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Posts Tagged ‘Margot Leicester’

Another day, another allegorical play, but this time a brilliant one, staged and performed to perfection. Mike Bartlett proves himself to be as much the master of the epic as he is the miniature masterpiece.

Audrey is widowed, with a daughter in her early twenties and a new husband, Paul. She lost her son to war in the Middle East. She has a successful retail business, but decides to escape to the country, buying her deceased uncle’s former home Albion, with its huge garden, set on restoring it to its former glory using the plans of its famous garden designer. She’s self-obsessed, self-centred and domineering and she drives away her daughter, best friend and her son’s partner. Only her put-upon husband remains loyal. She also upsets the old retainers, neighbours and villagers along the way.

It’s an allegory of recent history in England’s green and pleasant land (Albion) and has way more depth than that brief description suggests. The Almeida has been reconfigured with the audience wrapped around an oval garden rimmed by a plant border and dominated by a tree; another extraordinary design from Miriam Buether. When the season changes, the border is transformed, itself a coup d’theatre, as is the end of the first half. Though its entertaining and often funny, it is above all deeply thought-provoking.

Audrey is a great part for an actress and Victoria Hamilton is sensationally good, but she’s surrounded by a host of other fine performances, notably Vinette Robinson as the son’s grieving partner Anna, Helen Schlesinger as best friend Katherine and Charlotte Hope as daughter Zara. Christopher Fairbank and Margot Leicester are lovely as the gardener / cleaner husband and wife and there’s an excellent nuanced performance as young neighbour Gabriel from Luke Thrallon.

We are so lucky to have so many good contemporary playwrights. Lets hope we don’t lose Mike Bartlett to TV after his success with Dr Foster. Only days ago I was worrying that some were given high profile stages too soon. Ironically, this would probably work on the Olivier stage where the other allegorical play Saint George & the Dragon doesn’t, but it’s more intimate at the Almeida where it engaged and moved me deeply.

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The first of two Mike Bartlett plays in seven days, and the seventh in five years – you can’t say he isn’t prolific. What I like most about his work is that each piece is so very different. You identify them by their quality and imagination rather than their style. This one, ‘a future history play’, is like none of the others, except that’s imaginative and very very good.

Charles has at last succeeded to the throne and within days he’s started interfering in government. He provokes a constitutional crisis, divides the country and his family and in no time unleashes a series of events which have profound personal, constitutional and political impact. Somewhat ironically, it’s a privacy bill that triggers his involvement, just before his family is on the receiving end of things the bill was trying to prevent.

It’s quite a cerebral and weighty play, but staged with a lightness of touch that ensures its always entertaining as well as thought-provoking. Charles does have form, which means it’s in no way implausible and though the debate is often funny, it is underneath rather profound. I found myself drawn in quickly and gripped throughout.

It’s not a typical Rupert Goold production; the staging is much simpler, relying on the writing and the characterisations more than inventive staging, but it is very effective. Tom Scutt’s design is dominated by a large dais, surrounded by parquet flooring throughout the auditorium and a huge semi-circular panel of fading faces suggesting history, heritage and tradition. Actors enter from all sides and through the auditorium, which provides for grand entrances in keeping with grand people and grand occasions.

Tim Pigott-Smith is terrific as Charles, capturing the essence of the man rather than giving us an impersonation. Oliver Chris and Richard Goulding are very good as contrasting princes, with just enough caricature to provoke smiles but not so much that they become joke characters. Camilla and Kate are presented as power behind the throne and Margot Leicester & Lydia Wilson provide excellent characterisations. The PM and leader of the opposition are called Mr Evans (Labour) and Mr Stevens (Conservative) respectively and Adam James & Nicholas Rowe seem to emphasise the similarities we see in our politicians these days.

This may prove to be prophetic, but for now it’s fascinating and entertaining speculative ‘future history’ and certainly a candidate for 2014’s best new play. Catch it if you can.

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Though I don’t doubt middle class addiction is a real issue, this play and its characters don’t seem in the slightest bit believable.

TV presenter Lucy is on the slippery slope of addiction watched but her surprisingly sympathetic mother Barbara, who herself shows signs of alcoholism. There is a sister, though it’s not clear why her character is there at all. All of the men are played by the same actor – and your point is?

This is all played out as ‘designer theatre’ on a slick revolve that takes us relentlessly from one location to another and one room to the next (designer Peter McKintosh). Lucy and her mother are deeply unsympathetic characters who just whine on and on in an enormously irritating way; if they had seemed more real I would have wanted to get out of my seat, give them a slap and tell them to get a grip. For some reason – writing (David Eldridge) and direction (Michael Attenborough), I suppose – normally fine actors like Lisa Dillon and Margot Leicester provide us with flat cardboard characterisations.

I’m sure it improved in the second half – they often do! – but I just couldn’t face another 70 minutes of this implausible story full of unbelievable characters. I can’t help but contrast this example of a poor new play with Mogadishu, a great new play at the Lyric Hammersmith. This one’s a premiere league dud.

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