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Posts Tagged ‘Lyttleton Theatre’

For some reason this early 80’s Athol Fugard play moved me more today than it did during the apartheid period in which it was written and is set. Perhaps it’s relief that, though there’s much wrong with the world today, that particular slice of inhumanity is over.

Fugard’s biographical play is set in a cafe in Port Elizabeth in 1950, the early days of apartheid. It’s owned by a white woman but run by her two black employees, Sam and Willie. The owner’s son Hally regularly visits after school and Sam & Willie have had more to do with his upbringing than his alcoholic father and about as much as his mother; Sam is very much a father figure. They have developed strong supportive relationships, regardless of apartheid. The men are rehearsing for a ballroom dancing competition which at first seems incongruous, but proves both in keeping and charming, when Hally comes home from school to a meal and news of his dad’s discharge from hospital, which sends him into a rage. He takes it out on the men, demanding to be called Master Harold and adopting typical apartheid behaviours of superiority, something he soon regrets.

Fugard hasn’t changed the names of the real people portrayed, including his own, Hally. The piece represents his apology to Sam and Willie; sadly the former died a matter of days before he could have seen it. It’s a gentle piece which shows the inhumanity of apartheid through these relationships more powerfully than shouting from the rooftops would, but its much more than that. The ending is poignant and deeply moving. Lucian Msamati gives yet another beautifully judged performance as Sam. Hammed Animashaun continues to impress with Willie, a very different role that shows and extends his range – from Bottom to Willie in a matter of months! It appears to be Anson Boon’s stage debut as Hally, and an impressive one it is too. Rajha Shakiry’s design anchors the piece in its place and period, beautifully lit by Paule Constable. It’s only the second play I’ve seen by director Roy Alexander Weise, and I’m already a fan.

It’s great to se it again after such a long time, particularly as it proves to be much more than a play of its time. Fugard is not only a key figure in the history of South Africa in the last half of the 20th Century, but a hugely important one in international theatre and this classic belongs on a world stage like the National.

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Simon Woods is a very lucky man to get his debut play on an NT main stage with two of our finest actors to bring his characters alive, but I have to say his play deserves it.

It’s set in the Cotswold home of the Hesketh’s in late May 1988. Robin is a Tory MP, just home from Westminster on his birthday to find Diana his wife still in her dressing gown. She clearly doesn’t share his politics and is particularly scornful of the Thatcher government’s latest slice of right wing homophobic divisiveness, Clause 28, designed to prevent local authorities ‘promoting’ homosexuality or gay lifestyles.

They bicker and snipe, sometimes gentle banter, but sometimes viscously, on topics including politics and Westminster personalities or more personal matters. Diana is suspicious of Robin’s fidelity and he is disapproving of her drinking. The dialogue sparkles and there are some terrifically funny lines, which Lindsay Duncan and Alex Jennings deliver to perfection. When the subject turns to a tragedy from the past, the tone changes completely and it becomes deeply moving.

Duncan captures the essence of the melancholic, unfulfilled Diana beautifully, whilst Jennings combines the old Etonian boyishness with the pomposity of a man who feels he’s born to lead. The performances are delicate and nuanced, as is Simon Godwin’s staging. Everything about the production serves the play. The Lyttelton seems to shrink as two people captivate an audience of 900 people.

It felt very timely, and not just because of the Eton jokes! It says a lot about the disconnect between those who govern and those being governed, but it’s also a very absorbing and entertaining story of the lives of these two people.

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This 1912 play was last seen at the NT 25 years ago, in a production by Katie Mitchell (before she went on to deconstruct and destroy plays!). Since then, it’s been named one of the 100 most influential plays of the 20th Century, and its easy to see why. It must have been shocking to see a prominent industrialist portrayed as a bully on stage over 100 years ago.

