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Posts Tagged ‘Laura Wade’

This is based on one of two unfinished works by Jane Austen. Coincidentally, the TV adaptation of the other, Sanditon, is currently on our screens. There have been other attempts to complete The Watsons, though not as a play it seems. Laura Wade takes this as her starting point, but it goes way beyond that in a brilliant Pirandellian concoction.

As soon as you walk into the Menier the stage and the two actors on it scream Austen. Dad is in his sick bed, with his daughter Elizabeth looking on. We soon meet her sister, eighteen-year-old Emma, who has been living with her aunt since she was five, other sister Margaret and brother Robert and his wife. They are all rather preoccupied with getting the sisters married.

We move to a society ball where Lord Osborne takes a fancy to Emma, she takes a fancy to Mr Howard the clergyman and local gentleman Tom Musgrave takes a fancy to any woman in sight. Despite hardly engaging with her at the ball, Osborne visits Emma at home and surprises everyone by proposing. When he leaves, she discusses her intentions, at which point she is interrupted by a maid questioning her choice.

We soon realise this is Laura the writer who has had to intervene as her character appears to have taken over her story. From here, it’s meta theatre all the way as the characters mutiny and we discuss Austen’s intentions, enact the characters wishes and explore the process of writing in an anarchic, hilarious romp. Laura even takes a call from her producer David, who asks how the writing is going! It’s hugely entertaining, but you do delve into the mind of Austen, her period and the reasons why she may have abandoned the piece.

Sam West has staged it expertly and Ben Stones has created an authentic period design. It’s a big cast for a play and they seem to be having a ball. Grace Molony is lovely as Emma and Louise Ford delightful as Laura the writer. In a uniformly excellent supporting ensemble, Joe Bannister is superb as the timid Osborne, Jane Booker superb as his officious mother, Sophie Duval a treat as bossy Mrs Robert and there’s a very assured performance from Isaac Forward as the ten-year-old Charles.

A real fun evening. Don’t miss.

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This is one of those occasions where writing, design, performances and staging all come together to create something special. Laura Wade’s play may prove to be the year’s best new play. Whilst I find the superlatives thesaurus, you may wish to stop here if you haven’t read any other reviews and you’ve booked to see it; what follows won’t spoil it, but might just take the edge off it.

Judy and Johnny are obsessed with the 50’s, their friends Fran and Marcus share their interest, but less obsessively. All we know about Johnny is that he’s an estate agent who didn’t go to university. Judy was brought up by her feminist mother in a Sussex commune, went to university and became an accountant. Voluntary redundancy gives her the opportunity to give up work and plunge them fully into a 50’s lifestyle, becoming a housewife, aspiring domestic goddess.

Their reserves are disappearing as Johnny’s commission is declining. One less income, and all that retro furniture and clothes which don’t come cheap. Still, they seem completely wrapped up in their fantasy, until Johnny’s failure to get a promotion triggers a series of events involving his new very driven boss Alex, who’s bemused by their lifestyle, and Judy’s mum Sylvia, who disapproves of the patriarchal accoutrements it brings with it. There’s a clever sub-plot involving problems Marcus is having at work.

What I like about Wade’s play is the many layers she achieves, exploring attitudes and behaviour then and now, as Judy and Johnny change as their fantasy progresses, and how that is seen by those left in the here and now. Things are not always what they appear to be, so it often surprises you. We’ve travelled a long way from the 50’s but in many ways not far enough, as juxtaposing the two periods, even one as a fantasy, proves. It’s like a conversation between then and now. Director Tamara Harvey’s production draws you in; even the activity of the scene changes prove captivating.

Anna Fleischle’s extraordinarily detailed design is stunning, as obsessive as the obsession that drives Judy & Johnny. The period music makes for a superb soundtrack. Katherine Parkinson is terrific as Judy, never leaving the home, so on stage the whole time. Richard Harrington gives a nuanced portrayal as Johnny, revealing insecurities and doubts as well as his devotion to Judy. Kathryn Drysdale and Barnaby Kay are excellent as Fran and Marcus, sometimes contributing nifty period dance routines between scenes. Sian Thomas shines as the mum whose values Judy seems to be rebelling against, as does Sara Gregory as Johnny’s boss, oblivious to his attraction to her.

An unmissable night in the theatre that reminds you why you go.

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Somehow the reviews led me to believe I was in for a raucous satire, so I was very surprised to find this play so disturbing, with a positively chilling final scene.

An Oxford University dining society (think Bullingdon Club) is meeting in the private room of an out-of-town gastropub, their penchant for trashing their venues (but paying the full cost, as if this means it’s OK) having been rumbled in the city. The power struggle to depose the current weak president leads to one trying to prove his point by menu choices, another by hiring a prostitute and a third by organising a post-dinner outing to Reykjavik (good timing, there!) in Dad’s private plane. As the evening progresses, wine is consumed, rituals are observed, behaviour declines and underlying attitudes emerge.

It’s a very cleverly structured play, because it leaves you to make connections and consider what the consequences of these attitudes are. In my case, it explained much of the arrogance of the last few years where our society has been threatened by people who think they have rights to rule and rights to exploit. This is what was so devastating for me, and the ending – which I won’t reveal – is both chilling and depressing in its believability.

The acting is uniformly excellent, with David Dawson – fast becoming the one to watch in his generation – following The Old Vic’s Entertainer, Chichester’s Nicholas Nickleby and Lyric Hammersmith’s Comedians with another terrific performance and Leo Bill a thrillingly vicious toff. Anthony Ward’s extraordinary lifelike set makes you feel like a fly on the wall rather than a member of an audience, but most importantly two young women – playwright Laura Wade and director Lyndsey Turner – have put up a mirror to a small but very real and powerful part of our society in an entertaining but thought-provoking and revealing way without preaching.

After Jerusalem and Enron, this feels like the third in a state-of-the-nation/world trilogy and another theatrical feast.

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