Posts Tagged ‘Linda Bassett’

You’d be forgiven for thinking a play about dementia would be heavy going, but the subject is handled so sensitively, with delicate humour, in this Barney Norris play that it’s enthralling and uplifting rather than depressing.

In a farm close to Salisbury, Arthur and Edie are in their twilight years. Arthur still runs the farm, but Edie is beginning to suffer from dementia. A carer, Katie, arrives and bonds quickly with both of them. Their son Stephen visits, an unhappy man with a marriage close to breakdown. He’s trying to be pragmatic, but it comes out as cold. We follow the course of Edie’s illness and her son’s marriage breakdown to the point where Edie needs a care home and Stephen a new home.

Stephen clumsily attempts to connect with the much younger Kate and seems deeply envious of his parents love. The contrast between the warmth of Edie and Arthur’s love for one another, inseparable since first meeting many years ago, plus Kate’s closeness with the couple and Stephen’s loveless marriage and total lack of emotional intelligence is extraordinary.

This is all beautifully acted. The incomparable Linda Bassett is wonderful as Edie and her and Robin Soans’ Arthur have such chemistry they seem like a real couple. Eleanor Wyld is lovely as the unlikely but affectionate carer Kate. It must be very hard for Simon Muller to play against all this empathy but he does so brilliantly, with his eventual show of emotion both surprising and shattering.

Fransesca Riedy’s simple design has great intimacy, bringing you right into their home, with a backdrop of shelves housing the memories of a whole life and there’s a real attention to detail in Chloe Courtney’s impeccable direction.

This is a surprisingly lovely show.

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Perhaps this should be called ‘Waiting for Ronnie’, as we spend almost three hours doing so. Not a lot happens and, until the last few minutes, it seems to be a ‘slice of life’ play, but in the end Arnold Wesker makes his points. Along the way, though, it’s a masterclass in staging and acting.

Beatie is the youngest of the Bryant’s four daughters. They are Norfolk farm labourers, struggling to make a living but happy with their lot. Beatie returns home from London with her fancy ways and fancy ideas for a two-week holiday. Her socialist boyfriend of three years, Ronnie, with whom she is besotted, will follow, to meet the family for the first time. She spends the first couple of days with sister Jenny and her husband Jimmy, before arriving at her parents home where in Act Three they all assemble (apart from sister Susan, who has fallen out with her mother) for tea with Ronnie.

It’s beautifully staged by James Macdonald on an evocative 50’s set of two kitchens and a parlour by Hildegard Bechtler. It’s full of meaningful pauses, but not in a menacing Pinteresqe way! There isn’t a weak link in the casting, with the ladies shining most. It revolves around Jessica Raine’s Beatie and she invests her with passion and naivety in equal measure. Linda Bassett is simply marvellous as Mrs Bryant, resigned to her lot but still restless. Sisters Jenny and Pearl are beautifully played by Lisa Ellis and Emma Stansfield.

At the conclusion Beatie proves she is her own woman, emerging from the influence of Ronnie with a passionate speech of hope and hopelessness. The play doesn’t go very far, but I enjoyed the ride greatly.

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I left the theatre last night with two theories – that Alan Bennett decided he wanted to see how many issues he could cover in two hours (more Ackybourn than Bennett!) or that he was downloading everything he wanted to say about everything while he still has a chance. If any play has ever thrown in the kitchen sink, without a kitchen sink, this is it.

I’ve already lost track of how many issues he covers and my brain hurts even trying to recall them. At its heart it’s the heritage industry in general and the National Trust in particular. Within that there’s the sub-issues of conserving & preserving versus access & exploitation, the roles of the ‘volunteers’, the industrial ‘colonialists’ and their victims, the morals of the Church of England, business and pornography……

Buried in all this is a fascinating debate (or three), some great satire and some very funny lines – but he tries to do too much and in so doing turns the characters into caricatures & stereotypes and the situations into farce (particularly in the second half). Even lovely central performances from Francis de la Tour, Linda Bassett and Selina Cadell get a bit buried and delightful cameos from Miles Jupp, Nicholas le Provost and Peter Egan likewise. This all takes place on a stunning set of a run down ‘stately’ home in South Yorkshire by Bob Crowley which transforms spectacularly towards the end.

