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Posts Tagged ‘Justine Mitchell’

This 1912 play was last seen at the NT 25 years ago, in a production by Katie Mitchell (before she went on to deconstruct and destroy plays!). Since then, it’s been named one of the 100 most influential plays of the 20th Century, and its easy to see why. It must have been shocking to see a prominent industrialist portrayed as a bully on stage over 100 years ago.

John Rutherford owns a glassworks in the industrial North East. Though we’re not explicitly told, he appears to be a widower, living with and looked after by his sister Ann and his spinster daughter Janet. His children have been a big disappointment to him. Richard has become a curate and John Junior, who he hoped would take over the business, has married beneath him and shows no interest in the family firm, though he has returned home to try and sell his father an invention. John thinks he’s entitled to be given it after spending a small fortune on John Junior’s education at Harrow. As the play unfolds he belittles Richard, sends John Junior and Janet away and manipulates John Junior’s wife Mary into involving him in bringing up his grandson.

Sowerby was the daughter of a North East glass manufacturer, so this may be wholly or partly biographical. In any event, the play was brave. It was first attributed to a writer with initials, so the sex was ambiguous and widely assumed to be a man. After all, there weren’t any female playwrights. The first act is a bit slow, and I’m not sure if this is the writing or the production, but it gains pace after the interval. Polly Findlay’s production, with designs by Lizzie Clachan, has great authenticity, with atmosphere created by rain and the movement of the house in which they live, plus a group of female voices singing folk inspired songs a capella.

Roger Allam is brilliant as Rutherford, commanding the stage as well as his family. Sam Troughton, Justine Mitchell and Harry Hepple are excellent as the three siblings who have grown into such different people. Joe Armstrong is great as Rutherford’s right hand man and Barbara Marten is superb as the ice cold uber conventional sister Ann. Lovely performances all round.

Good to see it again, in as fine a production as you could wish for.

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Anne Washburn is an original and interesting playwright, but after a third exposure to her work, this juror’s still out on whether she’s a good one.

Jools & Jim have invited five friends to their new remote country home. They’re not experienced in country living and they’re not particularly good hosts, so as the weather deteriorates and the power is cut off, their supplies run out. They don’t run out of conversation, though, as they reflect on life in Trump’s divided America and how they got there. These are the liberal Americans – a wealthy gay couple, New York lawyers Andrew & Yusuf, a struggling straight, somewhat alternative couple, Richard & Laurie, and singleton Allie. The conversation widens to all sorts of apparently related subjects including the Jonestown massacre, racism & colonialism and Lord of the Rings!

We’re occasionally visited by Mark, the adopted black son of white parents who appear to be the former inhabitants of the house, who tells us his story. We also get a meeting between Trump and George W Bush as president, and towards the end a surreal version of that infamous confrontation between Trump and FBI chief Corney. There’s an awful lot of ground covered but at almost 3.5 hours it didn’t sustain its length (there were a conspicuous number of empty seats after the interval). Often thought-provoking and fitfully gripping, it was too much of a ramble, wordy and undramatic, lacking coherence, a download of thoughts and ideas, trying to say so much that more became less.

It’s staged in the round, in a design by Miriam Buether which has a partly revolving stage and a platform against the back wall on which there are projections. There was one row of audience sitting in chairs close to the stage as if at a dinner table, who participated in the surreal scene. There are lovely performances from Justine Mitchell, Fisayo Akinade, Adam James, Elliott Cowan, Tara Fitzgerald, Khalid Abdalla, Raquel Cassidy and Risteard Cooper, but these and Rupert Goold’s production are a lot better than the material.

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Theatre owes a lot to The Restoration, the fifty-year period from 1660 to 1710 that followed an eighteen-year theatre ban. Playwrights, including the first women playwrights like Aphra Behn, wrote meaty roles for women who could at last play them themselves. Many of these ‘comedies of manners’, like this, have survived. I’ve seen around a dozenn and the last one, The Beaux Stratagem at the NT, sparkled. So I was looking forward to William Congreve’s last play, returning home to Covent Garden.

