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Posts Tagged ‘Lucy Black’

It does seem timely, reviving Caryl Churchill’s ground-breaking 1982 play, which takes a look at differing views of feminism, but is it a modern classic or a play of its time?

The story centres on Marlene, a ruthlessly ambitious Thatcherite who gets the top job at recruitment agency Top Girls, beating Howard, who everyone expected to be promoted. In the first act, she’s celebrating at a fantasy dinner party to which she’s invited five unpredictable historical figures with differing perspectives on being a woman. We see her in action in the agency, where each of the historical characters has a contemporary parallel, before we travel back in time to visit her sister back home in Suffolk and learn what she’s really given up.

The first act is brilliantly inventive, but it outstays its welcome and becomes irritating, the second act’s first scene is a trip back to Suffolk with Marlene’s niece and her friend and seemed unnecessary to me, and the second scene of this act, in the agency, seemed a bit overcooked, a touch too caricature. The third act is the heart of the play, and its staged and performed to perfection.

Director Lyndsay Turner has assembled a fine cast of actresses, including many favourites of mine. Katherine Kingsley is terrific as Marlene and there’s brilliant support from Amanda Lawrence, Siobhan Redmond, Ashley McGuire, Lucy Ellinson and Lucy Black and an outstanding performance from Liv Hill as Marlene’s niece Angie.

It seems to be the first time the play has been performed without doubling up, and I wondered if the frisson this provides, given the historical / contemporary parallels, was missing. I was glad I saw it, but it seems more play of its time than modern classic to me.

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Peter Gill is better known as a director, and a lot less prolific as a playwright, but he’s written a handful of very good plays, of which this is one of the best. First seen in 2002 at the Royal Court, revived just seven years later at the Riverside Studios, which Gill founded, and now nine years on at the Donmar Warehouse in what might be the best of the three.

Farm labourer George lives with his widowed mother in their tied cottage, with his sister Barbara, husband Arthur and their three children in the nearby council estate. Neighbour Doreen persuades George to get involved in the York Mystery Plays where he meets Assistant Director John, up from London, with whom he develops an unlikely friendship and a clandestine relationship; this is the early sixties. It starts and ends after the relationship, moving back to the visit John makes at the beginning of their relationship, an evening after the show and then to George’s mothers’ funeral. It’s not until the end that we fully understand the intervening years.

The culture clash between city and country, North and South, thespian and farmer are deftly handled and the understated writing is matched by a restrained production and a set of beautiful, authentic performances. Robert Hastie’s staging is finely tuned and hugely sensitive. Peter Mackintosh has designed an evocative, realistic, intimate cottage, with the countryside projected high above. Ben Batt and Jonathan Bailey give wonderful, delicate, nuanced performances. Lesley Nicol is simply lovely as the archetypal working class loving Mother. Lucy Black is a down-to-earth Barbara who may be more knowing than we think, and Matthew Wilson her husband Arthur who isn’t knowing at all; both fine characterisations. Katie West beautifully conveys neighbour Doreen’s yearning for George, and there’s an auspicious stage debut from Brian Fletcher as young Jack. A faultless cast.

This is an impeccable revival which draws you in to the world and lives of the characters and captivates you, proving conclusively that its a fine play indeed. This is why I go to the theatre.

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This brilliant new play by Tena Stivicic presents us with 66 years of Croatian history through the lives of one family and one house. From the creation of Yugoslavia to the eve of Croatia’s entry into the EU, through the turmoil of the late 90’s, this has a fascinating and enthralling epic sweep.

In 1945, Yugoslavia is being established as a union of Communist nations. Rose is well-connected and is given part of a large home taken from a wealthy family. She lives there with her husband, child and mother. One of the former occupants, Karolina, has lingered and when they find her they ‘adopt’ her.

In 1990 the union is breaking up and war raging between its nations. Rose’s daughter Masha and her husband Vlado are bringing up their daughters Lucia & Alisa in the house, with her parents and Karolina still living there. Two other families occupy other parts of the building and they are particularly close to neighbour Marko. Masha’s sister Dunya lives in Germany but visits to attend her mother Rose’s funeral.

In 2011 Croatia is contemplating joining another union, the European Union, and the debate rages. Alisa now lives on London, but comes home for Lucia’s wedding, as does Dunya and her husband from Germany. Lucia is marrying someone who has become rich in the new Croatia, where there are few rules and corruption is endemic.

You have to keep your wits about you as it hops from period to period, but you are deeply rewarded by a superb interweaving of political and personal history. The scene changes are themselves captivating, as screens slide and rooms and periods transform whilst projections cover them with period footage. Howard Davies direction and Tim Hatley’s design are masterly.

I’ve seen more of Siobhan Finneran’s TV work than her stage work and now I want to see more of the latter; she’s excellent as Masha. Adrian Rawlings plays her husband Vlado, a complex character, beautifully and Jodie McNee and Sophie Rundle spar brilliantly as the very different daughters who take a very different path, the latter getting a round of applause for a defiant speech towards the end of the play. Lucy Black and Daniel Flynn are well matched as Dunya and Karl, with a violent scene in their bedroom truly shocking. There’s luxury casting in the smaller roles, including Susan Engel and James Laurenson in fine form.

