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Posts Tagged ‘Lucy Kirkwood’

Lucy Kirkwood has taken to writing big, complex multi-layered, multi-issue plays. From Sino-American relations to a nuclear incident to particle physics. Think Tim Stoppard, but not so cold and glib, with personal stories for added empathy. I like them. A lot.

Mosquitoes revolves around two sisters – the brilliant Alice, an eminent scientist at CERN in Geneva, and Jenny, a bit of a basket case living in Luton, who seems to believe everything she reads on the internet. Despite the differences they are close, and come to each other’s rescue when needed. Their mum Karen lives with Jenny; she was an eminent scientist in her day too, but perhaps not much of a mother; she’s got an ice cold bite. Alice’s husband disappeared and she’s now in a relationship with Henri. Her troubled teenage son Luke is struggling with bullying at school.

Kirkwood weaves the personal story of these three generations with some mind-blowing science, taking us way beyond now to the possibilities of the distant future, using The Bosun, who seems to be the ghost of Alice’s former husband, as our guide. She writes really sharp dialogue and it’s often very funny, but it sometimes surprises you too, going down quite unpredictable and unexpected paths. I loved the density of the narrative and the meatiness of the dialogue. The personal story has lots of twists and revelations and is simply staged in the round, with a circular floor, a moving circular feature overhead and dramatic lighting and sound effects to convey the science. 

Jenny is a peach of a role which Olivia Coleman clearly relishes and completely inhabits. It’s harder for Olivia Williams to play less emotionally against this, but she does so well. Amanda Boxer is wonderful as mum Karen, seemingly devoid of emotion and fighting dementia, and Joseph Quinn, excellent in Wish List at the Royal Court earlier this year, is hugely impressive as angst ridden lost soul Luke. Rufus Norris’s staging is well paced and captivating, with idiosyncratic scene changes to boot.

This is a very mature play for someone in her early thirties and there’s clearly a lot more to come. I for one can’t wait.

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Over 150 shows were candidates for my four award-less awards, with Best New Play the difficult category this year, so lets start with that.

BEST NEW PLAY – LOVE – National Theatre

Over a third of the sixty-five candidates were worthy of consideration, which makes 2016 both prolific and high quality in terms of new plays. Hampstead had a particularly good year with Rabbit Hole, Lawrence After Arabia, Labyrinth and the epic iHo all in contention. The Almeida gave us three, with Boy leading the trio that included They Drink It In The Congo and Oil because of its importance and impact. The Globe’s two Kneehigh shows – 946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips on the main stage & The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse – both delighted. Two more Florian Zeller plays, The Mother and The Truth, followed The Father and proved he’s a real talent to watch. The visit of Isango again, this time with play with songs A Man of Good Hope was a treat.

The Arcola gave us Kenny Morgan, which showed us the inspiration for Terence Rattigan’s The Deep Blue Sea, the Donmar a fascinating One Night in Miami, the Orange Tree hosted the superbly written The Rolling Stone and Dante or Die’s site-specific Handle With Care had an epic sweep in its self storage unit setting. Two comedies shone above all others – James Graham’s Monster Raving Loony and Mischief Theatre’s The Comedy About A Bank Robbery, the only West End non-subsidised contender! The Royal Court provided the visceral Yen and The Children, my runner-up, another fine play by Lucy Kirkwood whose Chimerica was my 2013 winner. Of the National’s three, The Flick and Sunset at the Villa Thalia came earlier in the year, but it was LOVE at the end which made me sad and angry but blew me away with more emotional power than any other. Important theatre which I desperately hope many more people will see.

BEST REVIVAL / ADAPTATION of a play – The Young Vic’s YERMA & the National’s LES BLANCS

I’ve added ‘adaptation’ as a few steered a long way from their source, and Les Blancs could be considered a new play, but it’s just new to us.

