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Posts Tagged ‘Michael Feast’

This is the second play about Lawrence of Arabia in this centenary year of the Arab Revolt. When I saw Howard Brenton’s Lawrence After Arabia recently at Hampstead, I had no idea Terence Rattigan had written a play about the same man 46 years ago. This rare revival at Chichester was therefore an opportunity not to be missed for a Rattigan fan with a new interest in T E Lawrence. 

Like Brenton’s play, it starts and ends with scenes after his return from the Middle East, but this time during his first spell of attempted anonymity in the RAF rather than his second spell in the army, and we’re there with him rather than on leave at the home of G B Shaw and his wife. The filling in this sandwich is a more substantial period in the Middle East. Rattigan uses his RAF experience once more in writing terrific scenes of camaraderie, funny at the beginning, more moving at the end. There’s real emphasis on his genuine affection for, and friendship with, the Arab rebels he effectively leads. The Turkish forces appear this time and the account of the horrors he experienced when apprehended by them are very graphic. Though I enjoyed Brenton’s play, I found this had more depth, both in narrative and characterisation, but it did lag a bit in the initial Middle East scenes.

The eighteen strong all-male cast won’t win any awards for diversity, but that was unlikely to be on Rattigan’s mind 46 years ago. It’s a uniformly excellent ensemble too, led by Joseph Fiennes as an introspective but passionate Lawrence. Peter Polycarpou and Michael Feast are both very good, and virtually unrecognisable, as Sheik Auda Abu Tayi and the Turkish Military Governor respectively. Paul Freeman is great as General Allenby and Brendan Hooper a delight as Flight Sergeant Thompson. The stage seems much deeper than usual and William Dudley’s superb design features very imposing Egyptian pillars at the back and an open rough sandy stage which can change from British barracks to desert to office with just the minimum of furniture. I thought Adrian Noble’s staging was outstanding.

Well worth suffering Southern Rail’s chaos on a trip down to Chichester, good to see both Fiennes brothers in the same week, and to see the second of three plays by or about Rattigan in a three week period!

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I didn’t plan on seeing two 20th century German plays on consecutive nights, but the first was booked ages ago and this is about to close, so it had to be. My view of this (much better) play may be enhanced even more by the pairing.

Brecht’s parody of the rise of Hitler was written in 1941 but not seen until 1958, after his death, which is a bit of a puzzle. 50-70 years on, the satire seems a bit heavy-handed (I would have expected reviser Alistair Beaton to have done something about that) but its ‘we let this happen, don’t let it happen again’ point still packs a punch. Set in gangster-era Chicago, Arturo Ui develops his protection racket in the vegetable trade (!), becoming more and more brutal in his relentless rise to power. Individual scenes have parallels in pre-war Germany, though those are a bit lost on a modern audience, but by the end the message isn’t lost. In the long 95 min first half, the scenes are somewhat laboured and it could do with some cuts, but the second half has much better pacing. The end is chilling and the epilogue a thought-provoking wake-up call.

The Duchess is a small theatre for a big play with a cast of 18, but it benefits from the intimacy, with a new middle aisle used for entrances and exits and characters occasionally appearing in the auditorium. Director Jonathan Church’s staging, with great use of live music, draws you in to the gangster story then sharply reminds you of its metaphor. Designer Simon Higlett effectively creates warehouses and mansions in this small space and the arrival of a car is a coup d’theatre. Though I’ve seen a couple of good actors play the title role (Anthony Sher & Griff Rhys Jones!) Henry Goodman is the best match for it. He is particularly good at conveying Ui ‘s transition as the power drug makes him more and more manic. It’s an excellent supporting cast, with fine actors like Colin Stinton, William Gaunt and Michael Feast in relatively small roles.

Another successful transfer for the indispensable Chichester Festival Theatre.

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One of the things I learnt when I was introduced to the work of Edward Bond by last year’s Cock Tavern Theatre season was that you don’t need the word ‘enjoy’ to describe his plays. You need ‘uncomfortable’, ‘challenging’, ‘bleak’, ‘intense’……but not ‘enjoy’. I don’t go to the theatre purely for enjoyment, which last night was just as well !

The relationship between Pam and Len, a one night stand who becomes a lodger, is at the heart of this play. He’s kind, tolerant and obsessed with her but she’s not interested. She has a baby by Fred, but he’s not interested in her (or the baby) either. Her parents ignore each other; in fact her father ignores everyone.

At the core of the play is the infamous scene of infanticide; a bunch of lads, including Fred, kill Pam’s neglected baby for no reason. Fred takes the rap and the play continues during and after his incarceration. He continues to treat Pam with disdain and Len continues to be besotted with her. There are other less cruel but equally tense moments in the play – a child allowed to cry and cry and a number of industrial scale arguments. The final scene is virtually wordless, yet it’s the scene which explains most. It was written to show us the post-war ‘broken Britain’ and is now being staged in the post-credit crunch ‘broken Britain’.

Though it’s occasionally funny, it’s mostly an uncomfortable ride, but to my surprise it kept my attention for over three hours; I was rarely distracted and never bored. This is largely because of the brilliant naturalistic dialogue, impeccable staging by Sean Holmes and superb performances. Lia Saville and Morgan Watkins are outstanding as Pam and Len, the crucial relationship at the centre of the play. Susan Brown and Michael Feast are also excellent as Pam’s dysfunctional mother and father. Callum Callaghan pulls off the difficult task of conveying Fred’s complexity.

Bond’s programme / play text essay makes it clear where he’s coming from. A lot of what he says makes sense, though in my view it’s a bit simplistic and one-sided. It’s too easy to blame the morally unacceptable on ‘society’; it’s people who commit such hideous acts and they can’t be let off the hook that easily. However, the play makes its point and hopefully will make people think, discuss and argue and theatre’s there for that as well as enjoyment. It was uncomfortable, challenging and bleak – but I’m glad I went.

A gold star to the Lyric Hammersmith for a timely staging.

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This first play by the Evening Standard’s vitriolic theatre critic is deeply old-fashioned, riddled with caricatures, cliches and stale jokes.

Though the event at it’s core – John Geilgud’s arrest in a gents toilet – may not have been, the historical territory and the issues have been well covered before. This play doesn’t add or illuminate anything and cramming 28 scenes into two hours results in a complete lack of depth.

I found Michael Feast’s Geilgud unbelievably camp, but I shall bow to his better judgement as he worked with him.  The rest of the cast do the best they can with the material the’re provided with and the director and designer have served the play well.

Why has Bill Kenright and this excellent  cast chosen to get involved with it? I can only assume Celia Imrie’s post-show Q&A joke ‘in the hope that Nicholas De Jongh doesn’t pan her in the future’ is actually true!

Despite most of his fellow critics rather shameful kid glove treatment, it clearly hasn’t found an audience – without the Whatsonstage.com crowd last night, it would have been very empty indeed and as the young actor charmingly said at the end of the Q&A ‘it was great to see so many people here tonight’. It seems all those dreadful bloggers might have more of a say than you think, Mr De Jongh.

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