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Posts Tagged ‘Luke Halls’

A hit new play at the Bridge Theatre? I’d say so. A proper play, too. Remember those? Stories, plots, characters. Something that takes you on an enjoyable journey to somewhere. It’s a stage adaptation of Harriett Lane’s novel by playwright Lucinda Coxon, and jolly good it is too.

Frances works for the arts supplement of a Sunday paper, specifically the Books section. She’s very put upon – fetching coffee, fixing couriers – someone always in the background. Returning home from Christmas with her family, she witnesses a fatal car accident, the last person to speak to its victim Alys, whose family ask the police if they can meet her. She declines at first, but when she discovers Alys’s husband is famous author Laurence Kyte, she changes her mind.

Frances’ boss Mary is surprised to bump into her at Alys’ memorial service where she is seen speaking to her family, as a result of which her currency at work rises sharply, and she gets books to review and functions to attend. At the same time, she inveigles herself into the Kyte family, at first as a confidante for Alys’ daughter Polly, but becoming much more. Underneath the cloak of invisibility lurks a rather cunning, determined, intelligent and somewhat manipulative person, who creates a future for herself and cleverly navigates the journey towards it.

Nicholas Hytner’s staging is very well paced, drawing you in and keeping you engaged with Frances’ story. Bob Crowley’s design, with video projections by Luke Halls, allows the action to move swiftly and fluidly from offices to rooms and gardens in a handful of locations. I thought Joanne Froggatt perfectly captured the seemingly unobtrusive Frances, revealing what’s really going on in her head by a subtle glance or a hint of a smile. The supporting cast are first class, with Sylvestra Le Touzel giving another of her nuanced performances as Mary, then turning up virtually unrecognisable as Audrey.

Five week run? I smell a transfer for this thoroughly entertaining tale.

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It’s only four months since our own Carey Mulligan wowed with her one-woman show at the Royal Court, now on Broadway. American actress Laura Linney is premiering here, but I suspect she’s Broadway-bound too. They both gave virtuoso performances, but the stories they tell couldn’t be more different.

Rona Munro has adapted Elizabeth Strout’s 2016 novel. Laura Linney is Lucy Barton, but she plays her mother too. Lucy is looking back on a period when she was seriously ill in a New York hospital. Her husband and young children rarely visited, but her estranged mother turns up unexpectedly. This triggers childhood memories, when she felt as lonely as she does in the hospital. Her upbringing in rural Illinois was in a poor family with seemingly unloving parents, remote from her two siblings. We learn about these relationships, but also learn about her family life at the time she’s in hospital, her career as a writer and forward fifteen or so years to see how it unfolded.

It’s storytelling, and you know it’s good storytelling because you have vivid pictures of the characters and places in your head. Structurally, it hops around, back and fore in time, which is one reason why it engages you throughout. The other reason is the storyteller. Laura Linney moves around the space, engaging with her audience on three sides, and the Bridge Theatre shrinks in your imagination (not difficult for me in the front row!). The performer is as lonely as the character, which increases your empathy with both. It’s a big stage, with only a hospital bed and chair in Bob Crowley’s design, and projections by Luke Halls of the New York skyline through the hospital window, moving us to the streets of her New York neighbourhood and back to her rural homeland. I was captivated by it, and I’m renowned for not liking monologues!

I’ve been a fan of Laura Linney since the 1993 Tales of the City Channel 4 series and I have nothing but admiration for the bravery that must be required to play this role. Getting a novel adapted and on stage in another country in just two years is some feat, but with playwright Rona Munro and director Richard Eyre, you have a premiere league team to pull it off in style.

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Sometimes the theatre can teach you something about recent history that passed you by, even though you lived through it. So it is with this play by Francis Turnly, the story of a group of Japanese coastal dwellers who disappeared in the late 70’s, seemingly abducted by North Korea.

The story is told through the life of one family, single mother Etsuko and her two daughters, Reiko and Hanako. Hanako disappears and Etsuko spends the rest of her life searching for her daughter, and the truth, with the help of Reiko and her friend Tetsuo. She sends out a message in a bottle, literally, on a daily basis. She finds the relatives of other victims and forms a campaign group, but the government is reluctant to take up the cause and the press hesitant about supporting it.

