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Posts Tagged ‘Lyric Theatre Hammersmith’

This David Greig play is based on Polish writer Stanislaw Lem’s 1961 Sci Fi novel. It’s been made into a film three times, in Russian, then Polish, and by Hollywood in 2002, but this is the first stage adaptation.

Solaris is an ocean planet, with no land, and we’re on a space station orbiting it, studying it. The two year mission is coming to an end when psychologist Kris Kelvin arrives by shuttle to find Commander Gibarian has died of cancer. She also learns of strange goings on suggesting the planet is intelligent. It appears to be probing their memories, thoughts and feelings and sending in clones of significant people from their past, and soon after her arrival her old flame Ray turns up.

It transfers to stage surprisingly well; we don’t get many Sci Fi plays. I was a bit irritated by so many scenes, with a screen lowered between them, as we moved back and fore between locations on the space station, but otherwise it held you in its grip, particularly in the second half, which unfolded like a thriller. We hear from Gilbarian on video (Hugo Weaving, no less) within the space station and sometimes see the ocean on video between scenes, a bit disorientating front stalls!

The sex of Kelvin has been changed and Polly Frame plays her really well. Ray is in many ways a tougher role which I thought Keegan Joyce navigated very well. Jade Ogugua and Fode Simbo complete a fine cast. It’s great to see an international co-production from three great theatre cities with Edinburgh’s Greig writing and Australian Matthew Dutton directing. Too late to recommend it as I didn’t make it until the penultimate day of the short London run, but good to record its success.

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I’m not really sure what I think of this show and I’m not really sure what to write about it. The words that spring to mind are brave, exhausting, pointless, original, and improvisation. See what I mean?

Eight actors (though ten are listed in the programme) in work-out cloths mingle with the audience, eight of whom are asked to write their name (the actor, not the audience member!) on a card and put it in a hat from which one is selected and read out by another audience member. This is the protagonist, the actor who will tonight attempt said acts with the help / hindrance of their colleagues, the fixed sequence of which is written on flip-chart paper at both sides of the stage. An ‘assault course’ including attempting to get into a suitcase and eating a lemon happens three times, the third time with added teamwork. The other acts include cloths removal / swapping fights, hands in an ice bucket and a scene from Romeo & Juliet.

It’s a very uneven 70 minute ride – intriguing, occasionally funny, sometimes tedious, more than a touch self-indulgent and a bit pointless. I’m not sure how much is improvised, but some clearly is. Nadia Albina was the protagonist the night I went, braver than most to undertake such an exhausting experience with a disability to contend with. The problem with having a protagonist though is that seven actors spend most of the evening in chairs watching, a bit of a waste of talent.

This was the 5th in the ‘secret theatre’ series presented at the Lyric Hammersmith, with the same actors in a diverse range of shows. Though the idea was original, as this show is, I wasn’t prepared to invest precious evenings playing pot luck so I missed them all. On this showing, I think I might have been right.

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This isn’t one of Eugene O’Neil’s best plays, chiefly because it’s too melodramatic, though this production at the Lyric Theatre Hammersmith is so good it makes it seem as if it is.

Seventy something Ephraim marries for the third time, to a girl who’s about the same age as Eben, his son by his second wife. Eben and the two sons by Ephraim’s first wife, Simeon and Peter (keep up!), can see their inheritance slipping away. For some reason, Eben buys out his brothers’ share of the farm on which they live (even though it looks like they won’t inherit it) and Simeon and Peter head west to join the gold rush. Eben stays to fight his corner, his dad and his new step-mother – until, that is, he falls for her and fathers her baby. Of course, it all ends in tears – well, wails really.

In the first 30 minutes, as the story is set up, we just see the three brothers. Mikel Murfi and Fergus O’Donnell are simply mesmerizing as hirsute elder brothers Simeon and Peter and its hard for Morgan Watkins to play the ‘softer’ Eben against this; he comes into his own though when Abbie arrives and his lust for her takes over. Finbar Lynch is a commanding Ephraim, at his best in the christening party scene where everything revolves around him (literally at times). Abbie is a complex character – defiant fortune hunter, passionate lover, lost soul – and Denise Gough plays her brilliantly. You’d be struggling to get five performances this good on any stage.

