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Posts Tagged ‘Lolita Chakrabarti’

This is the second time this week that I’ve seen a stage adaptation of a film I haven’t seen. This one is Ingmar Bergman’s autobiographical three-hour film, which was also a five-hour TV series, adapted by Stephen Beresford, best known for The Last of the Hausmans at the NT and the screenplay for the film Pride. It’s an everyday tale of theatre folk in Sweden, well at least initially.

In the first act, we’re with the theatrical Ekdahl family, theatre owners and performers. Husband and wife Oscar and Emilie, Oscar’s mother Helena, brothers Carl and Gustav and their wives Alma and Lydia, Gustav & Lydia’s daughter Petra and Fanny and Alexander themselves, Oscar & Emilie’s children. We’re onstage, backstage and at home in what seems to be an idyllic world, until Oscar dies suddenly. There was plenty of character development, but not enough story in this first part and I went into the interval a touch underwhelmed.

The second act is very dark, as Emilie marries the widowed Bishop, a frightfully stern bully into whose austere and joyless home Emilie, Alexander and Fanny arrive. His sister Henrietta is unwelcoming, fearing her loss of power in charge of the home. Alexander is a bit of a fantasist and gets on the wrong side of the Bishop very quickly, resulting in brutal punishment. Emilie, by now pregnant, wants to leave, but the law and societal conventions prevent this.

In the third act, with the help of Oscar’s brothers and Helena’s friend Issak and his nephew Aaron, they plot to free them all from the Bishop’s tyranny. These latter two parts are much more satisfying and feel almost Dickensian, sweeping along at a fast pace, drawing you in to these characters lives. I haven’t seen much of director Max Webster’s work, but his staging here is impressive, helped by Tom Pye’s excellent set, Laura Hopkins’ lovely costumes and atmospheric music by Alex Baranowski, played live on piano and cello.

It’s a tribute to Kevin Doyle’s performance that there was palpable hatred in the audience for the evil Bishop. Penelope Wilton is wonderful as a seasoned thespian and the head of the Ekdahl family. I loved Catherine Walker, an actress who hasn’t been on my radar before, as Emilie and it was great to see Lolita Chakrabarti again in a pair of contrasting roles as Alma and Henrietta. Jonathan Slinger’s role was relatively small, but he almost stole the show when the Ekdahl brothers confront the Bishop in the third act – the whole audience were willing him on. The actors playing Fanny & Alexander were brilliant, in what are big roles for child actors, especially Alexander.

It was a slow burn at first but it won me over, oozing quality in every department.

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What a terrific curtain-raiser to Indhu Rubasingham’s tenure as Artistic Director of the Tricycle Theatre. An excellent new play from comparative newcomer Lolita Chakrabarti with one of our greatest young actors, Adrian Lester (her husband!), leading an excellent  company in Rubasingham’s own masterly staging. A play about a man who played Othello 180 years ago performed by a man who will do so next year – delicious!

The play tells the story of black American actor Ira Aldridge’s experiences in London in 1833 as he takes over the lead in Othello due to Edmund Kean’s illness. It’s framed by scenes set in Lodz in Poland 34 years later that show him still working in Europe if not Britain. Slavery had just been abolished, which wasn’t entirely welcome and riots had broken out on the streets – so you can imagine what happened when a black actor took to the country’s greatest stage to play Shakespeare.

The play held me for every second of its running time. It was fascinating, shocking and totally captivating. Lester was simply wonderful (oh I am so excited about the real thing – with Rory Kinnear as Iago no less!) but the whole company was excellent, with Eugene O’Hare overcoming caricature as a passionate French theatre manager and Charlotte Lucas playing Ellen Tree playing Desdemona, both beautifully.

The experience of Aldridge was shocking and we gasped as the real and shamefully racist reviews of his opening night were read. The rest of the cast on either side of the stage watch intensely during the pivotal showdown between the actor and the theatre manager; we can see them but the performers can’t, in an inspired piece of staging. When he whites up for Macbeth at the end we’re shocked again. It’s all impeccably done, with lightness and economy and a lovely use of music. The building’s original proscenium arch has been gilted, distressed and integrated into Tom Piper’s clever design.

I’m sure this will be in my list of Best New Plays of 2012. Another triumph for the Tricycle as it looks back at its ground-breaking past under Nicholas Kent and its exciting future under Indhu Rubasingham. Miss at your peril.

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