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Posts Tagged ‘Lucy Bailey’

Quite a few years ago GSMD introduced me to a Noel Coward play called Peace in Our Time, set in an occupied London at the end of the Second World War; the Nazis had won. Now they are introducing me to another rare Coward, an anti-war play set during and after the First World War. It’s a fascinating piece and it’s given a stunning production.

Coward wrote it in 1930, after being deeply affected by performing in R C Sheriff’s Journey’s End, another First World War play. He published it but decided it was too bitter to stage. It’s first performance took place in a PoW camp in Austria in 1944, where the prisoners included four professional actors. It was first seen here in 1968, on TV, and not until 1992 on stage, when it had its first production at the Kings Head Theatre. That was 25 years ago and its baffling that no-one has staged it since. Coward is known for comedy and songs, so in a blind test you probably wouldn’t guess correctly, though the dialogue does have his voice.

We start in the trenches with five very different officers. Cavan swaps watch with Robbins and is killed. At that moment, he becomes a ghostly presence back home where thirteen years have passed. He visits his mother, his former girlfriend, his newspaper baron father (a thinly disguised snipe at the Daily Mail) and his former army colleagues. The war has made nothing better and some things worse. When his time is up, we return to the trenches as he’s stretchered away. There’s one final moving moment at a war memorial.

William Dudley’s projection tunnel is extraordinary, enabling them to move to seven very different locations in two time periods, which helps Lucy Bailey’s staging flow so beautifully. Tom Glenister is excellent as Cavan, on stage throughout, and there’s a particularly fine performance from Nicholas Armfield as tortured Lomas, who writes a book after the war which Cavan’s dad’s newspaper riles against. In fact, the whole ensemble of twenty-five is outstanding.

Well worth reviving, in a matchless production. Only three more days.

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This is such a perfect pairing of play and venue. Much of the action of Agatha Christie’s 1953 play takes place in an Old Bailey courtroom and the County Hall chamber is a superb stand-in for the real thing. This is not the sort of play I’m usually drawn to, though I went to The Mousetrap (as it was the only theatre I hadn’t been in) and enjoyed it, and I thoroughly enjoyed this. It may not run as long as the other one, but it has HIT written all over it.

It’s the case of the alleged murder of a rich old woman by a charming young man. The prosecution and defence QC’s are arch enemies who love winning their cases. The key witness is a foreigner (not so politically correct today, but it has post-Brexit resonance)! I hadn’t seen the play or film before, so the expertly written twists were genuinely surprising. What more can I say without spoiling it?

Designer William Dudley has a venue which virtually designs itself, but his extra touches are excellent. Chris Davey’s lighting and especially Mic Pool’s ‘soundscape’ add much to create the unique atmosphere. It’s hard to imagine better casting than the triumvirate of Patrick Godfrey as Judge and David Yelland & Philip Franks as the QC’s, all excellent, and Jack McMullen and Catherine Steadman are terrific as the defendant Leonard Vole and his wife Romaine.

It’s a somewhat old-fashioned evening, but Lucy Bailey’s production oozes quality from every pore and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Oh, and the seats must be the comfiest in theatre-land.

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This is a masque written by poet John Milton in 1634 to mark the appointment of the Earl of Bridgewater as ‘Lord President’ (something like today’s Lord Lieutenant) of Wales. In Lucy Bailey’s production it’s more of a masque-within-a-masque, with the final rehearsal as a prologue and a bit of a feminist epilogue.

The masque appears to be designed to whitewash the Bridgewater family name after a scandal involving a wicked uncle, so its theme is chastity. The players include the Earl’s three children and members of his staff. In Bailey’s production, it almost doesn’t go ahead as the Earl’s daughter throws a strop during the final rehearsal. 

Comus is an enchanter with a bunch of ‘monstrous followers’. He seeks to bed The Lady, who has lost the two brothers accompanying her. They eventually find her bound to a chair (like something out of a 17th century brothel) under a spell, in immediate danger of losing her virginity. A nymph of the River Severn turns up to break the spell and set her free.

It’s a bit of a romp, good fun, but a touch overcooked I thought. The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse has had a bit of a makeover by designer William Dudley with an elevated walkway around the back of the pit and a pit within the pit that extends under the stage to represent the River Severn. The gothic masks and ivy which adorn the theatre create a great setting and the costumes are terrific. Above all, there’s lovely music combining original songs by Henry Lawes with music by his contemporaries like Dowland and Gibbons and modern additions by folk band Blowzabella and composer Paul James. It’s a fine ensemble, with Philip Cumbus giving us a great turn as Henry Lawes.

Perfect for the SWP, fascinating to see a masque that isn’t by Purcell, and jolly good fun.

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Playwright Mike Poulton, hot on the heels of his hugely successful stage adaptations of Wolf Hall & Bring up the Bodies, has written a brilliant new play about Terence Rattigan’s ex-lover, with Rattigan as a character, that feels like it could be written by Rattigan himself (after the abolition of censorship, if he came out!). The incident at the core of the play was in fact the source of his classic The Deep Blue Sea, which I am seeing again in a couple of weeks, after another Rattigan play this week. I love it when things coincide like this.

