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Posts Tagged ‘Merle Hensel’

debbie tucker green has a very distinctive playwriting style. realistic, overlapping dialogue, sometimes with a non-linear narrative. characters called man, woman, x or y. moments of intensity alternating with moments of humour. puzzles for you to solve for yourself. oh, and a clear dislike of capital letters.

This latest piece is staged on three sides of the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs with the audience on fixed but swivelling stools in regimented rows within. It’s uncomfortable and the sight lines are poor. The ‘stage’ is like a green corridor open on one side. The five characters move around and make lines and shapes on the walls using chalk. In the first half of the 80 minutes a young couple seem to live their whole life, love, have children, argue, split. In the next quarter, an older couple bicker and snipe. In the last quarter, the older man is with a younger woman, who may be the young couple’s now adult daughter, talking about the issue of age difference.

Lashana Lynch and Gershwyn Eustache Jnr are terrific as the young couple (A & B) and Gary Beadle is great as the (older) Man. We get a lot less of Meera Syal as Woman and Shvorne Marks as Young Woman, but their contributions are excellent nevertheless. It’s a very original staging by tucker green herself, with a clever design by Merle Hensel. I’m not sure what it’s point is, and the discomfort did mar my concentration, but it’s an intriguing piece nonetheless.

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This is one of the best Macbeth’s I’ve ever seen. It comes in at less than two hours, it integrates dance like I’ve never seen before and the fusion of stage design, costume, lighting and music / sound is seamless. The Young Vic follows it’s radically brilliant Measure for Measure with a radically brilliant Macbeth.

Lizzie Clachan has created an infinity effect tunnel which reduces in size as it recedes. There are multiple entrances at the side and a slice that moves horizontally to brilliant effect. Neil Austin’s lighting creates atmospheric shadows all over the place and there’s all-pervading sinister music and a soundscape by Clark & David McSeveney. Merle Hensel’s costumes continue the black theme with a timeless military feel. The visual imagery is stunning.

There are obviously cuts, but it hasn’t damaged the narrative and it has given it great pace and energy. It’s very film noir, tense and exciting. The witches are an almost continual presence, moving to Lucy Guerin’s edgy choreography. The battle scenes have never been better. There’s something very organic about Carrie Cracknell’s inventive and rather original staging. 

John Heffernan has become a firm favourite of mine and he doesn’t disappoint; I thought it was a fascinating, introspective interpretation with a lot of psychological depth. There are only eleven others in this cast, a lot of whom are first and foremost dancers, and its a great ensemble.

The Young Vic does it again.

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Abi Morgan is an accomplished writer across theatre, film & TV and I’ve always enjoyed her work. Though I’d never heard about the real life She and He and their relationship based on the agreement to which the title refers, I can imagine why she would want to dramatise it. Sadly, it comes out as an inert and somewhat dull play.

In five scenes, we follow the relationship over 30 years, from the day they sign the agreement. It all takes place in She’s West US home, which is part of the agreement, an extraordinary tall structure with desert backdrop and giant cacti designed by Merle Hensel. He arrives and they go about their sparring, talking dirty. They have a lot of sex, offstage. They both have ex’s and children; He may also have a current wife. She’s a feminist and he’s certainly not. They record their encounters. They have entered into an unusual arrangement, instigated by Her, that is clearly mutually acceptable and it lasts. In the latter years they are together for half the year. After thirty years they make it public in their memoirs. That’s about it, really.

Despite good performances from Danny Webb & Saskia Reeves, it wasn’t long before I was slipping into a disengaged state of ‘so what?’ I’m afraid I didn’t like and wasn’t interested in either character. The feminist debate was nowhere near as interesting as that in other current plays Blurred Lines or Rapture Blister Burn. When you can’t get into something, ninety minutes can be a very long time and to be honest I just wanted it to end from about half-way through. Another occasion where no interval was wise indeed (well, for the theatre anyway).

I think director Vicky Featherstone could have given it more pace and energy, but I think the core issue is that the story just doesn’t lend itself to dramatisation and should stay on the page.

