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Posts Tagged ‘Josie Rourke’

Directors are often afraid of messing with classic musicals and they end up way too reverential, failing to show them through contemporary eyes. Well, you couldn’t accuse Josie Rourke’s revival of Sweet Charity of that. Her 60’s New York is sleazier and edgier, which seems to me a more honest way to portray the life of a dancehall hostess in search of love, something her degrading profession makes it harder to find.

From the minute you take your seat, you realise you’re in the New York of Andy Warhol. The metallic walls and furnishings of a warehouse littered with painted Brillo boxes, Lou Reed playing in the background, uber-cool people dressed all in black, chilling and posing. The Warhol references continue throughout in Robert Jones’ clever design.

We meet Charity Hope Valentine straight away, in the park, where her latest flame steals her handbag and pushes her into the lake, the police rescue her and she heads back to the Fandango Club where her colleagues greet her with sympathy but little surprise; they’ve got used to her endless disappointments with men.

After a brief encounter with Italian film star Vittorio, her next flame is mousy, nerdy accountant Oscar, and it looks like she may have found ‘the one’. Their whirlwind love-at-first-sight romance takes us via evening classes, the Rhythm of Life church and Coney Island, to her farewell party at the club, but this is one musical comedy without a happy ending.

This is Anne-Marie Duff’s first musical. In truth she doesn’t have a strong voice, but she makes up for it with a performance that perfectly combines gullibility, charm and vulnerability, interpreting the songs rather than just singing them, a sort of sung-speech style – think Judi Dench Send in the Clowns – which actually works, and with a real talent for comedy. Arthur Darvill superbly captures the nervous innocence and fear of Oscar.

In a fine supporting cast, Martin Marquez is excellent as Vittorio, as is Debbie Kurup, who could easily be in the lead role, as fellow hostess Helene. The guest ‘priest’ on the night I went was Adrian Lester (a wonderful Bobby in Sondheim’s Company on the same stage 23 years ago), which was a real bonus for me.

There’s no room for the ten-piece band, who have taken over the stalls bar and are heard through speakers in the auditorium. The pace is occasionally slow, but the strength of the production is to bring the lives of these exploited women to the fore with a truth I’ve never seen before, without losing the comedy, somewhat surprisingly perhaps. The pathos of the ending said it all.

Traditionalists might not like it, but I thought it was a fresh and inventive take on a 50-year-old show. Oh, and I want Adrian Lester’s glitter shirt. A bigger size, obviously.

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This is amongst Shakespeare’s most moralistic plays. Vienna has degenerated into a debauched city and its Duke decides to take a break, putting Angelo in charge, though he is hovering in the background, monitoring activities in disguise as a friar. Well, it would’t be Shakespeare without someone in disguise. Angelo takes a no-mercy approach and condemns Claudio to death for having sex with his girlfriend outside marriage. Claudio’s sister Isabella delays her entrance into the nunnery to plead for her brother, when we see Angelo misuse his power in a way we now see daily.

This is filleted to a 75-minute version in period costume – a short, conventional but perfectly good staging of the play. A coup d’theatre then propels us forward to the present time, where the Duke appoints Isabella rather than Angelo, who is now Claudio’s brother, and we embark on a even more filleted 65-minute version, all mobile phones and other contemporary references, where the protagonists have changed gender. Josie Rourke’s production is both very clever and very timely.

Pete McKintosh’s simple set facilitated the show propelling forward 400 years in a matter of seconds, with the emphasis on costumes, lighting and music / sound. Hayley Atwell and Jack Lowden are both excellent in their role reversals, and there are fine performances from Sule Rimi as Claudio, Nicholas Burns as the Duke, Matt Bardock as Lucio, Adam McNamara as the Provost and Raad Rawi as Escalus. Of course, everyone is required to exhibit different period behaviours, and Jackie Clune and Rachel Denning lead their band of prostitutes doing so brilliantly.

It does make an interesting and important point – how we treat the same situation differently depending on the sex of the protagonists, but it wasn’t as emphasised as I was expecting, and I did wonder if it was worth such a radical reinvention to make the point. Still, I much admired both the idea and its execution.

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Shaw is one of my problem playwrights, too verbose for me, but I’ve enjoyed the two productions of Saint Joan I’ve seen. I’ve also very much enjoyed Gemma Arterton’s last two, albeit very different, stage performances. I’m very comfortable with modern settings of classics, I admire audacious productions and I love the Donmar. You can see the but coming, can’t you…….

