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Posts Tagged ‘Joshua James’

Walking into the Donmar for this is another one of those WOW moments. Rob Howell’s extraordinary set of ‘distressed’ planks draws you in like never before into this already intimate space. It really is like peering into these people’s homes.

Though it’s the same play, it’s a very different experience to the Michael Rudman production I saw at the National 27 years ago. Then, a young Ralph Fiennes was Arkady and Robert Glenister was Bazarov, with Lesley Sharp as Fenichka. In addition to the smaller space, the success of this revival is due to masterly direction from Lyndsey Turner and one of the finest casts ever to grace this stage well used to fine casts.

Arkady returns from university in St. Petersburg a nihilist, with his friend and fellow nihilist Bazarov of whom he is in awe. Bazarov has great charisma and people can’t fail to be affected by him – Uncle Pavel and family retainer Prokofyich detest him, Dad Nikolai takes to him and maid Dunyasha swoons over him. When they move on to Bazarov’s home, his parents idolise him. Sadly, he’s unable to reciprocate any of these emotional responses. When he does let his guard down and profess his love for Anna, he is rebuffed and withdraws even further into himself. Though Arkady shares his philosophical beliefs, he’s nowhere near as cold and hard-hearted and the tragic conclusion leaves him devastated.

Playwright Brian Friel tells this story of familial love and friendship with a light touch and it’s lovely. It has great pace and there are no wasted moments. The ensemble is simply superb. I missed American Seth Numrich’s London debut last year, but I was hugely impressed by his performance here, with the earnestness, presence and passion required for Bazarov. It must be hard to play against this, but Joshua James does so with great emotionality and vulnerability. Anthony Calf is revelatory as the bumbling, hapless Nikolai and Tim McMullan is suitably pompous as Pavel. It’s hard to single out others, but it was great to see Karl Johnson and Susan Engel give such fine interpretations of Vassily and Princess Olga.

This is a brilliant and long overdue revival and another great night at the Donmar.

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My reaction to this play continues to evolve 14 hours after leaving the theatre. It’s received rave 5* reviews and one contemptuous 1* one and had I been a star, I’d have moved from 2 to 5 in the last 16 hours. Weird. There’s much to admire, but there are flaws in the structure, pacing and balance.

The Theatre Upstairs has had another of its extraordinary make-overs and now we’re in the living room of a rambling country house stuffed with books, pictures, paraphernalia, grand piano & stags (themselves stuffed) – oh, and a manual air raid siren. Sixty-something Bohemian Lily seems to have dementia and is being looked after by her son Robin who seems unable to look after himself let alone anyone else; he’s fragile and damaged (and stoned most of the time). He’s been homeschooled and mollycoddled and the relationship between them is mutually dependent but rather unhealthy.

Lily passes on and we meet older brother Oliver, chalk to Robin’s cheese. He’s a newly elected MP, seemingly contemptuous of his brother and now dead mother. Back in the house after Lily’s memorial service, Robin is now befriending his ex squaddie dealer Tommy, bribing him to stay. Others arrive – wild child twins Arlo & Scout, who Robin appears to have hooked up with during his post-bereavement escape, and locals 14-year old Coby and trainee policewoman Esme. There’s a touch of sexual ambiguity and a brilliantly staged rave which nearly ends tragically. In the final scene we get the full history during a very moving heart-to-heart between the brothers.

This is even better than playwright Polly Stenham’s promising debut play That Face, though it occupies the same world of the spoilt upper-middle class. However, it’s too slow to take off and holding back so much for the final scene makes it a bit contrived. Robin is treated far too sympathetically and placing all of the blame on the baby boomers (again) lacks objectivity. I went from ‘get on with it’ to ‘how fascinating’ to ‘oh, get a life’ to ‘oh, I understand now’ but after it finished I felt a bit conned. I’d almost succumbed to an attempt to make me feel sympathetic for people who fail to take responsibility for their own lives.

As others have observed, there are echoes of Jerusalem, Love Love Love and Last of the Hausmanns, but it doesn’t have the depth of the former, the warmth of the latter or the structural brilliance of Love Love Love. Production-wise, Jeremy Herrin’s staging and Tom Scutt’s design are excellent. Whatever I think of the character, Tom Sturridge as Robin fulfills all of the promise he showed in Punk Rock. I was impressed by Taron Egerton’s Tommy, a much edgier and dangerous character than his Daniel in the aforementioned Hausmanns. Joshua James & Zoe Boyle are very good indeed as the twins.

Flawed maybe, but definitely worth seeing and, for a third play by a twenty-something, way beyond expectations.

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