North Korea’s intentions initially seem to be to brainwash and turn those abducted and return them as spies, but this later changed to using them to teach their language and customs to potential spies. Some, like Hanako, are forced to marry and have children. She even finds happiness with Kum-Choi, the husband of her arranged marriage, and their daughter Hana. When relations between the two countries ease, the government acts at last and Etsuko learns the fate of her daughter. Though it’s a personal story, you learn a lot about the post-war geopolitics of East Asia.

Tom Piper’s set revolves to move us between the countries, with illustrative giant projections by Luke Halls, but otherwise Indhu Rubasingham’s staging is fairly conventional, focusing on the storytelling, without distraction. After last year’s ‘yellow face’ controversy, it’s good to see a complete cast of actors of East Asian heritage, with excellent performances all round.

I’m not sure how this particular piece of history passed me by, but I was glad to be informed at last, and given the profile of North Korea in today’s news, its rather timely.

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This is a breath of fresh air for the West End, full of energy and life-affirming joy, and perhaps the first musical to be inspired by a documentary?

Sixteen-year-old Jamie wants to be a drag queen, and to wear a dress to the school prom. His divorced mum Margaret, her friend Ray and his bestie Pritti support him, but his dad, his school and some of his classmates don’t approve. He’s befriended and coached by Hugo, a former drag queen, now owner of a shop supplying drag outfits, and starts developing an act for an invited audience at the local drag club where three other drag queens also provide advice and support. The showcase goes ahead, followed by the even bigger challenge of the prom.

Dan Gillespie Sells score and Tom Macrae’s book and lyrics are excellent; they bring a fresh pop sound, rather than a bog standard musicals one, the style of songs changing to match the characters. Kate Prince’s choreography is simply terrific, again fresh rather than standard musicals movement. The school scenes in particular have extraordinary authenticity and high energy. I liked Anna Fleischle’s design, with projections by Luke Halls, and it’s staged with great pace by Jonathan Butterell.

It seems like a very happy cast, visibly enthusiastic, many of them transferring from Sheffield with the show. Lucie Shorthouse is outstanding as Pritti, comfortable with both her Muslim culture and Jamie’s personal choices. The relationship between Jamie and his mum is at the heart of the show and Josie Walker invests a lot of emotional energy into Margaret, with her big second act song feeling like a big hug from your mum. Mina Anwar is lovely as the ballsy Ray, who’s love for Margaret and Jamie knows no bounds. John McRea towers over all of this with a supremely confident, passionate performance; an astonishing West End debut.

I watched the documentary after seeing the show and it proves it’s very faithful to Jamie’s story. The show’s message of tolerance, of everyone being allowed to be who they are, comes over loud and clear in what is clearly a populist and critical success. Lets hope it’s a commercial success too, so that we can get more fresh air like this into the West End.

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A play about the use of virtual reality to relieve severe pain in injured war veterans doesn’t sound particularly promising, but by including the personal stories of one veteran and her family and friends, and given a superb production by Indhu Rubasingham, it becomes rather captivating.

Jess is the protagonist in Lindsey Ferrintino’s play. She returns to her Florida home from Afghanistan with massive injuries, disfiguration and severe disability. The VR therapy she undertakes does reduce the pain significantly, by taking her to a calming mountainscape. She lives with her sister Kacie, a primary school teacher, in their mom’s house – she’s in some sort of home. Kacie has a new boyfriend Kelvin, a bit of a loser, courtesy of her ‘dream board’ it seems. Jess bumps into her ex Stevie and we learn that her third (voluntary) tour of duty causes their break-up. Though Jess’ world and her story is the core of the piece, the other three very different world’s revolve around it and connect with it, with a fourth added towards the end. Significantly, it’s set nearby and at the time of the final shuttle launch.

I loved Es Devlin’s design, with Luke Halls’ brilliant projections. When we’re in the real world, we can also see out to the environment around us. The virtual world is wrapped around the stage, revolving and evolving. Kate Fleetwood as Jess in on stage throughout and it’s a virtuoso performance, with the audience wincing as she feels her pain. Olivia Darnley captures the charming naivity of the almost childlike Kacie. I also very much liked the characterisations of Kelvin and Stevie by Kris Marshall and Ralf Little respectively.

