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Posts Tagged ‘Matthew Marsh’

Plays usually cross the Atlantic with ease, but I’m not sure this one has. It’s set on a US college campus, somewhere that’s so uniquely American that it effectively distances a non-American audience; well me, anyway. The subject matter of Christopher Shinn’s play should engage and impassion, but it left me rather cold.

It doesn’t revolve around the the title character, but around openly gay Gabe, moving between his somewhat complicated personal life and college life for the LGBT community. Gabe has recently started a relationship with Drew, who writes for the college rag. His best friend Tim, outgoing student president, is (apparently) straight. Tim and his girlfriend Jenny and Drew’s black gay colleague Nicky are involved in Gabe and Drew’s relationship in surprising and not always plausible ways. 

Teddy Ferrara and disabled gay Jay enter Gabe’s life as leader of the college LGBT society, the former wanting someone to talk to and the latter wanting a relationship. As the college president hosts the first meeting of a group set up in response to the college’s diversity committee, Drew’s paper publishes speculation that a recent suicide victim was gay, suggesting gay campus life might be difficult. Teddy Ferrara discovers his room-mate is streaming his casual sex with partners picked up on the internet and his suicide soon follows.

Even though the setting is uniquely American, Shinn’s play, like Neil LaBute’s, are cynically un-American and his characters manipulative and self-centred, even the victims. There’s a lot of story, the issues are relevant and important, but its all very slow and unengaging I’m afraid. I didn’t really care about anyone, which makes it hard to care about the issues. It left me cold.

There are some fine performances, particularly from Mathew Marsh as the clumsy college president and would-be senator, Ryan McPartland in the title role and Pamela Nomvete as lecturer Emma. The accents are uniformly excellent. Hildegard Bechtler’s design is as cold and clinical as the play and Dominic Cooke’s staging lacks pace.

I think it would have worked a lot better if it had been relocated to the UK and shortened by twenty minutes. As it is, a disappointment for me.

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This was my first (long overdue) visit to Hampstead Theatre’s Downstairs space. As it happens the play didn’t actually start there, but in a ‘pop up’ university lecture room in the foyer where Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela recalls her visits to prison to interview Eugene de Kock after his appearances at the South African Truth & Reconciliation hearings. As she begins to describe her arrival in prison for the first time, we walk into it and take our places peering into the cell where they meet.

de Kock was known as ‘Prime Evil’ and Gobodo-Madikizela, a psychologist and member of the commission, is fascinated by him. During the hearings he asked to meet his victims families privately so that he could apologise. This initiative, and the expressions of forgiveness by the families, struck many and led to more meetings between perpetrators of crimes and victim’s families. It also led to Gobodo-Madikizela’s desire to understand de Kock and those like him. For the rest of the play we are with them, on two occasions six years apart, with just the occasional presence of a prison guard.

I’ve always been in awe of the concept and execution of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission, convinced that I personally could never find the capacity to understand or forgive, but understanding both its power and importance. The play isn’t really about that though; it’s a peep into the mind of ‘Prime Evil’ in an attempt to understand the motivation and events behind horrific crimes.

It does prove to be a voyeuristic experience, thanks to the cell bars of Paul Wills’ design and intensity created by lights and sound, but it’s the intensity of the performances that allow you to examine and attempt to understand at an objective psychological level. Matthew Marsh (is he the most hard-working stage actor we have?) conveys a cold intelligence, seemingly devoid of any feeling or emotion with a spot-on Afrikaan accent that makes your flesh crawl recalling hearing accents like it in the past. Nomer Dumerzweni brilliantly conveys Gobodo-Madikizela’s forensic approach and suppressed horror.

Nicholas Wright has adapted Gobodo-Madikizela’s book and Jonathan Munby has staged it well to give us a very thought-provoking and insightful 80 minutes and a somehow appropriate companion piece to The Arrest of Ai WeiWei upstairs.

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Maybe because it was my first theatrical day in over two weeks I was easily pleased or maybe it’s because I’m old enough to remember Python first time round, but I rather enjoyed this somewhat indifferently received play about the 1975 US court case where the giant ABC network was challenged by the Pythons over the editing of its shows.

Michael Palin and Terry Gilliam travel to New York to persuade the network to restore much of its cuts and when they fail seek a legal injunction to prevent the scheduled broadcast. Starting and ending in Palin’s North London home, most of Steve Thompson’s play tales place in NYC – in a hotel room,  the network offices, the court and other locations. Along the way, it explores how humour is received differently depending on age and culture and the rights of creative people as well as the relationships between the Pythons (even those not on stage). It’s often very funny indeed.

Francis O’Connor’s design is an homage to the TV show and provides a superb surrealistic frame for the play. Edward Hall’s staging zips along and there isn’t a wasted moment. The cast is uniformly excellent. Harry Hadden-Paton broadens his range with a superb characterisation of Palin, starting as reluctant, moving to apologetic and later to indignant. Sam Alexander’s Gilliam excellently combines outrageousness with eccentricity. It’s great to see Clive Rowe in a non-musical role and he’s terrific as Python’s attorney, as is Matthew Marsh as the judge.

It’s not a great play, but I enjoyed it a lot more than I was expecting – and a lot more than most critics and other bloggers it seems.

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This play about Afghanistan during the 80’s started as one of the Tricycle’s Great Game playlets a couple of years ago; it has now become a very interesting and satisfying full length play.

It was the decade when the then USSR occupied this troubled land whilst the US, with British help, sought to undermine them by funding and arming Pakistani security forces and Afghan militias. It followed periods of western influence and was followed by the rise of the Taliban and subsequent US / British invasion and occupation. The geopolitical history is absolutely fascinating and playwright J T Rogers achievement is to make this so entertaining! It unfolds like a thriller and is packed with irony and humour, without ever debasing the seriousness of the events it presents. It also weaves in the stories of the home lives, and in particular the sons, of the three main players which adds an important personal dimension.

Designer Ultz use of sliding screens enables Howard Davies production to have real pace, moving quickly between the many short scenes without losing impetus. The central character of CIA agent James Warnock is excellently played by Lloyd Owen, who is onstage throughout, torn between his country’s pragmatism and his personal idealism. His British counterpart has been around longer and is therefore more realistic and cynical; also well played by Adam James. These performances are well matched by the other two key characters – Russian Dmitri (Matthew Marsh) and Afghan Abdullah (Demosthenes Chrysan) and there are fine supporting performances from Gerald Kyd as the representative of Pakistani security and Philip Arditti as Abdullah’s son (whose obsession with Western music and quoting of their lyrics is hysterical) and excellent cameos from Simon Kunz as James’ boss and Danny Ashok as the Pakistani military clerk.

I liked this play a lot; it explains so much about how we got to where we are in Afghanistan and the hopelessness of it all – but above all it’s a deeply satisfying evening modern drama.

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