Though I saw forty-four in this category, less than a quarter made the short-list. The best Shakespeare revival was undoubtedly A Winter’s Tale at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. As well as Les Blancs, the National staged excellent revivals of The Deep Blue Sea and Amadeus, the Donmar chipped in with the thoroughly entertaining comedy Welcome Home, Captain Fox and in Kingston The Rose revived Arthur Miller’s All My Sons, probably the best use ever of this difficult space. Beyond that I was struggling, except to choose between the two winners, which I found I couldn’t and shouldn’t do.

BEST NEW MUSICAL – GROUNDHOG DAY – Old Vic Theatre

Has a shortlist ever been so short? Only twenty contenders but only three in contention. The Toxic Avenger at Southwark Playhouse was great fun and the NYMT’s Brass visiting Hackney Empire hugely impressive, but it was achieving the seemingly impossible by turning Groundhog Day into a hugely successful musical than won the day, though it was sad to see it head stateside, presumably in pursuit of greater commercial gain, after such a short run. I know it will be back, but that doesn’t make me feel any better about a British theatrical institution and a whole load of British talent being used as a Broadway try-out. 

BEST MUSICAL REVIVAL – HALF A SIXPENCE – Chichester Festival Theatre / Novello Theatre

Fifty percent more revivals (twenty-nine) than new musicals is a lower proportion than usual, but a winner has never been clearer. 

The Menier gave us a transatlantic transfer of a great Into the Woods and what may prove to be the definitive She Loves Me, but both the Union and Walthamstow’s Rose & Crown provided twice as many quality revivals, with the latter successfully climbing higher peaks with more challenging shows for a small space – Bernstein’s Wonderful Town, Out of This World, Babes in Arms and Howard Goodall’s The Kissing Dance. The Union’s contributions included The Fix and Children of Eden and a trio of cheeky, fun nights with Bad Girls, Moby Dick and Soho Cinders. The Southerland-Tarento partnership provided a brilliant revival of Ragtime and the welcome European premiere, and superb production of, Rogers & Hammerstein’s Allegro (which was also too old for me to categorise as ‘New’). A little gem came and went ever so quickly when the Finborough revived Alan Price’s lovely Andy Capp in it’s Sun-Tue slot on the set of another play. BRING IT BACK! Despite all this fringe and off west end quality, it was the Chichester transfer of an old warhorse with a new book, new songs, thrilling staging, stunning choreography, gorgeous design and terrific ensemble which propelled itself to the top of this category.

That’s it for another year, then. Homelessness, childlessness, timelessness, colonialism and love amongst the working class. There’s a theme there somewhere…..

 

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Lucy Kirkwood’s brilliant Chimerica was always going to be hard to follow, so it’s great to report that her new play is very different but just as rewarding, a very mature piece from a young playwright.

Hazel and Robin are retired nuclear scientists / engineers with a small farm and four grown up children with four grandchildren. They live near the plant, on the coast, where they worked. A recent incident has meant a move to temporary accommodation and a significant disruption of their lifestyle. Former colleague Rose turns up after almost 40 years. She’s lived most her very different life in the US. They started their careers together building the plant and the conversation revolves around shared memories and catching up with the events in each others’ and other colleagues’ lives, until Rose says why she’s come.

It’s a very personal story of these three people, but so much more, exploring the diverse ways we fulfil our lives, growing old, relationships, generational legacy and debt, energy policy and the environment. I was captivated by these deeply drawn characters and their extraordinarily unique situation in whay is a play of many layers.

Miriam Buether’s cottage kitchen set is closed in by walls, floor and ceiling so that you feel you are peering into the room and their lives; it has the intimacy of a much smaller theatre. Deborah Findlay, Francesca Annis and Ron Cook are all superb and their somewhat complex relationships and current dilemma completely believable. James Macdonald directs this beautifully written play with great delicacy.

It’s a while since we saw such a fine play on the Royal Court’s main stage. I found it thought-provoking and enthralling, a deeply satisfying evening in the theatre.

