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Posts Tagged ‘Michael Taylor’

I often feel more positive about a show which has received indifferent reviews, though I never know if it’s the pressure of press night (never the best night to see a show in my experience), improvement as the run progresses or the difference between the view of people paid to be there against those who’ve paid to have a good time, and so it is again.

Sean Foley’s adaptation of the 1951 Ealing comedy, the screenplay of which got an Oscar nomination, moves it later in the fifties, but is otherwise faithful to the film; indeed, it feels very much a homage to the genre, still much loved, well certainly by me. One of the keys to their success was the celebration of the underdog, the outsider, the pioneer. In this case it’s the eccentric inventor whose invention threatens the livelihoods and wealth of others.

Cambridge chemistry graduate Sidney Stratton invents a stain resistant indestructible fabric which the mill owners at first embrace, until the potential impact on their wealth dawns on them. At the same time, the workers can see the threat to their jobs. The adaptation illustrates its timelessness and plausibility with clever references to oil. They try to pay off Sidney, and even use mill owner Birnley’s daughter Daphne’s allure to turn him. In the end, it’s the soundness of the science that seals the fate of the invention. There are other up-to-date references which bring a delightful cheekiness.

It’s played as broad comedy, and I thought it was great fun. Michael Taylor’s brilliant design moves us speedily from pub to factory lab. to mill-owner’s home to car ride to digs. Lizzi Gee’s choreography adds a sprightly feel. There’s skiffle music incorporated, with four members of the cast creating a live onstage band bringing a touch of knees-up to proceedings, playing original music by Charlie Fink. This is one of a number of features that reminds you of One Man, Two Guvnors. The cast’s enthusiasm is infectious, but its Stephen Mangan’s amiable charm and comic prowess that lifts it.

It’s a show to go to if you just want some fun, like those Mischief Theatre shows or One Man, Two Guvnors. It may not be up to the latter, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good night out. Find out for yourself.

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The first Arthur Miller play I saw was Death of a Salesman, in Bristol, in a National Theatre touring production featuring Warren Mitchell, directed by Michael Rudman. It played a big part in my addiction to Miller and indeed theatre in general. Now here I am more than 35 years later seeing Rudman’s terrific revival of All My Sons in Kingston. It was like intravenous theatrical re-energising fluid. 

This was Miller’s third play, the first as a professional writer and his first hit. Every time I see it, it feels current and today the themes of business ethics and morals are as relevant as ever, if not more so. There’s a line where someone responds to a suggestion they’ve deceived for gain, to which they respond along the lines of how that makes them clever. Trump used that line in the first presidential debate a few weeks back without even knowing it.

The Keller family are stalwarts of the community, with a successful manufacturing business and one of those homes the neighbourhood revolves around, everyone forever popping in. Both of their sons fought in the Second World War but only one came back, though his mother won’t accept that her son is dead. During the war the factory produced aircraft parts and when a faulty batch results in deaths both business partners are arrested. Keller is eventually freed and partner Deever takes the rap. Youngest Keller son Chris now wants to marry Anne Deever who has disowned her father, but Chris’ mother won’t have it. Anne’s brother George turns up. He too had disowned his father but after a reluctant visit to see him in prison he makes revelations that start a chain reaction that brings the world of the Keller’s tumbling down. It unfolds like a Greek tragedy, it grips throughout and its conclusion is devastating.

Designer Michael Taylor has solved the Rose Theatre’s problem of a lack of intimacy for this kind of drama by bringing the stage forward to house the Keller’s garden, where the whole play takes place, and building a three-story wooden house with patio behind it, with high level trees coming out of the theatre’s back wall; it’s a superb design. It’s also a superb cast, with David Horovitch as Joe Keller, living with his lies, wracked with guilt, and Penny Downie as his wife Kate, in denial, still grieving three years on. I was hugely impressed by Alex Waldmann as son Chris and Francesca Zoutewelle as his intended Ann, and in an excellent supporting cast there’s a great performance from Edward Harrison as her brother George. Rudman’s direction is impeccable.

