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Posts Tagged ‘Lydia Leonard’

When I paired this with Me & My Girl for a day trip to Chichester, with this following the musical, I hadn’t really thought about the effect of the contrast. We were still on a high when this much more restrained piece started, and though it did affect our response, Charlotte Jones’ play still proved to be very original and thought-provoking.

It’s set in a Sussex Quaker community at the beginning of the 19th century. Britain is at war, threatened by invasion on this coast, gung-ho patriotism rife. This pacifist community are best keeping themselves to themselves, but one of their number, Rachel, wanders towards and into the town, and on one trip comes across young military man Nathaniel, who shares a name with the three children she has lost and who are buried nearby. Her husband Adam desperately needs an apprentice, so she takes him home, disposing of his uniform as she does.

Nathanial poses as a Quaker to integrate into the community, but his arrival makes waves and challenges many of their values – peace, honesty, equality and non-aggression. Rachel’s deaf but highly intuitive mother Alice is the only one who seems to grasp the profound effect his arrival has had. When all is revealed, the community has to work hard to regroup and recover.

Vicki Mortimer’s highly original, subdued design seems reflective of both the setting and the community – grey stones, light wood furniture and grey cream and brown costumes. A series of short scenes, perhaps too many and too short, propels us quickly through the story in director Natalie Abrahami’s sensitive staging. Lydia Leonard is superb as Rachel, with Gerald Kyd as Adam and Laurie Davidson as Nathaniel excellent as the two men in her life. Jean St Clair communicates brilliantly without speech. I very much liked Olivia Darnley’s characterisation of neighbour Biddy, a character low in emotional intelligence.

The juxtaposition with a feel-good musical probably meant we didn’t do it justice, but I’m glad I saw such a quality play and quality production nevertheless.

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After twenty-six days without theatre, I would probably have been satisfied with a light snack. I started the famine after a musical feast, Follies, and I end it with this dramatic banquet. This is a terrific play, superbly performed.

American playwright J T Rogers gift for taking historical events and turning them into brilliant entertainment was first seen here in Blood & Gifts (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2010/11/02/blood-gifts). Our own more prolific James Graham (two shows now in the West End!) has a similar gift, though with subjects closer to home. Rogers has chosen to dramatise the secret talks between Israel and the PLO which ran in parallel with the much bigger formal ones which excluded the PLO, before eclipsing them by securing the deal signed the following year at the White House with that iconic handshake between Rabin and Arafat, which resulted in their shared Nobel prize.

Terje is a Norwegian sociologist running a think-tank. He and his wife Mona, a Norwegian foreign office employee, had the idea and instigated the process in 1992, initially without Norwegian government approval, and managed the talks without actual involvement in the substance of them. By focusing on building relationships and trust, in an informal setting in a country house (with good homemade food and lots to drink!), in seven short rounds of talks they made extraordinary progress, taking it so far that Rabin and Arafat were able to conclude it by phone in seven hours. The first half starts when the Norwegian FO are informed and flashes back to the seed of the idea in Cairo, then back to where we started. The second half moves chronologically from here to the White House signing. It’s packed with humour, adding to rather than detracting from the seriousness of the subject and it grips throughout.

On a plain wall, projections are used very effectively to change location and show real time events happening elsewhere. It’s a superb ensemble led by Toby Stevens as Terje and Lydia Leonard as his wife Mona, onstage for almost all of the three hours. Peter Polycarpou continues to demonstrate his extraordinary range as the senior PLO negotiator. His more hardened and defiant colleague Hassan eventually softens, an excellent transition from Nabil Elouahabi. The Israeli’s initially field a pair of academics, beautifully played as a bumbling double-act by Paul Herzberg and Thomas Arnold, the former channelling Stan Laurel!, before Philip Arditti’s hard-line, abrasive Uri Savir upgrades their delegation and then the even tougher Israeli-American lawyer Joel Singer takes an  even more aggressive stance, a pitch perfect performance from Yair Jonah Lotan. There’s a delightful cameo from Geraldine Alexander as the housekeeper whose food is the one thing they can all agree on.

It steers an objective course, enabling you to see the reasons for the impasse and the deep emotional foundations of the conflict. Even though the peace never lasted, it was a partial success and the play is ultimately hopeful. A real theatrical feast which lives up to all the hype.

 

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Ibsen is the second most performed playwright in the world (no guessing who’s first) but this late play is one of his least performed. In Richard Eyre’s new version, it’s a devastating but brilliant eighty minutes. I left the theatre emotionally drained.

Alfred and Rita’s relationship is very rocky. Rita feels Alfred’s sister Asta and their son Eyolf somehow come between them. Alfred comes back from a spot of self-imposed solitude determined to devote more time and energy to Eyolf, but before he even begins the boy drowns and all three adults, plus Bjarne who is desperately wooing Asta, are plunged into deep grief during which the complex web of their relationships unravels.

It packs so much into eighty minutes and doesn’t feel anything like a 120-year-old play. It has great psychological depth and unfolds like a thriller. The intimacy of the Almeida increases the intensity of the drama whilst Tim Hatley’s elegantly, simple design (with superb projections by Jon Driscoll, beautiful lighting by Peter Mumford and an atmospheric soundscape by John Leonard) provides a window to the world around them.

Though I’ve seen all of the actors before, they blew me away last night, especially Lydia Leonard and Eve Ponsonby as Rita and Asta respectively, who invested so much emotional energy into their performances.

I’ve only seen the play once before but this definitive production was a revelation, placing it up there with Ibsen’s masterpieces. Unmissable. 

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