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Posts Tagged ‘Jonjo O’Neill’

Walking into the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs is like entering a pink boudoir, or maybe a wedding marquee. Carpeted, fabric hanging from the ceiling, seats covered. The audience are on three sides, the fourth is a platform on which sit two stools either side of a small table.

Jess and Jimmy have been together for nine years but have not had sex for fourteen months. It appears they are here to do it at last; there is a mattress of sorts in front of them, with two pillows. The dialogue concerns their past experiences and their current predicament. Sometimes, one of them gives a monologue the other is not supposed the hear. They are as aware of us as we are of them, though its not clear what our role is. Is this therapy? It’s often funny, sometimes intriguing, and passes a not unpleasant 70 mins, but it doesn’t really go anywhere and I’m not sure what the point of it is.

Sophie Russell and Jonjo O’Neill are very likeable and delightfully cheeky. When you laugh it tends to be with them, as if you’re complicit or involved in some way. Fly Davies’ quirky design makes you smile too. Playwright Anthony Neilson also directs; maybe he shouldn’t have – second opinions are often useful.

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The preview buzz was a bit negative and the first reviews were too, so I wasn’t expecting to laugh so much. I thought Anthony Neilson’s new play, which he also directs, was rather good. 

Film director Maxim is a prima donna ostensibly in search of the right light for his new film. He did win the Palme d’Or for his last movie, after all. The film’s producer Anastasia just wants to get the film made on time, on budget, as does Lighting Cameraman Carl and leading lady Natasha. Extra funding comes with strings called Eva to keep an eye on things. Then the leading man is replaced with Ivan, nicknamed ‘the brute’. It’s an everyday story of film folk. I thought it was a hoot.

Matt Smith is very good as the film director and Amanda Drew the perfect calming influence as the producer, and Carl’s clandestine lover. I thought Tamara Lawrence, in what appears to be her second stage role, was terrific as the matter-of-fact ‘it’s only a job’ actress and Richard Pyros is excellent as the seen-it-all Lighting Cameraman. I loved Genevieve Barr as the deaf Eva who confounds expectations, then Jonjo O’Neill turns up and steals the show as the most actorly of actors, a performance that instantly propelled itself into my Best of list for 2016. It was so good that the rest of the cast (and him!) struggled not to corpse.

Designer Chloe Lamford appeared to have an easy job – just lighting screens and kit cases – until a coup de theatre at the end. There were too many short scenes that slowed it all down, but I forgave that for the laughs. 

Good to be having so much fun at the Royal Court again! 

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Like Lucy Prebble’s last piece, ENRON,  Rupert Goold’s production turns a good play into a great evening, though on this occasion I’m not sure Miriam Buether’s reconfiguration of the Cottesloe is entirely necessary – in a similar way to Rae Smith’s design for This House, which is sharing the Cottesloe in rep., the Pit has been turned into a clinic, with the audience in two rows on all sides, padded walls interspersed with coffee tables on which sit magazines and vases of flowers. 

In essence this is a love story. Two clinical trials volunteers fall in love during their 6-week stay at the clinic, but as the trail is for an anti-depressant and some volunteers have a placebo, we never know whether this has impacted the relationship. The only other characters are two doctors, whose relationship was itself affected by depression, though that is in the past. Along the way, we peep into the world of clinical trials and their ethics and the workings of the brain, but not in much depth and that’s not really what the play is about.

Even more than the inventive production, what propels the evening into greatness are the performances. I’ve only seen Billie Piper three times (I think she’s only done three plays!) and on each occasion she has impressed, investing extraordinary emotionality into her charaterisations. Now I want to see her in a classical role (Ophelia, anyone?). Here she matched by a stunning performance from Jonjo O’Neill. I’ve only seen him a handful of times, but this is in another league altogether. Anastasia Hille and Tim Goodman-Hill are very good as the doctors but its the roles of the volunteers that are are at the heart of the play and enable Piper & O’Neill to shine.

I wasn’t entirely convinced by the first half, but the play goes up several notches after the interval and it proves to be a very satisfying evening. I’d like to see a more minimalist production (like Mike Bartlett’s Cock at the Royal Court) to test my theory that its the production wot does it, but I suspect I never will. 2012 really was a brilliant year for new writing at the NT – this is the fourth gem (third in the Cottesloe).

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