This is my fifth production of this play and it’s as good as any. World class theatre in Kingston. Go!

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It’s an odd experience seeing a historical drama referencing places we’re now used to seeing regularly on the news. It’s a century since the Arab Revolt for which T E Lawrence (of Arabia) is famous and we appear to be witnessing the very real consequences of the West’s actions at its conclusion.

Howard Brenton’s play is set upon Lawrence’s return. He enlisted in the RAF under a false name in search of anonymity and when he was found out he did the same back in the army where he was once a Colonel. During this time he visited his friends G B and Charlotte Shaw who, with GB’s secretary, was editing his major tome on the Revolt. This is where most of the play is set, with three flashbacks to the Middle East at the inception of the Revolt and at its conclusion. 

He was being pursued by Lowell Thomas, the American journalist and photographer who had accompanied him for much of his time in the Middle East and was now cashing in with a lecture tour, and his former boss Field Marshall Allenby who wanted him back, but he was disillusioned with the politicians’ duplicitous actions (he’d turned down a knighthood, telling the King face to face), failing to deliver on his promise of Arab freedom to Prince Feisal.

It’s a quiet and surprisingly light staging by John Dove. Designer Michael Taylor’s drawing room slides gently and effectively into the wings for the other scenes. I was impressed by Jack Laskey’s enthusiasm and passion as Lawrence. It’s lovely to see Geraldine James again in the pivotal role of Charlotte. There are excellent performances in supporting roles from William Chubb as Allenby, Khalid Laith as Prince Feisal and Rosalind March as GB’s secretary Blanch. 

He was clearly a complex and enigmatic person, loved and admired by many, particularly by Charlotte it seems. I found it a fascinating insight into something and someone I knew little about (my O and A level History syllabus ended in 1914!). I am so enjoying Brenton’s late flowering – historical dramas on apostle Paul, Anne Boleyn, Charles I, the 1st World War, the partition of India, Macmillan and (more topical than historical) Ai WeiWei. Long may it continue.

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Eleven years ago I went to see a 17th century play by a Mexican nun as part of the RSC’s Spanish Golden Age season and here I am now seeing a play about that very nun, and a jolly good play it is too.

Based on the life of Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, Helen Edmundson’s play is set at a fascinating time in New Spain (Mexico). The Spanish colonists rule through their Viceroy, but the Roman Catholic church wields as much power in the land through its resident Archbishop. The convents are somewhat more liberal than you might expect, with nuns able to write secular works and employ servants amongst other things. There’s a delicate and complex power balance between Madrid, the Viceroy, the Archbishop and the indigenous people.

A new, more zealous Archbishop arrives and starts to disrupt this balance, questioning Sister Juana’s right to write plays and poetry (even those written in honour of his arrival) and her close friendship with the court, both of which have been tolerated or even encouraged by the local clergy who have ‘gone native’ after many years there. The response starts with book burning as Sister Juana’s confessor, Father Antonio, does the Archbishop’s bidding and the more Machiavellian Bishop Santa Cruz, bitter at having been passed over for promotion, plays a more duplicitous role. There is also an important sub-plot involving the relationship between Sister Juana’s niece Angelica and a member of the court.

It’s an extremely well written play, anchored in a clearly well researched real life but, by necessity I suspect, extrapolated from there. It has great pace in Jonathan Dove’s production, and is often surprisingly funny, without in any way disrespecting its subject. Michael Taylor’s clever but simple design creates a realistic convent with some wrought iron framing, a couple of crests and a lot of books. There’s a trio of musicians led by MD Phil Hopkins playing William Lyons evocative music.

It’s a long way from 1960’s Dagenham to 1760’s Mexico City but Naomi Frederick follows her role in Made in Dagenham with another outstanding characterisation as Sister Juana. Anthony Howell is excellent as the dodgy Bishop, with soliloquies to the audience telling us what he’s really up to. Sophia Nomvete and Gwyneth Keyworth add a delightful light touch as loyal servant Juanita and niece Angelica, and Phil Whitchurch has great presence as the inquisitorial Archbishop.