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NEW PLAYS

Chimerica – Lucy Kirkwood’s play takes an historical starting point for a very contemporary debate on an epic scale at the Almeida

Jumpers for Goalposts – Tom Wells’ warm-hearted play had me laughing and crying simultaneously for the first time ever – Paines Plough at Watford Palace and the Bush Theatre

Handbagged – with HMQ and just one PM, Moira Buffini’s 2010 playlet expanded to bring more depth and more laughs than The Audience (Tricycle Theatre)

Gutted – Rikki Beale-Blair’s ambitious, brave, sprawling, epic, passionate family saga at the people’s theatre, Stratford East

Di & Viv & Rose – Amelia Bullimore’s delightful exploration of human friendship at Hampstead Theatre

Honourable mentions to the Young Vic’s Season in the Congo and NTS’ Let the Right One In at the Royal Court

SHAKESPEARE

2013 will go down as the year when some of our finest young actors took to the boards and made Shakespeare exciting, seriously cool and the hottest ticket in town. Tom Hiddleston’s Coriolanus at the Donmar and James McAvoy’s Macbeth for Jamie Lloyd Productions were both raw, visceral, physical & thrilling interpretations. The dream team of Adrian Lester and Rory Kinnear provided psychological depth in a very contemporary Othello at the NT. Jude Law and David Tennant as King’s Henry V for Michael Grandage Company and the RSC’s Richard II led more elegant, traditional but lucid interpretations. They all enhanced the theatrical year and I feel privileged to have seen them.

OTHER REVIVALS

Mies Julie – Strindberg in South Africa, tense and riveting, brilliantly acted (Riverside)

Edward II – a superb contemporary staging which illuminated this 400-year-old Marlowe play at the NT

Rutherford & Son – Northern Broadsides in an underated 100-year-old northern play visiting Kingston

Amen Corner – The NT director designate’s very musical staging of this 1950’s Black American play

The Pride – speedy revival but justified and timely, and one of many highlights of the Jamie Lloyd season

London Wall & Laburnam Grove – not one, but two early 20th century plays that came alive at the tiny Finborough Theatre

Honorable mentions for To Kill A Mockingbird at the Open Air, Beautiful Thing at the Arts, Fences in the West End, Purple Heart – early Bruce (Clybourne Park) Norris – at the Gate and The EL Train at Hoxton Hall, where the Eugene O’Neill experience included the venue.

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This is one hell of a play. It’s ambitious and epic; a jigsaw puzzle that takes you three hours to complete. When it comes full circle at the end, you’re left with a deep sense of satisfaction. It’s why I go to the theatre so often – to come across one of these every now and again.

Joe is an American news photographer who took an iconic picture of a man’s face-off with a tank in Tiananmen Square on 4th June 1989. Many years later he gets a lead which makes him think the man survived and escaped to the US. What unravels is like a detective story. In China, we see what happens to anyone brave enough to expose things like pollution. In the US, we see how China’s economic power can bury just about anything.

Along the way, we meet politicians, market researchers, newspapermen, Chinese immigrants and policemen, but at its heart are the personal stories of Joe and his Chinese friend and source Zhang Lin. It never lets you go and fully justifies its length at just over three hours. It’s never predictable and moves from poignant to funny in a flash. I was enthralled. Es Devlin has designed a brilliant giant revolving cube on which images are projected and within which rooms open up for all of the many scenes. Lyndsey Turner’s staging is simply stunning.

Stephen Campbell Moore is on stage almost the whole time and he’s terrific. Benedict Wong can hardly have caught his breath as he left The Arrest of Ai Weiwei in Hampstead and travelled (with two other actors!) the five miles to Islington and he too is superb. There are lovely performances from Claudie Blakley as a British market researcher who falls for Joe, Nancy Crane as a US senator and Trevor Cooper as a newspaper head.

This is an unmissable theatrical feast which propels playwright Lucy Kirkwood into the premiere league.

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To those of you not in the know (including me) it stands for Not Safe For Work – ‘online material which the viewer may not want to be seen accessing in a public or formal setting – such as at work’ but the play isn’t about that, so I’m not sure why that’s its title!

In the first scene we’re in the office of  lads mag Doghouse where everything is as you would expect – tackiness & tits, people being bullied and / or patronised. They’ve just published the best nude female ‘reader’ picture selected from 900 competition entries and they’re rather pleased with them selves – until it starts to unravel (the detail of which would be an epic spoiler). In the second scene, the issues are explored in a ‘negotiation’  between the editor and an aggrieved party in the presence of assistant Charlotte, who feelings are clearly at odds with her participation.

