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Posts Tagged ‘Lizzie Clachan’

This is the fourth Caryl Churchill play I’ve seen in the last twelve months – three revivals (two of which I’d seen before) and one new play(s). I first saw this seventeen years ago at the Royal Court with Michael Gambon and Daniel Craig. Cloning was a hot topic at the time. Eight years later there was a certain frisson seeing a real father and son – Timothy & Sam West – playing it at the Menier, something that was tried again at the Young Vic in 2015 with John & Rex Shrapnel. So this is my third exposure and I’m still confused. That’s Caryl Churchill for you.

It’s set in the home of Salter, where he is visited by someone who turns out to be a clone of his son, who was sent to some sort of home by his father when he was struggling after the suicide of his wife. Salter realises the doctors have created more than one clone and is preoccupied with suing them. His actual son then visits, furious with his father about the cloning. Salter now says he was just trying to have a second chance to bring up a son properly. The first clone returns, knowing the truth, now hating Salter. After another visit from his real son, now very troubled, Salter invites another of the clones, Michael, who proves to be very normal and unfazed by it all.

Polly Findlay’s excellent staging plays out in five scenes over sixty minutes, superbly performed by Colin Morgan as all of the boys and Roger Allam as Salter. In Lizzie Clachan’s clever set we’re in the same room, but from a different perspective in each scene, miraculously transforming in the darkness between them. It’s a much more realistic setting than previous productions, and Morgan is much better at creating different personalities than his predecessors. The nature versus nurture debate is interesting, but I was left wanting to understand more about Salter and the doctor’s motivations, and the extent of and reasons for the cloning.

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Playwrights often produce minimalist work later in their career – Beckett & Pinter, to name but two – and I sometimes wonder whether its because they’ve learnt to make their point more succinctly, or if it’s a drying up posing as profundity. This Caryl Churchill miniature was first staged nineteen years ago Upstairs at the Royal Court. She’s still writing; last year she gave us four short plays Downstairs at the Royal Court, a satisfying though not exactly profound evening.

There’s no denying the dramatic impact of this 40-minute piece, superbly designed by Lizzie Clachan and deftly directed by Lyndsey Turner. In a series of short scenes we move between a country home and a hat-making business. We know they are some fifteen years apart because Joan is a child in one and an adult in the other. As a child she witnesses strange nighttime goings on outside the home where she is staying with her aunt and uncle. He appears to be involved in torture and death. Adult Joan is a novice milliner, making elaborate hats for parades. In one short, chilling scene we witness a grotesque ‘parade’ of people wearing these hats. Finally, adult Joan is back at the farm reporting on even stranger events happening in this dystopian world. Fear is the word.

It’s brilliantly staged and the performances are excellent, particularly from the actress playing young Joan, but for me the play is too obtuse for it’s own good, and at £1 a minute I left the theatre feeling cheated, both theatrically and financially. I’m afraid the cynic in me favoured the drying up theory tonight. They should have paired it with another Churchill miniature – there are enough of them to choose from – or reduced their usual seat prices to reflect the significantly lower value – as it is, it represents about the same VFM as Londons most expensive shows. Think Hamilton.

It looks like the Bridge Theatre will be pulling the same stunt on me next week when another minimalist Churchill play gets a revival. I’d better wear my ‘I’m A Mug’ t-shirt.

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This 1912 play was last seen at the NT 25 years ago, in a production by Katie Mitchell (before she went on to deconstruct and destroy plays!). Since then, it’s been named one of the 100 most influential plays of the 20th Century, and its easy to see why. It must have been shocking to see a prominent industrialist portrayed as a bully on stage over 100 years ago.

John Rutherford owns a glassworks in the industrial North East. Though we’re not explicitly told, he appears to be a widower, living with and looked after by his sister Ann and his spinster daughter Janet. His children have been a big disappointment to him. Richard has become a curate and John Junior, who he hoped would take over the business, has married beneath him and shows no interest in the family firm, though he has returned home to try and sell his father an invention. John thinks he’s entitled to be given it after spending a small fortune on John Junior’s education at Harrow. As the play unfolds he belittles Richard, sends John Junior and Janet away and manipulates John Junior’s wife Mary into involving him in bringing up his grandson.

Sowerby was the daughter of a North East glass manufacturer, so this may be wholly or partly biographical. In any event, the play was brave. It was first attributed to a writer with initials, so the sex was ambiguous and widely assumed to be a man. After all, there weren’t any female playwrights. The first act is a bit slow, and I’m not sure if this is the writing or the production, but it gains pace after the interval. Polly Findlay’s production, with designs by Lizzie Clachan, has great authenticity, with atmosphere created by rain and the movement of the house in which they live, plus a group of female voices singing folk inspired songs a capella.