This new production comes only three years after its RSC première in Stratford. I never saw that so I can make no comparison, but I thoroughly enjoyed this. It seems very much at home at the Globe and it was lovely to see the captivated faces and to hear the whooping, sighs and laughter of the groundlings, particularly young and largely female on this occasion.

Another fine new play at Shakespeare’s Globe.

 

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Whoever had the idea of asking Graham Linehan to write, and Sean Foley to direct, this new version of a classic Ealing comedy was inspired. They bring a touch of absurdity, a sprinkling of surrealism and a cartoon-like quality, add lots of physical comedy and create a homage to the film rather than a film-to-stage transfer. Think Patrick Barlow’s 39 Steps meets Improbable’s Theatre of Blood and you’re getting warm.

It’s still set in 1956 and it’s faithful to the story, but freshly written. Designer Michael Taylor’s has created an enormous higgledy-piggledy multi-level house, with a nod to Heath Robinson, which moves to provide exterior locations and itself  ‘performs’, aided by terrific (and largely appropriately low-tech) special effects by Scott Penrose.

‘Professor’ Marcus has put together a team for a heist at Kings Cross and hires a room in Mrs Wilberforce’s house where, under the guise of rehearsing his string quintet, they plan their robbery. The successful (off-stage) robbery is cleverly staged, and the spoils brought to the house. Most of the play, however, revolves around their ‘getaway’.

It’s cast to perfection. Peter Capaldi is excellent as a gangling manic Professor, increasingly desperate in his attempts to keep it all together. James Fleet is perfect as a military con (gentle)man who seems a little fond of dresses. Stephen Wight is brilliant at the physical comedy required of his pill-popping cockney kleptomaniac (I just don’t understand why he isn’t covered in bruises – I winced a lot!). Clive Rowe is a wonderful big clumsy intellectually challenged bruiser with foot forever in mouth. Ben Miller is a delicious foreign Mafioso with a penchant for knives and a phobia of old ladies. Harry Peacock’s cameo as the tolerant local bobby is lovely. Then there’s Marcia Warren. What can I say? She’s so perfect as the post-war eccentric old dear who invented neighbourhood watch and quite how she keeps a straight face on stage all evening whilst all the chaos is going on is beyond me.

The original story apparently came fully formed in the dream of original screen writer William Rose and there’s a dreamlike quality to this version and this production. I found it delightfully charming; a smile never left my face and I laughed out loud often. It’s a big theatre to fill, but I do hope it finds its audience because it’s a very welcome, beautifully crafted evening.

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I really regretted not seeing this at The Globe last year. I’d booked for Henry VIII, but by the time I decided I also wanted to see this, I couldn’t make any of the remaining performances. So I was delighted when they brought it back – and that Miranda Raison was to return as AB.

Of course, four hundred years on there is a degree of speculation. Playwright Howard Brenton’s is that Anne was hugely influential in Britain’s return to Protestantism and lays the foundation for her grandson James I’s bible. In fact, the play starts with James, before flashing back to Anne, and returns to his time again later. Though it covers a fairly brief period, it was a very eventful one, packed with manipulation and intrigue by big hitters like Thomas Cromwell, Cardinal Wolsey and William Tyndale as well as the royals. We begin with the seeds of the romance between Anne and Henry VIII and end with her execution (well, actually start with that, but that’s the magic of theatre!).

Mirana Raison is excellent, but there are also fine performances from James Garnon as a punkish James I riddled with nervous twitches, Julius D’Silva as a manipulative Cromwell, Colin Hurley as an arrogant Wolsey, Anthony Howell as a besotted Henry VIII and a whole host of good supporting performances. John Dove’s staging is excellent, with entrances from front and sides as well as the back and a walkway thrust into the groundlings’ space providing an extra intimacy. Michael Taylor’s period costumes are authentic and elegant and William Lyons music highly effective.

I found the play fascinating and compelling, not in the slightest bit dry and earnest. It was captivating throughout, playful and funny and one of the best new plays they’ve ever done here at The Globe.

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