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Posts Tagged ‘Magda Willi’

It’s hard to believe that it’s 17 years since this had its UK premiere at the Donmar. In this terrific production it feels freshly minted, and I can’t help wondering why its taken so long to be revived. We’ve had three other plays by Stephen Adly Guirgis since, most notably 2015’s The Motherf***er With The Hat. which gave the NT’s marketing department an interesting challenge, so its good to look at the first once again.

Set in a New York prison, we meet Lucius, a serial killer waiting for extradition to Florida, where his killing spree started and where the death penalty exists. He has a benevolent guard Charlie in his solitary 23-hour lock up wing. Much younger Angel is awaiting trial for a shooting. He’s moved to the same wing for his own protection after an assault. Charlie leaves and the far from benevolent Valdez is sent to persecute them. The only other character is Angel’s lawyer Mary Jane who visits intermittently to discuss defence strategy and tactics.

The discussions between Lucius and Angel are the heart of the piece as we debate responsibility & accountability and redemption. We learn about the prisoners’ motivations and personal histories in what becomes a psychological sparring match. How much do the actions of the victims justify the crime? How much does a tragic past excuse a crime? It’s played out on a traverse stage with moving glass walls / doors with blinding lighting and deafening drums between scenes to keep up the tension. It shocks, though there are flashes of humour that relieve the tension. and your brain almost hurts as you decide what you think about these people and their actions. I found it riveting.

Oberon K A Adjepong (a very welcome visitor from the US) as Lucius and Ukweli Roach as Angel are mesmerising to watch, with great physicality, spitting out dialogue at frenetic speed. Dervla Kirwan is excellent as the Irish American lawyer Mary Jane who we learn a surprising amount about. Joplin Sibtain is terrific as their nemesis Valdez, prodding and provoking them for fun. Matthew Douglas’ Charlie is such a contrast, and comes back to surprise us towards the end.

Director Kate Hewitt and designed Magda Willi have done an excellent job creating the tension which the play needs. Yet more thrilling stuff at the Young Vic.

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It seems you have to go to The Cut if you like your drama intense and your productions cutting edge. Across the road at the Old Vic there’s an extraordinary interpretation of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and now here at the Young Vic there’s this thoroughly modern version of Tennessee Williams’ most famous play. It seems as if there’s a game of ‘mine’s longer than yours’ going on (which the Old Vic wins by about 15 minutes!) as both productions lengthen the originals by their staging, without adding anything to the text, but both sustain their length and succeed spectacularly.

Benedict Andrews presents us with a chlaustrophobic apartment (kitchen / living area, bedroom and bathroom – designer Magda Willi) which revolves continually so that the audience which surrounds it sees the action from a constantly changing perspective. It intensifies the voyeuristic experience as we peer into these people’s lives. It’s better at showing the opressiveness inside the apartment than the oppressiveness of the neighbourhood where people live on top of one another, but the space around the revolving apartment and a metal staircase at one end (which aligns once per cycle and makes for some exacting entrances and exits!)  link the two. The atmosphere benefits from excellent lighting by Jon Clark and brilliant music from Alex Baranowski.

It’s great at polarising the world of Blanche, Southern belle on her uppers, and the rough and ready world that her sister Stella has joined by leaving Belle Rive and marrying Stanley. The culture clash is clearly defined and there’s more of an emphasis on how torn Stella is between her sister and husband. It seems to me this Stanley is even less sympathetic than usual; as he reveals Blanche’s true story there isn’t an ounce of empathy and in the end he revels in her humiliation. When he becomes violent it’s intense and as Blanche leaves his callousness comes as a shock to his poker playing friends, one of whom has of course become close to Blanche.

I’ve been lucky enough to see Sheila Gish, Jessica Lange, Glenn Close and Rachel Weisz as Blanche, but Gillian Anderson took my breath away with her range of emotions and the depth of her characterisation. It’s no star vehicle though; Ben Foster is brilliantly intimidating as Stanley and Vanessa Kirby makes much more of Stella and her divided loyalties. These are three fine performances that together provide a fresh perspective and a truly great interpretation of this 20th century classic.

The Young Vic continues to provide world class theatre that’s about as accessible as you can get and this is another feather in their feather stuffed cap! A triumph.

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