John Rutherford owns a glassworks in the industrial North East. Though we’re not explicitly told, he appears to be a widower, living with and looked after by his sister Ann and his spinster daughter Janet. His children have been a big disappointment to him. Richard has become a curate and John Junior, who he hoped would take over the business, has married beneath him and shows no interest in the family firm, though he has returned home to try and sell his father an invention. John thinks he’s entitled to be given it after spending a small fortune on John Junior’s education at Harrow. As the play unfolds he belittles Richard, sends John Junior and Janet away and manipulates John Junior’s wife Mary into involving him in bringing up his grandson.

Sowerby was the daughter of a North East glass manufacturer, so this may be wholly or partly biographical. In any event, the play was brave. It was first attributed to a writer with initials, so the sex was ambiguous and widely assumed to be a man. After all, there weren’t any female playwrights. The first act is a bit slow, and I’m not sure if this is the writing or the production, but it gains pace after the interval. Polly Findlay’s production, with designs by Lizzie Clachan, has great authenticity, with atmosphere created by rain and the movement of the house in which they live, plus a group of female voices singing folk inspired songs a capella.

Roger Allam is brilliant as Rutherford, commanding the stage as well as his family. Sam Troughton, Justine Mitchell and Harry Hepple are excellent as the three siblings who have grown into such different people. Joe Armstrong is great as Rutherford’s right hand man and Barbara Marten is superb as the ice cold uber conventional sister Ann. Lovely performances all round.

Good to see it again, in as fine a production as you could wish for.

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It does seem timely, reviving Caryl Churchill’s ground-breaking 1982 play, which takes a look at differing views of feminism, but is it a modern classic or a play of its time?

The story centres on Marlene, a ruthlessly ambitious Thatcherite who gets the top job at recruitment agency Top Girls, beating Howard, who everyone expected to be promoted. In the first act, she’s celebrating at a fantasy dinner party to which she’s invited five unpredictable historical figures with differing perspectives on being a woman. We see her in action in the agency, where each of the historical characters has a contemporary parallel, before we travel back in time to visit her sister back home in Suffolk and learn what she’s really given up.

The first act is brilliantly inventive, but it outstays its welcome and becomes irritating, the second act’s first scene is a trip back to Suffolk with Marlene’s niece and her friend and seemed unnecessary to me, and the second scene of this act, in the agency, seemed a bit overcooked, a touch too caricature. The third act is the heart of the play, and its staged and performed to perfection.

Director Lyndsay Turner has assembled a fine cast of actresses, including many favourites of mine. Katherine Kingsley is terrific as Marlene and there’s brilliant support from Amanda Lawrence, Siobhan Redmond, Ashley McGuire, Lucy Ellinson and Lucy Black and an outstanding performance from Liv Hill as Marlene’s niece Angie.

It seems to be the first time the play has been performed without doubling up, and I wondered if the frisson this provides, given the historical / contemporary parallels, was missing. I was glad I saw it, but it seems more play of its time than modern classic to me.

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This is the fourth collaboration between writer / director Enda Walsh and performer Cillian Murphy, the last two shows seen in London at the NT’s Lyttleton Theatre. The full house is testament to Murphy’s pulling power since TV’s Peaky Blinders, but as it happens its both a deeply moving play and a virtuoso performance, and a welcome debut by new theatre company Wayward Productions.

Based on Max Porter’s debut novel, with a nod to Ted Hughes’ poems, it’s a study of grief. A widowed father is struggling to come to terms with the death of his wife and to bring up his two sons. He conjures up an imaginary crow to help him on his journey, while his sons are largely left to their own devices. We’re inside his head experiencing his grief with him as Will Duke projects text and images onto Jamie Varton’s set, and a visceral soundtrack and soundscape by Teho Teardo & Helen Atkinson create an extraordinary tense atmosphere.

Murphy’s very athletic performance is a real tour-de-force, transforming from Dad to Crow by donning a black floor-length hoodie, with synthesised vocals aiding the transformation. As he progresses through his grief, his affection for his sons, beautifully played by Taighen O’Callaghan & Adam Pemberton on the night I went, comes through, and it ends with a sense of a completed emotional journey for all three.