It’s by no means vintage Bennett and seemed to me like it was something he hadn’t yet finished. I was surprised that director Nicholas Hytner hadn’t reigned it in and given it more focus. What could have been as fascinating a debate about heritage as The History Boys was about education has turned into a fairly pedestrian comedy which raises a lot of issues but doesn’t really explore any in depth.

I can’t say I didn’t enjoy myself, but compared with all the other NT Bennett’s – Single Spies, The Madness of George III, The History Boys and The Habit of Art – this just isn’t in the same league.

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It’s hard to believe that this excellent new play comes from the same pen as my 2011 Turkey of the Year, Knot of the Heart! This uber-realistic and authentic piece is a huge contrast with the other’s implausibility. As playwright David Eldridge hails from the area in which it is set, I suspect this time he’s writing from experience – and it shows.

Len is dying of prostate cancer and we’re in the living room of his home (in Basildon, obviously) where a bedside vigil is in progress – sister Doreen (who lives with Len) & her son Barry (for whom Len was a father figure) and Len’s best mate Ken; neighbour Pam is on tea duty. We’re soon joined by estranged sister Maureen who won’t talk to her sister (and vice versa) directly. The family feud is revealed but not understood. Doreen is further upset when it becomes obvious that Ken knows more about Len’s wishes than she does.

We move on to the wake, joined by Barry’s wife Jackie and Maureen’s daughter Shelley & her boyfriend. Shelley is the one member of the family who escaped to university. She became a teacher and returned to the East End where the family originated and where she now lives with boyfriend Tom, who’s own escape was in the opposite direction from his investment banker dad. The family feud is further fueled by the reading of a letter from Len laying out the highlights of his will, but we still don’t understand its origin. We finally flash back 18 years where the circumstances of the rift are at last revealed.

This is a very believable family story, but the play has at least two more layers. It shows the late 20th century exodus from the East End via inner Essex towns like Romford to places like Basildon even further away. We glimpse the reasons for the moves and attitudes that accompanied them. Furthermore, it explores how the political changes of the last 30 years have impacted these particular working class families. I lived and worked in Essex for 18 years during this period and it oozes authenticity. The family story also resonates with me!

The theatre has been reconfigured for Dominic Cooke’s pitch perfect production, with the audience on two sides and two levels. Though this does provide a bit of a bear pit for the family exchanges (well, from where I was sitting anyway), I’m not sure it was worth the trouble and expense.

The performances are uniformly excellent. Linda Bassett and Ruth Sheen are both terrific as the sisters, both in estrangement and closeness. Lee Ross brilliantly conveys the complex set of emotions Barry experiences – living with the family feud, his hinted financial troubles and Jackie’s more overt desperation for her own home and child (superbly played by Debbie Chasen). Peter Wight’s conveys that special relationship of ‘the best mate’ with a nice touch of old man letch.

It owes something to Mike Leigh (and there are a couple of Leigh regulars in the cast and a reference to his most famous play), but it’s an original, well structured and deeply rewarding play which will undoubtedly feature in the list of 2012’s best and another must-see at the Royal Court.

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When this turned up in the latest Royal Court programme, it presented me with a dilemma. I’m very fond of playwright Simon Stephens work, but I’ve come to loathe the (recent) work of director Katie Mitchell. I decided to trust the playwright, but in the end it was he who disappointed.

For me, these three short plays with a somewhat contrived connection went nowhere and left me with nothing. The first is slight but touching as a foster mother says goodbye to her latest charge who is leaving for Canada. The second presents us with an edgy sexual encounter between a teacher and a policewoman in a hotel room. The third concerns the rather distasteful trafficking of a child. The content of the second and third is rather obtuse and the connection between the three somewhat nebulous.

The best things about the evening is Lizzie Clachan’s designs, which move from house to hotel bedroom to warehouse extraordinarily quickly (perhaps to avoid a gap long enough for runners?!) and the performances of Linda Bassett and Tom Sturridge in the first play.

Why they are named after a lake in Cumbria is also beyond me – it’s apparently Britain’s deepest – but these plays certainly aren’t. Much ado about nothing, I’m afraid.

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