Roger Allam is brilliant as Rutherford, commanding the stage as well as his family. Sam Troughton, Justine Mitchell and Harry Hepple are excellent as the three siblings who have grown into such different people. Joe Armstrong is great as Rutherford’s right hand man and Barbara Marten is superb as the ice cold uber conventional sister Ann. Lovely performances all round.

Good to see it again, in as fine a production as you could wish for.

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This is the most famous of Muriel Spark’s twenty-two novels, her 6th, published in 1961, which was on stage within five years, on film within eight and a TV series ten years after that. Last seen on stage in London twenty years ago, at the National’s Lyttelton Theatre in a production by Phyllida Lloyd starring Fiona Shaw, this is a new version by Scottish playwright David Harrower. Though he’s done a lot of adaptations, he seemed an odd choice, but as it turns out he’s taken an interesting, fresh look.

Set in the thirties in a private girls school in Edinburgh, teacher Jean Brodie’s determination to teach her girls about life sets her on a collision course with Miss Mackay’s strict adherence to the curriculum. She treats them like friends, telling them about her relationships and her experiences, inviting them to her home. They are more like followers than pupils. At first it all seems mildly subversive and rather charming, until you realise how much control she exerts, her attempts to make choices for and mould her girls, not forgetting her fascist leanings. There is a dalliance with married art teacher Mr Lloyd and a long relationship with music teacher Mr Lowther, whose proposal she spurns. She is eventually betrayed and is forced to leave the school. It’s often very funny, but at times it’s sinister and dark too.

It’s told partly in flashback from post-war scenes where one of the girls, who went to Oxford and published a memoir, is interviewed by a journalist just before she enters a convent, and I’m not sure this worked that well or if was really necessary in telling the story. They’ve put in a middle aisle and swapped the front two rows of the stalls for wooden school chairs, which I’m also not sure is entirely necessary. They’ve gone to a lot of trouble to create a partly glazed back wall and ceiling, yet Lizzie Clachan’s design still seems to be missing something. I did love the use of bells, though, which emphasise both the school setting and the period.

If you need only one reason to see Polly Findlay’s revival it’s Lia Williams brilliant performance. She makes the role her own, delightful in her opinionated rebelliousness but ultimately transformed into a tragic figure. I’ve long admired her work, but this is a career high. In a fine supporting cast, Rona Morrison is terrific as Sandy, who sees the negatives in Brodie’s approach, and Sylvestra Le Touzel provides the contrasting sternness of Miss Mackay.

Good to see it on stage again, and warmly recommended.

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Rodney Ackland is a bit of a lost playwright; I’ve only known three of his twelve original plays and nine adaptations, including this one, produced in more than thirty-five years of London theatre-going. It was first staged in 1952 as The Pink Room, but it must have been in a very sanitised form, given the existence of theatre censorship at the time. It was very badly received and Ackland became dejected and only wrote two more plays, yet he lived for another forty years. Post-war London just didn’t have the stomach for his slice of bohemian Soho life. He returned to it thirty-six years later when this new, racier version was produced at the Orange Tree, on BBC TV and here at the Lyttelton, the latter two with Judi Dench in the lead.

It’s set in members club La Vie en Rose over a month in the summer after the end of the war in Europe, during the general election campaign where Labour ousted Churchill. It revolves around club proprietor Christine Foskett and her best customer, writer Hugh, who’s relationship with his partner Nigel and his career are both rocky, oblivious to his mum and her friend who he bizarrely invites to the club. Other members include Austrian black marketeer Siegfried and his girlfriend Elizabeth, film producer Maurice and his secretary Cyril, batty Julia and even battier Madge, a soapbox crusader, posh Lettice ‘the treacle queen’ and wild-man artist Michael, not forgetting assistant Doris and the cook. Into this melange, American GI’s Butch and Sam arrive to satisfy Christine and steal Elizabeth.

It’s character-driven rather than story-driven; the Labour Party offices visible next door link it to what’s happening outside the club. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but it is mine. Designer Lizzie Clachan turns the Lyttelton into a vast space, with stairs down to the kitchen and two floors up to the restaurant and beyond. I wasn’t convinced by the idea of prostitute Fifi almost continually walking around the space, and sometimes there’s so much going on, and so much background talk and music, that you’re struggling to focus on the essence of a scene, but that still didn’t detract from what was for me an enthralling, immersive experience which has lost 40 minutes, including two-thirds of the second interval, since the first preview and I suspect is better for it.

