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Posts Tagged ‘Lucy Cohu’

I haven’t read any books by Patrick Hamilton, whose novel this is based on, though I have seen his plays Gaslight and Rope, plus some TV and film adaptations of his work. Nicholas Wright has adapted this late novel for the stage and I found it a bit of an odd concoction.

Set in a boarding house in Berkshire during the Second World War, the residents are mostly long-term, some forced to find alternative accomodation to their bombed London homes. It’s mostly retired folk, but thirty-something Miss Roach, who works for a publisher, is amongst them. She frequents the local pub, where she meets a black American GI, Lieutenant Pike, and a German doctor’s clerk, Vicki Kugelman. The latter ends up moving into the boarding house, which the Lieutenant visits to take dinner with Miss Roach.

There’s a lot of alcohol involved and the triangular relationship of Roach, Pike and Kugelmann becomes a bit of a roller-coaster. After a tragic incident, all three go their separate ways, leaving the boarding house, two ending up not too happily reunited in London. There are a lot of scenes, which I felt were detrimental to both characters development and flow, and some of the behaviour on display seemed incongruous. The biggest flaw for me was the ending, leaving you hanging in mid-air, though it is what the title says – they are slaves to solitude.

It’s hard to fault the production, though on the last day of previews there were still a few glitches to iron out. The scene changes are themselves excellent, transforming from boarding house to pub and back quickly and seamlessly, though the change to the one outdoor scene worked less well for those of us in the front stalls. There are some lovely performances, with the romantic trio, played by Fenella Woolgar, Daon Broni and Lucy Cohu, all excellent. Clive Francis’ cameo as the somewhat lecherous mysoginist racist Thwaites is a delight (!), and there are smaller but important contributions from Richard Tate and Tom Milligan.

I left the theatre not fully satisfied, concluding that it perhaps wasn’t really worth adapting. Mind you, it did come at the end of a week which included three crackers – Albion, Young Marx and Beginning.

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The cast list for the 1979 Trevor Nunn production for the RSC reads like a who’s who of British actors, including Zoe Wanamaker, David Suchet, Juliet Stevenson and the now departed Richard Griffiths and Ian Charleston. Suchet also featured in Edward Hall’s 2001 NT revival. It’s no co-incidence that it’s the RSC & NT that have staged this 1930 Kauffman & Hart comedy, the first of their eight collaborations, in London – it requires big resources. The RSC production famously ended with 15 minutes of song and dance by the full ensemble plus band, which sent you home hopping and skipping. This is a scaled-down, shorter adaptation by Hart’s son for 13 actors playing 22 roles. Mind you, it still needs 8 costume makers and 5 wig technicians!

So here we are another 15 years on, and its the turn of contemporary powerhouse The Young Vic in a fine production by Richard Jones with designs by Hyemi Shin, featuring Harry Enfield’s stage debut. He play’s silent film mogul Glogauer, who finds himself competing with the talkies which he first turned down. As soon as he sees the first talkie, Vaudevillian Jerry Hyland is inspired to sell his act with May Daniels and George Lewis to head West for part of the new action, initially running an elocution school (to teach the formerly silent to talk), until Glogauer comes under the spell of George, who ends up running the studios, himself under the spell of the pretty but talentless Susan Walker, who becomes an unlikley star.

It’s a satire on Hollywood and it’s great fun. Enfield is very good, as indeed is fellow comedian Kevin Bishop as Jerry (though he does have stage acting experience). Favourites Claudie Blakley and John Marquez are on fine form as May and George. Amanda Lawrence gives us another of her show stealing turns as Glogauer’s secretary Miss Leighton and there’s great work from Lucy Cohu as columnist Helen Hobart, Lizzy Connolly as Susan and Adrian Der Gregorian in no less than four roles. The star of the show, though, is Nicky Gillibrand’s magnificent costumes and Cynthia De La Rosa’s wigs, hair and make-up!

Huge seasonal fun.

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When I booked Ecstasy for the night before this, I wasn’t at all conscious of what I was doing. Chalk & cheese.

Like Pinter, Edward Albee has always been a bit of a problem playwright for me. Where Pinter has too much silence, Albee has too many words! His plays usually have smug characters, glib dialogue and a cynical veneer. I find it impossible to empathise with any of them.

