Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Michael Shaeffer’

If you judged this play on the first and last 20 mins, you might think it was rather good. Sadly, the 80 minutes in-between are dire. The Royal Court’s Literary Manager must be away or asleep. This should never have got onto the main stage, at least not in its present form. Not even an actress as good as Maxine Peake can redeem it.

The play opens with Dana and Jarron waking from a night of passion. She thinks this relationship might have legs, he thinks it was a business transaction. He works for the UN, appears to be a demon and certainly leaves his mark, if not his money. Dana is late for her pitch for project funding, preparing in a rush with the help of her sister Jasmin, but it all goes horribly wrong. What follows, it seems, is Dana’s journey, with her pregnant sister, to Alexandria for another pitch. A librarian turns up regularly with appropriate reading suggestions and Jarron is rarely far away. It ends with a bit of a coup d’theatre (thanks to Chloe Lamford’s design) as we seem to be drowning, like illegal immigrants at sea.

The trouble is the whole middle section – a nightmare in both content and experience, an obtuse and deeply frustrating ramble, makes two hours (without an interval – very wise!) feel like a lifetime. I’m sure playwright Zinnie Harris has valid points to make, but they are buried in this incoherent mess. Maxine Peake does her very best with the material, with excellent support from Michael Shaeffer as Jarron, Christine Bottomley as Jasmin and Peter Forbes as the librarian, but it’s not enough. What used to be the home of new writing is yet again the home of shoddy writing that needs to be reigned in and whipped into better shape by a literary manager and / or director Vicky Featherstone.

I’ve spent many years trusting The Court and taking risks, most of which have been rewarded, but on recent form The Twits (surely they can’t mess that up?) may be my last blind punt. It’s very sad to watch a once great institution go down the pan.

 

Read Full Post »

This is ground-breaking theatre. We’ve got used to verbatim plays, where the actual words of interviewees on a subject are edited and dramatised to tell a story; well, here’s a verbatim musical – well, more a play with music. The subject is the Ipswich prostitute murders of 2006 and the story is told from the perspective of the residents of the street where they worked & where their murderer lived and the subsequent invasion by the media. Here I am seeing a musical about five dreadful killings just four days after one about one. Yet again, what seems to be a thoroughly inappropriate art form to tell true stories ends up confounding expectations.

Writer Alecky Blythe interviewed the residents over a period of 2.5 years from the time of the murders to a time when they were returning to some sort of post-trial normality. She tells the story through 11 of them, all members of the Neighbourhood Watch set up at the time of the killings. Every word in the play was said by them and many have been set to music, including the er’s, ah’s and um’s of everyday speech. This produces an extraordinary sung dialogue which occasionally becomes sung chorus. Composer Adam Cork is more used to creating soundscapes and incidental music and it seems to me this is why he’s so good at setting this everyday speech to music.

Rufus Norris’ sensitive direction if often highly effective – people enter in a group from the darkness behind the playing area, as Christmas approaches a giant singing santa turns up, police tape wraps around the residents at the time of the arrest and it ends at a London Road in Bloom contest with a riot of colour and hope as over 30 hanging baskets and window boxes fill the stage. The rest is conjured up with just 10 plastic chairs, 7 black sofas and armchairs and a table.

It must be incredibly difficult to deliver this sung dialogue, but eleven singing actors do so brilliantly. In addition to their main character, they share in playing 52 others – the prostitutes, policemen, councillors and the media. Kate Fleetwood is extraordinary as she morphs from one character to another. Nick Holder is unrecognisable as the Chairman of the Neighbourhood Watch. Hal Fowler, Paul Thornley and Michael Shaeffer’s characterisations of the media types who couldn’t give a shit about the lives of the people they invade are spot on.

There is a surprising amount of humour, though it misfires occasionally when you feel you’re laughing at these people (I’m not sure how I’d feel if I was one of them) but in a way that’s part of the unsettling, uncomfortable experience which gives the play its edge and ultimately its success in conveying the neglected and very real experiences of people whose lives were turned upside down, first by the use of their street by the working girls, then their murder, then the forensic attention of the world and his wife.

When I woke up early this morning, it was all still going round in my head. I couldn’t get back to sleep; I just had to get up and write about it. I think that’s good theatre for you. Not an easy ride, but one I certainly don’t regret making.

Read Full Post »