I think the performances and production paper over the cracks in what seemed like an unfinished play, a touch slight to be on a major stage like the Lyttleton, but it’s an original piece, there was much to enjoy, it held me throughout and I was glad I caught it. 

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This is a hugely ambitious, inventive play about the connection of the human race with oil, spanning more than 150 years from 1889 to 35 years into the future. It also covers the changing place of women in society and the relationship between a mother and her daughter. Ella Hickson’s play has its flaws, but I greatly admired both the writer’s boldness and Carrie Cracknall’s production.

There are five scenes, starting with a Cornish farming family in the late nineteenth century, bickering as they struggle to get by. Our central character May is married to one of three brothers, pregnant with their first child. They are visited by an American, who demonstrates his newly developed kerosene lamp and makes an offer for their farm where he wishes to set up his fledgling business. May wants them to accept, but her husband doesn’t. In the second scene we are in Persia at the beginning of the 20th century where the British are seeking to exploit their oil resources. This May is a waitress. For me, this was the least effective scene. The third section leaps forward to the 1970’s. May is an oil company executive who is visited by a Libyan minister informing her his country is going to sequestrate a share of the company. Her relationship with her 15-year-old environmentally conscious daughter Amy is fraught.

In the second half, we’re taken five years into the future. May, a former MP who voted for the war, is in Iraq trying to persuade her daughter, Amy, doing voluntary work in a hospital, to return home. Their relationship is fraught too. In the final scene we’re thirty-five years in the future, back in the Singer family home in Cornwall. Our energy fears have become a reality as May and Amy struggle to keep warm. They are visited by a Chinese saleswoman (the new colonists) selling a personalised nuclear solution with as dubious environmental credentials as oil.

I struggled a bit with the implausibility’s – why would the American want to locate his business on a Cornish farm? Why would a Libyan minister come to her home? – and the fact that each May and Amy must be different characters given the timescales, but I eventually let go of my literalism and went with the flow. Though the relationship between mother and daughter aids the narrative, I’m not sure the emancipation issues do.

There’s something very compelling about the production that holds your attention. Lucy Carter’s lighting, sometimes very dark, and Luke Halls’ oil-related projections are particularly effective. Both Anne-Marie Duff as May and Yolanda Kettle as her anagram daughter Amy are excellent, creating a very believable mother and daughter relationship, and there’s a fine supporting cast.

The Almeida set an early 7pm start for this production, but it’s only 2.5 hours long. I suspect it has reduced in length since the draft on which they programmed it and it did sometimes feel as if there were missing bits. Despite its flaws though, it’s a very welcome, brave and epic play which I would definitely recommend.

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This is a clever but disturbing play that will be hard to talk about without spoiling it, but I’ll try. If you’re planning to go, you may wish to stop here.

Playwright Jennifer Haley has created a future world where the internet is ‘the nether’ and virtual reality is highly sophisticated. People share their time between ‘in-world’ and the nether, which does a lot of good things like education, but a lot of more dubious things too which are almost impossible to control. Sims creates one of the most sophisticated virtual experiences which others can buy in to, which he rationalises as better virtual than real. Doyle appears to be one of his best customers. Morris, a detective, pursues both. The play switches between interviews where Morris confronts Sims and Doyle (separately) and the virtual world of Sims’ creation.

It packs a hell of a punch in 80 minutes and really makes you think about where we might be heading. It’s all the more unsettling because of its plausibility; I found it somewhat prophetic. The virtual world, a seemingly vast space, is brilliantly created by Es Devlin with video design by Luke Halls and the performances are all superb. Stanley Townsend is absolutely chilling as Sims and Amanda Hale as Morris, initially ice cool determination, makes a surprising and deeply effecting transition. Isabella Pappas, who plays a young girl called Iris, was simply extraordinary; though after the play we were debating the consequences of such young casting (though the play wouldn’t work without it) as well as the issues in the play.

The Royal Court has been a bit hit or miss of late, but this co-production with Headlong, directed by their new AD Jeremy Herrin, is exactly what they do best and should do more of. Essential.

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