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Posts Tagged ‘Martin Crimp’

When I first saw this 1897 Edmund Rostand play 35 years ago, in a version by Anthony Burgess for the RSC, it was Derek Jacobi with a prosthetic nose swashbuckling around the Barbican stage with his sword. Last night there were no prosthetics or swords, it was staged in a plywood box with a few of those orange plastic chairs and some microphone stands and everyone was dressed in contemporary clothes. It’s certainly radical, but it works because its a play about words and poetry and we heard and absorbed them all.

Martin Crimp’s version uses modern language, with slang and expletives, spoken by the actors in their natural voices, all amplified, but it’s still in verse. From the outset you hear someone beatboxing over sacred music and then someone rapping, which is maybe what Cyrano would be doing today. Once the surprise wears off, you find yourself listening intently, more so than you would natural dialogue. It’s faithful to the original story; the only change I could detect was in the opening scene in the theatre where they are putting on Hamlet instead of Clorise. Some actions and interactions are implied or mimed, and it sometimes feels like a rehearsed reading.

In addition to emphasising the verse, some scenes become even more dramatic by being less dramatised. The best example is the balcony scene where Cyrano is feeding lines to Christian as he woos Roxanne. There’s no balcony, and they sit on chairs, but it’s brilliant, and the final scene, where Roxanne hears the truth from Cyrano, is very moving. There were other times like this when I was thinking ‘why is this working?’ while it was, well, working.

It’s the most diverse cast you may ever see on a West End stage, all superb. led of course by James McAvoy, who combines a breathtaking physicality with a visceral, passionate emotionality. He brings the same extraordinary conviction that he did to Macbeth. He’s surrounded by fine performances, though, including Eben Figueiredo as a besotted Christian and Anita-Joy Uwajeh as a somewhat demanding Roxanne. Tom Edden as De Guiche is the man you love to hate.

I wasn’t convinced by director Jamie Lloyd’s similar treatment of Evita as I felt it didn’t serve the story, but here a play which is really about the power of words, poetry and language brings those very much to the fore. I was surrounded by rapt young people, a lot there to see a film star, who having experienced something like this may well become lifetime theatregoers.

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Playwright Martin Crimp is back at the Orange Tree Theatre, which nurtured him and staged his first six plays before he became a Royal Court blue-eyed boy and went on to write prolifically – original plays, translations / adaptations and, more recently, opera librettos – and become our most ‘European’ of playwrights. This was the sixth of those early plays, a 1988 satire on middle class morals and patronising male behaviour.

Mike and Liz are selling their London home and Clair is their estate agent. They make a big deal about how they want to act honourably, but everything that follows contradicts this, including how they sanction gazumping, how they treat the Italian nanny and how they inadvertently expose Clair to much worse. It all takes place inside Fly Davis’ elevated gauze square, which becomes both Mike & Liz’s living room, Clair’s flat and finally Mike & Liz’s garden.

Surprisingly, and depressingly, the behaviours on show are as current as they were thirty years ago, but it didn’t have enough bite for me, a bit light in narrative and characterisation and, though well performed, Richard Twyman’s production didn’t have enough pace. I’m afraid it felt like a long 100 minutes.

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Playwright Martin Crimp has been very loyal to theatres and they to him. His first seven plays were staged at Richmond’s Orange Tree Theatre, who appear to have nurtured him. The next nine were at the Royal Court, where he was writer in residence. Another one back at OTT and one at the Young Vic and that’s it. He’s been more promiscuous with his eleven translations / adaptations, including one here at the Almeida. His plays are rarely revived here in London, with the NT’s Attempts On Her Life a notable exception ten years ago. This one was his first Royal Court main stage play in 1993 and I think this might be the first major London revival.

Anne is bullied by her husband Simon, who tapes her mouth, amongst other things. Somehow she gets to tell her story to husband and wife Andrew & Jennifer who are in the business of developing films. They may live in the same big city but Anne’s and Jenifer’s worlds are far apart. They bring on board writer Clifford and big name John and Anne’s story gets changed beyond recognition. Anne has a fling with Andrew and their sex is observed by Clifford, which makes her so mad she returns to Simon and draws him into her plan for revenge. The film gets released, but by now Anne isn’t involved, and its not her story any more. On the night of the premiere Andrew goes looking for her and Jennifer follows. Along the way the play takes a surreal turn when Anne gets a blind cab driver, who turns up again later when Clifford needs a cab! It’s a satire, but it covers a lot of other ground too.

It’s played out in a series of short scenes moving from Andrew & Jennifer’s office to their favourite Japanese restaurant to the street and the subway and eventually to Anne & Simon’s home. Fifteen ‘extras’ populate the office, street, subway and first night party. It’s a pretty bland design, so the extras brought a bit of life to the stage. It is very well performed, with Aisling Loftus and Matthew Needham excellent as Anne & Simon and Indira Varma hitting just the right satirical note as Jennifer. Gary Beadle has hot-footed it over form the Royal Court Upstairs for fine turns as John and a New York cop. The original was directed by Lindsay Posner who has passed the baton to Lyndsey Turner for this revival.

I appear to have wiped the Royal Court production from my memory, so it was good to see it again. It hasn’t dated, though it isn’t a classic, and it may provide an illustration as to why Crimp is rarely revived.

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Playwright Martin Crimp and I ‘have form’, but £10 Mondays invite and encourage risk-taking, so I booked for this anyway – and well before its ‘love it or loathe it’ status became clear. I had to postpone my visit and the friend who took both tickets said it was challenging but should be seen, so I rebooked. I didn’t loathe it; I just thought it was a dreadful waste of 100 precious Friday evening minutes and a depressing start to the weekend!

Somewhere there is an insightful play waiting to be written about our modern-day obsessions, but this isn’t it. It starts well, at the Christmas dinner table of a perfectly normal (dysfunctional) family. Grandad’s got dementia, one daughter’s about to be a single mum by she knows not / won’t say who and the other’s a feisty bitch. Mum and Dad try hard to keep it all together. Then Uncle Bob arrives (I know not from where as my seat was restricted, not that I was told that when I booked) and tells them how much his wife Madeleine (outside in the car) hates them. She eventually arrives (from the same place I know not where) and the character assassinations continue.

In the second act we’re in some sort of TV studio with the cast lined up, now generic characters like ‘old woman’ and ‘teenage girls 2’, on TV studio chairs. This section is called ‘The Five Essential Freedoms of the Individual’ which are, apparently, the freedom to write the script of our own lives, to separate our legs, to experience horrid trauma, to put it all behind us and to look good & live forever. It’s a cross between the Jeremy Kyle Show (without Jeremy Kyle, one of the redeeming features of the evening) and therapy.

In the third act we’re in a bright room in the country where Uncle Bob and Madeleine are talking bollocks, which given most of what went before could well be described as bollocks, somehow seemed an appropriate ending.

I admired the performances, Miriam Buether’s sets were impressive and I laughed a bit; on the whole, though, a rather pointless evening.

 

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