The play covers the whole of Joan’s adult life, (offstage) death and a bit of an afterlife epilogue. It starts with a conversation between Roger de Baudricourt and his steward about the inability of his hens to lay eggs, except in this production it’s two men in a boardroom in modern business dress with a giant TV screen showing the movement of prices, including eggs, in the commodities exchange, with a backtrack of quietly ringing telephones (which, judging by the wandering eyes in the audience, many took for fellow audience mobiles!). This was my first groan. 

There are two other, smaller screens on the back wall and when the middle screen isn’t showing the news channel (this is a running gimmick) all three are showing paintings appropriate to the scene’s location and, most effectively in the final scene, they turn the space into a church. There is also one point, after the Dauphin’s coronation, when the side screens show a modern spin on his crest, a revolving crown above a dolphin!

The table on a blue fitted carpet is present throughout and the revolve is used continually, too often, sometimes effectively, sometimes irritatingly. There are also smartphones. Obviously. Though it is sometimes effective, notably the trial scene, I’m afraid I often found it incongruous and it didn’t really work for me, which is a shame because there are some great performance, not least Gemma Arterton’s passionate, defiant Maid of Orleans. For me, a lot of Josie Rourke’s modern spin seemed contrived and gimmicky, detracted from the dialogue and the drama and didn’t really serve Shaw’s play.

I’m afraid I wish I’d stayed with my memories of Anne-Marie Duff on the Olivier stage nine years ago.

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Apart from his big hit Constellations, I’ve been less enamoured than most with playwright Nick Payne’s work, and I’ve seen a handful of his plays now. They often seem like snacks rather than a full meal, leaving me feeling hungry on the journey home, as this did. It’s a slight, somewhat insubstantial seventy minutes.

He seems to have a bit of an obsession with the brain. This, like Incognito two years ago, takes it as its theme. This time it’s about Lorna and her brain surgery. Starting and ending after the operation, it explores the impact of her surgery on memory. She’s lost all of the memories of her life with wife Carrie, who is of course devastated by this. The surgeon Miriam warns of the consequences in advance, trying, but not entirely succeeding, to explain the science. That’s about it really.

There’s nothing wrong with Josie Rourke’s staging. Tom Scutt’s setting is elegant and atmospheric. The three fine actresses – Zoe Wanamaker, Barbara Flynn and Nina Sosyana – are all excellent. Sadly, that wasn’t enough for an evening of theatre. I had to eat again when I got home.

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Why on earth has it taken 30 years for us to see Christopher Hampton’s masterpiece in London again? I’d almost forgotten how good it is. This thrilling revival is a brilliant reminder.

Based on Lacos’ late eighteenth century novel, racy by 20th century standards, let alone 18th (well, in a no doubt pruder Britain, at least), it’s a steamy tale of sexual intrigue and manipulation. The novel was written as a series of letters, but Hampton’s adaptation takes a more traditional dramatic form, beautifully structured with sparkling dialogue. It centres around the Machiavellian games played by friends and former lovers Le Vicomte de Valmont and La Marquise de Merteuil on young Cecile Volanges, Le Chevalier Danceny, who is in love with her, and Madame de Tourvel, a seemingly inaccessible married guest of Le Vicomte’s aunt. The stakes are much higher than either of the cynical game-players imagine and its conclusion is tragic.

Josie Rourke’s impeccable staging takes place in a fading period stately home designed by Tom Scutt, lit mostly by candlelight. It looks gorgeous. The original cast of Alan Rickman, Lesley Duncan, Juliet Stevenson and a young Lesley Manville is hard to follow, but Dominic West, Janet McTeer, Elaine Cassidy and Morfydd Clark are all superb, and make the roles their own. Edward Holcroft, who made a big impression on TV recently in London Spy, is just as impressive here as Danceny, and there are lovely cameos from Una Stubbs as Valmonte’s aunt Madame de Rosemonde and Theo Barklem-Biggs as his servant Azolan. The musical scene changes are a delight, thanks largely to the singing of Alison Arnopp’s servant Julie. 

A very fine and long overdue revival, surely destined for a transfer, but particularly brilliant in the intimacy of the Donmar.