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If they invent time travel while I’m still around, one of my first theatrical journeys will be back to the 50’s / 60’s to see a Theatre Workshop performance at the Theatre Royal Stratford East. For now, I’ll settle for this wonderfully alive, passionate, heart-warming, populist, campaigning piece which is as close to the spirit of Joan Littlewood as its possible to get.

This musical, with an appropriately diverse range of musical styles, is based on the true stories of a bunch of schoolgirls, their ‘schemie’ neighbours and teachers who campaign for their asylum seeking friends and neighbours who are being deported, back to allegedly newly safe countries. Though clearly partizan, the views of those that oppose them are also presented, and not as complete baddies. It also confronts the fact that, despite the noise they make, they are unable to halt the deportations, so it’s not entirely feelgood.

Staged in front of, and on, Merle Hensel’s incredibly realistic tower block, just nine actors play all roles – the girls, neighbours, teachers, press, politicians, police – with great energy and conviction. Clearly, it revolves around the six girls but in many ways the heart of the story lies with Callum Cuthbertson’s teacher Mr Girvan and Myra McFadyen’s neighbour Noreen (who I fell in love with and wanted to take home to become my neighbour!). Director / co-composer Cora Bissett and writer David Greig really have presented this story truthfully and effectively, without artifice or sentimentality.

The very young and very diverse audience were lively and noisy (an entire sweet shop was consumed in Stalls Row D alone) but in the end even they were silenced by the story and I am happy to have suffered the rustle because it meant they were there and they heard the story, far more important than an old man’s irritation! This is the sort of work TRSE have been doing for more than 60 years and it’s great to see them collaborating with comparative new-kids-on-the-block the National Theatre of Scotland, fast making their own name with the same balls TRSE has always had. It may be set in Glasgow, and the story could probably only unfold in Glasgow, but it is completely at home on the Stratford stage.

Terrific stuff, but you’ll have to move fast as it closes tomorrow!

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You know you’re at a Frantic Assembly show soon after the curtain goes up. They have a unique style which blends narrative, movement and visual beauty with an atmospheric sound scape. I must have seen more than 10 of their shows over the last 15 years or so and though they have evolved from edgy and visceral to poignant and thoughtful they are still distinctive.

This play tells the story of a couple at both the beginning and end of their relationship. The stories weave together and overlap and you learn a remarkable amount from the minimum of dialogue. From the beginnings of their relationships we see them establish themselves, buying their home and business premises, and surviving the wife’s unfaithfulness to grow old together. With their older selves, we live through life’s endgame and in particular Maggie’s terminal illness and death. This all sounds very depressing but, though it is occasionally sad, it didn’t feel like that because it’s actually very beautiful.

The stage is covered in leaves with a backdrop of tall screens set at angles to one another, onto which moving images are projected. The bedroom is to the right – just a wardrobe and bed – and the kitchen to the left – just a fridge and table & chairs. Simple but rather lovely. The actors often glide silently past one another, sometimes the old or young couple, but sometimes one of each or all four. The wardrobe and bed entrances are simply extraordinary and there’s a scene towards the end when all four are on the bed that takes your breath away.

There is an ambient music sound scape for almost the entire 90 minutes (a little too much in my view) which added to the movement and visual style creates the feeling of flowing through these people’s lives. It was a little slow in parts, but the overall impression is of watching entire lives unfold before you. At then end, the only word that would capture what I’d experienced was ‘beautiful’.

All four performers are excellent, but it’s a particular treat to see Sian Phillips in such an innovative and challenging piece at this point in her career. Film and TV writer-of-the-moment (Iron Lady and The Hour), Abi Morgan, provides a minimalist narrative which allows the other components to make equal contributions. The design of Merle Hensel (with Andy Purves’ lighting, Carolyn Downing’s sound and Ian William Galloway’s video projections) is perfect. Scott Graham & Steven Hoggett’s direction and choreography is, as always, thrilling.

Not everyone will like this unconventional and inventive show, but I did – very much.

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