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Posts Tagged ‘Mike Britton’

It’s great to see writers given the opportunity to tackle big issues on a Shakespearean scale at The Globe. Here David Eldridge tackles the middle east, starting with the third crusade, or holy war, towards the end of the 12th century and including references to things that happened just last week.

The first half shows the third crusade, with Saladin leading the Muslims and Richard the Lionheart leading the Christians. We move between Saladin’s camp and Richard’s and meet family and loyal companions. The attitudes and views are as contemporary as the language Eldridge uses. I suppose the point is that it’s been like this now for a thousand years, but it’s a bit laboured. It ends with the arrival of a couple of characters that suggest we’re about to move forward hundreds of years.

In the first part of the second half we are in the 20th century and figures key to the more recent history of the middle east step forward to tell us their story of the conflict in modern times – Ben Gurion, Golda Meir & Begin, Sadat and Carter, Bush & Blair (but puzzlingly no Rabin, Barak, Arafat or Clinton, crucial to the situation in the 90’s). This bit is like a whistle-stop history lesson, watched in disbelief by Richard the Lionheart and his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine. It’s followed by the third part, which picks up the crusade where we left it, except that they’re in modern battle dress and you could be forgiven for thinking it’s a modern war – which I suppose is the point.

It’s a deeply complex issue which I felt was oversimplified. All it really tells us is it’s being going on forever and it’s mostly our fault. I didn’t feel I learnt much and I’m not sure the issue gets the depth or respect it deserves. What it really needs is one of those all-day Tricycle play cycles, like The Great Game. This didn’t really work for me, but I do think there’s a play(s) to be written and I admire the ambition if not the outcome.

James Dacre’s staging is heavy on spectacle, with lots of battles and bangs. Mike Britton’s period costumes in the first half are terrific and his slightly raked painted giant disc floor is excellent. This was only the second performance, so fluffed lines are to be forgiven; otherwise I thought it was well performed, with a particularly charismatic turn as Richard by John Hopkins. There’s a lot of music, particularly chanting, but too many ‘pitching & tuning’ issues dilute its impact, and the switch to rock music as we move to modern times is a bit heavy-handed.

This is very different territory for David Eldridge. He calls his play ‘a fantasia on the third crusade and the history of violent struggle in the holy lands’ and makes comparisons with the work of Caryl Churchill and Tony Kushner’s Angels in America. This is nowhere near as successful as the latter, but somewhere in here there is a good play crying to get out. I suspect it will improve in performance before opening on Wednesday but the play’s structure and content is set, for now at least.

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After a while I was wondering if it might be better to be curled up on the sofa in front of the TV with a glass of wine on a cold Friday evening. By the interval, I was interested enough to return. By the end, I was left unsatisfied and a bit disappointed. Though the subject matter, that tolerance may often be a veneer, is interesting, the play is too contrived to deal with it in any depth.

E V Crowe’s play is about a pair of primary school teachers. Danny is gay and he and his husband Joe have applied to adopt a child. Joe is a college friend of fellow teacher Jamie who, with partner Lisa, is trying a different route to parenthood through IVF. A child calls Jamie gay which horrifies him as he is soon on the receiving end of the sort or treatment he might expect if it were true. His seemingly liberal attitudes are challenged and his relationship with all three are tested. In the first half, we’re in Danny & Joe’s flat seeing things from Danny’s perspective and in the second  in Jamie & Lisa’s flat seeing things from Jamie’s perspective. We also learn that Joe was once married, and at one point Jamie’s sexuality is also questioned.

Daniel Mays is one of my favourite young actors and the role of highly strung Jamie suits him. Liam Garrigan plays Danny with a confidence, calmness and coolness. I think the fact that they are the opposite of the stereotypes is intentional, but for me if was part of the unbelievability. The parts of Joe and Lisa are underwritten so neither Tim Steed or Susannah Wise have much chance to shine.

Jeremy Herrin’s traverse staging and Mike Britton’s design, where the kitchens’ are inside a school gym, are effective and make it a somewhat voyeuristic experience. Sadly, the writing isn’t as strong as the staging or performances and though it held my attention, I left unsatisfied.

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One might have expected this 35-year-old Mike Leigh play to have aged, but surprisingly it seems to have matured – with 70’s nostalgia and retro style now an added bonus!

Given millions have seen the TV version, it probably needs little by means of description. Beverly & Laurence have invited new neighbours Angela & Tony around for drinks and nibbles (cheese and pineapple, obviously – this is 1977). They’ve also invited a more long-serving neighbour Susan, who’s teenage daughter Abigail (subject of the play’s title, but an offstage character) is throwing a party in her home. A lot is drunk, Beverly mercilessly nags Laurence & flirts with shy Tony as Anglea watches and Susan frets. Abigail’s party gets out of hand, as does Beverly’s as it moves to its tragi-comic conclusion.

Though still dark, this production seems much funnier. Perhaps familiarity has meant we are less shocked and more prepared to laugh out loud as grotesque Beverly’s hospitality morphs into control, Laurence’s  drive becomes his downfall, Tony reveals a darkness beneath his nerdiness, dull Angela proves to be the only one who’s useful when it comes to the crunch and frumpy Susan eventually fights back. It really is deliciously laugh-out-loud funny with an equal measure of cringe-making moments, all impeccably staged by Lindsay Posner (who proved himself a master of comedy with the current Noises Off revival) on a brilliant period set from Mike Britton – all shades of brown, orange & beige; G-Plan shelf units and leather sofas.