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The cleverness of this show is matched by the stylishness of its production. Add in the intimacy of the venue, the faultless casting and a superb design and you have a real treat. Rather a triumph for director Josie Rourke’s first musical.

Stine is a Hollywood scriptwriter creating a Chandleresque piece for control freak producer Buddy Fiddler. His central character is private eye Stone, who gets the case of the missing Kingsley daughter. The show moves from the scriptwriting and production (in colour) to the story within (in B&W) with five of the actors doubling up, with a part in each. The late night jazz score suits this film noir story perfectly and there’s a ‘chorus’, in the Greek as well as the vocal sense, of four singers. It’s staged in front of Robert Jones’ two-tier wall of scripts linked by a spiral staircase with gorgeous period costumes for both sexes. It’s amongst the most stylish things I’ve ever seen.

The excellent book is by Larry Gelbart, creater of MASH and the very funny book for Sondheim’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. It was the Broadway debut for lyricist David Zippel’s, who never produced anything to match these sharp witty lyrics. Cy Coleman’s score is unique in his catalogue that includes Barnum, Sweet Charity and the very underrated On the 20th Century. Though she doesn’t have any musical theatre experience, Josie Rourke is surrounded by seasoned professionals like choreographer Stephen Mear and MD Gareth Valentine.

Hadley Fraser and Tam Mutu are both excellent, and well matched, as Stine and Stone. Rebecca Trehearn and Rosalie Craig provide not one but two scene-stealing turns as PA’s Donna & Oolie and Gabby & Bobbi respectively. Katherine Kelly (Corrie’s Becky) continues to prove there’s life after soaps with lovely sexy characterisations as Carla and Alaura, like Marc Elliott (East Enders Syed) with two fine performances as Munoz & Pancho. Sometime Nancy Samantha Barks is great in her two roles as Avril and Mallory; then there’s Peter Polycarpou, giving yet another brilliant performance in a musical (his fifth in as many years) as producer Buddy. This is exceptional casting.

The only previous West End production of this show, its UK première 21 years ago with Roger Allam as Stone and Henry Goodman as Buddy, was a bit lost on the vast Prince of Wales stage. In the intimacy of the Donmar, with superb staging, production values and performances coming together like this, it proves to be a musical theatre gem.

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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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2013 will go down as the year when some of our finest young actors took to the boards and made Shakespeare exciting, seriously cool and the hottest ticket in town. Tom Hiddleston’s Coriolanus joins James McAvoy’s Macbeth as a raw, visceral, physical & thrilling role interpretation. The dream team of Adrian Lester and Rory Kinnear provided psychological depth in a very contemporary Othello. Jude Law and David Tennant as King’s Henry V & Richard II led more elegant, traditional but lucid interpretations. They enhanced the theatrical year and I feel privileged to have seen them all.

The Donmar has provided some great Shakespeare evenings in recent years – Othello, Richard II, King Lear & Julius Caesar – and this is a match for them all. It’s a deeply intelligent, imaginative and thrilling interpretation that was riveting from beginning to end. When we got to the interval after 90 minutes, I wanted a pee, but not an interval! It’s the most objective reading of the play I’ve seen, with a less sympathetic Coriolanus. It balances his scorn at the public reaction to his heroic defence of the state with Rome’s concern over his propensity for tyrannical autocracy. This most political of plays gets a most political production, yet a very personal mother-son relationship shines through.

There are so many highlights, I don’t quite know where to start. The opening food riot uses live and projected graffiti to great effect. The fight scenes are so well staged (by Richard Ryan) you almost feel the blows. The battle to take a city is brilliantly staged by climbing ladders, one real and the rest projections. The disrespect shown at his banishment is truly shocking. The scene where Volumnia pleads with her son not to take Rome is deeply moving. Coriolanus’ death makes you gasp. Josie Rourke’s staging and Lucy Osbourne’s designs are masterly.

Tom Hiddleston exceeds expectations as Coriolanus, with huge presence and great passion, but he has extraordinary support from a faultless cast. Deborah Findlay conveys the mother’s pride and love superbly; a strong woman of great conviction. I loved Birgitte Hjort Sorensen somewhat neurotic Virgilia (without a hint of her native Danish accent), Mark Gatiss fatherly Menenius adds much-needed humour and Hadley Fraser leads the bearded Volscians with tribal passion yet respect and love for a fellow soldier, even if he is the enemy. You admire Peter de Jersey for his loyalty and you’re deeply suspicious of the motives of Tribunes Brutus & Sicinia played by Elliot Levey & Helen Schlesinger – effective sex-blind casting there, as there is with Rochenda Sandall as a one-woman crowd who almost bursts a blood vessel before your very eyes.

