful impressionistic set, gorgeously lit by Natasha Katz,  has a fire escape rising to the heavens with stairs down beneath the stage emphasising the location, though from the front stalls I didn’t fully appreciate his design coup until I walked to the front of the stage at the end. John Tiffany’s staging, with ‘movement’ from regular collaborator Steven Hoggett, has a light touch with the pivotal second half scene between Laura and Jim masterly, but I didn’t engage with it emotionally. Cherry Jones as Amanda and Brian J Smith as Jim are hugely impressive, perhaps because they are the two stayers. Though we only see him in the second half, I thought Smith lifted the production. Michael Esper, fresh from his star turn in Lazarus, didn’t quite do it for me and Kate O’Flynn’s Laura was sometimes too squeaky and overly fey.

It’s a better production than the misguided one at the Young Vic six or seven years ago and as good as the last West End outing directed by Rupert Goold’s and starring Jessica Lange a few years before that, but it doesn’t live up to Sam Mendes Donmar production (will anything ever?) just over twenty years ago and it looks like that’s my curse; it stops me joining in the euphoria, even though I much admired it. Still, I’m glad I caught it and would certainly recommend it.

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At last, a play for our time at the Royal Court. Jack Thorne has produced a thoughtful and objective piece about ‘the cuts’ which blends the political with the personal.

Mark is the Deputy Leader of a Labour council faced with slashing services following a huge cut in its government grant which, like all councils, represents most of its funding. The Leader Hilary is more resigned to the task, but he’s torn. Despite this they start the process and come face to face with the realities of closing Day Care centres and reduced street lighting in high risk areas. Influenced by his colleague and girlfriend, who herself is influenced by her Old Labour father, Mark eventually turns and leads their refusal to set a budget. Predictably, the government takes over the process and they are faced with implementing what others have decided for them. This is interwoven with Mark’s personal story, with visits from his precocious, highly intelligent son Jake and the development of his relationship with Julie.

At first I found it lacked anger and bite, but as it progressed I realised that wasn’t the point. It presents us with a difficult, indeed impossible situation – cut, or we’ll do it for you. To comply you have to abandon your principles, but to rebel could be worse. Though they seem to have cut 15 mins in preview, I did find the first half too slow and the second half much better paced. I wondered whether a combination of judicious cuts, faster pacing and no interval might not make it a better play. It starts and ends on, and in front of, the town hall stage, which recedes to reveal a huge hall in which all of the scenes are played out. Tom Scutt’s design works less well in the more intimate ones, but does bring a realism to the piece. Director John Tiffany includes some of his trademark quirky movement, which seems a bit incongruous on this occasion.

There’s a terrific performance from Tommy Knight as Jake and the final scene between him and Tom Georgeson’s old Labour George is one of the play’s best. When we hear from a client of the Day Centre facing closure, its heart-breaking. Stella Gonet as Hilary seemed at times as if she was still in Handbagged playing Thatcher; this characterisation of a Labour council leader didn’t feel right to me. It was good to see Sharon Duncan-Brewster again and she handles the combination of public servant, daughter and lover very effectively.

In its present state, its a good play that could be a great one, like Thorne’s earlier piece 2nd May 1997, the birth of the New Labour government, but its good to be leaving the Royal Court happier than I have of late.

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I’ve not seen anything by playwright John Donnelly before and on this form he’s one to add to my catch-them-when-you-can list. I like my plays well structured and this has a roundedness that makes it very satisfying.

His play starts in a Bulgarian hotel room the night before a football match where Jason & Ade, two 17-year-old ‘academy’ players and good friends, will be assessed for the first team. They dart around the room playing practical jokes on one another, overdosing on banter, before a frisson of attraction changes their relationship forever. It is likely only one will make it to the first team and so it is.

Their lives diverge and in the second act we’re in another hotel room, this time in Spain seven years later, glimpsing some of the more unpleasant results of success with the chosen one and a table dancer. In the third act, the boys are reunited after twelve years in a UK hotel room. What follows is a wild scene where they are joined by a concierge, the same age as they were when they met, on an alcohol and pill-fuelled binge of dangerous games and hotel damage before the boy leaves and they revisit that first night.

