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Posts Tagged ‘Leo Wringer’

One of the most thrilling things about this evening is the youthfulness and diversity of the audience, one of the most attentive I’ve sat in too, and the production and performances prove just as thrilling. The Young Vic provided one of my favourite Hamlet’s (ten years ago with Michael Sheen) and now it has produced another, with Cush Jumbo.

Anna Fleische’s design is simple but elegant and does conjure up the battlements of Elsinore with its reflective towers, some of which move to reconfigure the space. Greg Hersov, a director whose work we’ve seen too little of in London (he ran the Royal Exchange in Manchester for 27 years) has made some cuts – notably the removal of the final scene arrival of Fortinbrass to take the crown – but taken no liberties. The verse is particularly well spoken and I found myself more than usually drawn in by Shakespeare’s words.

The attention paid to, and praise of, Cush Jumbo’s Hamlet is fully justified. It’s a youthful, subtle characterisation that displays distain with a simple facial expression and contempt with an casual offhand sign of the crucifix. There are so many other fine performances, though, including Jonathan Livingstone’s loyal Horatio, Jonathan Ajayi’s passionate Laertes and Norah Lopez Holden’s highly charged Ophelia. Taz Skylar & Joana Borja were a great pairing as Rosencrantz & Guildenstern, right from their animated arrival and Leo Wringer made much of the gravedigger in a particularly well staged scene. Joseph Marcell was terrific as Polonius, but I wasn’t sure what Adrian Dunbar was doing with Claudius. I came to the conclusion that it was my fault – I just couldn’t banish the iconic Line of Duty character.

This is an exceptional, very accessible Hamlet, another triumph for this indispensable theatre. Catch it if you can.

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August Wilson was one of the greats of 20th century American drama, though he’s not as well known or as produced internationally as Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams or Eugene O’Neill. His great achievement was a cycle of ten plays, each set in a different decade of the 20th century, all in Pittsburgh’s Hill District where he was brought up, with characters in some plays being referenced in others, documenting 100 years of the African American experience. We’ve seen all bar one here, though revivals after their UK premiere’s have been rare. Seventeen years after it was first seen at the Tricycle, this ninth play (in period, rather than writing), set in the Reagan’s America in the 80’s, gets a superb revival at the Theatre Royal Stratford East.

King Hedley II is home from prison, where he served seven years. He lives at home with his mum Ruby, with whom he has a fractious relationship, and his wife Tonya. He has a seventeen-year-old daughter whom he hardly ever sees. He’s struggling to navigate life as an ex-con, selling knocked-off fridges with his best friend Mister to raise money to set up a video store. They try to speed up the fund-raising with a bigger crime. He’s keen to have a child with Tonya, but she doesn’t like the world it would be born into. Ruby’s old flame, smooth hustler Elmore, walks back into their lives and ghosts from the past emerge, propelling the play to its tragic conclusion. Peter McKintosh has built two full-size houses, evocative of the poor Hill District neighbourhood, whilst providing an intimate playing area in the back yards of the houses.

I was impressed by newcomer Aaron Pierre in Othello at Shakespeare’s Globe last year, but his performance as King Hedley is on another level altogether; deeply emotional and passionate with an extraordinary charismatic presence. Martina Laird is terrific as Ruby, a nuanced characterisation that conveys the complexity of her relationships with her son and Elmore. This is Lenny Henry’s fifth role since his late career extension into stage acting, and he continues to impress. Elmore brings a lightness to what is one of the darker plays of the cycle, and Henry is well suited to this. Dexter Flanders as Mister and Cherrelle Skeete as Tonya both make excellent contributions, and the cast is completed by a fine performance from Leo Wringer as the eccentric neighbour Stool Pigeon, who hoards newspapers to record history and makes prophetic contributions like a Greek chorus.

It’s a bit too long at 3.5 hours, but Wilson’s dialogue and a set of riveting performances just about keep you in their grip in Nadia Fall’s superb production. It’s such a timeless piece, covering issues just as relevant and urgent today, and Stratford East is a great home for a work like this – an auspicious contribution to kick off the next phase in the life of ‘the people’s theatre’. As I left, I looked up at Joan Littlewood’s statue and she seemed to have a smile of approval on her face!

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