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Posts Tagged ‘Mike Bartlett’

I booked for this play a long time before the election was called, so it was pure co-incidence that I went the day after it. Though it isn’t a play about politics, they are a significant presence, and seeing it on Friday added a certain resonance.

Widower Andy has been estranged from his daughter Maya for three years, six years since his wife died. He’s had no contact since and doesn’t know where she is or what she’s doing. Someone tells him she was seen in a coffee shop in the town and he sets out to get a message to her to meet him on neutral ground on Christmas Eve. He books and decorates a community hall and waits, but is interrupted by Natalie, who has come to collect crockery. She grills him about why he’s there and they end up replaying his last conversation with Maya, Natalie suggesting why it might have triggered her departure, but it turns out Natalie isn’t a total stranger.

It’s a play about communication, particularly across generations. How we fail to listen, misinterpret, offend, often unintentionally, and how damaging these breakdowns in communication can be. One person’s humour can seem patronising to another, badly delivered feedback can cut like a knife. It’s often very funny but as it progresses it touched a nerve with me and I became quite emotional, identifying with situations like this. Elliott Levey is superb as Andy, brilliantly carrying the first half-hour as a monologue, as he waits. Amber James invests Natalie with a confidence and emotional intelligence and her sparring with, and influence on, Andy was great to watch. When we meet Ellen Robertson’s Maya she’s cold and distant, but its her arrival that tears at your heartstrings.

When you walk into the Kiln, it does feel a bit like stepping back in time, because designer Jeremy Herbert has either revealed or recreated the Foresters Hall that the space once was. Clare Lizzimore’s direction is nuanced and sensitive to the material. My only quibble is that I would have preferred it at 100 minutes without the interval, which felt like an interruption.

A lovely new play, another gem from Mike Bartlett.

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I’ve enjoyed all of the Mike Bartlett plays I’ve seen, some fifteen of them, including two other adaptations and three before at this theatre, which itself has form with this very play when it successfully produced it in the West End twenty years ago. So all the more surprising to be be so hugely disappointed.

Gorky wrote it in 1910 and set it between the 1905 & 1917 Russian revolutions, though it wasn’t staged for another 25 years or so, in a new version. Perhaps he was representing the end of empire and a transition to a new world, and maybe Bartlett sees some parallels with our current populist revolutions. Why else would you adapt it?

Vassa is the family matriarch, a bit of a monster. Her husband is dying. She runs the business he’s built. Her children have been disappointments. Her brother-in-law can’t wait to get his hands on his share of the business. She berates, bullies and bruises all around her. The first two acts are played as farce and this whole seventy-five minutes did nothing for me, apart from a few laughs. Even the second act’s shocking ending didn’t touch me.

I would have left at this point, the interval, but I’d already invested 70% of the necessary time, so it seemed worth seeing it through. This act could have been directed by a different person. Dad is dead and everyone is seemingly grieving and the dysfunctional family unravels. A stage strewn with flowers, blame, secrets, lies and arguments about inheritance. It was much more stylised, mannered gestures, offstage actors sitting at the sides not entirely neutral. By now I didn’t really care about anyone or anything and was fantasising about the glass of wine awaiting me at home.

The cast work hard, but at the curtain call they seemed relieved another performance was over; I felt sorry for them. Samantha Bond, originally cast as Vassa, pulled out, which may be good sense rather than illness. It seemed to me to be a pointless revival, a rare dud for the Almeida and the first turkey by its adapter. May it rest in peace.

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This is an adaptation of a twelve-year-old radio play by Mike Bartlett, six years before he hit the big time with Charles III and Albion, adaptations like Chariots of Fire and award-winning TV series Dr Foster.

He’s done six other things for radio, so this seems to be another strand sitting alongside the epic, like Albion, and the miniatures, like Bull. Another radio play, Love Contract, a year after this, ended up on the Royal Court stage as Contractions the following year (brilliantly revived last year by Deafinitely Theatre as a site specific piece on a trading floor). Now the enterprising Defibrillator have mined the archives to stage this one at the Arcola.

There are two seemingly separate stories more than half a century apart. James and Lucy meet before the second world war, but their relationship is marred by their failure to have children and infidelity. Mark and Amanda are army colleagues at the time of the Iraq war. The two strands eventually connect and its very satisfying joining it up for yourself. There was too little character interaction and dialogue and too much monologue for me, but given much is looking back storytelling, its easy to see why.

It’s simply staged by James Hillier with just a platform, a piano and some chairs, with some particularly effective lighting by Zoe Spurr making a significant contribution. The four performances are all excellent – David Horovitch and Kika Markham as the old couple and Lawrence Walker and Gemma Lawrence as the young soldiers.

I always enjoy seeing the early work of my favourite playwrights, but this is more than a collectors item, its a fine piece of storytelling. Just seventy minutes, but compelling theatre that’s well worth catching.

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A nine-year-old Mike Bartlett play that appears to have passed me by, revived by Deafinitely Theatre in a bi-lingual English / BSL production in the atrium of a corporate office, apparently once a trading floor!

There are four floors of hexagonal glass walls, behind which there are offices, a few still occupied, some being cleaned as we sit. We’re peering in to The Manager’s office, behind which we can see another (shared) office through glass. In a series of scenes spanning more than a year, The Manager meets one employee, Emma.