It starts with Kenny Morgan’s attempted suicide, foiled by a neighbour smelling gas. The landlady and another neighbour, a (struck off) doctor, tend to him. His lover is away, so the neighbour calls the first number in his phone book – Rattigan. We learn that Kenny was his en suite lover for ten years, but left to live with Alec who is the age Kenny was when he met Rattigan. Alec is a promiscuous bi-sexual who is clearly using Kenny and is the primary reason for his unhappiness. As the play unfolds, we learn that it wasn’t much happier at Rattigan’s, being hidden away and brought out when needed. He flip flops between staying with Alec or returning to Terry as the play continues. 

It’s such a good cast, with Paul Keating a revelation as Kenny; it’s rare to see an actor invest so much emotional energy into a role. I thought Simon Dutton was spot on with his characterisation of Rattigan; a fine performance. Alec is a somewhat unsympathetic character which Pierro Niel-Mee played extremely well. There is a lovely cameo from Marlene Sidaway as landlady Mrs Simpson, nosy and more than a bit bigoted. Lowenna Melrose as Alec’s ‘friend’, Matthew Bulgo as the neighbour and George Irving as the ‘doctor’ Ritter make up this fine cast. It’s sensitively staged by Lucy Bailey with a suitably seedy period design by Robert Innes-Hopkins.

Fascinating play. Fine writing. Excellent staging. Terrific performances. What more can you ask for? Bring on the next two Rattigan’s……

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John Gay has a lot to answer for. In satirising 18th century opera, he invented the musical as we know it today (and even jukebox musicals, as his was a compilation of popular songs of the day) and it’s content was so controversial, it resulted in the introduction of theatrical censorship which continued for 240 years until just 43 years ago. He also made more money that a lot of contemporary musicals – the equivalent of £1m!

Lucy Bailey’s production for the Open Air Theatre is much darker and bawdier than any I’ve seen before, and somehow feels much more authentic. It’s another show (after Into the Woods and Lord of the Flies) that’s perfect for the venue too. Bill Dudley has created a superb death & torture location with gallows and stocks, brilliant period costumes and a Hogarthian front cloth to take you to the London of the early eighteenth century.

Macheath is a highwayman and womanizer, target of thief catcher Peachum and jailer Lockit, both of whose daughters he has bedded and proposed to (and in Lucy Lockit’s case impregnated). Along the road to his capture we seem to spend most of our time in bars and brothels with a surfeit of thieving, drinking, fighting and fornication. It’s a bit shocking today, so I dread to think what they thought of it 283 years ago!

It’s a great ensemble, expanded to 26 with the addition of students from E 15 Acting School with stand out performances from Jasper Britton and Janet Fullerlove as the Peachums, Oliver Hoare as their servant Filch and Beverly Rudd as both Lucy Lockit and Dolly Trull. They’ve cast singing actors rather than singers, which I think is right for the piece but doesn’t make for the best vocals. The playing of six piece ensemble The City Waites though is first class.  The choreography and fight direction of Maxine Doyle and Terry King is outstanding; you often went ‘ouch’ as you could virtually feel the punches and falls.

Another great night at the Open Air on another great night. Next stop Gershwin’s Crazy for You in a month’s time.

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A rare Tennessee Williams for this somewhat muted centenary year and one of the most in-your-face shows I’ve ever been to; I left exhausted.

It’s a late play with nothing like the power of his classics, but better than many of his late plays. It’s a three-hander with all the usual TW themes and trademarks. Sick brother (clearly gay, but unsaid) on his last legs returns to family home with recent bride (who he met and married on TV in a day!). Before he left, following the death of his mother (they were devoted to each other), he willed the family home to his neanderthal mixed race half-brother. The marriage is a threat to neanderthal man, it has yet to be consummated and husband is now outed as cross-dresser (as his mother!). There’s sexual tension between neanderthal man and sexually frustrated new wife, who flaunts herself in her showbiz outfits. This is all against the backdrop of an imminent flood in the Mississippi Delta. It’s a bit TW-by-numbers, so you can fill in the rest yourself.

The set is extraordinary (designer Ruth Sutcliffe), with a giant mound of earth reaching to the ceiling and dominating the room (as it started, my companion said ‘are you sure it’s not Beckett?!), but I’m not sure such an impressionistic setting serves the play well. The acting is appropriately ‘OTT Deep South’, but is occasionally pushed too far, particularly by Joseph Drake (though in all fairness his is a tough role to get right). David Stursazker was particularly impressive as half-brother Chicken and Fiona Glascott did well to balance Myrtle’s absurdity with her humanity.

I really did find it too in-your-face; it prevents you from engaging with the characters and their stories, erases whatever realism existed and makes the experience of watching the play somewhat overpowering and uncomfortable – but maybe that’s what director Lucy Bailey intended. My companion was clearly having a dreadful time, which made me reflect that you’re better off in the theatre on your own when you’re experience isn’t contaminated by someone else’s experience.

The Print Room is a  good new venue (though a bit of a schlep for those of us with SW postcodes) and as a TW fan, it was good to catch up with the play.

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