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Posts Tagged ‘Matthew Needham’

I first saw this ground-breaking Harvey Fierstein trilogy, more a three-act play in my view, when it premiered in the West End in 1985 with Anthony Sher in the lead role (which the playwright himself had played on Broadway). It was very long – well over three hours. It wasn’t revived here until 2012 at the Menier Chocolate Factory with David Badella, by which time it had lost an hour or so, but I was a bit less positive about it (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2012/07/23/torch-song-trilogy). Now it’s the inaugural production at the Turbine Theatre, a revised version without ‘trilogy’ in the title which was first staged in the US just two years ago, it’s lost another 30 minutes and it finds favour with me all over again!

Arnold is a drag queen, highly-strung, Jewish and insecure. We first meet him in his dressing room as he is about to begin a relationship with Ed, a bi-sexual teacher. This first act / play is a slice of NYC gay life in late 70’s / early 80’s New York. We then move forward five years or so to the visit of Arnold and his new young man Alan to now married Ed and his wife Laurel, where things start to get a bit sexually confusing and complicated for all three men. The third part sees the now ‘widowed’ Arnold with his precocious gay teenage foster son David getting visited by Ed, newly separated from Laurel, and his recently widowed mother, who struggles to come to terms with Arnold’s very modern life.

Strangely enough, it seemed less dated this time than it did seven years ago and if you forget the period clothes and settings, hardly dated at all. The first act promiscuity is certainly pre-AIDS, but Ed’s bi-sexuality and the fostering / adoption seem very contemporary and the sparring between mother and son timeless. Ryan Dawson-Laight’s design transforms well from dressing room to apartment with Part Two’s overlapping scenes in the same bed superbly staged by Drew McOnie. I would have preferred a more elevated stage, though – I had to move from the un-raked first four rows to see properly. Matthew Needham is excellent as Arnold, an emotionally charged performance that turns angry in the pivotal mother / son scene, as Dino Fetscher is as Ed, a less emotional, cooler character. There’s a superb third part cameo from Bernice Stegers as Ma and two impressive professional debuts from Rish Shah as Alan and Jay Lycurgo as David. Daisy Boulton completes this fine cast as Laurel.

The theatre is in a good location, easily accessible, with plenty of nearby eateries. It’s a bit noisier than other under-the arches theatres, like the Union (it is the mainline into Victoria, after all) but I suspect that’s something to get used to rather than rectify, but the air handling is good, unlike the Union! Anyway, it’s a welcome new venue, particularly for those of us us south of the river, and an impressive opening show.

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This 1948 Tennessee Williams play immediately followed the much more successful A Streetcar Named Desire, but it took 58 years to get to London, a 2006 transfer from Nottingham to the West End which was pulled early. The director of this revival staged the only other London production, at Southwark Playhouse in 2012, but this is a new one. It’s typical TW fare, set in the deep south at the beginning of the 20th century, a minister’s daughter having a troubled relationship with the son of the doctor next door, who is about to follow in his dad’s footsteps.

The design appears to take its lead from Alma’s musicality, an arc of nine pianos each with a metronome on top. In front, a shallow pit strewn with earth two steps down. Impressionistic rather than realistic, and with music and a soundscape fully utilising the pianos, it’s highly atmospheric and sensuous, totally in keeping with the material.

Alma and John dance around each other, repressed emotions getting in the way of their real feelings. He starts a doomed relationship with a Mexican girl with a dubious but rich dad and much later with the much younger Nellie. Before Alma knows about the latter, she lets her guard down and reveals her true feelings, but its too late.

I was mesmerised by both Patsy Ferran as Alma and Matthew Needham as John, both performances emotionally raw. Ankana Vasan delivers beautifully stylised dance-influenced performances as Rosa and Nellie and Seb Carrington, in an auspicious professional debut, plays some mean piano as well as playing young travelling salesman Archie, who’s in the right place when Alma realises John will never be hers. The doubling-up of roles works OK, except for Forbes Masson as both dads, preacher and doctor, carrying a bible to signify which; I think it would have been better to have two actors here.

Rebecca Frecknall’s staging, Tom Scutt’s design, Lee Curran’s lighting and Angus MacRae’s compositions combine to create something very fresh from timeless material. A must-see.

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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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I can see why the Globe have revived this at Christmas, not long after its February première. It proves to be perfect seasonal fare – a 400-year-old panto!

Before The London Merchant starts, the theatre is ‘invaded’ by the citizen, his wife and their apprentice (surrogate son) Rafe. They insist on a part for Rafe, a new title and changes to the play and spend the rest of the evening in the audience commenting and interfering with demonstrations of unacceptable and intrusive audience behaviour, occasionally invading the stage themselves to get their way. On stage, a preposterous story unfolds and you find yourself trying to keep up with this and the antics of the intruders.

The play interweaves the story of who Luce marries, her father’s choice Master Humphrey, or hers (his apprentice Jasper), with the heroic exploits of Rafe as the Knight of the title in locations from Waltham Forest to Moldavia, encountering Jasper and his mother, the giant Barbaroso and a Moldovan princess. The pace is pretty relentless, with characters turning up in the audience, from above and below, engaging with audience members. There’s a lot of music and a couple of short pauses for refreshment replenishment as well as the interval, and of course it all ends up happy ever after.

The cast are clearly enjoying themselves, which becomes infectious, and the whole thing is huge fun, if a touch over-long at three hours. Director Adele Thomas makes very effective use of the whole of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, which seemed even more intimate than usual, partly because of encounters of the close-up kind with many of the characters. Seeing Hannah Clark’s period costumes close up fills you with admiration for the skills of their makers.

Phil Daniels and Pauline McLynn preside over and control things as the citizen and his wife and Matthew Needham captures the naive charm of Rafe (played by Noel Coward in 1920 and both father and son Spall 33 and 9 years ago respectively). In a fine cast in the play within there are terrific turns from Paul Rider as a Falstaffian Merrythought, Dickon Tyrrell as camp Humphrey (a vision in pink and earrings), Dean Nolan as giant George and Samuel Hargreaves as the (very musical) boy.

Another reason why the SWP is fast becoming a firm favourite venue.

 

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