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Posts Tagged ‘Michael Longhurst’

I finally caught up with this much talked about play (with the somewhat controversial title) on its transfer to the Arts Theatre. Thankfully. Such a good piece of writing and four terrific performances.

A New York Jewish family gather for Shiva, the one week mourning observed by close family, after the death of their grandfather, a holocaust survivor. We only meet the three grandchildren, and the girlfriend of one of them. Daphna is intelligent, traditional and brittle; she could disagree about an agreement. Her cousin Liam is the elder of two brothers, the blue-eyed boy, also intelligent, just as brittle but certainly not traditional – he’s going to marry a gentile. Jonah is as passive as they come, in Liam’s shadow, saying anything to Daphna for a quiet life. His favourite phrase is ‘I don’t want to get involved’. Liam’s girlfriend Melody is an archetypal suburban American dumb blonde.

The story revolves around who gets grandad’s Hy (?spelling), a gold item with great sentimental value. Liam wants to use it in place of an engagement ring, as grandad did. Daphna believes she is entitled, as the only religiously observant one. Jonah doesn’t want to get involved. It gets very heated, with Liam and Daphna at war, Jonah balancing precariously on the fence and Liam’s intended in shock – families don’t fight like this in her world. Though it’s a thoroughly Jewish story, replace the item and the cultural references and it could be any family.

All four performers are outstanding. Jenna Augen oozes authenticity as Daphna, which I suspect comes from her own background, and is more controlled in her anger than Ilan Goodman who is otherwise excellent as Liam. Gina Bramhill captures that American everygirl perfectly, with facial expressions that get as many laughs as the lines, and Joe Coen is brilliantly restrained as the one who doesn’t want to get involved. Michael Longhurst’s staging, in Richard Kent’s superb cramped NYC apartment, is as finely detailed as the performances and the Arts Theatre is just the right size for you to see this unfold with enough intimacy to make a big impact.

I think this is playwright Joshua Harmon’s first play. I can’t wait to see how he develops.

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John Ford is a 17th century Quentin Tarantino. This revenge tragedy has incest, torture, a handful of murders and a lot of blood. If it was written today it would be controversial, so I can’t imagine what they thought 400 years ago.

A few suitors are circling Annabella but before any get very far her brother Giovanni confesses his love for her, only to find it’s reciprocated and then quickly consummated. They agree she has to marry one of her suitors anyway and she’s soon betrothed and wed to Soranzo, but on their wedding night he discovers she’s already pregnant, so clearly no virgin! Thus begins the carnage which ends with five dead bodies at Soranzo’s birthday party.

The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse was created for Jacobean plays like this and it fits it like a glove. It’s handsomely costumed by Alex Lowde and excellently staged by Michael Longhurst, with a nice touch of quirkiness. The bed scene is both sexy and squirmy, the treatment of Annabella by her new husband when her plight is revealed is truly shocking and the final bloody scene is masterly.

Fiona Button and Max Bennett are well matched and sexy siblings. The rest of the fine cast includes the excellent Michael Gould as the Friar, Giovanni’s confidante, Morag Siller as a great Putana, Annabella’s confidante, and Sam Cox, as their dad Donado, makes a very believable transition from proud father to distraught father who can’t live with the truth. Stefano Braschi is very good as the affronted Soramzo and James Garnon almost steals the show as a brilliantly buffoonish Bergetto, one of the suitors, returning after his character’s murder as a stern, ice cool Cardinal.

Within a year of it’s opening, the SWP has established itself as a flexible, intimate and indispensable space. This is the first Jacobean drama I’ve seen here, but it’s also been successful staging Shakespeare and early music and opera.

Bloody brilliant.

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