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Posts Tagged ‘Max Jones’

Coming full circle, Michael Frayn’s clever and funny subversive farce comes back to the theatre where it started 37 years ago. I’ve always had a soft spot for it, and subsequent productions – the NT in 2000, the Old Vic in 2011 – have confirmed it’s enduring power, as does this revival.

Frayn got the idea when he saw a short farce of his from backstage and realised it was even funnier, so he wrote a farce about a farce called Nothing On touring the UK. The first act is the final rehearsal, the ‘technical’, just hours before the premiere performance in Weston-super-Mare, the second is a month later in Ashton-under-Lyne at the midweek matinee, and the third is the final night of the three month tour in Stockton-on-Tees. The same act of Nothing On is performed in each act of Noises Off, except the second act is actually backstage during the performance. Still with me? As the tour progresses, relationships between the actors and backstage staff form, break and change, becoming very dysfunctional by Stockton.

Good farce is intricate, requiring high precision, but this even more so, and the pleasure you derive from the comedy is matched by the awe you have of the actors’ skills in pulling it off. The second act in particular is masterly, as it’s effectively two plays playing simultaneously, one a kind of dumb-show in front of you ‘backstage’ and another on the stage behind seen through the set window, Act One of Nothing On in front of the Ashton audience. When I wasn’t weeping with laughter, I was agape at the sheer hutzpah of it’s execution.

The class of 2019 are a match for those that went before, with Jonathan Cullen as Jonathan Fellowes playing Philip Brent and Daniel Rigby as Garry Lejeune playing Roger Tramplemain taking the brunt of the physical demands of Frayn’s play, though the other seven actors all shine too. Max Jones’ set makes an impressively short change between the interval-less backstage second act and the front-stage third. Jeremy Herrin’s staging is as slick at being unslick as you could wish for.

Though farce has gone out of fashion, Mischief Theatre, with their ‘goes wrong’ series, have proven that there’s still an audience for it if you make it clever and skilful. Frayn did that with this 37 years ago, and it’s still the pinnacle of the form, about as much fun as you can have with your clothes on! The previous three London productions all transferred to the West End, the first running five years and the second two years, both with multiple casts. It would be a brave person who bet against this following suit; it would be a particular tonic at the present time.

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There’s something astonishing and wonderful about having two Arthur Miller classics revived at the same time at theatres on the same street less than 200 meters apart, at the Old and Young Vic’s. They were first staged two years apart, this being his first big hit 72 years ago. I’ve seen a number of great revivals over the years and this one is up there with the best. Seeing it sixteen hours after I’d left Death os a Salesman made me think how alike they are, though this is entirely naturalistic, without flashbacks and imaginary scenes. As productions, they are very different, Jeremy Herrin taking his lead from this naturalism and opting for a more conventional take and a realistic setting. Both however are absolutely unmissable.

It’s just after the end of the Second World War and only one of Joe & Kate Keller’s two sons have returned. Older son Larry is still missing in action, his mother convinced he’s still alive, whilst most think he’s dead. Younger son Chris has survivors guilt, though Larry’s girlfriend Ann is visiting and he is set on proposing marriage, despite his mother’s conviction. Chris works in his dad’s engineering business, which sold faulty parts to the military, resulting in deaths. His father’s business partner Steve Deever, Ann’s dad, took the rap and went to prison, though many think Joe is really to blame.

It’s a surprise that Broadway could stomach this story just two years after the war ended, but they did, and it ran for almost a year and was made into a film just one year later. It’s timeless, as Miller often is, with corporate ethics as much of an issue today, but it’s a family tragedy, so its as much about the complex relationships within and between the Keller’s and the Deever’s. Max Jones’ uber-realistic design places a suburban home and garden on the Old Vic stage in a way that draws you in, seemingly shrinking this big theatre, well at least from the stalls.

Jeremy Herrin’s production is impeccable, building the tension slowly, taking hold of you. As I was across the road the night before, I was in awe of the acting talent on stage. Bill Pullman’s performance as Joe has a naturalism that makes you forget he’s acting. Sally Field is superb as Kate, holding on to hope her son is alive and belief in her husband’s innocence. Colin Morgan navigates Chris’ complex emotional journey brilliantly. This appears to be Jenna Coleman’s stage debut, and an auspicious one it is too. In an excellent supporting cast, I very much admired Oliver Johnstone as George Deever and Sule Rimi and neighbour Dr Jim Bayliss.

How lucky we are to have two outstanding revivals of these modern classics at the same time. The informal Miller fest becomes a Miller feast on The Cut!

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The first London outing of this Sam Shepard play 33 years ago had a great intimate space (the Cottesloe) and one of those magnificent but rare ‘double-acts’ (Bob Hoskins & Anthony Sher). The 1994 revival had an even better space (the Donmar) and Mark Rylance, as Lee, showing us the sort of physical acting he would later perfect as Rooster Byron in Jerusalem. This third production has a lot to live up to!

Shepard’s play has chalk-and-cheese brothers pitted against one another. Lee is a loser, sometime criminal and rather dangerous. Austin is a successful screenwriter who’s house-sitting for their mom on holiday in Alaska. Lee turns up at mom’s unexpectedly and harasses and intimidates his brother, but gets him to write a synopsis of his idea for a movie. When Austin’s producer arrives, Lee strikes up an unlikely relationship with him, playing golf and persuading him to buy his screenplay. The tables are turned in the second half when both brothers get drunk and things get very wild indeed.

It seems less ground-breaking and for some reason less plausible in 2014, and the contrast between the brooding first half and the manic second half seemed too imbalanced this time around, but it’s a great vehicle for two actors and Alex Fearns & Eugene O’Hare certainly rise to the occasion and perform as if their lives depended on it (perhaps more so on the night I went, which was being filmed) . Fearns in particular is manic, terrifying and fearless as Lee, always on the edge.

Philip Breen’s staging on Max Jones’ realistic impressive oppressive one-room set is excellent, though the frequent scene breaks where screens come down mean the tension diffuses and they did get on my nerves a bit after a while. I love the way the soundscape of crickets in the first half and coyotes in the second mirrors the atmosphere and events. There’s good support from Steven Elliott as the producer and a late entry by Barbara Rafferty as mom, but this really is a two-hander.

We see too little Shepard revived these days and its great to see this once more, in another great intimate space with equally fine performances.

 

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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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