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Posts Tagged ‘Jonathan Livingstone’

One of the most thrilling things about this evening is the youthfulness and diversity of the audience, one of the most attentive I’ve sat in too, and the production and performances prove just as thrilling. The Young Vic provided one of my favourite Hamlet’s (ten years ago with Michael Sheen) and now it has produced another, with Cush Jumbo.

Anna Fleische’s design is simple but elegant and does conjure up the battlements of Elsinore with its reflective towers, some of which move to reconfigure the space. Greg Hersov, a director whose work we’ve seen too little of in London (he ran the Royal Exchange in Manchester for 27 years) has made some cuts – notably the removal of the final scene arrival of Fortinbrass to take the crown – but taken no liberties. The verse is particularly well spoken and I found myself more than usually drawn in by Shakespeare’s words.

The attention paid to, and praise of, Cush Jumbo’s Hamlet is fully justified. It’s a youthful, subtle characterisation that displays distain with a simple facial expression and contempt with an casual offhand sign of the crucifix. There are so many other fine performances, though, including Jonathan Livingstone’s loyal Horatio, Jonathan Ajayi’s passionate Laertes and Norah Lopez Holden’s highly charged Ophelia. Taz Skylar & Joana Borja were a great pairing as Rosencrantz & Guildenstern, right from their animated arrival and Leo Wringer made much of the gravedigger in a particularly well staged scene. Joseph Marcell was terrific as Polonius, but I wasn’t sure what Adrian Dunbar was doing with Claudius. I came to the conclusion that it was my fault – I just couldn’t banish the iconic Line of Duty character.

This is an exceptional, very accessible Hamlet, another triumph for this indispensable theatre. Catch it if you can.

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I was intrigued by the prospect of this response to Edward II, written by the actor who play’s him in Marlowe’s play, running in rep with it. It turns out to be a very clever yet entertaining review of attitudes to LGBT rights since, made more poignant as I saw it on the day the state of Brunei introduced stoning as a punishment.

Edward ‘falls’ into another place and the first person he meets in the dark is the Archbishop of Canterbury. They talk while they light the theatre’s candles together. He’s soon gone and three rather diverse gay icons turn up – Gertrude Stein, Quentin Crisp and Harvey Milk – who share their perspectives and experiences. At various times we briefly meet Maria von Trapp, The Village People and Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, obviously. Another character from history, actor Edward Alleyn, adds his historical perspective. Gaveston arrives to take us full circle as the actor playing Edward becomes himself and introduces his story, during which we get to meet his school bully. In the final scene the stage and auditorium is invaded by the cast, musicians and a choir for an exhilarating conclusion.

It’s a well written play which makes its point, that we’ve come a long way but there’s still further to go, really well, whilst always entertaining. By linking the story of Edward and Gaveston with the writer’s own and those of the historical public figures, it produces a multi-layered and very satisfying narrative, and its very funny. Brendan O’Hea’s staging and Jessica Worrall’s design both serve it well. Tom Stuart is excellent as Edward as well as himself!, there’s a terrific performance by Richard Cant as Quentin Crisp, and Polly Frame, Annette Badland & Jonathan Livingstone are excellent as Harvey Milk, Gertrude Stein and Edward Alleyn respectively.

The highlight of the Winter Season in the SWP. Don’t miss!

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American playwright Sophie Treadwell wrote this expressionistic play in 1928, not long after Eugene O’Neill’s expressionistic masterpiece Emperor Jones. It was based on a real murder case, and its premiere provided Clark Gable with his Broadway debut. I first saw it in its last London outing twenty-five years ago, directed by Stephen Daldry at the Lyttleton Theatre. I thought then, as I do now, that it must have been way ahead of its time 90 years ago. It’s feminist aesthetic and focus on mental health means it still resonates today.

In ten scenes over ninety minutes we follow our protagonist – ‘young woman’ – doing what society expects of her, from the office job she doesn’t like, or do well, to marriage to the boss who repels her and the birth of the child she struggles to bond with, before she turns and is propelled to an unexpected and tragic conclusion.

Each scene in Natalie Abrahami’s production starts by the parting of screens to reveal locations which are mirrored diagonally above. Miriam Buether’s clever design is accompanied by a brooding mechanical soundscape from Ben & Max Ringham and striking lighting by Jack Knowles. The scene changes are a bit slow, but its an immersive experience nonetheless, though I did find myself admiring the stagecraft and performances at the expense of emotional engagement with the story.

Elizabeth Berrington is hugely impressive in the lead role, at first in fear of just about everything, growing enough confidence to betray her husband Jones, played well, with period behaviour, by Jonathan Livingstone. In a supporting cast of ten, there is an excellent cameo from Denise Black as Helen’s mother.

Treadwelll wrote many more plays, with a diverse range of themes and styles, but this is just about the only one that’s ever been revived. She found it increasingly difficult to get her work produced, and many remained unpublished. Neglected in a man’s world it seems, which makes it even more timely today. It would be good to see more of them.

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You have to catch a Tracy Letts play when it comes along as they don’t come along that often. In fact, he’s only written five in twenty years (yes, Tracy’s a he), probably because he has another career as an actor, but three of the five have been made into films, which is an extraordinary hit rate. My introduction to him was Killer Joe at the Bush in 1995. We had to wait another thirteen years for August: Osage County at the NT and another six years for this, even though it was written a year after it.

It’s a more warm-hearted piece that either of the others. Polish American Arthur runs a seedy donut shop in a neighbourhood of Chicago. He’s an ageing hippie draft dodger with long grey hair and ponytail who’s lost his mojo since his wife left him, taking his daughter with her. He reluctantly employs a young black kid full of ideas for the business, they strike up an unlikely friendship and Franco becomes a sort of surrogate son, so much so that Arthur bales him out big-time when he gets into debt with some unsavoury characters, though not before they’ve done some serious damage.

Add to the cocktail neighbouring businessman Max the Russian, who wants to buy Arthur out, bag-lady Lady who often takes refuge (and a free donut and coffee) and local cops James and Randy, who is attracted to Arthur (yes, this Randy is a she) leading to a rather charming sub-plot which led to some ‘ah’s’ from the audience, and you have an authentic slice of life in a Chicago melting pot neighbourhood. The first half is a bit slow, it doesn’t quite sustain it’s 2h45m length, I’m not sure Arthur’s soliloquies’ (where he fills in the personal background) really work, but the second half is a cracker and the performances are all superb.

Mitchell Mullen positively inhabits the character of Arthur and has great chemistry with Jonathan Livingstone’s Franco, full of contrasting youthful enthusiasm. Sarah Ball and Alexander James Simon are very good indeed as the cops and Nick Cavaliere contributes a totally believable new immigrant in Max. Arthur’s fight with baddie Luther (David Partridge; another fine performance) is a touch implausible but well staged. The company is completed by excellent support from Amanda Walker as Lady, Tom Shepherd as Luther’s sidekick Kevin and TJ Nelson as Max’s almost mute nephew. It’s rare to see such faultless casting and director Ned Bennett is to be congratulated.

Catch it while you can!

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