You’d be hard pressed to find so many fine performances on one stage in one night. Kate Fleetwood is superb as gin-soaked vamp Christine, as is Charles Edwards as highly-strung homosexual Hugh. Surrounding them are terrific turns from Jonathan Slinger as manipulative Maurice (hot-footing it over from The Old Vic), Patricia England as delightfully batty Julia, Joanna David as Hugh’s loyal but naive mum, Lloyd Hutchinson as larger-than-life artist Michael, Liza Sadovy as aloof Lettice, Esh Alladi as camp Cyril, Eileen Walsh as mad Madge and Prasanna Puwanarajah as Hugh’s on-off partner Nigel. There are twenty-four named parts and twenty-eight actors! Joe Hill-Gibbins marshals them very well.

The comments on exit and the walkers at the intervals proved it’s a marmite show, but those still there at the end cheered. Great to see it again after 23 years. More Ackland please!

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Just five weeks after seeing his UK debut Octoroon at the Orange Tree Theatre, there I was at Hampstead Theatre seeing the entirely different but just as impressive Gloria, which does prove Branden Jacobs-Jenkins is a major new playwriting talent, though how I’m going to write about this one without spoiling it I don’t know………

We’re with the ‘assistants’ in the outer office of a magazine publisher where everyone seems to be playing politics to further their careers, except long-serving Lorin in the next office and Gloria, who everyone seems to see as a bit weird. Dean is the only one who went to Gloria’s party the night before, and he only went because he thought the others were going. We’re lulled into a false sense of security until there’s a major incident in the office as Act I closes. When we return we meet two of the characters from Act One, and another we hadn’t seen, to see how they are responding to earlier events and how they, and the world, reacts to and processes such things in this day and age. It ends very suddenly, perhaps too suddenly.

The change of tone is indeed dramatic, from everyday life in a modern office to cynical, tasteless exploitation of events. Like Octoroon, its structurally clever and very unpredictable. They make a big thing of avoiding spoilers, to the point of sealing four pages of the programme which you can have broken by the ushers at the interval; a theatrical first, I think. Michael Longhurst’s staging and Lizzie Clachan’s design serve the play well and there are six fine actors, three of which play two roles and two play three. I first saw Kae Alexander in Kiss Me Kate in her final year at GSMD, then she impressed me in the Open Air Theatre’s Peter Pan, now she’s hugely impressive as both Kendra and Jenna. Bayo Gbadamosi impresses too in three very different roles as intern, barista and media darling.

I’m now waiting for his next play with more than a touch of anticipation.

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There was a time when I thought Brecht was rather earnest and somewhat dated, but Arturo Ui scrubbed up well at the Donmar Warehouse last month and now Life of Galileo comes out even fresher at the Young Vic. I’ve been critical of some theatre’s exaggerated claims of resonance with contemporary issues like Brexit and Trump of late, but at times I felt this could have been a current debate between evolutionists and Darwin denying creationists or climate change scientists and that other religion, big businesses, and their puppet president.

It follows Galileo’s story reasonably faithfully, from his application of the Dutch telescope invention to validate Copernicus’ theory of the solar system to his own original theories and inventions. Along the way, he has to pussyfoot around the control freakery of the catholic church and even the inquisition. He appears to recant, much to the disappointment of his followers, but in reality he’s buying time and continuing his work clandestinely. His promotion of truth through science even impacts his family, scuppering his daughter’s marriage to a nobleman.

Designer Lizzie Clachan has configured the theatre in-the-round, with audience members in a central pit, surrounded by a circular walkway with four bigger playing areas around it. There’s a giant dome overhead, upon which there are stunning projections by 59 Productions, from the planets to the ceilings of buildings and the sky, and excellent lighting by Jon Clark. Tom Rowlands soundtrack adds much. Joe Wright’s production is hugely inventive, but it’s not at all gimmicky. Everything seemed to be in keeping with the material and the satirical, even anarchic spirit of Brecht.

Brendan Cowell, who we last saw here in Yerma, is terrific as Galileo, a very physical and very emotional performance; his engagement with the audience is such that at times you feel you’re at his lecture, or in a personal conversation with him. He has an excellent supporting cast, from which I would single out Billy Howle, who plays five roles, most notably Galileo’s pupil Andrea from aged 10 to his adulthood journey to more science-friendly The Netherlands.

Another captivating evening at the Young Vic.

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Simon Stone’s play is billed as ‘after Lorca’. Though it’s still a play about a woman’s tortuous journey to bear a child, it’s a very contemporary journey featuring ovulation calculations, fertility testing and IVF. Lorca’s 1934 original was more about external, social pressure; Stone’s is more about internal, personal pressure, which she talks about openly and controversially in her blog. It is an extraordinary piece of theatre, even when measured against the Young Vic’s own extraordinary achievements in recent years. Something so dramatic, raw and visceral is very rare indeed. This is the sort of theatrical experience you’ll be talking about for years and years.