At first she’s checking her understanding of the corporate policy on relationships between employees, then questioning her on a possible relationship with her colleague Darren. As it unfolds, a relationship is confirmed, Darren is relocated, Emma becomes pregnant, Darren is transferred to another country and the company is effectively running their lives.

The Manager communicates entirely in BSL, most of which is repeated by Emma as if she were checking her understanding. She writes and draws on the glass behind and uses a projector as another tongue-in-cheek visual aid. Emma speaks and signs. Occasionally, something is said but not signed and vice versa, to simulate a deaf persons real experience. It’s extraordinary how much of the BSL the hearing can understand.

The corporate setting adds much to the authenticity and atmosphere of this satire on big brother corporations. Fifi Garfield is brilliantly deadpan and ice cold as The Manager, her expressions and movements speaking volumes in themselves. Abigail Poulton navigates Emma’s deeply emotional journey superbly. It’s sharply staged by Paula Garfield, and Paul Burgess’ design sits perfectly in the site-specific space.

Though I hadn’t seen it before, it seemed to me this deaf-led theatre company brings another dimension to another of Bartlett’s powerful miniatures.

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Another day, another allegorical play, but this time a brilliant one, staged and performed to perfection. Mike Bartlett proves himself to be as much the master of the epic as he is the miniature masterpiece.

Audrey is widowed, with a daughter in her early twenties and a new husband, Paul. She lost her son to war in the Middle East. She has a successful retail business, but decides to escape to the country, buying her deceased uncle’s former home Albion, with its huge garden, set on restoring it to its former glory using the plans of its famous garden designer. She’s self-obsessed, self-centred and domineering and she drives away her daughter, best friend and her son’s partner. Only her put-upon husband remains loyal. She also upsets the old retainers, neighbours and villagers along the way.

It’s an allegory of recent history in England’s green and pleasant land (Albion) and has way more depth than that brief description suggests. The Almeida has been reconfigured with the audience wrapped around an oval garden rimmed by a plant border and dominated by a tree; another extraordinary design from Miriam Buether. When the season changes, the border is transformed, itself a coup d’theatre, as is the end of the first half. Though its entertaining and often funny, it is above all deeply thought-provoking.

Audrey is a great part for an actress and Victoria Hamilton is sensationally good, but she’s surrounded by a host of other fine performances, notably Vinette Robinson as the son’s grieving partner Anna, Helen Schlesinger as best friend Katherine and Charlotte Hope as daughter Zara. Christopher Fairbank and Margot Leicester are lovely as the gardener / cleaner husband and wife and there’s an excellent nuanced performance as young neighbour Gabriel from Luke Thrallon.

We are so lucky to have so many good contemporary playwrights. Lets hope we don’t lose Mike Bartlett to TV after his success with Dr Foster. Only days ago I was worrying that some were given high profile stages too soon. Ironically, this would probably work on the Olivier stage where the other allegorical play Saint George & the Dragon doesn’t, but it’s more intimate at the Almeida where it engaged and moved me deeply.

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I’m a big fan of both designer Miriam Buether and director James Macdonald, but why on earth didn’t they check the audience sightlines when they were creating this? Their failure to do so certainly spoilt my evening – from my top price seat! If you’ve already got side seats, change them now. If you haven’t booked, make sure you’re in the centre.

Mike Bartlett’s new play takes Edward Snowden as its starting point. We’re in a Moscow hotel room with the Snowden-like character Andrew and a woman who appears to be his ‘handler’. She’s rather off-the-wall, playful and cheeky. In the next scene there’s a male ‘handler’ with the same name, much more earnest and serious, but the woman’s back for the next scene. Assumptions are made by Andrew (and us) about who they represent – Wikileaks he hopes – but ambiguity reigns as we explore the ease and consequences of leaks and the idea of identity. Nothing is what it seems, which is the theme of the rest of the play and it’s coup d’theatre. Sadly on the night I went a technical glitch halted the final scene and by the time it restarted people were playing with their phones, then the sight lines (which hadn’t been good at the sides from the start) got so bad (particularly on the right facing the stage) it rather spoilt it, but I won’t spoil it for you by saying more.

I’m also a big Mike Bartlett fan, but this isn’t his best work. It’s a good rather than great play, like many of the others. Notwithstanding the sightline issues, it’s well staged and very well performed by Jack Farthing as Andrew and Caoifhionn Dunne & John Mackay as the ‘handlers’. It’s hard to ignore my personal experience and no doubt it affects my view, but I’m a full-price paying punter so I’m entiltled to it and to share it. Sorry, Hampstead, but you need to see things from the audience perspective if you want to please them.

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I’ve come to the conclusion that to say anything about this play would be to spoil it, and its too good to spoil. It certainly lives up to its title. Think bird-watching, Big Brother, Benefits Street and paint-balling.

What I will say is that playwright Mike Bartlett continues to be the master of the miniature with maximum impact. Like Cock and Bull before it, he says more and provokes you more than most playwrights do in twice the time. I found this one seriously disturbing, not at all implausible and quite possibly prophetic. We’ll have to wait and see.

Director Sachha Wares and designer Miriam Buether have created another of their extraordinary immersive environments in painstaking detail. My mouth fell open in disbelief as soon I entered the space. As we used to say in the swinging sixties, it blew my mind.

It was only an hour of my life but it has invaded much of the subsequent 36 hours. Not everyone will agree – people left the theatre expressing clearly differing views – but for me it has to be seen. It’s why I go to the theatre. Creativity. Challenge. Drama.

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