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Posts Tagged ‘Joseph Millson’

This is the second Alexi Kaye Campbell play to be revived relatively soon after its premiere, eight years ago at the Bush in this case, both at the Trafalgar Studios, both directed by Jamie Lloyd, and I for one am glad they have been as I missed the first outings of both, despite the fact they originated at regular haunts.

Kristin is an American who has been living in the UK most of her adult life. She’s a product of the late sixties – idealist, feminist, liberal, even socialist, who believes everyone should be promoting change and giving back. She divorced her husband when their two sons were young, but took them with her to Italy, pursuing her career as an art historian – until her husband took them from her, something she seems not to have fought, even acquiesced to. The title means a formal defence of one’s opinions or conduct; in this case Kristin is about to be held to account by her sons for not mentioning them in her recent memoir.

It’s her birthday and sons Peter and Simon, their girlfriends and gay friend Hugh are coming to lunch. Peter has taken a contrasting career path as a banker specialising in Africa. He is besotted with his American girlfriend Trudi, a somewhat vacuous evangelical Christian, something Kristin doesn’t really approve of, though she turns out to have more depth than first appears. Simon’s girlfriend, soap star Claire, another career Kristin disapproves of, arrives before and without him. Hugh is her close friend, and her defender. There’s a lot going on here, and I loved the richness of the story and the narrative, and the very well drawn characters.

Soutra Gilmour’s design is conventional (for her) but anchors the play in a British country cottage. Jamie Lloyd gets great performances from his terrific cast, led by Stockard Channing as spiky Kristin, who navigates the complex combination of arrogance, determination and guilt with great skill. Joseph Millson’s challenge is to characterise two very different brothers, which he does very well. Laura Carmichael was a bit of a revelation as Trudi, with what seemed, to these Brit ears, a spot-on American accent. It appears to be Freema Agyeman’s stage debut and impressive it was too. It’s lovely to see Desmond Barit in a role which so suits him and he relishes some cracking lines, milking them for all they’re worth.

This exceeded my expectation by a big margin and now I’ve seen four good Alexi Kaye Campbell plays, he enters my list of must-see playwrights.

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Samuel Foote, an eighteenth century actor, the subject of Ian Kelly’s play, may well be the most fascinating person you’ve never heard of – well, I hadn’t. He was a friend of David Garrick and Peg Woffington, the most famous actors of their day, Samuel Johnson, Benjamin Franklin and King George III. He appears to have invented a new form of theatre – improv! – getting around the stringent restrictions of the day by having no script to be approved and charging for the tea rather than the entertainment. The play is as enthralling as it is entertaining.

We meet Foote as a well-established member of London society. He’s moved on from acting to semi-improvised prologues and epilogues and on again to create comic and satirical one-man ‘entertainments’ and impersonations of infamous brothel madam ‘Mrs Cole’. He runs the second largest theatre company in the land, but after a riding accident he has to have his leg amputated, which of course impacts his career (and may have affected his mental condition). He does get a prosthetic leg, something that was being pioneered by John Hunter, the father of modern surgery, at that time, but he never really recovers. The sympathetic George III grants him a Theatre Royal license for the Haymarket Theatre, but his fortunes begin to decline when he satirises a Duchess who responds with accusations of sodomy which ultimately bring him down. Why have I never heard of this man or his plays!

Richard Eyre’s production is uproariously funny, though it does get darker as it progresses. Tim Hatley seems to have designed an intentionally small set which is both faithful to the period and rather intimate. Simon Russell Beale’s towering performance is amongst his best, showcasing his brilliant comic timing and ability to raise a laugh without speaking a word. He is as extraordinary as a large eighteenth century society lady as he was as a Carmen Miranda impersonator in Privates on Parade. He’s surrounded by a host of other lovely performances, with Joseph Millson as Garrick and Dervla Kirwan as Woffington and the writer himself as Prince / King George. I was hugely impressed by Micah Balfour as his ‘blackamoor’ servant and Jenny Galloway was a delight as his other help, Mrs Garner.

It was another co-incidence that this play about 18th century theatre folk followed the previous day’s play about 17th century theatre folk, and I thoroughly enjoyed both. It is unthinkable that this doesn’t transfer, and it would be particularly wonderful if it were to be to the Theatre Royal Haymarket which he took over 250 years ago next year!

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This is like looking at a 30’s Hollywood movie in 3D on a giant screen. The period detail is extraordinary. Unfortunately, in the first half at least, it’s a B movie without much of a story, a poor screenplay and three exaggerated central performances. It is fatally slow and even though it picks up after the interval, it’s too late to recover.

Having a dentist as your central character may be original but is hardly an enticing prospect (unless he is a sadomasochistic dentist like in Little Shop of Horrors, of course). This one’s a real wimp, with a nagging neglected wife, a manipulative father-in-law as benefactor and a tenant dentist who gets away with rent default. There’s another health practitioner in the building (I didn’t quite get his specialty, but it might be something to do with feet) and another neighbour with a fine selection of sharp ties. It’s an offstage character who might provide the clue to why the NT decided to stage this – a certain Mrs Hytner!

The dentist falls for his assistant, as does his father-in-law and the neighbour with sharp ties. His wife is prepared to forgive and forget. The father-in-law wants to  marry her. The neighbour wants a less committed but equally close relationship. The dentist is a wimp…..

I really was puzzled why Joseph Millson, Keeley Hawes and Jessica Raine over-acted. This makes it easy for Nicholas Woodeson to steal the show when he comes on and lights up the stage, though to be fair Peter Sullivan, Sebastian Armesto and Tim Steed do well bringing life to their supporting characters. Anthony Ward’s design is lovely, though so huge the characters do seem a bit lost.

I recall finding it a good play when I saw it forever ago in the West End, so I kept wondering if it was indeed a better play than this production revealed. Director Angus Jackson has form as a plodder (Desperately Seeking Susan – the case for the prosecution rests); perhaps a director with more experience of the great 20th Century American dramatists (not that Clifford – a name subsequently requisitioned forever by Victoria Wood for the classic Acorn Antiques – Odets is one) like Howard Davies might have made more of it.

Today’s word is ‘indifference’……

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