Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Martina Laird’

August Wilson was one of the greats of 20th century American drama, though he’s not as well known or as produced internationally as Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams or Eugene O’Neill. His great achievement was a cycle of ten plays, each set in a different decade of the 20th century, all in Pittsburgh’s Hill District where he was brought up, with characters in some plays being referenced in others, documenting 100 years of the African American experience. We’ve seen all bar one here, though revivals after their UK premiere’s have been rare. Seventeen years after it was first seen at the Tricycle, this ninth play (in period, rather than writing), set in the Reagan’s America in the 80’s, gets a superb revival at the Theatre Royal Stratford East.

King Hedley II is home from prison, where he served seven years. He lives at home with his mum Ruby, with whom he has a fractious relationship, and his wife Tonya. He has a seventeen-year-old daughter whom he hardly ever sees. He’s struggling to navigate life as an ex-con, selling knocked-off fridges with his best friend Mister to raise money to set up a video store. They try to speed up the fund-raising with a bigger crime. He’s keen to have a child with Tonya, but she doesn’t like the world it would be born into. Ruby’s old flame, smooth hustler Elmore, walks back into their lives and ghosts from the past emerge, propelling the play to its tragic conclusion. Peter McKintosh has built two full-size houses, evocative of the poor Hill District neighbourhood, whilst providing an intimate playing area in the back yards of the houses.

I was impressed by newcomer Aaron Pierre in Othello at Shakespeare’s Globe last year, but his performance as King Hedley is on another level altogether; deeply emotional and passionate with an extraordinary charismatic presence. Martina Laird is terrific as Ruby, a nuanced characterisation that conveys the complexity of her relationships with her son and Elmore. This is Lenny Henry’s fifth role since his late career extension into stage acting, and he continues to impress. Elmore brings a lightness to what is one of the darker plays of the cycle, and Henry is well suited to this. Dexter Flanders as Mister and Cherrelle Skeete as Tonya both make excellent contributions, and the cast is completed by a fine performance from Leo Wringer as the eccentric neighbour Stool Pigeon, who hoards newspapers to record history and makes prophetic contributions like a Greek chorus.

It’s a bit too long at 3.5 hours, but Wilson’s dialogue and a set of riveting performances just about keep you in their grip in Nadia Fall’s superb production. It’s such a timeless piece, covering issues just as relevant and urgent today, and Stratford East is a great home for a work like this – an auspicious contribution to kick off the next phase in the life of ‘the people’s theatre’. As I left, I looked up at Joan Littlewood’s statue and she seemed to have a smile of approval on her face!

Read Full Post »

I’m fond of Shakespeare’s Roman plays, so the RSC’s four-play season is very welcome, but it took me a while to warm to this opening production, the first part of which seemed strangely unanimated and perfunctory.

The titular character is a war hero and leader, but he can’t hide his contempt for ordinary people who, stirred up by a couple of politicians, banish him. His revenge is to join his former enemy and invade Rome, until his mother persuades him otherwise, which leads to his new comrades turning against him. There’s something very resonant about it in current times!

The crowd scenes and tribunal scenes of the first, rather dull, part lack passion, but later scenes, like Coriolanus’ offering himself to the enemy, his mother’s pleading and the final scene are particularly well staged. The design has something to do with my early disappointment – I groaned when I walked in to see a forklift truck and fully loaded pallets and I tired of brick walls, metal roller doors and greyness.

Sope Dirisu, who I admired as Casius Clay in One Night in Miami at the Donmar last year, is an excellent Coriolanus and Haydn Gwynne is superb as his mother, Volumnia. I thought the casting of Martina Laird and Jackie Morrison as the tribunes worked well and there’s fine work from Paul Jesson as Menenius, Charles Aitkin as Cominius and James Corrigan as Aufidius.

If only the first part packed more of a punch and the design served the play better.

Read Full Post »

Verbatim theatre meets promenade performance in Michael Wynne’s piece about the NHS. Seeing it the day before the election and now writing about it a day after the results gives it an extraordinary resonance, relevance and poignancy.

We start and end as an audience of c.40, initially in an A&E waiting room listening to the experiences and views of doctors, nurses, porters, cleaners and patients. From here we split into three groups for more intimate meetings in GP surgeries, outside a hospital, in an operating theatre etc. hearing more real testimonies and opinions before we assemble for a series of concluding scenes in the Theatre Upstairs. A lot of verbatim theatre is too dry and a lot of promenade performances allow the marshalling to interfere with the flow, but this solves both of these problems with warmth and humour and snatches of dialogue en route from scene to scene (particularly useful during the big climb up four or five flights of stairs!).

