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Posts Tagged ‘Martins Imhangbe’

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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This new play has an epic sweep, crossing three continents and more than sixty years to tell the story of a young Indian couple’s journey via Kenya to the UK through the changes in all three countries. I was enthralled.

It starts in Ahmedabad in 1954 as teenager Jyoti chooses between five suitors, deciding on Kenyan Asian twenty-something Rasik. It’s a year before she joins him in Kenya to begin their life together, where they become farmers and befriend and employ David, but it isn’t long before they leave the country amid the turmoil of the Mau Mau uprising. Their destination is the UK and there we see them in the late 60’s and 70’s making a life for themselves, Rasik training as a surveyor and Jyoti becoming a union activist fighting exploitation of Asian women, both on the receiving end of racist abuse, bringing up two girls and buying a home. The play ends as we flash forward to the present day, looking back at their adventure, new facts revealed.

It’s beautifully written, very mature and assured for a young playwright, particularly well structured. Madani Younis’ production is set on a square stage with the audience facing each other on two sides and screens on the other two. With very few props, locations are conjured up by what covers the floor, with the impressionistic projections adding atmosphere. The simplicity of the design allows the story to shine unencumbered, both the personal tale of the couple and the political and societal changes in all three countries.

Anjana Vasan is excellent as the assertive, feisty and independent Jyoti, as is Shubham Saraf as the loving but much put upon Rasik. In Kenya, Martins Imhangbe creates an imposing presence as David and in the UK, daughter Sonal is played with cheeky youthfulness, very much her mother’s daughter, by Aysha Kala, who doubles up as Jyoti’s niece back in India. When we move to the present day, Nika Aalia and Selva Rasalingham take over as the older Joyti and Rasik. A fine ensemble.

A candidate for the year’s best new play, I have a feeling we’re going to be hearing a lot more from playwright Vinay Patel.

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I caught the last performance of this new American play by J C Lee and was very glad I did. The third piece of good writing in nine days.

Luce is a seventeen year old brought from a war torn African country and adopted by an American couple when he was seven. He’s a popular, bright, sporty kid who’s heading for university with a fat scholarship, until he submits a controversial essay which prompts a teacher to search his locker. She decides to share her concern about radicalisation with his mother, who worships him, rather than the college principal. The search for the truth becomes a trail of clumsiness, incompetence and conflict.

What I liked about the writing is its realism and honesty, probing and challenging perceptions and preconceptions. Though its inconclusive, the debate is deftly handled in Simon Dormandy’s simple staging, with just a table and some chairs as props and actors sitting on the sides when not playing, watching the action but not expressionless.

The performances are all outstanding. I was hugely impressed by Martins Imhangbe as Luce, who switches mood and attitude instantaneously. Mel Giedroyc, making a rare foray into theatre, was also impressive as mom Amy – it was easier to identify with her character when she was serious as the funnier moments felt like Mel. Natasha Gordon’s teacher Harriet, Elizabeth Tan’s fellow pupil Stephanie and Nigel Whitmey’s dad Peter were all well drawn characterisations and performances too.

J C Lee has apparently become rather successful as a TV and film writer, but I do hope we haven’t lost him to theatre, as based on this he’s too good to lose.

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