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Posts Tagged ‘Lyttleton Theatre’

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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This is the most famous of Muriel Spark’s twenty-two novels, her 6th, published in 1961, which was on stage within five years, on film within eight and a TV series ten years after that. Last seen on stage in London twenty years ago, at the National’s Lyttelton Theatre in a production by Phyllida Lloyd starring Fiona Shaw, this is a new version by Scottish playwright David Harrower. Though he’s done a lot of adaptations, he seemed an odd choice, but as it turns out he’s taken an interesting, fresh look.

Set in the thirties in a private girls school in Edinburgh, teacher Jean Brodie’s determination to teach her girls about life sets her on a collision course with Miss Mackay’s strict adherence to the curriculum. She treats them like friends, telling them about her relationships and her experiences, inviting them to her home. They are more like followers than pupils. At first it all seems mildly subversive and rather charming, until you realise how much control she exerts, her attempts to make choices for and mould her girls, not forgetting her fascist leanings. There is a dalliance with married art teacher Mr Lloyd and a long relationship with music teacher Mr Lowther, whose proposal she spurns. She is eventually betrayed and is forced to leave the school. It’s often very funny, but at times it’s sinister and dark too.

It’s told partly in flashback from post-war scenes where one of the girls, who went to Oxford and published a memoir, is interviewed by a journalist just before she enters a convent, and I’m not sure this worked that well or if was really necessary in telling the story. They’ve put in a middle aisle and swapped the front two rows of the stalls for wooden school chairs, which I’m also not sure is entirely necessary. They’ve gone to a lot of trouble to create a partly glazed back wall and ceiling, yet Lizzie Clachan’s design still seems to be missing something. I did love the use of bells, though, which emphasise both the school setting and the period.

If you need only one reason to see Polly Findlay’s revival it’s Lia Williams brilliant performance. She makes the role her own, delightful in her opinionated rebelliousness but ultimately transformed into a tragic figure. I’ve long admired her work, but this is a career high. In a fine supporting cast, Rona Morrison is terrific as Sandy, who sees the negatives in Brodie’s approach, and Sylvestra Le Touzel provides the contrasting sternness of Miss Mackay.

Good to see it on stage again, and warmly recommended.

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American playwright Sophie Treadwell wrote this expressionistic play in 1928, not long after Eugene O’Neill’s expressionistic masterpiece Emperor Jones. It was based on a real murder case, and its premiere provided Clark Gable with his Broadway debut. I first saw it in its last London outing twenty-five years ago, directed by Stephen Daldry at the Lyttleton Theatre. I thought then, as I do now, that it must have been way ahead of its time 90 years ago. It’s feminist aesthetic and focus on mental health means it still resonates today.

In ten scenes over ninety minutes we follow our protagonist – ‘young woman’ – doing what society expects of her, from the office job she doesn’t like, or do well, to marriage to the boss who repels her and the birth of the child she struggles to bond with, before she turns and is propelled to an unexpected and tragic conclusion.

Each scene in Natalie Abrahami’s production starts by the parting of screens to reveal locations which are mirrored diagonally above. Miriam Buether’s clever design is accompanied by a brooding mechanical soundscape from Ben & Max Ringham and striking lighting by Jack Knowles. The scene changes are a bit slow, but its an immersive experience nonetheless, though I did find myself admiring the stagecraft and performances at the expense of emotional engagement with the story.

Elizabeth Berrington is hugely impressive in the lead role, at first in fear of just about everything, growing enough confidence to betray her husband Jones, played well, with period behaviour, by Jonathan Livingstone. In a supporting cast of ten, there is an excellent cameo from Denise Black as Helen’s mother.

Treadwelll wrote many more plays, with a diverse range of themes and styles, but this is just about the only one that’s ever been revived. She found it increasingly difficult to get her work produced, and many remained unpublished. Neglected in a man’s world it seems, which makes it even more timely today. It would be good to see more of them.

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Strindberg’s 130-year-old play has been successfully updated / adapted before, most notably to apartheid South Africa as Mies Julie (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2013/03/14/mies-julie), and this is another successful interpretation by playwright Polly Stenham and director Carrie Cracknell. I found it edgy and bleak, but brilliant.

We’re in present day North London. Julie is the daughter of a rich man who seems to ignore her. Her mum is dead and her boyfriend has dumped her. It’s her 33rd birthday and a party is in progress, though it seems to be populated by hangers on. Back in the kitchen, the maid and her fiancée the driver, go about their business – until, that is, the suppressed attraction between Julie and driver Jean comes to the surface and it progresses to its tragic conclusion.

I thought the rave aesthetic worked well, but the kitchen scenes sometimes lacked intimacy. That said, there was a real sexual chemistry between Vanessa Kirby as Julie and Eric Kofi Abrefa as Jean, whose movements around one another seem animalistic. Kirby’s Julie comes over as a lonely, very troubled contemporary thirty-something who’s lost her way. Jean is torn between his perceived place in life and his desires. Thalissa Teixeira is excellent as Kristina, loyal and loving until she is betrayed by both. There are twenty non-speaking roles to ensure we get a realistic party.

Designer Tom Scutt has created a giant white rectangular box with a kitchen up front and a screen rising to reveal the party, but it is a big space for a play that is often just a two-hander, so as much as I admired the adaptation, the staging and the performances, there were times when it did feel a bit lost on the Lyttleton stage. Well worth catching, though.

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