Technically, it’s a triumph. As words are scrawled onto screens, the sound gets you on edge. We meet his deceased wife through projections of her life. As with the more Beckettian Misterman, which I much admired, and Ballyturk, which I didn’t, the stage seems vast and is fully used, and indeed roughed up. You are immersed in Dad’s world, feeling his pain, in what is a surprisingly poetic evening.

A unique piece that disturbs but ultimately satisfies.

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If you changed the title, and maybe the character names, you’d never know this was an adaptation of a 350-year-old French play. You’d think it was a contemporary farce set in North London with a touch of social satire. It’s jolly good fun, but it’s not really Moliere.

Making it contemporary stretches the plausibility of Orgon falling under the spell of imposter Tartuffe rather a lot, so suspending disbelief is mandatory. Here Tartuffe is some sort of guru, with a hint of religiosity and Buddhism, who looks like an ageing hippy and spends a lot of time in his pants. Both Orgon and his mother Pernelle worship him, believing he is the antidote to the decadence of the family – wife Elmire and her brother Cleante, son Damis & daughter Mariane and her boyfriend Valere, plus housekeeper Dorine.

Orgon tries to marry Mariane to Tartuffe, who is trying to bed Elmire. All are concerned about Orgon’s wealth and Orgon has a bit of a secret that looks like its going to come back to haunt him. The family seek to entrap Tartuffe in order to avoid Mariane’s marriage and keep the money in the family. With the exception of a changed ending to accomodate the updating, the story is intact, though John Donnelly’s new version dispenses with the rhyming couplets, but it does go into verse at the denouement.

Robert Jones superb design is tasteless nouveau riche. The performance style in Blanche McIntyre’s production of John Donnelly’s adaptation is uniformly broad and loud, which does suit farce. Denis O’Hare plays Tartuffe very physically, a larger than life figure, which suits the role well. Kevin Doyle is the perfect foil as Orgon. As Elmire, Olivia Williams proves very adept at the comedy, also becoming very physical as the play progresses. I loved Kitty Archer and Enyi Okoronkwo as the spoilt kids. There’s great work from Kathy Kiera Clarke as the all knowing housekeeper, Hari Dhillon as an indignant Cleante and Geoffrey Lumb as lover & poet Valere, and a delightful cameo from Susan Engel as Pernelle, who gets the show off to a terrific start.

Just go for some fun and you’ll enjoy it, just don’t go expecting a faithful revival of a French classic.

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David Hare can’t complain about his share of the National’s stages; this is his 17th play to premiere there. Over more than thirty years, he’s put up a mirror to Britain, from foreign press barons in Pravda (co-written with Howard Brenton), through institutions like the church and judiciary, politics, finance, war, rail privatisation and the Labour Party. Now he combines Labour and the NHS for his latest.

We follow Pauline Gibson from just before she goes to University through her work as a hospital doctor to standing and being elected as a single issue MP and the possibility of her bid to lead the Labour Party. Her university friend and sometime lover Jack takes a different path, following in his fathers footsteps as a career politician; he also has his eyes on the party leadership. Along the way a lot of other issues, both health service and party related, are brought in, most notably Pauline’s childhood, where her father’s abuse of her mother and her mother’s health loom large.

I felt that Hare lost focus by trying to cover too much (this may be a late career phenomenon, as Alan Bennett has done the same of late) and I feel that the premise that the Labour Party would elect someone who had only just joined and is still an independent MP is implausible. That said, it emphasises the political importance of the NHS, the Labour Party’s apparent aversion to female leadership and how it puts inward-looking concerns above the pursuit of power very well.

The three central roles are exceptionally well acted by Sian Brooke, Alex Hassell and Joshua McGuire as Pauline’s representative Sandy. I loved the humour of the press conferences and the projection of close-ups of the faces of those interviewed onto the walls of the revolving room which represents every location. Hare’s dialogue sparkles and there’s much humour. I wondered whether an Australian director like Neil Armfield brought more objectivity to it, but did not reach a conclusion.

Flawed perhaps, but well worth a visit nonetheless.

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