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Posts Tagged ‘Leo Bill’

I like going to the theatre on New Years Day, the evening is otherwise a bit flat, but maybe a bloody revenge tragedy wasn’t the best choice. It seemed like one minute you’re wishing people a Happy New Year, the next you’re counting the bodies!

The widowed Duchess decides to remarry, to steward Antonio who is below her station, so she tries to keep it secret. Her twin brother Ferdinand and other brother, The Cardinal, find out of course, courtesy of their ‘spy’ Bosolo, and set about having her, the children by her new husband and her companion Cariola murdered, with the help of Bosola and his henchmen. They are both pure evil, Ferdinand driven insane by the events he has instigated. Bosila’s guilt after the murders propels him to turn on the brothers.

John Webster’s 400-year-old play impressed me more in Rebecca Frecknall’s production than it has before. It serves the dialogue particularly well, and is very tense and atmospheric. It’s a very stylised staging, which seems to me to be inspired by Robert Icke’s work in the same theatre. Chloe Lamford’s design has a moving glass gallery centre stage which can be populated, and glass cabinets on either side that contain all of the props. I wasn’t sure about the purpose of the desks on the edges at both sides.

Lydia Wilson is excellent as the Duchess, determined, passionate, full of fight. Bosola is a difficult role, with its emotional twists and turns, but Leo Bill is outstanding. Ferdinand is a tough one too, which Jack Riddiford pulls off with great physicality and emotionality, as does Ieanna Kimbook as Cariola.

It’s very different from Frecknall’s big 2018 hit, Tennessee Williams’ Summer & Smoke, at the same theatre, then transferring, which was one of my favourite revivals that year, but it was a gripping ride and I found myself absorbing every word of Websters rich dialogue.

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When you’ve seen a play tens of times, you invariably focus on the interpretation you are now watching. For the first half of this heavily cut ‘Dream’ I couldn’t get the questions ‘what are you getting at here?’ and ‘where are you going with this?’ out of my head. In fact, they weren’t fully answered by the end.

The Young Vic has acquired a giant mud pit with a mirror wall behind it, in which the whole play takes place. Perhaps it’s a comment on the state of our countryside 400 years on? Running at just two unbroken hours, director Joe Hill-Gibbins has dispensed with most of the fairies (or maybe they walked out in protest at their working environment). The story is intact until the end, where madness seems to have replaced marriages (some would say they are the same thing). Puck has gone part-time, and the only fairy doesn’t really have her heart in it, though she sings beautifully. The spells are lame, and Bottom’s relationship with Hippolyta appears to continue with Titania. 

The two things it got right, in my view, are the chaotic who-loves-who scene (despite the lame spells) and one of the funniest rude mechanicals plays I’ve ever seen, courtesy of some sublime comic acting by Geoff Aymer, Aaron Heffernan, Douggie McMeekin, Sam Cox and a completely unrecognisable Leo Bill as Bottom. 

I’m not a purist; I just didn’t get it. It veered too far from Shakespeare’s original for me and just wasn’t anywhere near magical enough.

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I was cursing the education system at the interval of this play last night. I studied history for 4 years, for things then called O & A levels, and all we covered was the 125 years between 1814 and 1939. I was also cursing not reading the programme before the start. In my view, this 1976 Caryl Churchill play about mid 17th century English history needs, or at least benefits from, some prior knowledge.

It was clearly a fascinating period, the closest England came to revolution (a century before the French!). Charles I grabbed absolute power, provoking a thirty year period of unrest and civil wars until the establishment of the constitutional monarchy which still survives. Just the names of the groups involved makes you smile – in addition to the Roundheads and Cavaliers, we had the Ranters, Diggers, Levellers and the New Model Army! More recent history plays, like last year’s James plays, present historical events in a much more accessible way than this, though, which is very 70’s and very wordy, in a G B Shaw way. Too much of it is people talking direct to the audience and the endless debates about who’s side god would be on, though historically accurate I’m sure, just muddied it all for me.

Director Lyndsey Turner has added 40 or so ‘extras’ to the 18 strong cast (and it is strong, with actors like Leo Bill, Daniel Flynn, Alan Williams, Steffan Rhodri, Joe Caffrey and Amanda Lawrence in relatively small roles) which gives it an epic sweep. Es Devlin’s brilliant design starts as a giant banquet, before becoming a bare wooden stage, the boards then removed to reveal the earth. The audience wasn’t considered enough, though, as the sight lines (well, at the front of the stalls, at least) are dreadful. Soutra Gilmour, more usually a sole design credit, provides excellent costumes.

Notwithstanding my lack of preparation, I think we’ve become used to history presented more clearly and lucidly, so despite a spectacular production, I suspect it’s impact 40 years on has been watered down significantly.

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Another show I had no plans to see until I saw Jumpers for Goalposts, a lovely new play which feels much like it, which prompted me to catch this 20th anniversary revival of Jonathan Harvey’s play before it closed. I’d seen the premiere of this heartwarming, funny and moving play at the Bush and the 2006 outing at the Sound Theatre and I enjoyed this one just as much.

Nikolai Foster’s new production keeps the setting in early 90’s Thamesmead. Single mum and barmaid Sandra is devoted to her teenage son Jamie. Her latest man is socially clumsy but charming artist Tony. Spiky teenage neighbour Leah is obsessed with sex and Mama Cass and has been expelled from school. Other teenage neighbour Ste lives with his dad and brothers; his reward for looking after them is to get beaten senseless. He takes refuge at Sandra’s where his friendship with, and comfort from, Jamie develops into first love.

