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Posts Tagged ‘Marianne Elliott’

It’s seventy years since this iconic American play first appeared on Broadway, the second of Arthur Miller’s four big hits between 1947 and 1955, and it’s forty years since I first saw it in Michael Rudman’s production for the NT, with Warren Mitchel’s revelatory award-winning performance as Willy Loman. For some reason, I’ve only seen it a few times since, less than the other tree. It’s a timeless piece, and now Marianne Elliott & Miranda Cromwell have breathed new life into it, in an extraordinary revival at the Young Vic.

Most productions focus so much on Willy Loman and his late career meltdown that they ignore the greater sweep of family tragedy and its many layers. Willy is indeed burnt out by a relentless life on the road. When he tries to get his employer to let him return to base, he gets fired. His loyalty and service mean nothing to the son of the man who hired him, and his mental health declines, but added to his woes are the fact that his sons have been disappointments, Biff a failed sportsman who ended up as a farm labourer, Happy a womaniser with a low level job. His wife Linda struggles to manage the tensions and keep the peace. Their neighbour Charley, whose son, a contemporary of Biff, is a successful lawyer, loans them money to keep them afloat. Flashbacks to times past include Willy’s visits to his mistress, once witnessed by Biff, and there are imaginary conversations with his dead Uncle Ben, both interspersed with the family saga’s inevitable progress to its tragic conclusion.

In this production, the Loman’s are a black Brooklyn family and this adds another layer but changes nothing. Wendell Pierce is outstanding as Willy, navigating this emotional roller-coaster of a role with great skill. Sharon D Clarke’s Linda loves her man and her boys but shares his disappointments and frustrations; as stunning a performance as we’ve become used to from this fine actress. Arinze Kene and Martins Imhangbe are simply terrific as Biff and Happy, trying but failing to please, carrying their own disappointments on their shoulders. They are supported by another eight performances in a fine ensemble, including superb cameos from Joseph Mydell as Uncle Ben and Matthew Seadon-Young as Willy’s young employer Howard. Femi Temowo’s music adds much, particularly with fine singers like Sharon D Clarke and Arinze Kene in the company. Anna Fleischle’s design serves the play well.

The unofficial Miller mini-fest reaches it’s pinnacle here with a revival that’s too good to see only once. I’ll be back!

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Every time I see a new production of a Sondheim musical, I think its his best, so here we go again! There hasn’t been a major London production of Company for 22 years, though we have had some fine fringe ones. Director Marianne Elliott’s reinvention, with Sondheim’s approval and involvement, changes 35-year-old New York male singleton Bobby to female Bobbie, the three girlfriends to boyfriends and one couple, Paul & Amy, about to be married after living together forever, have become gay couple Paul & Jamie. It makes a 48-year-old show feel fresh and bang up to date.

It’s Bobbie’s 35th birthday and there’s a surprise party planned. We meet her and her three casual boyfriends and her best friends, five couples who fret about her lack of a long-term relationship whilst making attempts at match-making and harbouring some jealous thoughts about her freedom. She’s at that age where she’s trying to reconcile her love of independence with her mid-thirties body-clock, which is where this production works even better with the change of gender. The normality of a gay marriage is the other change which works in its favour and choosing this particular couple, about to be married with one party having second thoughts, is inspired. Each couple has their own story, and they’re interwoven with Bobbie’s three casual romances and all the issues and pressures of being single in your thirties.

The production is highly inventive, with a terrific design from Bunny Christie. Each song and each scene seems to be a showstopper. The boyfriends trio You Could Drive A Person Crazy was deliciously interpreted by Richard Fleeshman, Matthew Seadon-Young and George Blagden. Individually, Fleeshman shines as airline steward Andy in his bedroom scene with Bobbie where they sing Barcelona, the destination of his forthcoming flight, and Blagden as PJ delivers Another Hundred People superbly. Liam Steel’s choreography comes into its own in the staging of Side By Side / What Would We Do Without You, which becomes a slick series of party games. With Jamie a gay catholic, Getting Married Today rises to new manic / comic heights and Jonathan Bailey brings the house down. Broadway royalty Pattie Lupone sings The Ladies Who Lunch like I’ve never heard it before, fabulously. Left alone on a bare stage, Rosalie Craig’s Bobbie sings Being Alive, the song that is the emotional heart of the piece, and her tears are matched by the audience; she’s wonderful as Bobbie.