I wasn’t convinced by Ian MacNeil’s design at first. The house front disappears soon after the start, four mobile boxes open up to become rooms in the house, a screen at the back changes colour with the time of day and the stage rear and wings are in clear view. There’s also a platform jutting out half-way into the stalls with steps out to the side for entrances and exits. Somehow, though, it eventually made sense and its movement contributed much to the flow of the play (even though from the front stalls, entrances, exits and speeches from the platform were irritating).

Sean Holmes’ masterly direction, with brilliant music (Ry Cooder?) played live on guitar by Jason Baughan, brings this slice of 19th century New England to life and I was gripped throughout. A contender for the year’s best revival methinks and only 10 more days to catch it.

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One of the things I learnt when I was introduced to the work of Edward Bond by last year’s Cock Tavern Theatre season was that you don’t need the word ‘enjoy’ to describe his plays. You need ‘uncomfortable’, ‘challenging’, ‘bleak’, ‘intense’……but not ‘enjoy’. I don’t go to the theatre purely for enjoyment, which last night was just as well !

The relationship between Pam and Len, a one night stand who becomes a lodger, is at the heart of this play. He’s kind, tolerant and obsessed with her but she’s not interested. She has a baby by Fred, but he’s not interested in her (or the baby) either. Her parents ignore each other; in fact her father ignores everyone.

At the core of the play is the infamous scene of infanticide; a bunch of lads, including Fred, kill Pam’s neglected baby for no reason. Fred takes the rap and the play continues during and after his incarceration. He continues to treat Pam with disdain and Len continues to be besotted with her. There are other less cruel but equally tense moments in the play – a child allowed to cry and cry and a number of industrial scale arguments. The final scene is virtually wordless, yet it’s the scene which explains most. It was written to show us the post-war ‘broken Britain’ and is now being staged in the post-credit crunch ‘broken Britain’.

Though it’s occasionally funny, it’s mostly an uncomfortable ride, but to my surprise it kept my attention for over three hours; I was rarely distracted and never bored. This is largely because of the brilliant naturalistic dialogue, impeccable staging by Sean Holmes and superb performances. Lia Saville and Morgan Watkins are outstanding as Pam and Len, the crucial relationship at the centre of the play. Susan Brown and Michael Feast are also excellent as Pam’s dysfunctional mother and father. Callum Callaghan pulls off the difficult task of conveying Fred’s complexity.

Bond’s programme / play text essay makes it clear where he’s coming from. A lot of what he says makes sense, though in my view it’s a bit simplistic and one-sided. It’s too easy to blame the morally unacceptable on ‘society’; it’s people who commit such hideous acts and they can’t be let off the hook that easily. However, the play makes its point and hopefully will make people think, discuss and argue and theatre’s there for that as well as enjoyment. It was uncomfortable, challenging and bleak – but I’m glad I went.

A gold star to the Lyric Hammersmith for a timely staging.

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I’ve always been puzzled by the critical indifference to Howard Goodall’s musicals. For me, in the (short) list of great British composers of musicals he comes top and his first show, the Hired Man, sits with Les Miserables and West Side Story as one of my favourite musical scores.

Even though he has a very distinctive sound, which is distinctively British, it changes subtly to suit the subject matter. Only three of his nine musicals have been produced in the West End. 25 years ago, The Hired Man lost the Olivier Award to the highly unoriginal 42nd Street (leading lady ill, chorus girl’s big break, yawn…yawn…), soon after Girlfriends closed very quickly (though in fairness, the production didn’t live up to the Bolton premiere) and then we had to wait 24 years for Love Story, one of the best chamber musicals ever, which also got an undeserved early bath.

The Hired Man gets revived on a small scale fairly frequently, Days Of Hope (a lovely show set in the Spanish Civil War) occasionally but the 2nd World War Girlfriends, as far as I know, has never been revived. Two Cities (based on Dickens) was only seen outside London and the other four, like this one, were written for youth groups. Only The Hired Man and Days of Hope have ever been recorded, so you can’t even listen to the music to find out what you’re missing!