Alison Steadman’s iconic characterisation is a hard act to follow, but Jill Halfpenny’s partial reinvention of Beverly is subtly different whilst retaining the essence of the icon; she commands the stage as she does her soiree. Andy Nyman is the perfect foil, his sniping moving to rage as his wife’s put-downs become more open and more outrageous. Joe Absolom’s controlled performance as Tony means his eruptions shake the theatre when they come. Some have said that Natalie Casey is the weak link in the casting, but I was pleasantly surprised by her interpretation of Angela. Susannah Harker’s role is in many ways the toughest, but hers too is a beautifully judged performance.

It’s great to see the Menier back on form, packed to the rafters and awash with laughter. I’d be surprised if this isn’t another West End transfer for this lovely powerhouse in Southwark.

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Chichester Festival Theatre will certainly get first prize when it comes to celebrating this Rattigan centenary. There are two revivals, a new play written as a ‘response’ to one of them, a play created from an unproduced screenplay and six rehearsed readings. Well, that puts our national companies to shame!

The Deep Blue Sea

Many consider this his finest play, though after recent revivals of After the Dance and Flare Path, I would question that. The first production I saw at the Almeida with Penelope Wilton was wonderful, but the second, by Edward Hall with Greta Scacchi, was a fusty mannered museum piece.

Unfortunately, I was in the Donmar the night before this, so seeing an intimate play in the vast Chichester main house space it was very hard to get involved, even from the ninth row. I really missed the proximity which the Minerva would have given it; I wasn’t moved.

Hester has left her knighted husband to live with the laddish Freddie. The play starts when she is discovered in front of the gas fire with the evidence of too much asprin at her side. Not knowing the whereabouts of Freddie, a neighbour contacts her ex. who rushes to her aid. Freddie returns and discovers her suicide note and thus begins the breakdown of their relationship. The ex. makes a bid for reunion, but this fails, so Hester is left alone.

It’s well designed and staged and the acting is uniformly good; Amanda Root is a fine Hester, Anthony Calf is very good as the ex. I particularly liked John Hopkin’s passionate Freddie and there is a lovely cameo from Susan Tracy as the landlady. In this space, though, I just couldn’t get involved as much as you need to be moved by this fine play that was way ahead of its time and, somewhat ironically, as radical in its way as the ‘angry young men’ that took Rattigan’s place at the heart of post-war British drama.

Rattigan’s Nijinsky

This late career screenplay about the life of dancer Nijinsky was never produced by the BBC, apparently because of objections from his wife. Unstageable in its written form, Nicholas Wright has created a play both about it and from it.

We’re in Rattigan’s Claridges suite shortly after his arrival from his Bermuda home, here to finalise the production of his screenplay. He gets visits from the man at the BBC and Nijinsky’s wife Romola, but the play is mostly imagined scenes from the screenplay / life of Nijinsky played out in front of us. It was a fascinating life, so it’s a fascinating story. The idea of the structure is better than the result, though, and it felt a bit clumsy – ‘now lets show the audition of Nijinsky as child’, ‘lets move to where he begins hid relationship with Diaghilev’, ‘OK, time for the journey to Buenos Aires’. Interesting story, but a play that ultimately doesn’t work.

Again, the design by Mike Britton and Philip Franks’ staging are fine and it suits the big space better than The Deep Blue Sea. Malcolm Sinclair as Rattigan and Jonathan Hyde as Diaghilev are very good and there’s good support from a large cast, most playing two or three roles. Again, Susan Tracy gives fine cameos as Romola Nijinsky and Rattigan’s mother.

Overall, this pair didn’t live up to expectations, but that doesn’t take away Chichester’s crown as Rattigan’s champion in this centenary year.

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I vividly remember being at the UK premiere of this play 16 years ago. At the end, lead actor Henry Goodman pointed to a man a few rows behind me and the audience rose to its feet to give Arthur Miller a standing ovation.

Not everyone agreed (nothing new there, then) but I thought it was his best play in the 40 years since a row of four classics – All My Sons, Death of a Salesman, The Crucible & A View From A Bridge – between 1947 and 1955. We’ve seen a lot of these four since, but not Broken Glass. The National hosted the UK premiere, but again it’s a fringe venue – the Tricycle – that gives us a second look.

Set in 1938 in New York, Sylvia Gellburg is mysteriously paralysed. The initial diagnosis is hysterical paralysis, a reaction to events in Nazi Germany, but as the play unfolds the relationship with, and behaviour of, her husband comes into the frame. She abandoned her business career, her sex life is unfulfilled, her husband possesses her.

Phillip Gellburg is one of the most complex characters Miller wrote – proud to be ‘the only Jew’ in his company with his son heading to be ‘the only Jew’ army General in a way that is distancing himself, even denying, his heritage. At the same time, he sees anti-Semitism when it might not even be there and is racked with feelings of inadequacy, persecution and inferiority complexes and paranoia.

Anthony Sher is mesmerizing, he IS Phillip Gellburg, and as the play unfolds his character becomes more exposed and develops emotional depth. Sylvia Gellberg is a tough role, changing significantly between the first and second acts. Playing a little older than her age, Lucy Cohu really pulls it off. The third key character, Dr Harry Hyman, who is fascinated by the case and attracted to his patient, sees Nigel Lindsay cast against type and more than a match for Sher and Cohu. These are fine performances indeed.

I’m not very familiar with director Iqbal Khan’s work, but I’ll make sure I am in the future, for this is a very intelligent production, deeply moving but without descending into sentimentality. Mike Britton has designed an impressionistic space which allows the drama to breath and the onstage cello playing of Laura Moody maintains the tension between scenes.

This play was followed by two disappointing late works – Mr Peter’s Connections and Resurrection Blues – and a third play, Finishing the Picture, which we haven’t seen here. Looking back now, it is clear that it was the last great work of a giant of theatre and seeing it again was as thrilling as seeing it for the first time.

Yet another triumph for the regularly triumphant and completely indispensable Tricycle!

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