This ended my theatrical year on a real high. A triumph for all involved and great to report that those Hiddleston fans were enthralled, quiet and respectful. Wonderful.

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I didn’t join in with the seemingly universal euphoria when I saw this play’s premiere 16 years ago at the Royal Court. I warmed to it more in this finely cast revival in the Donmar’s perfect intimate space, but I still can’t see it as the modern classic it’s claimed to me.

You’re virtually inside Tom Scutt’s hyper-realistic pub; it’s as if they built the seating around it rather than built the set on stage. The play starts with a bit of inconsequential everyday business and chatter between publican Brendan and customer Jack. They are joined by another customer Jim, and Jack announces that boy-made-good hotelier Finbar is showing a new lady resident around and will soon be joining them. They speculate on his motives with just a touch of distaste and jealousy.

When Finbar and Valerie arrive, she becomes the focus of attention as they seek to uncover her story and impress her with their stories of fairies and ghosts. The play turns when Valerie tells her tale, which reveals her tragedy. When Finbar and Jim leave, Jack tells his own real story of an unfulfilled life and loneliness as Brendan, who seems to be heading for the same fate, looks on.

This time, the real lives of the three lonely men struck me more. Jim looking after mammy, Jack unable to make the break and escape when he could and Brendan tied to the family pub with visits from his sisters guarding their share. I also enjoyed the running joke of the arrival of the German tourists and the brilliant final reference to them. In the end though, it’s still a bunch of blokes in a pub telling stories, which doesn’t make a modern classic in my book.

The chief pleasure for me was the performances. It’s great to see Brian Cox back on stage in a role that really suits him. It’s good to watch the relatively unsung Peter McDonald develop his craft. Risteard Cooper impresses as he did in his English debut in the NT’s Juno and Dervla Kirwan pulls off the difficult task of portraying her character’s sadness alongside all of the banter. Ardel O’Hanlon was a bit one-note for me, but it didn’t deter from the overall effect of a fine ensemble.

It should really be called ‘The Irish’ because in the end it’s just the Irishness brand on stage – charming, wistful, nostalgic, self-deprecating, conservative. The gift of the gab indeed.

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Pinero’s 1898 play is about the theatre and theatre folk at a time of transition from the mannered to the naturalistic. Though I saw the 1994 NT production, I can hardly remember it. I suspect it will now return to my mental theatrical archive even more quickly.

The play opens as her fellow (presumably Sadler’s Wells) actors bid farewell to Rose Trelawny, who is giving up theatre for a life with new love Arthur Gower, initially living with his grandfather Sir William Gower and his Great Aunt Trafalgar(!) in Cavendish Square. She misses the theatre and her theatre friends so much, she escapes and returns to the theatre, despite her love for Arthur. Sadly, her pining gets in the way of her acting and she’s soon confined to bit parts and then sacked. Fellow actors Tom (sometime playwright) and Imogen (aspiring theatre manager) plot to reunite the lovers by opening up a disused theatre to stage Tom’s play starring both of the lovers.

Director Joe Wright has got himself a fine design (Hildegard Bechtler) and a fine company. For some reason, he then decides it’s really a panto, as a result of which there’s more ham than in a fully stocked pork butcher. To make matters worse, the style varies between characters / actors and through the play. Some get away with it most of the time (Ron Cook cleverly doubling as Sir William and theatrical digs landlady Mrs Mossop), some get away with it some of the time (Daniel Mays as camp actor Ferdinand), some get away with it in one of their roles (Jamie Beamish as Ablett, but not as O’Dwyer) and some don’t get away with it at all ( Aimee-Ffion Edwards as Avonia).

Clearly, the play would have meant more in its day, but it’s difficult to see the point of reviving it (yet again at Josie Rourke’s Donmar). If you’re going to, though, why bury the context of a theatre in transition in an eton mess of acting styles? A misfire for Wright’s high-profile theatrical debut and again for this (former?) powerhouse.

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