It’s a convoluted plot revolving around the relationship between Mirabell (an excellent Geoffrey Streatfield) and Millamant (wonderfully played by Justine Mitchell, hotfooting it over from Beginning at the Ambassadors around the corner). They need Lady Wishforth’s blessing to marry, but she wants Millamant’s hand for her nephew Sir Wilfull Witwoud. Mirabell’s friend Fainall is having an affair with Mrs Marwood, who once had an affair with him. Mirabell’s servant secretly marries Lady Wishforth’s servant and they plot to help Mirabell by deceiving Lady Wishforth.  As with all restoration comedy, it’s flowery character names, social satire that’s a bit lost on us three-hundred years on and much wordplay. The production is beautifully designed by Anna Fleischle, whose costumes are simply gorgeous, and it’s atmospherically lit by Peter Mumford.

For a comedy there are nowhere near enough laughs, particularly in the first half, which is one long, dull set-up. It picks up after the interval, with some particularly good scenes, notably the ‘proviso’ scene where Mirabell and Milamant negotiate the terms of their marriage, but it’s too late (particularly for the significant number who didn’t return!). It’s an excellent ensemble, with great performances from Jenny Jules as Mrs Marwood and Tom Mison as Fainall, both cold and calculating, and Christian Patterson as a very hearty and funny Sir Wilfull. There are lovely cameos from Fisayao Akinade and Simon Manyonda as Witwoud and Petulant and Alex Beckett and Sarah Hadland as the pair of plotting servants.

I came to the conclusion that the play is of its time and has nothing to say to a contemporary audience. If it was entertaining, it might still be worth reviving, but it isn’t – at 3 hours 15 minutes, it’s a long, dull evening. So much talent, but a play not worthy of it today.

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We appear to be in a golden age of new plays. Bartlett, Bean, Butterworth, Graham, Kirkwood & Raine have all delivered gems this year and now David Aldridge joins them. His is on a much more intimate scale, but it’s as captivating as any of the others.

It’s the fag end of a party, the early hours of Sunday morning, and the host Laura and guest Danny, who she doesn’t really know, are the last two standing. There is clearly a mutual attraction. He’s damaged – deserted, divorced, estranged and lonely – and socially clumsy. She’s successful and independent, but with no family, also lonely, and too frank, forward and direct for Danny. They play out the difficult first 100 minutes of their relationship in real time.

Though it’s mostly about loneliness and relationships, there are a whole load of other themes including father’s rights, desperation for children, impersonal modern dating methods and more. It’s voyeuristic to watch, but it’s not uncomfortable. The characters are superbly well drawn and the performances of Justine Mitchell and Sam Troughton are stunning. Troughton in particular perfectly captures the complex cocktail of emotions and vulnerability of Danny. Polly Findlay’s direction is totally in harmony with the writing and Fly Davis’ uber-realistic design anchors it.

I’ve never thought Eldridge’s work as consistent as other playwrights, but he has produced gems before, notably In Basildon, maybe when he’s writing from experience. Somewhat ironically, he produced the least plausible play about middle-class life, Knot of the Heart at the Almeida, and has now produced the most plausible! This is an enthralling experience, particularly welcome at the NT.

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Tennessee Williams was very prolific in his 47 active playwriting years and amongst his output were more than 70 short plays. The three showcased here were all written in a three year period that ended just two years before his first big hit, Glass Menagerie, and the central character of each is a familiar TW face – a troubled young man.

The youngest young man appears in the first play, Summer at the Lake. He’s living with, and stifled by, his mother, who doesn’t know what to do with him. Her hisband’s a travelling musician and his tour has been cut back, which limits her finances and her options. In the end, the boy solves the problem.

In the second play, Auto-da-fe, we have a young man working in the post office and living at home, with a dominant mother again. It revolves around a piece of open post he intercepts and takes a strange moralistic turn. I found this one the most difficult.

The Strangest Kind of Romance was the meatiest and most satisfying of the three, with its 45 minute running time allowing more narrative and character development. This time a young man takes a room in a lodging house, whose landlady also gets him a job. He adopts his predecessor’s cat (beautifully played by Bella!). Things go wrong at work, he disappears and is replaced by another lodger, a boxer, then he returns….

