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Posts Tagged ‘Joshua McGuire’

David Hare can’t complain about his share of the National’s stages; this is his 17th play to premiere there. Over more than thirty years, he’s put up a mirror to Britain, from foreign press barons in Pravda (co-written with Howard Brenton), through institutions like the church and judiciary, politics, finance, war, rail privatisation and the Labour Party. Now he combines Labour and the NHS for his latest.

We follow Pauline Gibson from just before she goes to University through her work as a hospital doctor to standing and being elected as a single issue MP and the possibility of her bid to lead the Labour Party. Her university friend and sometime lover Jack takes a different path, following in his fathers footsteps as a career politician; he also has his eyes on the party leadership. Along the way a lot of other issues, both health service and party related, are brought in, most notably Pauline’s childhood, where her father’s abuse of her mother and her mother’s health loom large.

I felt that Hare lost focus by trying to cover too much (this may be a late career phenomenon, as Alan Bennett has done the same of late) and I feel that the premise that the Labour Party would elect someone who had only just joined and is still an independent MP is implausible. That said, it emphasises the political importance of the NHS, the Labour Party’s apparent aversion to female leadership and how it puts inward-looking concerns above the pursuit of power very well.

The three central roles are exceptionally well acted by Sian Brooke, Alex Hassell and Joshua McGuire as Pauline’s representative Sandy. I loved the humour of the press conferences and the projection of close-ups of the faces of those interviewed onto the walls of the revolving room which represents every location. Hare’s dialogue sparkles and there’s much humour. I wondered whether an Australian director like Neil Armfield brought more objectivity to it, but did not reach a conclusion.

Flawed perhaps, but well worth a visit nonetheless.

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I think I might be falling out of love with Tom Stoppard. I didn’t really like his latest play The Hard Problem and I took against Travesties in it’s recent revival at the Menier. I last saw this play six years ago, when it left me with the same feeling as the recent Travesties – ‘look how clever I am’ – but I decided to give it another go as I recall enjoying earlier productions.

The titular characters are of course minor characters in Hamlet and you probably do need to know that play, which is effectively playing concurrently, mostly off-stage, to ‘get’ this one. What we get is these minor Hamlet character’s musings, adventures at sea en route from Denmark to England and interaction with The Player and his troop. Hamlet, Gertrude, Polonius, Ophelia, Horatio and Fortinbras all put in appearances.

Today it seems the work of a clever clogs young playwright showing off. It’s undoubtedly intelligent, but that comes with an air of superiority and glibness which for me rather stifles it. Whatever you think of the play, though, David Leveaux’s production is as good as it gets, with a superb impressionistic design from Anna Fleischle.

The chemistry of the titular pair is crucial. The last paring I saw was Jamie Parker and Samuel Barnett, who had worked together for years on The History Boys but didn’t have that chemistry. Daniel Ratcliffe and Joshua Maguire don’t appear to have worked together before, yet they have it in abundance. I admire Radcliffe for how he has managed his post-Potter career and here he takes a role often upstaged by two others without any attempt to use his star status or upstage his colleagues. David Haig as The Player is a larger-than-life ‘Lord of Misrule’ with punk gothic followers,  like some sort of Pied Piper, and he almost steals the show.

Great production. Great performances. Maybe the play has had its day.

 

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This is the first major revival of a 45-year-old Peter Barnes play and I can see why director Jamie Lloyd wanted to do it now. It’s a satire on the aristocracy, the political class and the establishment – the ruling class – at a time when we appear to be a divided society once more, ‘them and us’ all over again. The House of Lords creaks on into the 21st century, MP’s are now mostly professional politicians with zero real life experiences, the cabinet is made up of millionaires, most from public schools, including former members of the notorious Bullington Club. From bank bailouts through MP’s expenses, Plebgate, phone hacking, celebrity & priest paedophilia, abuse of police and media power to Rochestergate, the new ‘ruling class’ contempt for ‘the people’ seems to be at an all time low…..and they’re surprised at the rise of parties like UKIP and yesterday’s events in Greece.

The 13th Earl of Gurney’s accidental death by asphyxiation (whilst trying to give himself a high!) means his paranoid schizophrenic son Jack becomes the 14th Earl. His uncle concocts a plan to marry Jack to his mistress so that she can give him a son, thereby enabling them to have him certified and ‘rule’ on behalf of the young 15th Earl. At the same time, Jack’s psychiatrist is trying to cure him and his aunt is trying to seduce him. At first Jack thinks he’s god, then seems to respond to the cure. The certification is unsuccessful and he takes his seat in the House of Lords, but now he secretly thinks, well more than thinks, he’s Jack the Ripper.