In the third scene we move to another magazine altogether – up-market ladies mag Electra – where the editor is interviewing Sam, an ex-employee of Doghouse. Electra is just as patronising but the bullying becomes more subtle power games. Editor Miranda describes her publication’s mission and values to Sam and lays out what will be expected of him should she decide to appoint him; not all of which is easy for Sam (or us) to stomach.

This behind-the-scenes glimpse at publishing, well this type of publishing, enables playwright Lucy Kirkwood to explore a number of interesting issues and she does so in entertaining fashion – and it’s a lot more topical than she probably thought it was when she wrote it!

The first scene is somewhat slight and clunky and the actors didn’t seem entirely comfortable at the performance I attended, but the second and third are a huge improvement – the second due to the power of the discussion / negotiation and the exceptional performance of Kevin Doyle as indignant Mr Bradshaw and the third due to cleverly written power play and a simply brilliant pairing of Janine Dee as the editor and Sacha Dhawan as the hapless but deeply sympathetic Sam.

This isn’t up there with some of the recent main house hits like Jerusalem, Posh and The Heretic, but it’s an entertaining and thought-provoking 90 minutes.

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OK, so nine short plays on the history of women in politics (and the ‘testimonies’ of five living politicians) isn’t everyone’s idea of fun on a hot, sunny Saturday in June! Well, helped by the Tricycle’s aircon, it proved to be a theatrical feast I wouldn’t have missed for the world.

The Tricycle is the only theatre with the bravery and balls (inappropriate terminology, I know) to stage this. It’s only a year since they did a thrilling whole day history of Afghanistan in the same way and I have to confess I never thought they’d match it – but they have.

The nine plays take us from Elizabeth I to all-women selection lists and the writing, by nine different women playwrights, was even more consistent than The Great Game, with an intriguing and unpredictable selection of subjects and innovative approaches to them. There really wasn’t a dud amongst them, though Sue Townsend’s albeit funny contribution steered furthest from the theme in the cause of her cartoon-like relentless and tired snipes at the New Labour project.

Marie Jones and Rebecca Lenkiewicz gave us fascinating new historical perspectives on the suffragettes and Liz I respectively. Moira Buffini’s take on Thatch & Liz II was clever and funny yet insightful. Lucy Kirkwood reminded us how we’ve virtually eliminated Greenham Common from history. Joy Wilkinson shows us that little has changed between the 1994 and 2010 Labour leadership contests. Zinnie Harris viciously but accurately shows us many men’s attitudes to all-women selection lists. Sam Holcroft stages a very intelligent debate about pornography through a conversation between a successful pornographer and a PM let down by her husband. Bola Agbaje is bang up-to-date with her study of the power of sex. Add to that verbatim contributions from Shirley Williams, Edwina Currie, Oona King,  Jacqui Smith & Anne Widdicombe, and a late addition (?) from Nick Clegg which proves to be the most chilling of all! Well if that doesn’t live up to my ‘theatrical feast’ epithet, I don’t know what does!  

Indira Rubasingham, assisted by Amy Hodge, has given each play a fresh directorial perspective with Handbagged, Bloody Wimmin and Acting Leader getting particularly inventive staging. She’s assembled an excellent ensemble of twelve actors who play up to six roles each, except Lara Rossi who gets to play Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, John Prescott, Peter Mandelson, Clare Short and Margaret Beckett’s husband in the same play – a tremendous debut from someone still at LAMDA! It was particularly good to see Kika Markham, Tom Mannion and Stella Gonet again.

If you saw The Great Game, you shouldn’t miss this different but equally exhilarating experience. If you didn’t, suspend disbelief and go see this and you’ll be back for The Great Game when it’s revival follows it. Seeing them all together, it’s an intelligent, relevant and thought-provoking experience – and great entertainment too.  

Yet again, The Tricycle leads the way.

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