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Posts Tagged ‘Lauren O’Neill’

The 70’s were my 20’s and my first decade at work. Looking at the Trafalgar Studio One stage, designed by Soutra Gilmour, before the play started was a deeply nostalgic experience. Electronic typewriters, telex machines and those phones that seemed to be around for decades. By the time the the play starts, though, you can’t take your eyes off the characters crowded in the office for the duration. Many have questioned the setting, modern dictator references and the coup d’at that follows the civil war, but I thought it was all deeply intelligent and made for a riveting experience.

Richard’s relentless removal of everyone in his way en route to the top job would be entirely plausible in a 20th century dictatorship. The hunger for power fuels the manipulation, the lies and the killing without conscience, though rarely at his own hand. The claustrophobic setting adds something to the intensity of the drama. We’ve seen men like this Richard in our lifetime, which makes it very easy to relate to him and even easier to be repelled by him. As the play progresses, and the carnage is scaled up, the pace seems to increase and the blood begins to flow before your eyes.

Martin Freeman may appear a restrained Richard, at least at first, but this seemed to me to be in keeping with the concept – modern dictators all seem cool on the outside. It’s the small things – a chilling laugh, a raised eyebrow, a malicious grin; all often direct to the audience – which make you believe he’ll do absolutely anything to reach his goal. His second half entrance in bright red uniform is completely unsurprising; he’s got it and he’s going to make sure you know it. I thought it was an excellent performance; the closest I remember is Ian McKellern’s more Hitleresque one – this is more generic 20th century dictator.

He’s surrounded by a superb supporting cast. Macbeth’s excellent Banquo, Forbes Masson, channels Ernie Wise as a superbly oily Hastings. Simon Coombs has an entirely original take on loyal henchman Tyrrel. Jo Stone-Fewings is one of the best Buckingham’s I’ve ever seen and Gerald Kyd seemed to make much more of the role of Catesby. Mark Meadows inhabits both Clarence and the Lord Mayor, but you’d be forgiven if you didn’t realise it was the same actor, and you completely believe Paul Leonard feigned loyalty as Stanley. The casting of the women is particularly strong, with the wonderful Maggie Steed a haunting presence almost throughout, Gabrielle Lloyd’s very regal Duchess of York, Gina McKee motherly Queen Elizabeth and Lauren O’Neil is the best stranglee ever!

Much has also been said about the audiences, but mine was amongst the most attentive and quietest I’ve ever experienced. I don’t care what anybody else thinks, I related to this Jamie Lloyd staging of Richard III more than any other and for that reason, it’s a great one – and a superb start to the very welcome return of Trafalgar Transformed.

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What an enthralling and entertaining evening in the theatre. Who’d have thought the period 1974-79 in British politics would make such a good play – and much more illuminating than living through it! From possibly the worst seat in the house on the upper level looking down, that’s praise indeed.

Designer Rae Smith has built a replica of the House of Commons in the Cottesloe Theatre. The pit audience sit on the green benches on either side, whilst most of the play takes place in the respective whips offices created from a few tables and chairs on the floor of the house. The Speaker’s chair is at one end, as it should be, and there’s a giant projection of the face of Big Ben high at the same end. They’ve even put the gargoyles of Westminster Hall on the upper level railings.

This was the last period when we had parties with slim or non-existent majorities leading to minority governments reliant on bargaining with ‘the odds and sods’ or more formal arrangements like the Lib-Lab Pact. The premiership moved from Wilson to Heath to Callaghan with Thatcher rising to lead her party and become PM as the play ends.

James Graham’s play focuses on these bargaining processes, together with the party discipline necessary to ensure everyone turned out, the process of ‘pairing’ whereby the absence of one member would be matched with the non-attendance of another in the opposing party and the absurd lengths they had to go to, bringing in the sick and infirm and propping up the drunk.

It’s surprisingly thrilling stuff and often very funny too. Jeremy Herrin’s staging is brilliant (with an occasional nod to Enron’s movement and music). I was gripped for the duration as I laughed, gasped and nodded in recognition. It somehow showed the best and worst of our parliamentary system.

The Labour whips are brilliantly played by Vincent Franklin, Philip Glenister, Richard Ridings and Lauren O’Neill (plus Phil Daniels in the first half) and the Tory whips equally well by Julian Wadham, Charles Edwards and Ed Hughes and there’s a great supporting company of eight who between them play 29 other characters, mostly MP’s, requiring quick change accents as well as costumes (though the Welsh was South East when it should have been South West!). I loved the way the MP’s were referred to by their parliamentary seat rather than their names, as they are in ‘real life’.

The timing of this play, during the next period of minority government (albeit this time a proper coalition), is impeccable and despite the period clothes, dodgy wigs and dated behaviour (Philip Glenister is well-practiced at this after TV’s 70’s Life on Mars and 80’s Ashes to Ashes) it’s relevant and fresh. I adored it.

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This is a work of fiction, and if you take it as that, its charming, amusing, clever and well crafted. Some seem to have taken exception to its hijacking of cinematic history which I’m not sure it’s trying to do.

We’re in an East European Jewish village at the turn of the 20th century when Motl returns from the city after the death of his father. Discovering his father’s photographic and early cinematic equipment, he becomes enthralled with the idea of moving pictures and is encouraged and funded by local businessman Jacob to make a film of people in the village. Despite the somewhat critical reception, the idea of a work of fiction is mooted and enthusiasm goes viral as they embark on its making.

Many of the pioneers of early Hollywood were Jews from this part of the world and indeed we do skip forward to 1936 when Motl has changed his name to Maurice and become a successful director, but I don’t think the play is making any claims to present the true origin of cinema as we know it. It does include the genesis of the business model for public exhibition of films and shows technical discoveries like editing, lighting reflectors, the camera dolly and special effects, but it does so with its tongue in its cheek. We have stereotypes like the interfering producer, corner-cutting production accountant, highly strung director and upstaging actors. There are comments from a preview audience (the beginnings of the focus group) and it even hints at the casting couch!

Bob Crowley’s monochrome design cleverly merges live action with film footage, though it only opens up once to reveal the village exteriors (as a film set in 1936) which seems a bit of a shame. It’s a little slow in the first half, but does pick up pace and draws you in. The performances are a bit stereotypical (Fiddler on the Roof – with a fiddler included!) though I really liked Damien Molony as Motl and Lauren O’Neil as the love interest. The other ladies all engage well – Sue Kelvin as Motl’s aunt, Abigail McKern as Jacob’s wife and Alexis Zegerman as his daughter. This isn’t Anthony Sher’s greatest moment, but his somewhat caricatured Jacob does make you smile and laugh.

If you don’t set your sights too high, it’s an enjoyable couple of hours. The Nicholas’s Wright (playwright) and Hytner (director) have done better work, but this is an enjoyable evening nontheless and I’m glad I went.

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