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Posts Tagged ‘Louie Whitemore’

There’s something wonderful about visiting a 70-seat underground theatre a stones throw from Piccadilly Circus, where you have to cross the stage to get to the loo, to see four world class actors, directed by the man who ran both the RSC and NT, in three Samuel Beckett plays – for a few pounds more than going to the cinema around the corner. I love this city.

Beckett wrote twenty-two stage plays, many of them one act, some as short as fifteen minutes. You don’t always (ever?) entirely understand them, but you can bask in the language and exercise your brain finding meaning. Always fascinating and intriguing, never dull, somewhat addictive. I’ve seen about two-thirds of them. Another two will come along in three weeks with four more great actors in a theatre with 997 more seats!

The first of this triple-bill is Krapps Last Tape, where a man sits at a table reading his diary of some thirty years before, digging out, listening to and occasionally commenting on the meticulously indexed reel-to-reel tapes which contain the audio record of his 40th year. Oh, and he eats bananas. I’ve been lucky enough to see John Hurt and Harold Pinter, and now James Hayes in this fascinating memory play.

In Eh Joe, a man sits on his bed in silence listening to a woman’s voice in his head, his face telling you everything you need to know about his feelings as he listens to her. You can’t take your eyes off Niall Buggy, so expressive, whilst the great Becket interpreter and scholar Lisa Dwan voices the woman. This was written for TV. I first saw it on stage with Michael Gambon in a theatre 10 times the size but watching Niall Buggy, a few feet away, his face projected live on the wall behind him, was mesmerising, a way more intimate experience. Another memory piece, looking back.

The best is saved until last. The Old Tune, a radio play adapted from a Robert Pinget stage play, where two men in their seventies meet one Sunday morning and sit on a bench reminiscing, as the noisy traffic passes by. They have clear recollections, though they often differ, a source of irritation and indignation for them and humour for the audience. Memory again, but lighter and funnier and performed to perfection by Niall Buggy as Gorman and David Threlfall as Cream, a thirty minute gem that fully justifies its move from radio to stage and will stay with me forever.

These three plays belong together as if they were written as companion pieces. Though each was originally in a different form, they were written only eight years apart in the late 50s / early 60s. Trevor Nunn stages them beautifully, with help from set and costume designer Louie Whitemore, sound designer Max Pappenheim and lighting designer David Howe.

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I thought Islington only had one claim to fame in modern history – the meeting between Blair and Brown in Granita Restaurant which laid the foundations for the next sixteen years of British politics. It turns out another meeting twenty-two years later, over dinner in Boris Johnson’s home, may have sealed the fate of the recent referendum. Ironic that it took place in what is probably a remain stronghold.

The first half of Jonathan Maitland’s play seeks to re-enact the dinner where the Johnson’s were joined by the Gove’s and Evgeny Lebedev. His date Liz Hurley didn’t show up, apparently. Boris is yet to decide on Leave or Remain, a complex decision concerning his career more than the fate of his party and country. Everyone else is egging him on to go for Leave, though he is visited by three ghosts, two of which – Margaret Thatcher and Winston Churchill – favour Leave and Tony Blair Remain. Lebedev is too busy name-dropping, including a cheeky moment where the theory that he intervenes in the Evening Standard theatre awards gets promulgated, to have much of an opinion about such a trivial issue. We get a couple of interviews with Huw Edwards bookending this act. The second act leaps forward to 2029. Boris has a new wife and a knighthood, Gove has a new career and Lebedev is still dropping names with wild abandon. We continue to be visited by the three ghosts. To say much more would spoil it, so I won’t.

The first half pulls more punches, the satire is on the light side, but it’s often very funny, it’s superbly performed and it pandered to my prejudices (though not vicious enough for me!) and there’s a coup d’theatre from designer Louie Whitemore that was particularly dramatic from the front row. Will Barton is outstanding as Boris, relying on speech, mannerisms, hair and disheveled clothing rather than physical similarity. Dugald Bruce-Lockhart captures Gove’s obsequious oiliness brilliantly. Steve Nallon almost steals the show as Maggie, but he’s been playing her since Spitting Image, so he’s had a longer rehearsal period. Tim Wallers gets to switch between a newly beardless Lebedev, Blair and Huw Edwards. Annabel Weir is very good as Gove’s wife Sarah Vine and Churchill (!) and Devina Moon plays both Mrs Johnson’s very well indeed.

It’s light entertainment rather than biting satire, but in the 34th month of the shit-storm it proved to be a therapeutic fun night out. If you go in liking the two main protagonists, it probably won’t change anything. If, like me, you think they are self-serving careerists with no interest in their country, or even their party, who history will look back on as two of the biggest post-war political assholes, you’ll walk out feeling just the same!

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I wish working class playwright D H Lawrence would come into fashion like middle class playwright Terence Rattigan has, so that we could see more of his work. The polymath novelist / poet / playwright wrote eight plays, only two of which were performed in his lifetime. The last we saw in London was a ‘mash up’ of his three early mining village plays, of which this is one, as Husbands & Sons at the National a couple of years ago, but revivals of his plays are few and far between.

It’s written in strong local dialect, so you have to put in a bit of work, but you do get into the rhythm of the language, which is an essential component of the piece, fairly quickly. It takes place in family homes represented evocatively in Louie Whitemore’s design by just four pieces of furniture on a platform, with the audience in two rows on four sides, and this intimacy results in extraordinary engagement, five actors shining in their respective roles. The backdrop is the 1912 miners strike and we’re in the village of Eastwood on the Nottinghamshire / Derbyshire border. This is the world of D H Lawrence’s youth. A matriarchal society, but a man’s world.

Luther, in his early thirties, has recently married Minnie, who left life in service to do so. They are late to marriage because of his hesitancy in proposing long before, and perhaps because his mother has been holding him back. His younger brother Joe is still at home. Neighbour Mrs Purdy visits mother and younger son to inform them Luther has fathered a child with her daughter and suggests money could buy their silence. Mother, somewhat bitter at the loss of her elder son, not keen on her daughter-in-law and the inheritance she brought with her, refuses, so Mrs Purdy visits Luther.

It’s a brilliant play with excellent characterisations, superbly structured. It’s not just a personal story, but also social history and sociology, examining the roles and relationships between the sexes at that time, and archetypal mother and son relationships. Harry Hepple is simply terrific as Luther, torn between wife and mother, struggling to assert himself, clumsily when he does. Ellie Nunn is superb as a feisty Minnie, defiant and determined, but ultimately loving. Veronica Roberts is wonderful as the boys’ mum, worshiping them and pampering them. Matthew Biddulph is great as the more immature Joe, winding others up without considering the consequences and cheekily flirting with Minnie. Tessa Bell-Briggs gives a fine performance as Mrs Purdy. A brilliant cast.

Jack Gamble’s finely detailed staging is impeccable. This is an unmissable revival which I can only hope leads to many more.

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