By the time I got to the first interval, I was thinking ‘here we go again; I hate these people!’ Is this an American Knot of the Heart? (the Almeida’s last play, which drove me to drink at the interval, after which I couldn’t bring myself to return).

Agnes and Tobias seem to be going through the motions of life in late middle age, with Agnes’ alcoholic spinster sister providing some conflict and confrontation. Over one weekend, their lives are turned upside down when they are invaded by best friends Harry and Edna (who move in because they are afraid of being at home alone!) and daughter Julia, a thirty-something spoilt brat who has given up on her fourth marriage and comes home. These people, particularly Agnes, speak lines with a quick-wittedness and articulacy that is very implausible – could anyone really think and say all of that spontaneously?

Something compelled me to return after that first interval and in the second and third act things did improve as the drama unfolded, but it’s still people you can’t give a shit about spouting implausible bollocks in unbelievable situations….but it does intrigue and hold you and it does makes you think.

It has not one but two national treasures in the cast – Penelope Wilton & Imelda Staunton – and they are both excellent in roles you wouldn’t usually consider them suitable for. Tim Pigott-Smith, Diana Hardcastle and Ian McElhinney also shine as the other oldies, though Lucy Cohu seems a little uncomfortable throwing adult tantrums. Laura Hopkins set is an extraordinary wood-paneled living room that, as a 60’s upper middle class New England home, is the most believable thing about the evening. James Macdonald’s direction is of his usual high standard.

There’s an intellectual pomposity about it which annoyed me, and it didn’t move me one bit, but it did hold and intrigue me for nigh on three hours. Having said that, when compared with last night’s British social realism, I’m afraid there’s no contest – Ecstasy wins hands down because Leigh has humanity where Albee has disdain.

The Almeida’s next-but-one play is yet another Neil LaBute – the natural successor to Albee, in my view. I’ll have to go of course…..

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I vividly remember being at the UK premiere of this play 16 years ago. At the end, lead actor Henry Goodman pointed to a man a few rows behind me and the audience rose to its feet to give Arthur Miller a standing ovation.

Not everyone agreed (nothing new there, then) but I thought it was his best play in the 40 years since a row of four classics – All My Sons, Death of a Salesman, The Crucible & A View From A Bridge – between 1947 and 1955. We’ve seen a lot of these four since, but not Broken Glass. The National hosted the UK premiere, but again it’s a fringe venue – the Tricycle – that gives us a second look.

Set in 1938 in New York, Sylvia Gellburg is mysteriously paralysed. The initial diagnosis is hysterical paralysis, a reaction to events in Nazi Germany, but as the play unfolds the relationship with, and behaviour of, her husband comes into the frame. She abandoned her business career, her sex life is unfulfilled, her husband possesses her.

Phillip Gellburg is one of the most complex characters Miller wrote – proud to be ‘the only Jew’ in his company with his son heading to be ‘the only Jew’ army General in a way that is distancing himself, even denying, his heritage. At the same time, he sees anti-Semitism when it might not even be there and is racked with feelings of inadequacy, persecution and inferiority complexes and paranoia.

Anthony Sher is mesmerizing, he IS Phillip Gellburg, and as the play unfolds his character becomes more exposed and develops emotional depth. Sylvia Gellberg is a tough role, changing significantly between the first and second acts. Playing a little older than her age, Lucy Cohu really pulls it off. The third key character, Dr Harry Hyman, who is fascinated by the case and attracted to his patient, sees Nigel Lindsay cast against type and more than a match for Sher and Cohu. These are fine performances indeed.

I’m not very familiar with director Iqbal Khan’s work, but I’ll make sure I am in the future, for this is a very intelligent production, deeply moving but without descending into sentimentality. Mike Britton has designed an impressionistic space which allows the drama to breath and the onstage cello playing of Laura Moody maintains the tension between scenes.

This play was followed by two disappointing late works – Mr Peter’s Connections and Resurrection Blues – and a third play, Finishing the Picture, which we haven’t seen here. Looking back now, it is clear that it was the last great work of a giant of theatre and seeing it again was as thrilling as seeing it for the first time.

Yet another triumph for the regularly triumphant and completely indispensable Tricycle!

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