Posts Tagged ‘Max Dorey’

Neil McCormick was at school in Dublin with a boy called Paul Hewson. They both had bands, Neil with his brother Ivan, who played briefly with Hewson’s band and could have been part of it. Hewson started using his nickname Bono, and the rest is history. After abandoning his own musical career, McCormick went on to be a rock journalist, spending the last twenty-two years with the Daily Telegraph, contributing to U2’s biography. This play is based on his memoir, originally entitled I Was Bono’s Doppelgänger, filmed as Killing Bono, now on stage as Chasing Bono.

The adaptation is by comedy royalty Dick Clement & Ian La Frenais, responsible for sitcoms like Porridge, gritty comedy drama Auf Wiedersehen Pet and the screenplay for one of the greatest rock films ever, The Commitments. They were also responsible for the screenplay of Killing Bono, introducing a plot device where McCormick is kidnapped by gangster Danny Machin (a real character in McCormick’s history) so that he can write about him and whitewash his reputation. We move between scenes of imprisonment and flashbacks to their youth. In a lovely touch, McCormick’s own music is resurrected and played live by the actors playing the brothers.

I’ve never seen such as detailed design at Soho Theatre as Max Dorey’s brilliant cottage, with an office above. The performances are excellent, led by Niall McNamee as McCormick and Denis Conway as Machin, with a lovely cameo from Ciaran Dowd as Machin’s sidekick. I found Gordon Anderson’s production charming, but it left me wanting more. At eighty minutes (shorter than the film, with a lot less of the story) it felt insubstantial, perhaps unfinished. The audience that lapped it up seemed full of U2 fans, so I was glad I didn’t wear my ‘Make Bono History’ t-shirt, a satirical comment on the multi-millionaire tax-dodger’s anti-poverty campaign!

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This is a hugely impressive playwriting debut by May Sumbwanyambe, set in late nineties Zimbabwe when the government introduced its policy of buying up white owned farms. It proves to be both a balanced debate and a gripping drama.

The objective of the policy was to return land to black Zimbabweans. It was positioned as voluntary purchase, but if the government’s price wasn’t accepted it was progressively reduced, and coincidentally the violence of the ‘war veterans’ on the white farmers escalated. We now know that it played a significant part in the decline of the Zimbabwean economy, turning a productive agriculture sector into an unproductive one.

We’re on the ironically named Independence Farm owned by Guy, his wife Kathleen and daughter Chipo. It’s one of the largest, productive and most beautiful properties in the region. Civil Servant Charles is visiting with the government’s latest offer, soon after their friends and neighbours were violently driven away. It’s a long way home, so Charles is persuaded to stay overnight. As the debate unfolds we learn that Kathleen is worn down, Guy is seriously ill and inclined to protect his daughter from future violent consequences by giving in, whilst she wants to continue the fight.

It’s an impossible situation. The farmer is being punished for the actions of the former colonial power and the civil servant is being asked to implement a policy of retribution by a corrupt government. This is the second play this year which takes on post-independence issues, where the behaviour of the newly independent risks mirroring that of their former oppressors (http://garethjames.wordpress.com/2016/03/03/i-see-you) and it provides a healthy, objective debate.

This excellent play is given a fine production by George Turvey on a simple but evocative set by Max Dorey, with four passionate performances from Peter Guiness, Stefan Adegbola, Beatriz Romilly and Sandra Duncan.

Definitely one to catch.

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This is a real coup for director Sean Turner. We knew of the existence of this first Arthur Miller play, an entry for a university competition (he needed the money), because he mentioned it in his autobiography, though he never allowed it to be published. Even Miller’s agent and the Arthur Miller Trust had no idea if a script existed. It was eventually located in the archives of the University of Michigan. To their great credit, all three organisations have agreed to this world premiere in a room above a pub in Islington. 

The first thing to say is that if you didn’t know it was the first play by a 20-year-old student, you’d never know it. It’s better than many plays I’ve seen by mature playwrights. It’s uncanny how it contains themes Miller would return to in his greatest plays 10-20 years later. In a ‘blind tasting’ I’d know it was a Miller play within minutes. That all may be because it’s clearly autobiographical. The Simon family are in the rag trade but the business is struggling, partly down to their striking workers. Their son Arnold, a communist, is conflicted when he comes home from college, pressed to choose between his family and his politics.

It’s a beautiful production with designs by Max Dorey that make great use of the space. Populating some rails with coats takes you from home to business. The costumes perfectly anchor the piece in the period. There’s an outstanding atmospheric jazz soundtrack from Richard Melkonian. All of the creative contributions gel to produce a very cohesive whole.

I very much liked Adam Harley’s passionate Arnold, struggling to reconcile his idealism with his family loyalty. David Bromley captures the very archetypal Miller patriarch very well, trying to keep the family afloat, as does Nesba Krenshaw the matriarch, trying to keep the family together. There isn’t really a weak link in the rest of this cast, who can all claim to have originated a Miller role – not a lot of actors can say that!

On it’s own its a rewarding evening’s theatre, but when you add in the script hunt and the significance of the work in helping us understand the evolution of one of the world’s greatest playwrights, it’s a bit of a triumph. For me, along with Northampton Royal & Derngate’s The Hook (a staging of Miller’s unproduced film script) this is the highlight of the Miller Centenary.

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This is a new chamber version of the Michel Legrand – Herbert Kretzmer / Alain Boubil / Claude-Michel Schonberg (the Les Mis team) – Jonathan Kent 2008 West End flop. I loved it first time around; went twice and bought the music. It’s much scaled down and now feels more like a Howard Goodall show, which is a compliment not a criticism.

It’s occupied Paris in the second world war and Parisian chanteuse Marguerite is a ‘kept woman’, showered with attention and gifts by a Nazi general. She falls for Armand, a young jazz pianist, but after an intense initial three-day relationship, its doomed. There’s no way her Nazi is going to allow her to go off with a younger model. Tragedy ensues as her best friend is killed and she is forced to reject Armand. Armand’s sister and her friends join the resistance and urge him to follow, but he’s obsessed with Marguerite.

The new orchestrations for a small 7-piece band under Alex Parker (who also produces) suits the music and there’s some lovely singing (though a few too many off-key moments and too little subtlety on the night I went). Overly loud solo’s notwithstanding, Yvette Robinson was a believable Marguerite, well matched by Nadim Naaman as Armand looking much like Julian Ovenden,who played the original, but without the age gap we have here. There’s good support from Michael Onslow as Otto, Mark Turnbull at Georges and Jennifer Rhodes as Madeleine. Director Guy Unsworth (who also contributed to the new book) makes good use of the small Tabard space with help from Max Dorey’s evocative set and excellent costumes.

If it had been more consistently sung I would be more enthusiastic. As it is, I was glad I went but don’t feel I saw it at its best.

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