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Posts Tagged ‘Michael Gambon’

This is the fourth Caryl Churchill play I’ve seen in the last twelve months – three revivals (two of which I’d seen before) and one new play(s). I first saw this seventeen years ago at the Royal Court with Michael Gambon and Daniel Craig. Cloning was a hot topic at the time. Eight years later there was a certain frisson seeing a real father and son – Timothy & Sam West – playing it at the Menier, something that was tried again at the Young Vic in 2015 with John & Rex Shrapnel. So this is my third exposure and I’m still confused. That’s Caryl Churchill for you.

It’s set in the home of Salter, where he is visited by someone who turns out to be a clone of his son, who was sent to some sort of home by his father when he was struggling after the suicide of his wife. Salter realises the doctors have created more than one clone and is preoccupied with suing them. His actual son then visits, furious with his father about the cloning. Salter now says he was just trying to have a second chance to bring up a son properly. The first clone returns, knowing the truth, now hating Salter. After another visit from his real son, now very troubled, Salter invites another of the clones, Michael, who proves to be very normal and unfazed by it all.

Polly Findlay’s excellent staging plays out in five scenes over sixty minutes, superbly performed by Colin Morgan as all of the boys and Roger Allam as Salter. In Lizzie Clachan’s clever set we’re in the same room, but from a different perspective in each scene, miraculously transforming in the darkness between them. It’s a much more realistic setting than previous productions, and Morgan is much better at creating different personalities than his predecessors. The nature versus nurture debate is interesting, but I was left wanting to understand more about Salter and the doctor’s motivations, and the extent of and reasons for the cloning.

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There’s something wonderful about visiting a 70-seat underground theatre a stones throw from Piccadilly Circus, where you have to cross the stage to get to the loo, to see four world class actors, directed by the man who ran both the RSC and NT, in three Samuel Beckett plays – for a few pounds more than going to the cinema around the corner. I love this city.

Beckett wrote twenty-two stage plays, many of them one act, some as short as fifteen minutes. You don’t always (ever?) entirely understand them, but you can bask in the language and exercise your brain finding meaning. Always fascinating and intriguing, never dull, somewhat addictive. I’ve seen about two-thirds of them. Another two will come along in three weeks with four more great actors in a theatre with 997 more seats!

The first of this triple-bill is Krapps Last Tape, where a man sits at a table reading his diary of some thirty years before, digging out, listening to and occasionally commenting on the meticulously indexed reel-to-reel tapes which contain the audio record of his 40th year. Oh, and he eats bananas. I’ve been lucky enough to see John Hurt and Harold Pinter, and now James Hayes in this fascinating memory play.

In Eh Joe, a man sits on his bed in silence listening to a woman’s voice in his head, his face telling you everything you need to know about his feelings as he listens to her. You can’t take your eyes off Niall Buggy, so expressive, whilst the great Becket interpreter and scholar Lisa Dwan voices the woman. This was written for TV. I first saw it on stage with Michael Gambon in a theatre 10 times the size but watching Niall Buggy, a few feet away, his face projected live on the wall behind him, was mesmerising, a way more intimate experience. Another memory piece, looking back.

The best is saved until last. The Old Tune, a radio play adapted from a Robert Pinget stage play, where two men in their seventies meet one Sunday morning and sit on a bench reminiscing, as the noisy traffic passes by. They have clear recollections, though they often differ, a source of irritation and indignation for them and humour for the audience. Memory again, but lighter and funnier and performed to perfection by Niall Buggy as Gorman and David Threlfall as Cream, a thirty minute gem that fully justifies its move from radio to stage and will stay with me forever.

These three plays belong together as if they were written as companion pieces. Though each was originally in a different form, they were written only eight years apart in the late 50s / early 60s. Trevor Nunn stages them beautifully, with help from set and costume designer Louie Whitemore, sound designer Max Pappenheim and lighting designer David Howe.

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When I picked up my ticket, I saw I was in the back row – the last time I was in the back row at Jermyn Street Theatre I hardly saw a thing; such are their sight lines. When I entered the auditorium (a bit of an exaggeration for a basement room with 70 seats) I sighed with relief when I saw they’d put in a stage. When I left I asked if it was permanent and was told ‘no’ – dreadful decision, JST!

Anyway, to the play….a Samuel Beckett radio play that’s never been staged, no doubt because of the notorious Beckett estate’s protection bordering on paranoia. The solution seems to be to turn the theatre into a radio studio with hanging microphones, cast on chairs at the sides, everyone with scripts. The one concession was a cut-out car door needed to properly illustrate the very large Mrs Rooney (played by the ever so slight Eileen Atkins) getting in and out of a car. It would be tempting to close your eyes, but to do so would miss the great Dame’s extraordinary range of facial acting.

She’s on a journey to meet her blind husband and encounters seven other characters on the way. This is such ‘event theatre’ that these bit parts are played by premiere league actors (apart from the boy, who will no doubt dine out on this experience for the rest of his life). I’m not sure I entirely understand it (or if I’m supposed to) but the journey is charming, poetic, funny, poignant and engrossing. Michael Gambon’s Mr Rooney switches emotional state on the turn of his head in a virtuoso display of acting. The Dame and the Knight do not disappoint; if anything, liberated of the need for much stage business they shine more.

I’d now like to hear it on the radio so that I can see if the staging adds or takes anything away. A gentle and satisfying 80 minutes. Has director Trevor the-longer-the-better Nunn ever done anything this short?

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Michael Gambon is stunning in Beckett’s 50-minute monologue. It’s a long time before he moves and you can feel the tension in the audience ‘is he OK?’. When he does, he’s like a cross between King Lear and a clown. He hardly speaks, but his face and movement tell you much. I can’t say I entirely understand it (typical Beckett) but it’s worth the visit just to see the master in action.

With this and Caryl Churchill’s 50-minute two-hander A Number sandwiching Arthur Miller’s Broken Glass, I have to say the latter does feel even like a feast though….and at 60p a minute (with my early booking discount!) it is a bit cheeky – it made me think that maybe the opera is good value after all…..

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I’m finding it hard to believe it’s only 8 years since I saw the original production of Caryl Churchill’s play about cloning at the Royal Court. I remember the starry casting of  Michael Gambon and Daniel Craig and the West End transfer being scuppered by their refusal to move with it.  I remember finding it intriguing, but confusing and ultimately an unsatisfying 50 minutes. So why did I go and see it again?

Well, because it’s at a lovely intimate theatre – the Menier Chocolate Factory (though on Friday suffering from distracting extraneous noise of a band rehearsing somewhere) – and father and son Timothy West and Sam West play the father and sonS.

It must have been ahead of its time in 2002 because the debate about cloning in the subsequent 8 years make it now seem more timely. I’m not sure the father and son casting actually added anything and I still found it intriguing, though a little less confusing, but  just as unsatisfying.

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