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Posts Tagged ‘Mark Strong’

On the lists of writers and directors least likely to adapt a Georges (Maigret) Simenon psychological  thriller, I’d put David Hare and Robert Icke pretty high, but that’s what we have here, and they’ve turned out a rather stylish, if slow, piece of staged film noir.

Simenon’s piece is a nicely plotted story of two couples caught in a storm returning from a society party in Connecticut to the Dodd’s home in the country. Don Dodd and Ray Sanders are old friends, both lawyers. Don is married to stay-at-home Ingrid and Ray to fellow party animal Mona. Ray doesn’t make it back, losing the other three before they make it to the house in a blizzard. His body is eventually found and the investigation concludes it was an accident. Don subsequently pays frequent visits to Mona Sanders New York apartment to help her with the estate and we see the true nature of their relationship, with a few more surprises to come.

It’s played out in a large number of scenes, mostly in the cosy Dodd home and the contrasting Sanders apartment, with flashbacks to the party. Black screens of different shapes and sizes close at various speeds like camera shutters in between scenes. It’s a superb design by Bunny Christie, but it really slows down the pace and you seem to be looking at black space too much of the time, with just a soundscape for company, making it a lot less thrilling than it should be. It was one of those occasions when the middle of the front row was pole position, though I suspect others, particularly front left, will have found some of the sightlines challenging.

The acting style is very film noir with lines ending in mid-air as rhetorical questions or speculative statements, with a few laughs, occasionally seeming a touch tongue-in-cheek. The performances are all good, particularly Mark Strong as Don and Elizabeth Debicki as Mona.

It’s good to see this rarely staged genre at the NT and all of the components are first class – writing, design, performance and staging – but I’m afraid they don’t add up to more than the parts, so it’s only a partial success for me.

 

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I’m not very keen on directors messing with my favourite (dead) playwrights. I’ve seen enough disrespect of dead composers by opera directors to give me a very acute arrogant director detector. My more knowledgeable companion reminded me that Arthur Miller was particular about staging instructions; in this case, including an all-important telephone and a record player, both missing. So I approached this radical production of one of my play-writing hero’s best plays with some trepidation, unnecessarily as it turns out as I thought it was revelatory.

Ivo van Hove stages it in a rectangular space like a swimming pool. The actors can sit on three sides and there’s a door in the wall of the fourth. You only see this when the walls rise slowly as two longshoremen are washing ready for home, testosterone fills the air and the continual brooding soundscape starts. There are no props and the uninterrupted action is played out in this claustrophobic space, people pacing and prowling with increasing intensity as the drama unfolds – and here drama means drama.

The unhealthy relationship between Eddie and his niece Catherine is more overt and very physical in this production, and I think modern audiences are more attuned to such things. His obsession with her is clearly uncontrollable and the consequences inevitable and tragic. The Italian cultural background is more to the fore, with clearly defined male roles, family bonds and principles of honour explicitly laid out before you. The narrator is more integral and more involved. The drama is heightened and the intensity often cuts the air. I thought it served Miller’s play very well. The slow burn developed momentum as events unfolded in an unbroken 120 minutes. There were moments when you gasped and others where you wanted to break the fourth wall and restrain people. There’s a coup d’theatre ending which takes your breath away.

The acting is universally superb, with Nicola Walker playing a particularly tragic Beatrice and Phoebe Fox an effervescent Catherine against Luke Norris’ passionate Rodolpho. Towering over them all is a stunning Eddie from Mark Strong with extraordinary physical presence and palpable rage at the thought of anyone taking Catherine from him. My reference point for Eddie is Michael Gambon’s 1987 Olivier award winning performance at the Cottesloe, but this disappeared completely as Strong made Eddie his own.

This won’t please traditionalists, and some – like my companion – will find it overly stylised and ill-serving of the story, but I found it a thrilling interpretation which made me look at a great 20th century classic, and a favourite play, afresh. The Young Vic continues it’s roll

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