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Posts Tagged ‘Mackenzie Crook’

I wasn’t very excited by Josie Rourke’s opening season at the Donmar, but I may have to eat a few words. Her opener is something the Donmar doesn’t normally do (restoration comedy) and it gets a handsome production with a full set of great performances.

The theatre has had its biggest makeover since the 25th Putman County Spelling Bee. It has been turned into an 18th century playhouse with the stalls back wall removed, the circle railing replaced with a wooden one, wooden floors and (false) wooden ceiling, a painted back screen with candle holders and real lit candles, more real lit candles around the auditorium and three chandeliers, also with real lit candles! Lucy Osbornes’ setting is warm, welcoming and gorgeous, as are the period costumes.

George Farquhar’s comedy takes place in Tewksbury where two army captains are recruiting using all means, fair and foul. Both  have designs on different local girls, Sylvia and Melinda – who also has the attentions of local businessman Worthy. The girls fall out and Sylvia returns disguised as a man, Wilful, who both captains seek to recruit. Captain Plumes’s Sargent Kite plumbs new depths of deception, there’s a lot of confusion but it all ends happily – except for the recruits. It’s a comedy but it does make a serious point about the treatment of recruits and ends with a powerful statement as they head for the war.

In addition to the lovely design, the use of music is terrific. The jigs and reels played brilliantly by five of the actors add much – including a delicious twist on the ‘turn off you mobiles’ advice now common at the start of plays. The performances too are terrific, with Nancy Carroll and Rachel Stirling as Sylvia and Melinda shining and Tobias Menzies commanding the stage with great authority as Captain Plume. Mark Gattis’ excellent comic turn as Captain Brazen suggests we need to see as much of him on stage as we already do his League of Gentlemen colleagues Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton. The other two leads, Nicholas Burns as Worthy and Mackenzie Crook as Sargent Kite, complete an excellent set of leads and the supporting cast of eight are all excellent.

Somehow though it didn’t add up to the sum of the parts; the first half in particular was uneven and didn’t sweep you away anywhere near as much as the second half did. I don’t know whether this is the play or the production. It’s not the complete delight the NT’s She Stoops to Conquer is, but it’s still an impressive start to the Rourke reign. Don’t wear too many clothes though, as for some reason the Donmar is set at sauna level temperatures.

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It doesn’t take much to fill the Bush Theatre – c.2500 in a month-long run like this; about as many as three nights in a West End playhouse, two at the Olivier or one at the Palladium. Add in a couple of people ‘off the telly’ and it’s tickets become hot indeed. If only the play were as hot. The Bush has an extraordinary track record in spotting good new plays, but it’s certainly failed here I’m afraid.

The Aliens by Annie Baker is an insubstantial and slight piece about a pair of losers who hang out in the back yard of a cafe and their relationship with each other and the teenage waiter who engages with them when he pops out to empty the rubbish. That’s about it really. It’s the opposite to Wednesday’s The Big Fellah – nothing really happens. Of course, some reviewers are talking ‘Chekovian’. Well I’m talking ‘bollocks’.

So much talent wasted – another great redesign of this tiny theatre, by Lucy Osborne; Peter Gill,the master of small-scale himself, directing; and fine acting from Mackenzie Crook and Ralf Little as the losers, though ironically it’s young Olly Alexander who takes the real acting honours.

A rare disappointment at the Bush.

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