I’ve been interested in this part of the world for a while, have visited all seven former Yugoslav nations in the last nine years, and have been lucky enough to work in Croatia twice (the second time including the day of the EU referendum), but you don’t need to know much to enjoy this terrific play and terrific production (though getting there early enough to read the brief history in the programme would probably help). Only the National could stage this play and they’ve made a great job of it. Go!

 

 

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I have to confess I don’t know a lot about Indian independence and partition; the subject of this play. My school history studies ended in 1914 and my interest in ‘current affairs’ didn’t start until the 1960’s. Anything I know about everything that happened in between has come from TV, film and written historical reviews.

Howard Benton focuses on the five or six weeks leading up to partition and independence, when the British PM, Clement Attlee, sent a judge out to determine the borders between India & Pakistan. Cyril Radcliffe had never been to Asia let alone India and knew nothing about maps! The representatives which each interested party appointed to advise him were obviously partisan and somewhat immovable. Brenton speculates humourously that the only thing they would agree on is that ‘flushing’ is better than ‘blocking’ as a solution to Radcliffe’s sickness! The Viceroy, as the King’s representative rather than the government’s, could not and would not become involved. The contentious points were Kashmir, Calcutta and The Punjab.

Faced with a seemingly impossible task, Radcliffe’s decisions became a bit random, but he drew the line. Brenton contests that when he delivered his conclusion, Mountbatten (the Viceroy) pressurised him to change the outcome for The Punjab. He suggests that this was to save his marriage, as his wife had in fact put pressure on him – she was apparently having an affair with Nehru, Indian PM designate, who was the source of this pressure. The play ends at the point where the new Indian and Pakistani leaders address their respective independent nations, with a stunning coup d’theatre to suggest the immediate consequences.

Brenton has written some great historical plays in the last fifteen years, including Never So Good (about the Macmillan years), Anne Boleyn and The Arrest of Ai WeiWei and he says in a programme interview that he tries to be concise, to be a storyteller, with the action in the present, and I think he succeeds in that respect. He achieves a lot in under two hours playing time and though unable to go into great depth he does clarify and illuminate. Given the subject matter, it’s surprisingly light and easy to digest.

The tone of the play does however follow the populist, revisionist tendency to blame everything on the colonial power. He doesn’t give any airtime to alternative solutions, or to the possibility that there were no viable alternatives. Subsequent events, here and in other parts of the world, would suggest that this may well be the case. Colonialist-bashing isn’t really objective enough for credible historical review.

Howard Davies’ smooth flowing production serves the play well. Tim Hatley has designed an elegant and evocative set of carved wooden screens. The ensemble is excellent, with fine central performances from Tom Beard as Radcliffe, Andrew Havill as Mountbatten, Lucy Black as his wife and Silas Carson as Nehru.

It’s great to see full houses for theatre like this. The rest of the run is sold out but, like Ai WeiWei before it, it will be live streamed on Saturday 11th January. Watch it if you can.

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Whenever people think of late 19th / early 20th century Russian drama, only one name usually crops up – Chekov. This means Gorky rarely gets a look in; we get 50 Cherry Orchard productions for every Summerfolk. Whilst Chekov was pumping up the introspective middle classes, Gorky was trying to raise the plight of the poor. Much more up my liberal street.

This play was written whilst Gorky was in prison and produced on the eve of the 1905 revolution. It revolves around scientist Protasov. He is being pursued by widow Melaniya whilst his wife Yelena is being pursued by artist Vageen. Melaniya’s brother Boris, a vet, is in love with Protasov’s emotionally fragile sister Liza. Their attractive young maid, Feema, is being pursued by lots of men! It’s open house at the Protasov’s, presided over by Nanny with Protosov himself eccentric, weak and somewhat otherworldly.

Whilst all this is going on in the house, disease begins to wreak havoc in the village. In the second act, things begin to unravel in their relationships as rumours begin to circulate that it’s Prosotov’s work and not cholera that’s the cause of the disease and the outside begins to threaten the inside, eventually leading to an invasion which ends with an extraordinary coup d’theatre. We spend a bit too long in the interior world of the fortunate before the events outside are introduced, but from then on it’s a great piece – more because of superb characterisation than story.

The unstarry ensemble is brilliant; not a weak link amongst them. Geoffrey Streathfield is every inch the mad professor. Paul Higgins as Boris and Maggie McCarthy as Nanny each turn in another fine NT performance and Lucy Black, someone who is new to me, was hugely impressive as the besotted Melaniya. It’s another of Bunny Christie giant wild sets; she really knows how to make the best of the difficult Lyttleton stage. Director Howard Davies continues to show his affinity with this Russian repertoire with a masterly staging of Andrew Upton’s accessible adaptation.

More of a treat than the press led me to expect & something only the NT could do.

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