Though it’s clearly pro NHS, it’s reasonably objective, including the campaign against North Staffs incompetence and negligence and the impossibility of blank cheque funding. It’s more of an affectionate homage to the country’s best loved institution, taking us right back to its foundation through the White Paper ‘In Place of Fear’ (I never knew that). It really made me reflect on its value, it’s faults and its future. A unique institution which employs more people than any organisation in the world other than the US & Chinese armed forces, Wall Mart & MacDonald’s, and a recent and current political football.

In a uniformly fine cast, Elizabeth Berrington was very engaging as a GP and passionate as the North Staffs campaign leader, with Robert Bathurst very believable as both a dishevelled consultant and MP Andrew Lansley. Edna O’Brien is so lovely as Marjorie the old school nurse that you wish she was your mum, Philip Arditti’s character Jonathan provides effective continuity and there are excellent multiple characterisations from Paul Hickey, Martina Laird, Nathaniel Martello-White and Vineeta Rishi. I loved the way designer Andrew D Edwards uses all of the spaces, including corridors and stairs, so effectively.

It’s great to be heaping praise on the Royal Court again, doing exactly what they do best – putting up a mirror to our society and making us reflect and think.

Read Full Post »

This is a fascinating, multi-layered play from American playwright Marcus Gardley, covering ground I haven’t seen on stage or screen or even in print. It gets a great production by the Tricycle Theatre’s AD Indhu Rubasingham, with a fine cast of British actresses (plus Paul Shelley!).

Gardley’s play is set in New Orleans in 1836, in the period between the Louisiana Purchase, when this chunk of America was sold by the French and soon became one of the United States, and the American Civil War. Under French rule, white men routinely had a second family by a black mistress so a mixed race of ‘free people of colour’ developed. Their lives would soon change when the US became a black or white society and it is during this transition that we meet placee (black concubine) Beatrice and her three daughters mourning the death of their white common law husband / father Lazare (whose body is onstage!).

Beatrice is determined her daughters don’t follow her into placage (concubinage) but Agnes rebels and gets her sister Odette to pose as her mother and sell her into placage. Third daughter Maude tries but fails to prevent this. Somewhat ironically, these women have a house servant who is a slave, but she is a strong woman who has a big influence on them all. Beatrice has two other women in her life – her mentally unstable sister Marie Josephine, who causes a fair bit of havoc, and her friend La Veuve, who she is forever sparring with. We even get Lazare’s ghost for good measure.

Tom Piper opens up the Tricycle stage with a simple but clever white balcony and curved staircase; I’ve never seen it look so big. It’s great to see a cast of Black British women relishing these meaty characters. Tanya Moodie is, as ever, magnificent as the servant Makeda, deeply moving when she is finally free. Martina Laird is strong and defiant as Beatrice and Clare Perkins’ madness as Marie Josephine convinces. Amongst the daughters, Ayesha Antoine is hugely impressive as rebel daughter Agnes, with a combination of cheekiness and determination.

A fascinating piece of social and political history, with a nod to Bernarda Alba and an autobiographical dimension to the characters, and a great piece of family history. The Tricycle’s on a roll.

 

Read Full Post »

Fifty-four years after it’s premiere, and 24 years after I first saw it, this new National Theatre production of Errol John’s play set in post-war Trinidad in the dying days of the colonial period proves itself a classic.

It’s a fascinating piece of social history as well as the personal story of five adults and two children sharing a backyard (and a water supply) surrounding their small homes. Soutra Gilmour’s brilliantly realistic design is atmospheric and suitably claustrophobic, with audience on two sides providing an intimate staging – you’re as ‘on top’ of them as they are ‘on top’ of each other.

Trolley bus driver Ephraim (a passionate Danny Sapani) decides to emigrate to Liverpool instead of settling for a promotion to inspector, leaving behind his girlfriend Rosa who he thinks is trying to entrap him. Mavis (a terrific Jenny Jules) decides to stop ‘entertaining’ the visiting US military and becomes engaged to clownish wide boy Prince (a superb Ray Emmet Brown). The lives of Sophia and Charlie (two more excellent performances by Martina Laird & Jude Akuwudike), proud at their daughter Esther’s scholarship to high school, are turned upside down when Charlie makes one big mistake whilst out on a bender.

All of this takes place as troops are returning victorious from the war, the Americans are using the island as a base and the country is approaching independence. It takes a while to attune to the dialect and for these peoples lives to unfold, but it proves to be a thoroughly satisfying story which gets a perfect staging by Michael Buffong. In addition to the ones I’ve already named, there are other great performances here – notably Tahirah Sharif’s sweetly innocent Esther and Burt Caesar’s predatory Old Mack.

A very welcome revival which at last gets the production the writer wanted, sadly when he’s no longer here to see it. Not to be missed.

Read Full Post »