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Posts Tagged ‘Max Bennett’

John Ford is a 17th century Quentin Tarantino. This revenge tragedy has incest, torture, a handful of murders and a lot of blood. If it was written today it would be controversial, so I can’t imagine what they thought 400 years ago.

A few suitors are circling Annabella but before any get very far her brother Giovanni confesses his love for her, only to find it’s reciprocated and then quickly consummated. They agree she has to marry one of her suitors anyway and she’s soon betrothed and wed to Soranzo, but on their wedding night he discovers she’s already pregnant, so clearly no virgin! Thus begins the carnage which ends with five dead bodies at Soranzo’s birthday party.

The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse was created for Jacobean plays like this and it fits it like a glove. It’s handsomely costumed by Alex Lowde and excellently staged by Michael Longhurst, with a nice touch of quirkiness. The bed scene is both sexy and squirmy, the treatment of Annabella by her new husband when her plight is revealed is truly shocking and the final bloody scene is masterly.

Fiona Button and Max Bennett are well matched and sexy siblings. The rest of the fine cast includes the excellent Michael Gould as the Friar, Giovanni’s confidante, Morag Siller as a great Putana, Annabella’s confidante, and Sam Cox, as their dad Donado, makes a very believable transition from proud father to distraught father who can’t live with the truth. Stefano Braschi is very good as the affronted Soramzo and James Garnon almost steals the show as a brilliantly buffoonish Bergetto, one of the suitors, returning after his character’s murder as a stern, ice cool Cardinal.

Within a year of it’s opening, the SWP has established itself as a flexible, intimate and indispensable space. This is the first Jacobean drama I’ve seen here, but it’s also been successful staging Shakespeare and early music and opera.

Bloody brilliant.

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To be honest, I found this new Polish play somewhat dated and pretentious. Very 70’s.

The story revolves around Marysia, who becomes pregnant as a teenager after being raped and whose secret abortion is performed by gynecologist and family friend Jan. She ends up working for and sleeping with Jan before visiting his son Piotr studying in London and falling in love with him. It is occasionally absurd and surreal (including Maryisa imagining herself as the Virgin Mary), there’s a lot of alcohol induced falling about and a cake with a baby on top I was forever in fear would be crushed.

It moves back and forth in time over 20+ years from when Marysia is 4 to her 20’s and moves from Warsaw to London, but is mostly set in the small Polish town of Niepokalanow on the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. Church music is playing before we enter the space, which is laid out like a church with a central aisle and a recessed cross at one end in Max Jones clever design.

Abortion is the subject of Anna Wakulik’s play, translated by Catherine Grosvenor. It was legal in Poland under communism, despite its Catholicism, but abortions weren’t very acceptable or open. They are ironically illegal in democratic Poland but are performed (at great expense) by doctors like Jan who sees the gravy train as soon as the law is passed. The trouble is, it’s not clear what she’s trying to say about it except ‘this is all a mess’.

Sinead Matthews, Max Bennett and Owen Teale do their best, but it just isn’t a good enough play to engage or satisfy and Caroline Stienbeis’ dated staging compounds the issue.

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There was a time when Schiller’s plays were dull and turgid. Then along came Mike Poulton with adaptations which breathed new life into them. His  adaptation of Don Carlos was masterly and now he excels with this cross between Les Liaisons Dangereuses and Romeo & Juliet.

The Chancellor’s son, an army major, is in love with court musician’s daughter Luise, but his father plans to wed him to the Prince’s mistress to provide cover for the Prince and obtain influence for himself.  The Chancellor’s private secretary, appropriately named Wurm, wants Luise himself and with the help of Lady Milford and Hofmarschall ( I wasn’t quite sure what his role is) his machiavellian plans unfold, ending tragically with its R&J moment. It’s a cracking story and the dialogue is sharp and often witty; not a word is wasted.

The Donmar space is simply but beautifully designed and lit by Peter McKintosh and Paule Constable respectively and Michael Grandage’s staging is as ever impeccable. I don’t think even the Donmar has ever assemble an ensemble this good. You totally believe in the love and passion of Felicity Jones and Max Bennett as Luise and Ferdinand. Ben Daniels has never been better than here as the Chancellor, whose craze for power unleashes such tragedy and results in his own deep remorse. John Light and David Dawson provide the intrigue in their deliciously smarmy, oleaginous fashion (and in the case of Dawson, very camp) whilst Alex Kingston is every bit the arch manipulator whose only interest is herself – at any cost . I also really liked Paul Higgins devoted passionate father who does much to illustrate the backdrop of the class divide.

This will I’m sure be one of the highlights of the year, and one of the defining productions of Grandage’s reign at the Donmar. Miss at your peril.

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Let me first confess that Shaw is one of my three problem playwrights (the others being Chekov and Pinter) who I’ve always considered to be a bit of a windbag. A revival needs to be timely, revelatory or well crafted for it to be worth(my)while.

This play was clearly rather shocking in its day and though some aspects of Shaw’s moralistic treatment of prostitution still ring true (hypocrisy in particular) it isn’t a particularly timely revival, so it fails that test.

It’s a rather old-fashioned and conventional production which doesn’t say anything new or say anything in a new way, so I’m afraid it fails the revelatory test.

The design is simple, clearly made for a play with four settings that’s touring. There are some good performances – Felicity Kendal is always watchable (and here seems to have morphed into a miniature Joan Plowright), David Yelland always gives an intelligent reading and the youngsters (Lucy Briggs-Owen and Max Bennett)  show much promise. I’m not sure what the point of the character Praed is (unless it’s to have at least one non-judgemental person) so it’s hard for Mark Tandy to impress. The production seems to me to be straight off the revive-a-classic-with-someone-off-the-telly production line and fails the craftsmanship test.

I can’t say I was bored, but I can’t say I was gripped. Indifference probably best sums up my view and I suspect, like Ghosts, it’s in for an ‘early bath’ in 4-6 weeks time; there’s no room for mediocre revivals in the West End at £60 a pop top price.

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