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Posts Tagged ‘Laurence Belcher’

I don’t really understand why Shakespeare takes as fascinating a short slice of British history as any, but fails to make it as interesting as any of his other history plays. It’s rarely staged and though you can see why, this is a good production and rather timely given that I saw it on the eve of the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, which King John will forever me remembered for but which hardly gets a mention in Shakespeare’s play.

John’s secession is challenged by his father’s illegitimate son, who he buys off with a knighthood. That doesn’t stop the bloody French trying to replace him with his young nephew Arthur. The Pope interferes via his legate and the people of Angiers (in John’s realm) suggest he marry his niece to the French Dauphin to make peace with them. John captures Arthur and the consequences, and his fate, forms the core of the piece. The English nobles flip-flop their allegiance between John and the French (how dare they!). Somehow it doesn’t come together to create as compelling a story as we’re used to from Will, but it has its moments.

I’m not sure I fully understand why religion is so prominent in director James Dacre’s production. It’s set on a red cross which extends into the groundling space and sideways to steps leading to the exits and there are monks chanting all over the place. John is apparently poisoned by a monk, but I wasn’t clear why. It also places the interval very late which, given the uneven quality of the play, makes the first part a real challenge to the attention span. It finds some unexpected humour and The Bastard’s engagement with the audience is fun. Overall I liked the production.

Jo Stone-Fewings gives a very good performance as a troubled John, somewhat out of his depth and perhaps less interested in ruling than a king needs to be. I also liked Alex Waldmann as The Bastard and Laurence Belcher as both Arthur and John’s son and successor Henry. Tanya Moodie is terrific as Constance.

A good production and timely staging of one of Shakespeare’s weaker plays.

 

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Though there have been numerous TV and film adaptations, there have been surprisingly few stage adaptations of Henry James’ late 19th century novella; possibly because of the difficulty (more so in the past than now perhaps) in pulling off the ghost stuff effectively. That’s actually the major strength of this production, though it still doesn’t match Benjamin Britten’s opera; conclusive proof of the power of music?

Playwright Rebecca Lenkiewicz has been faithful to her source, though perhaps more explicit, and Director Lindsay Posner and his designer Peter McKintosh have been just as respectful with their staging and design. James’ story starts with Sackville interviewing a new governess for his nephew and niece, orphaned by the death of both their parents and left with a housekeeper and governess in the family home (with infrequent visits from their uncle). As the play unfolds, we learn about the death of the previous governess and another employee, who now seem to be haunting or even possessing the children. There is more than a suggestion that in life they may have preyed on them sexually.

McKintosh’s design is excellent and Scott Penrose’s effects, Tim Mitchell’s lighting and John Leonard’s sound design are all terrific – the staging of the apparitions was good enough to get a lot of gasps and a few squeals from the audience. The performances are excellent, led by Anna Madeley’s governess (who seemed to have a cold, which somehow added something to her more emotional scenes) and Gemma Jones’ housekeeper Mrs Grose. The children, Laurence Belcher and ANO (there are three alternating as Flora!) are exceptional in what are big roles with lots of lines.

The major problem is the pacing. It’s slowed down by a lot of scene changes, despite their slickness using the Almeida’s revolve, though ironically the second half – with more scene changes – is better paced! In the end, I felt that despite the quality of it all, it doesn’t transfer well from page to stage (without music, anyway) but in all fairness, I’m not really a ghost story fan and it is, after all, an up-market ghost story.

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This Simon Gray play seems very out of character with the rest of his work, which may be why the nearest it got to London in 1999 was Watford! Though it has some of his trademark humour, it’s an unsettling and not particularly satisfying experience.

I didn’t know whether it was (Donmar Warehouse Theatre programmes really aren’t very good), but it felt autobiographical to me – post-performance research uncovered that the boy’s name is one of Gray’s middle names, Gray was also born on Hayling Island and also went to Westminster School and his father was a pathologist!

It tells the story of an eleven year old boy in the 1950’s whose parents show little genuine interest in him and are then surprised, and in one case outraged (justifiably or not is unclear), when someone else does. The lives of all of the characters are profoundly affected by the events of one weekend.

The first half tries your patience somewhat, but the (shorter) second half is very compelling. Overall, the story failed to satisfy me because of its ambiguity and uneven pace, but you can’t deny that it contains a handful of terrific performances. Eleanor Bron plays an old Austrian woman who spontaneously and seamlessly switches to speaking German when emotional and under pressure. Robert Glenister very successfully transforms from the older to younger piano teacher (and vice versa) and Peter Sullivan effectively doubles as the father and the child in later years. Helen McCrory is wonderful as the self-absorbed wife / mother. Above all there is an extraordinarily assured and subtle performance from Laurence Belcher, one of three young actors sharing the boy’s role.  

Great performance, but a flawed play I’m afraid.

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