As a Sondheim fan, being in a full house that roars its approval is a joy. Watching Patti Lupone leave the stage hugging Rosalie Craig felt like one generation of performers nurturing the next, as Marianne Elliott thrillingly passes on this masterpiece to the next generation too. A triumph for all concerned.

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Yes, it’s a play not a scientific theory. You can always rely on Simon Stephens for something different – he must have the most diverse body of work of any playwright. Here, he uses the concepts of uncertainty and unpredictability to tell the story of the most unlikely relationship between a 42-year-old woman and a 75-year-old man. It’s a very intuitive piece that I wasn’t sure about at first, but it drew me in and I left the theatre with a warm glow!

It’s beautifully set and lit by Bunny Christie and Paule Constable within a box of light, like a James Turrell installation, that changes size, shape and colour from scene to scene. There’s a lovely soundscape too, with music by Nils Fram. In the first scene, London Butcher Alex Priest meets American school receptionist Georgie Burns at a train station. From here, their extraordinary relationship unfolds from a chance encounter, unravelling of the truth, a mutual fascination with some brittleness to a romantic liaison and a full-blown relationship. At first it seems implausible, but somehow becomes believable. I put this down to superb chemistry between two fine actors.

In Marianne Elliott’s delicate, sensitive staging, Kenneth Cranham and Anne-Marie Duff give the sort of uninhibited performances that deliver the believability of the relationship. Every time it turns a corner, implausibility returns but is then dispelled. Even though it runs less than ninety minutes, it does leave you satisfied.

I would have preferred to see it in a space more suitable, like the Dorfman, Royal Court, Donmar or Almeida, and more accessibly priced for a one-act two-hander, but in other ways it’s good that the West End can support work like this.

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When I first saw these Tony Kushner plays 24-25 years ago, in the NT’s Cottesloe auditorium, there was a gap of more than a year between them; the second play, Perestroika, hadn’t been written when the first, Millennium Approaches, opened. I saw both parts of the only London revival, Headlong at the Lyric Hammersmith ten years ago, in one day, but then it seemed like recent history. I repeated that experience at the latest revival in the National’s Lyttelton theatre on Wednesday, but now ‘the AIDS plays’, as many called them, feel like much more than that, and in so many ways bang up-to-date.

Prior and Louis are a gay couple; the former hails from early English immigrants and the latter from more recent Jewish immigrants. Pryor has AIDS and his close gay African-American friend Belize is an AIDS nurse, who is reluctantly looking after a racist, homophobic, corrupt Jewish lawyer called Roy Cohn, who disguises his condition as liver cancer. Roy’s protege, object of his desires, and possible sexual partner, is a closeted Mormon called Joe, whose agoraphobic, depressive wife Harper and Mormon mom Hannah, who becomes Pryor’s unlikely friend, are also characters. Joe begins a relationship with Louis when the latter deserts his sick lover. Roy M Cohn was a real person, right-hand man to chief witch-hunter Senator Joe McCarthy, and sometime lawyer to Donald Trump, representing him in the now infamous racist rental case, who appears to have been a mentor, even role model, to the current president. Of course, it’s set in the reign of that other celebrity president Ronald Regan, but in lines written 26 years ago, we hear things we heard last year.