Nikesh Patel is excellent as the young boy / man in all three, believable in roles up to 15 or so years different in age. Justine Mitchell is very good as both smothering mother(s) and predatory landlady, particularly the latter. Sam Cox is a very edgy boxer, an unusual character (even for TW!), who seems to be playing younger than his age. The cast is completed by Janet Henfrey in two small roles.

They are staged, without breaks, in a traverse setting with three steps down to a long, narrow pit with a giant frame that moves along the traverse. I wasn’t entirely convinced this stylised staging, with a brooding soundscape, served TW as well as a more naturalistic setting might, but it certainly created tension and atmosphere and the plays gripped throughout.

This is a showcase for the Genesis Foundation future directors award winner Finn Beames and when you look at who came before you find mature talents like Rufus Norris, Carrie Cracknell, Matthew Dunster, Natalie Abrahami and John Fulljames – a list that says a lot about its value.

 

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110 minutes without an interval is a long time to spend in the uncomfortable Cottesloe seats, so it is a tribute to Lisa D’Amour’s play that I did so gripped by it, without too much figiting.

Detroit is set in a mid-sized American city superb in the present day (not necessarily Detroit, despite its title). Ben is a casualty of the credit crunch, now in the process of setting up his own business; his nervous wife Mary is very worried. Soon after Kenny & Sharon move in next door, they are invited to a BBQ in the back yard where Ben & Mary learn that they met in rehab, which they’ve just left after three months, have rented the house from a relative and have next to no furniture or belongings. Despite the revelation, the friendship develops and each subsequent scene takes place in the adjoining back yards, most over a meal.

As the play unfolds, things are not at all as they seem. Kenny and Sharon’s story starts to unravel, as does Mary! To say more would be to spoil something that does twist and turn satisfyingly, with a terrific climax that includes a great coup  de theatre. The play does have flaws, notably a party scene which is pushed just a bit too far, but it is sharply written, funny and full of surprises. The performances are outstanding. Will Adamsdale is a brilliant bundle of nervous energy as Kenny, finely matched by Clare Dunn’s manic Sharon. Justine Mitchell is superb as Mary, moving from an ordinary suburban wife to a woman in crisis, whilst Stuart McQuarrie has to make Ben a slow burn and does so very convincingly.

I thought the set was a bit tacky – until the coup! – and found the occasional invasion of the stage hands before scenes had fully finished quite bizarre, but it is a fascinating and captivating ride nonetheless and a new play worth seeing – something that you don’t get to say that often in relation to the NT!

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Bloody families…..

A King Lear that comes in at under 3 hours! I have to confess, I can’t see where the cuts are and it makes a big difference to the pacing – this Lear races along. It’s a difficult play for me because I find it hard to understand why Lear rejects Cordelia and don’t find the subsequent relationship breakdown with the other daughters entirely plausible, but it’s still a fascinating and complex play

The Donmar has planks covering the floor, ceiling and all four sides; they’re a distressed white, though it doesn’t take long before there’s blood on the walls – literally (well, stage blood). The only props are the map and a chair; the costumes are excellent. Michael Grandage’s staging and Christopher Oram’s design allow the drama to unfold and the verse to breathe.

This is an exceptionally well cast production. I was particularly impressed by all three Gloucesters – Paul Jesson’s believable journey as the Duke, Alec Newman’s positively evil Edmund and Gwilym Lee’s sympathetic Edgar. The daughters – Gina McKee as Goneril , Justine Mitchell’s Regan and Pippa Bennett-Warner as Cordelia – took a while to get into their stride but in the second half McKee and Mitchell were appropriately vituperative.

I think Derek Jacobi is my 7th Lear – an illustrious list that includes Anthony Hopkins, Robert Stephens, Brian Cox, Ian Holm, Ian McKellen & Pete Postlethwaite – and I’ve liked them all. He’s particularly good at anger – going bright red, croaking and breathless – and grief, but less convincing in the early scenes of madness.

I still haven’t forgiven the Donmar for abandoning the performance one week earlier just 15 minutes into a power cut and then offering no alternative. I owe my second chance to Judith, who knew of my disappointment when offered her cousin Jan’s spare ticket. Huge thanks to both!

I wonder who will be my next Lear……

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