It’s all rather anarchic, with lashes of absurdity and surrealism, and they occasionally burst into song (and dance) for no real reason! It’s audacious and brash and the satire is certainly not subtle. It’s a touch too long, but there’s much to enjoy, not least a virtuoso performance from James McAvoy which stretches him once more. He brings the same visceral physicality he brought to Macbeth, adding manic comedy and some song and dance routines! Anthony O’Donnell is excellent as the Earls’ valet who turns out to be the ‘red under the bed’. Paul Leonard is outstanding as the 13th Earl and Mrs Piggot-Jones, a local worthy (with Forbes Masson also great as her side-kick Mrs Treadwell). Joshua McGuire continues to impress, this time as the Earl’s cousin and Tory candidate Dinsdale Gurney.

It’s not a classic, but it is fascinating to see it at last (there is a 1972 film with Peter O’Toole, but I’ve never seen it) and to see the excellent James McAvoy on stage again. The challenge of uncomfortable seating at Trafalgar Studio One was compounded on this occasion by sauna high temperatures, without which I might have enjoyed it even more.

 

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This wasn’t at all what I was expecting from James Graham, whose last play This House was a brilliant and funny examination of mid-70s British politics. It’s a combination of verbatim theatre & illustrated lecture rather than a play, which is difficult to talk about without spoiling it.

Graham has clearly done his research; in fact, he’s the central character of the piece, relating his experiences during the research and bringing onto the stage the people he interviewed (played by actors) to present their evidence. The director also appears as a character, so we get a peep at their interactions during the development of the piece. You learn a lot about how exposed we are with the internet & WiFi, social media and loyalty cards sharing so much of our lives. Not all of this was new to me, but a lot was and some of it shook me.

It’s inventively staged, with the back wall becoming a giant screen for recorded and live footage & graphics and there’s a ‘researcher’ live on stage. There’s much audience participation, requiring you to keep your smartphones on in silent mode. There was at least one moment when I regretted my own too willing participation! The first half is rather clever, making its points lightly but effectively, but it turns more serious in the second half, which works less well. At 2h45m, it needs some cuts and overall more structure, but its still in preview so there’s time to deal with this. it’s well cast with Joshua McGuire an excellent ‘writer’ and a handful of other actors playing everyone else – and there’s a lot of them.

Despite its faults, I learnt a fair bit and was entertained for much of the time. I suspect it will tighten up by press night. Whatever else, the subject is overdue for proper examination and this theatrical presentation brings a lot into the open. Less than 36 hours later and I appear to have developed more scepticism and caution and I may well change my ways as a result!

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I’ve always thought this a well-structured, well-plotted comedy; but I’m used to seeing a less radical, less farcical production and I’m not entirely convinced Timothy Sheader’s broad cartoonish take on it serves it well – though in all fairness I did warm to it as the evening progressed.

There’s a giant 3D frontispiece which rises to reveal a group of ‘dandies’ singing the first in a series of narrative songs specially composed by Richard’s Sisson & Stilgoe, then the first of Katrina Lindsay’s pop-up book sets. The Olivier’s drum revolve is well used to deliver the other three settings. It’s technically outstanding and looks great, but…..

Arthur Wing Pinero’s late 19th century play revolves around a lie told by the Magistrate’s wife in order to bag him. She takes five years off her age, which requires her to take 5 years off her son’s age, making him a 14-year old in a 19-year old body. He leads her husband astray (as a 19-year-old might) and she seeks to make other complicit in her deception so it isn’t revealed.

Though the acting style is somewhat OTT, in keeping with the directorial style, there is much to admire in the performances. For me, John Lithgow has to live up to both Nigel Hawthorne and Iain Richardson as the magistrate and he acquits himself very well indeed. Nancy Carroll continues to impress, here the broadest and loudest I’ve ever seen her as the magistrate’s wife. Joshua McGuire pulls of the task of making a 19-year old 14-year old believable to great effect.

There’s luxury casting in the smaller roles from Nicholas Blane as the other magistrate, Jonathan Coy as the Colonel, Roger Sloman as the chief clerk and Alexander Cobb & Beverley Rudd as servants. Don Gallagher & Christopher Logan provide delicious French caricatures as the hotel proprietor and waiter.

It’s an enjoyable evening, and thoroughly suitable seasonal fare, but despite the inventiveness and talent it falls short of greatness by its lack of subtlety.

 

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