Yerma means barren, and the play revolves around Her (everywoman?) who decides in her mid-thirties, on the day her and her partner John buy a house, to start a family. They both have successful careers, Her in publishing and John in finance. Her mother Helen, a lecturer, doesn’t seem to have been a natural mother and still struggles to engage emotionally with her daughters. Her’s sister Mary announces an unexpected pregnancy soon after she has started trying to conceive, but her’s journey is much longer. Her sister appears to have inherited their mother’s lack of motherly instincts, but her’s seem completely natural when she’s with her new nephew.

At the start it’s relatively light and indeed funny, but as her difficulty conceiving continues, so her mental health declines, ultimately destroying relationships and careers. Her ex Victor, now a father himself, starts work for the same company and she ends up as his boss, but he’s more than her employee. Her much younger female assistant Des encourages her openness and edginess in publishing, perhaps an unwittingly negative contribution. In many short scenes, with music maintaining the tension in-between, her life is laid bare over a number of years. In Lizzie Clachan’s extraordinary design, it’s a very voyeuristic experience. It takes out Lorca’s cast of rural folk commenting on failure to procreate and strips it back to six main characters. It departs from Lorca with a different but equally tragic conclusion, but it is in essence the same story for a contemporary audience.

I’ve seen and admired all of Billie Piper’s recent stage performances, but this is on another level altogether, completely natural and simply stunning. She has terrific chemistry with Brendan Cowell’s excellent John, a totally believable couple. Maureen Beattie conveys the coldness of mother Helen. Charlotte Randle plays a more complex Mary beautifully. John MacMillan and Thalissa Teixeira complete the cast with terrific contributions. It was only the fourth performance, but I thought Stone’s production of his own play was faultless. We left the theatre drained.

You will know by now that you have to go!

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This is the third play by French playwright Florian Zeller that we’ve had in London in less than twelve months, all translated by Christopher Hampton. I worried when the second, The Mother, was stylistically similar to the first, The Father, that he might be a one-trick pony, even though I admired both. Fear not, the third is very different and quite possibly the best.

The first scene introduces us to Michel and his best friend’s wife Alice in a hotel room. They are having an affair. What unfolds over 90 minutes in seven scenes in six locations, each involving just two of the characters, is the unravelling of their infidelity, taking many twists and turns, keeping you guessing until the final moments. It’s a masterly piece of writing and it’s very funny. To say any more would spoil it. 

Lindsay Posner’s staging is as masterly as the writing and Lizzie Clachan’s design is as clever as the play’s structure, changing location with the slide of a screen. Alexander Hanson as Michel is onstage throughout, carrying the play, and he does so brilliantly, but the other three – Frances O’Connor, Tanya Franks and Robert Portal – are terrific too.

Apparently there are six more plays we haven’t seen, including a companion piece to this, unsurprisingly called The Lie. I can’t wait. Three plays in and I’m convinced he’s a find.

This is why I go to the theatre. I’ll be very surprised if this doesn’t follow The Father into the West End. Unmissable.

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I was a bit shocked when I walked into the Olivier to find the stage laid out as a cramped modern office. As You Like It?! I still wasn’t convinced during the first few scenes, but from the moment Lizzie Clachan’s extraordinary design transformed the stage to an impressionistic Forest of Arden, I was captivated. I’m still not sure why we start in the offices of the de Bois family business (some sort of trading floor with staff in different uniforms suggesting different roles) but the rest of the play made perfect sense.

The key to the success of the production is the combination the Clachan’s design, Orlando Gough’s music & Carolyn Downing’s sound effects, the human sheep in Arran jumpers and superb casting and staging by Polly Findlay. It might not look like any forest you’ve ever walked through, but it feels like a magical one. People (and sheep!) weave in and out to play out scenes, seeming to appear from nowhere. The music is gorgeous, particularly the songs sung beautifully by Fra Fee and the atmospheric, wordless choruses. The sound of animals, birds and weather conditions are all-pervading. The verse speaking is outstanding and the gentle amplification (necessary given the soundscape) means you hear every word. The play has never felt more other-worldly or magical.

Ellie Kirk, covering Celia for Patsy Ferran, was terrific; word perfect and confident in such a big role. Rosalie Craig is a brilliantly boyish Rosalind / Ganymede and has great chemistry with Joe Bannister’s excellent Orlando. There’s luxury casting in the smaller roles, from Patrick Godfrey’s loyal Adam through Mark Benton’s particularly funny Touchstone, Alan Williams wise old shepherd Corin and Ken Nwosu’s charming young shepherd Silvius, to Paul Chahidi’s introspective Jaques.

This production appears to have divided people, but I thought it was one of the best I’ve seen.

 

 

 

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