I fondly remember seeing the NYMT production of this 12 years ago (with recent Olivier Award winning Sheridan Smith in the cast) at the Lyric Hammersmith and its astonishing that it has taken so long to be revived and to get its professional debut. We’re awash with fringe productions of musicals, but none of them are British. I yearn to see Lionel Bart’s Blitz! or Maggie May or Goodall’s Girlfriends. OK, end of rant and on with the review!

There can’t be many musicals based on restoration comedies like this one based on Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer. Moving it to the Edwardian period works; otherwise its faithful to the play and thanks to Charles Hart’s witty book and lyrics, even funnier. Goodall’s score is rich in lovely tunes and even more varied in style than most of his scores. It takes a little while to take off, but it proves to be a delight. It would have been even better to see it in a bigger space with better sight lines than the cramped and stuffy Jermyn Street Theatre.

Director Lotte Wakeham, who first impressed me with Austentatious at the Landor, has done a superb job on a simple set by Samal Blak (who worked wonders transforming the Cock Tavern for Pins & Needles) with elegant period costumes by Karen Frances. It’s partially in actor-musician mode, but Harriet Oughton at the piano has the primary musical responsibility and manages a bit of acting as well as playing the whole score!

Beverley Klein gives us another delicious musical comedy masterclass as Mrs Hardcastle. Ian Virgo (also in the original production, but as Lumpkin), Gina Beck, Dylan Turner and Gemma Sutton as the two couples at the heart of the story all act well and do full justice to Goodall’s music. It took me a while to warm to Jack Shalloo as Lumpkin (probably because I couldn’t get his terrific turn in Departure Lounge out of my head!) but he won me over.

A standing ovation for producers Peter Huntley and Charlotte Staynings for giving us this long-awaited opportunity to re-visit the show and for doing such a cracking job with it. Girlfriends? Blitz? Please!

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This play isn’t set in that Somalian town; in fact, it’s set in a London secondary school and has nothing to do with Mogadishu or Somalia at all. What it is, though, is very well written, very topical, very thought(and debate)provoking and very entertaining. The fact it is the playwright’s first play makes this all the more astonishing.

A white female teacher initially refuses to report the violent act of a black pupil with whom she empathises because she doesn’t want to get him into trouble. The Head persuades her to do so, and this unleashes a counter-story of racist abuse spun by the boy with the collaboration of his friends. By the interval, my companion had taken sides and we had a heated debate about the unfairness of the teacher’s treatment. In the second half, the play achieves an extraordinary balance by revealing the back stories and refuses to take sides. The consequences of the event itself develop a life of their own in the hands of people and organisation who know neither the teacher nor the boy.

It may be some time before we see writing as good as this again. The situation, characterisation and dialogue ooze authenticity, no doubt because writer Vivienne Franzmann has been a secondary school teacher for 12 years. Actor-turned-Director Matthew Dunster has staged it brilliantly with just a few props inside movable wire fencing surrounding the school playground. There is a uniformly fine ensemble of 12 actors, from which I would single out Malachi Kirby’s assured and passionate Jason and Hammed Animashaun as his crucial (comic) sidekick Jordan.

A triumph for original producers the Royal Exchange Manchester and the Lyric Hammersmith. Don’t miss it.

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What a cracker of a play!  Playwright Richard Bean takes a fresh look at ‘the troubles’ from a highly original perspective – an IRA (later Real IRA) cell in New York City. By starting just after Bloody Sunday and continuing through the Good Friday agreement to 09/11 some 30 years later and almost 10 years ago, he takes an objective historical perspective.

The play examines the motivation of Irish Americans to provide both funds and more active support to the IRA, a combination of emotional attachment to their roots and a profound naivety brought into sharp focus when Islamic terrorism emerges.  The loyalties evolve into betrayal, disillusionment and power games that become very ugly.

What’s so clever is the way he really makes you think whilst you’re laughing uproariously. The crackling, sparkling dialogue is simply brilliant, and it’s delivered superbly by a fine ensemble. Max Stafford Clark’s direction is impeccable with not a moment wasted; what you get out of 100 minutes playing time makes you realise how much padding most plays have got.

Often very funny, often dark, sometimes chilling but always thought-provoking. A deeply satisfying evening in the theatre. GO!

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