In Laura Hopkins’ design, with traverse staging, the hotel rooms are created by reconfiguring beds and minibars. There’s a balcony at one end and a shower room at the other. The floor’s green covering resembles a football pitch, with floodlights high in each corner to complete the reference. John Tiffany’s superb staging is energetic, highly physical, edgy and sometimes unpredictable, with touches of the stylised ‘movement’ we saw in Black Watch and more recently Let The Right One In downstairs. The pace never lagged and the time flew by.

Russell Tovey has clearly worked hard to look the part and probably needed to given that he spends almost the entire evening in his pants. He has to age 12 years without physical change and from naive young lad to manipulative, materialistic and somewhat obnoxious celebrity footballer and he does so very well by subtle changes in behaviour, demeanour and manner. Gary Carr has to show more restraint and jump from twelve to twenty-nine between his two scenes; this is another fine performance. Lisa McGrillis & Nico Mirallegro (an auspicious professional stage debut)have smaller but pivotal roles which they play to perfection.

We’re used to shorter less substantial fare at the Royal Court’s Theatre Upstairs. I felt this was a fully-formed play with a lot to say which it did so unpredictably and entertainingly. The first contender for this year’s best new play.

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Teenage vampire love stories aren’t exactly one of my genres. I haven’t read the book and I didn’t see the film, but I was hugely impressed by this stage adaptation by Jack Thorne for the ever enterprising National Theatre of Scotland, now at the Royal Court en route to bigger audiences I understand.

The stage is a snow-covered forest where ghastly murders are committed; an excellent design by Christine Jones. Other scenes are played out with a few props in front of it, most involving teenager Oskar, who’s mum & dad are separated and he’s being bullied. He befriends mysterious neighbour Eli who never goes to school and friendship becomes romance (of a fashion). Oskar starts to fight back, which brings the wrath of one of his bullies elder brother which in turn brings the wrath of Eli on the bullies.

It’s a superbly atmospheric production with a terrific soundtrack by Olafur Arnalds and stylised movement by Steven Hoggett and great special effects by Jeremy Chernick. John Tiffany’s staging really is masterly and it grips throughout. I jumped out of my seat once and had to turn away a few times. Martin Quinn, in his professional stage debut, is superb, as is Rebecca Benson as Eli. In the rest of a very good cast, Ewan Stewart is a menacing Hakan, Eli’s dad, and Graeme Dalling utterly convincing as bully Jonny.

This is a brilliant show to introduce teenagers to theatre and this ageing teenager thoroughly enjoyed it too.

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The ever enterprising National Theatre of Scotland have come south again with a piece that is both verbatim and site specific – a double whammy of theatre fashion.

Enquirer explores the world of journalism and the views of journalists in the period between the Leveson revelations and (hopefully) remedies. They’ve interviewed 43 of them and the piece does successfully immerse you in their world, moving from the daily editorial conferences to the newsroom to voyeuristic moments in the interviews themselves. It isn’t exactly revelatory though so in the end it is just a glimpse into this world.

I’m not sure it really needed to be site specific. It’s a handful of spaces in an office block effectively dressed / littered with a vast quantity of bundles of newspapers. Some of the scenes were far too short and off you were again being herded into another space. It did bring an intimacy to the boardroom scenes and you really did feel like a fly on the wall at some of the interviews, but on the whole the form didn’t add enough to justify it.

Six excellent actors bring their subjects alive very well, in particular Billy Riddoch’s old school tabloid editor and John Bett’s more pompous and patronising broadsheet equivalent. Vicky Featherstone, John Tiffany and Andrew O’Hagan have edited and staged the piece so that it draws you in quickly and doesn’t outstay its welcome.

A partial success, then, and I’m glad went. One thing’s for certain – the nomadic National Theatres of both Scotland and Wales are consistently innovative and they’re welcome here any time.

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