It’s a timeless story which doesn’t feel the slightest bit dated. You can’t help but love all of the onstage characters, whatever their irritations and quirks; each struggling to make their way in the world or find themselves. The tough life of a singe parent, a dispossessed child, parental and sibling abuse and most importantly coming to terms with your sexuality are all explored sensitively in what is one of the great life affirming feel-good shows. The dialogue crackles and it holds you in its grip from the off.

The Beautiful Thing alumni is impressive. Sophie Stanton played Sandra in both 1993 and 2006. At the Bush, we had Philip Glenister and Jonny Lee Miller no less. In 2006, Leo Bill and Andrew Garfield picked up the baton. Here we have one of Coronation Street’s finest, Suranne Jones, a terrific performance which makes Sandra a bit more feisty and a bit more loving. Oliver Farnsworth’s excellent Tony seems to be a touch cooler, a hippy out of time and in the wrong place. Zaraah Abrahams’ Leah hides her loyalty and warmth underneath bucket-loads of attitude. Above all though, a totally believable journey for Jamie and Ste played with great delicacy and sensitivity by Jake Davies (also great in London Wall at the Finborough recently)  & Danny-Boy Hatchard (an astonishing professional debut).

I’m so glad I caught the last night of this finely cast and beautifully staged revival. Happy Anniversary – see you at the next one no doubt.

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The last time I saw this restoration comedy was at the Edinburgh fringe a few years back by a company of stand-ups. It was like a panto and the chief pleasures were Lionel Blair hamming it up mercilessly and Stephen K Amos in a powdered wig – and it all came in at 90 minutes. Deborah Warner’s new production at the Barbican comes in at 3 hours 15 minutes and there isn’t a powdered wig in sight.

Fifteen minutes before curtain-up (not included in the running time above!), you can hear the rave music in the foyer; you’d be wise to go in at this point for a sort of fashion catwalk show in various types of dress and states of undress, with added cardboard signs. What follows is a particularly well spoken show in period costume (well, in a Vivienne Westwood sort of way) and period settings (well, cardboard cut-out with backstage and wings in view) from designer Jeremy Herbert, with a whole host of anachronistic contemporary references like burgers and coke – both types! – blackberries (the electronic variety), shopping bags from designer shops, video projections, flashing lights, binge drinking  and rave music. It’s sort of Sheridan on acid. Oh and there’s a tricorn hat that appears to have grown a lawn!

The story revolves around which of the Surface brothers Uncle Oliver will choose as his heir. He visits them in disguise, obviously, to help him determine who is the most deserving. Then there’s the question of the fidelity of Sir Peter’s new young bride, a husband for Sir Peter’s new ward Maria and the activities of the scandalmongers of the title. As always with restoration comedy we get delicious character names – this one also has Lady Sneerwell, Sir Benjamin Backbite and Careless.

Warner has assembled an outstanding cast, in which Leo Bill shines as Charles Surface. The more experienced actors fare best – John Shrapnel as Uncle (Sir) Oliver, John McEnery as Rowley and Alan Howard no less as Sir Peter Teazle. I particularly liked Vicki Pepperdine’s turn as chief scandalmonger Mrs Candour and Gary Sefton provides some excellent physical comedy playing drunk.

It was meant to shock c.235 years ago, so it seems to me legitimate to attempt to make it shocking today. Warner hasn’t done any damage, though she hasn’t added that much value – except to provide parallels with today’s equally decadent, gossip obsessed society. Having said that, there is a freshness about it (seeing a restoration comedy is often like visiting a museum) which I admired and it doesn’t feel like 3 hours 15 minutes. However, for a comedy, there weren’t really enough laughs.

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Laden with superlative reviews, I suppose it was going to be difficult to live up to them – and so it proved. Perhaps I was a little over-excited. Tennessee Williams is one of my top ten playwrights. Director Joe Hill-Gibbins is new to be but I was bowled over by his Beauty Queen of Leenane earlier in the year in the same theatre. Deborah Findlay is a favourite actress who we don’t get to see anywhere near often enough.

There was a little too much of deconstructionist Katie Mitchell’s influence in the staging, like musicians and ‘backstage’ on view throughout, which I’m not convinced suits an intense drama where it seems to me realism is crucial. As much as I Love Deborah Findlay, I felt she was OTT, turning Amanda into too much of a comic creation. The concept, and Jeremy Herbert’s design, distanced the audience from the play and the characters where I feel you need to be on top of it – maybe I just can’t get the Donmar’s terrific staging out of my head.

The only scene which gripped fully was the ‘courting’ of Laura (a little over-acted by Sinead Matthews) & Jim (an excellent Kyle Soller), where a back curtain brought the scene nearer to the audience and blocked out the backstage distractions. Otherwise, the acting honours mostly belonged to Leo Bill, who brought the sort of light and shade TW needs – passion where the role needs passion, diffidence where necessary etc. The music / soundscape was very atmospheric but I think would have been more so had it not been given such visual prominence.

There was much to enjoy, but it wasn’t the exciting re-invention I was led to expect. I didn’t read the reviews, but caught the stars in passing – maybe I should avoid this in future lest it makes me expect too much (or too little!).

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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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