Marianne Elliott’s new staging starts intimately, with scenes stage front on small sets on three side-by-side revolves. This continues for two of the three parts of the first play and, though emotionally engaging, wasn’t as epic as I remembered, and for someone who needs visual as well as narrative stimulation, constituted a slowish start. From here, though, it opens out with small scenes in a giant space giving the epic feel I expected, with scenes in the second play changed by the Angel’s spider-like puppeteers crawling eerily. It fully sustained it’s 6.5 hour playing time, over a 10 hour period, to the point where the gaps felt like waiting time during which you became impatient to return. The inclusion of two intervals in each part was the right decision though.

It’s hard to imagine a better cast, packed full of favourite actors. I first saw a very promising Andrew Garfield eleven years ago in another theatre in the same building, but I had no idea he would grow into the extraordinary talent that plays Prior now. I’ve admired James McArdle’s stage work for years, most notably as King James, also next door, but his Louis is a new career high. Russell Tovey first wowed me at the opening night of The History Boys on the same stage and here he is owning it in a more difficult role as introspective Joe, whose eventual emotional explosions take your breath away. I’ve only seen (and loved) Nathan Lane in The Producers, so watching him create the monster that is Roy Cohn was a revelation. I’ve seen little of Nathan Stewart-Jarrett’s work, but now can’t wait to see more; he brings Belize alive by wordless facial expressions, then adds a delicious bite with his dialogue. Denise Gough continues to impress in another tough role in the shadow of so many larger-than-life characters, her restraint amplifying the emotional outbursts. In addition to Hannah, who Susan Brown navigates from conservative Mormon to loving friend, she plays three men – a Rabbi, a doctor, and an old Bolshevik – plus the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg, one of Roy Cohn’s victims, in a series of terrific performances. The ever wonderful Amanda Lawrence gives us our Angel, but also many others in another set of fine turns. What an ensemble.

When I look back at my lifetime of theatre-going, this will be another of those days that justify my obsession with the stage. No other art form could provide such a dramatic feast that leaves you exhausted and emotionally drained, but energised, thrilled and deeply satisfied at the same time. I woke up the following morning feeling completely blessed.

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Husbands & Sons is actually three plays by the very prolific early 20th century novelist, poet and playwright D H Lawrence – The Daughter-in-Law, The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd and A Collier’s Friday Night; his first three, but never produced in his lifetime. They’re all set in the Nottinghamshire mining village of Eastwood, where Lawrence was brought up, but that’s really the only connection. What Ben Power has done is to create a ‘mash-up’. They’re interwoven to create one play rather than played as three separate plays and it works brilliantly.

The Holroyds, Lamberts and Gascoignes are all mining families. Lizzie Holroyd is trapped in a marriage to philandering drunk Charlie, whose young son even hates him. Lydia Lambert is married to a dinosaur who gives her a portion of his wages for which he expects her to live in slavery, keeping home and bring up two children. Minnie Gascoigne has only recently married Luther when its revealed he’s fathered a child by a neighbour’s daughter.

It’s an evocative picture of life in this early 20th century mining community, largely from the perspective of the women at home, and you can tell its writer knew this world very well indeed. Lizzie and Lydia have better relationships with their sons than husbands (and daughter, in Lydia’s case), Luther and his brother Joe are closer to their mother than Luther is to his wife and Charlie’s mother Sue looms large too. Lydia (Lawrence’s mother’s name) is devoted to her son Ernest, an autobiographical character I suspect, who is educating himself to escape this world (he even, somewhat ironically, calls his mother mater) which sets him against his deeply traditional dad, whilst his sister Nellie is destined to stay. Lizzie can barely hide her attraction to local electrician Blackmore, who is pursuing her.

The footprint of the ground floor of all three homes is laid out in the Dorfman Theatre, with the audience on all sides, and in a clever twist we change seats for each act. As it begins, a huge rectangular lighting rig rises like a giant mining cage and underfloor lights represent the underground world. The rooms are realistic but the actors mime actions like putting on coats and opening doors. I thought Bunny Christie’s design and Marianne Elliott’s staging were stunning.

