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Posts Tagged ‘Maggie Steed’

Mark Ravenhill’s new play is tackling the issues of power, control and abuse that have become everyday topics since Operation Yew Tree and #metoo, but he’s wisely chosen historical corporal punishment in schools as the vehicle for the debate, something that doesn’t carry the baggage of recent events.

School Deputy Head Edward is in his last week before retirement after 45 years in teaching. He’s under siege at home with his wife Maureen, baying crowds of hundreds outside. His estranged daughter Anna has turned up unexpectedly. We learn that knowledge of his caning of pupils, before it became illegal 30 years ago, has spread and is what’s brought the crowds to his door. The headmaster is due to arrive to discuss his farewell party.

It covers a lot of ground. Anna is a believer in Academy schools, very much a modern educationalist, a contrast with her father’s traditional approach, which makes for an interesting discussion in itself. She appears to have been on the receiving end of abuse as a child, which challenges Edward’s ‘doing his job’ defence. Maureen seems to have turned a blind eye, which may make her complicit. The crowd represents our contemporary mob mentality. Shouldn’t we forget what happened so long ago?

It’s a very interesting and objective debate; I found my sympathies changing more than once. As drama, though, it’s very static. All three performances – Alun Armstrong, Maggie Steed & Nicola Walker – are riveting, but they are too much like talking heads, it feels a bit contrived and its overlong. The one room set, with a ceiling that lowers as Edward becomes trapped, seemed a bit over-engineered to me.

A welcome debate which doesn’t really make an entirely satisfying play.

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The 70’s were my 20’s and my first decade at work. Looking at the Trafalgar Studio One stage, designed by Soutra Gilmour, before the play started was a deeply nostalgic experience. Electronic typewriters, telex machines and those phones that seemed to be around for decades. By the time the the play starts, though, you can’t take your eyes off the characters crowded in the office for the duration. Many have questioned the setting, modern dictator references and the coup d’at that follows the civil war, but I thought it was all deeply intelligent and made for a riveting experience.

Richard’s relentless removal of everyone in his way en route to the top job would be entirely plausible in a 20th century dictatorship. The hunger for power fuels the manipulation, the lies and the killing without conscience, though rarely at his own hand. The claustrophobic setting adds something to the intensity of the drama. We’ve seen men like this Richard in our lifetime, which makes it very easy to relate to him and even easier to be repelled by him. As the play progresses, and the carnage is scaled up, the pace seems to increase and the blood begins to flow before your eyes.

Martin Freeman may appear a restrained Richard, at least at first, but this seemed to me to be in keeping with the concept – modern dictators all seem cool on the outside. It’s the small things – a chilling laugh, a raised eyebrow, a malicious grin; all often direct to the audience – which make you believe he’ll do absolutely anything to reach his goal. His second half entrance in bright red uniform is completely unsurprising; he’s got it and he’s going to make sure you know it. I thought it was an excellent performance; the closest I remember is Ian McKellern’s more Hitleresque one – this is more generic 20th century dictator.

He’s surrounded by a superb supporting cast. Macbeth’s excellent Banquo, Forbes Masson, channels Ernie Wise as a superbly oily Hastings. Simon Coombs has an entirely original take on loyal henchman Tyrrel. Jo Stone-Fewings is one of the best Buckingham’s I’ve ever seen and Gerald Kyd seemed to make much more of the role of Catesby. Mark Meadows inhabits both Clarence and the Lord Mayor, but you’d be forgiven if you didn’t realise it was the same actor, and you completely believe Paul Leonard feigned loyalty as Stanley. The casting of the women is particularly strong, with the wonderful Maggie Steed a haunting presence almost throughout, Gabrielle Lloyd’s very regal Duchess of York, Gina McKee motherly Queen Elizabeth and Lauren O’Neil is the best stranglee ever!

Much has also been said about the audiences, but mine was amongst the most attentive and quietest I’ve ever experienced. I don’t care what anybody else thinks, I related to this Jamie Lloyd staging of Richard III more than any other and for that reason, it’s a great one – and a superb start to the very welcome return of Trafalgar Transformed.

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