The big draw acting wise is Anne-Marie Duff, and she’s great, but it’s a faultless ensemble with a whole load of really fine performances. The whole thing is faithful to the writing and the setting, yet inventive in adaptation and staging. Only the National could do this. A theatrical feast.

 

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Though its billed as a comedy and it made me laugh – a lot – there’s more to Sam Holcroft’s play about the family Christmas from hell; it made me think a lot too.

Emma, the daughter of Adam & Sheena, is to undergo CGT (cognitive-behavioural therapy) in an attempt to cure her chronic fatigue. CGT requires you to create rules for living – coping strategies. Until we meet Emma, we spend Christmas morning with her parents, grandmother, uncle and his new girlfriend preparing the lunch. They have their own coping strategies too and these are explained to us on two giant scoreboards. In the second half these ‘rules for living’ are elaborated and explained and points scored whenever the strategies are successfully implemented. Everyone begins to realise mum has been in denial about dad’s illness when he arrives for a visit from hospital, at which point things break down completely as rules are abandoned, truths revealed and things get thrown – big-time! When we do meet Emma, she appears to be the only normal person in the room.

The Dorfman is configured as a large rectangular kitchen / diner with multi-level seating on the long sides and one level high up, above the scoreboards, on the short sides. It felt very voyeuristic from behind a half-wall on the front row. Chloe Lamford’s clever design is matched by the originality of the structure of the play and Marianne Elliott’s audacious production. The characterisations are excellent and they are brilliantly brought to life by the five lead actors. The chalk-and-cheese brothers are very well played by Stephen Manghan, ex-cricketer now legal associate, as Adam and Miles Jupp, sometime actor who’s also settled for the law, as Matthew, both influenced if not bullied by dad. Adam’s wife Sheena, beautifully played by Claudie Blakley, is too fond of a tipple and focused on alternative therapies for Emma, solutions not exactly embraced by Adam. Maggie Service is a loud, clumsy, dippy delight as Matt’s new(ish) girlfriend, actress Carrie. Deborah Findlay is superb as the pill-popping mum who has clearly been put upon for donkey’s years. Lovely performances.

In between the laughs, I found myself thinking about my own (and others) coping strategies and reflecting on my own dysfunctional family! An original and entertaining evening .

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Perhaps I should start with the two reasons why you should see this show, because you should. This is Rosalie Craig’s big moment and she rises to it in every respect; her performance as Althea is stunning. The imagination of director Marianne Elliott and designer Rae Smith have run wild; it’s a visual feast – clever, colourful and often captivating.

To say ‘suggested by’ a story by George MacDonald is a bit disingenuous – ‘based on’ or ‘adapted from’ might be a fairer way to recognise the origin of Samuel Adamson & Tori Amos’ musical adult fairytale. In this case ‘light’ means floating rather than illuminating as Althea doesn’t do gravity. Though occasionally on wires, this is mostly created by ‘acrobats’ who move her around in a way that is simply extraordinary.

There is animosity between the two kingdoms (a wilderness divides them), both with widowed kings, one with the light princess and her brother (who dies early on) and the other with two princes. This eventually leads to war, but it’s a fairytale, so it all ends happily, with some right-on environmental stuff and some tongue-in-cheek feminism thrown in for good measure. There’s actually nothing wrong with this adult fairytale, except it’s length and unevenness.

The glorious moments sit alongside some very dull ones, which a judicious scissors would have dealt with and turned it into a much better show. There’s too much of everything really – too much story, too much music (particularly sung dialogue) and too much gratuitous spectacle. Despite this, from the whistle-stop but overlong prologue, it still seems rushed. The score is as uneven as the book. There are some nice songs hiding inside some dull recitative; it’s almost sung-through in that irritating ‘pop opera’ style.

This was the last preview, so it’s too late to change it now. This is deeply frustrating, as it’s fresh and original and has much going for it. If only Mr Hytner had given them more of those notes we’ve been told about, it could have been great rather than just good.

 

 

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