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Posts Tagged ‘Miriam Buether’

This is only Peter Morgan’s third play, but like the other two it’s brilliant. He’s best known for The Crown, films like The Queen and TV features like The Deal. He’s a master of true life dramas based on facts with varying degrees of speculation. This examination of Russia from 1991 to 2013 is new ground, but still masterly.

The protagonist is Boris Berezovsky, once a brilliant mathematician, a child prodigy, who moved into business and politics as the USSR broke up and Yeltsin became President of Russia. He was one of the oligarchs who cleaned up as Yeltsin proceeded to sell / give away his country’s assets, but more importantly he was the krysha (advocate, godfather) of two men who went on to very much bigger things – Abramovitch and Putin. He’s a business mentor to the former, with a verbal agreement that would give him a significant slice of the profits as his businesses grew. To Putin he’s a kingmaker, as he moved from relative obscurity as Deputy Mayor of St. Petersburg to become head of the FSB, the successor to the KGB, before Berezovsky persuaded him to become Yeltsin’s Prime Minister, and in no time he succeeds Yeltsin as President.

He was a very clever man who had studied decision-making theory and put it into action. He bought the state TV channel as well as becoming krysha to these two men. His power and success of course relied on their loyalty, but both eventually deserted him, Abramovitch after he’d outlived his usefulness and Putin as part of his plan to clean up corruption, put the oligarchs in their place and cement his position of absolute power, and as we now know get his own slice of the action. The final straw for Putin may have been his humiliation on Berezovsky’s TV channel over the Kursk submarine fiasco.

Berezovsky becomes an exile in the UK, with his security man Litvinenko, getting political asylum from the Blair government. There’s a brilliant theatrical moment when events collide with those in Lucy Prebble’s play A Very Expensive Poison, as Litvinenko goes to meet someone over tea and gets poisoned in the process. Homesick after ten years in the UK, he seeks to return to a quiet life in Russia, but Putin is having none of it. He dies, allegedly committing suicide.

Rupert Goold has a great talent for staging epic stories with great clarity and pace, as he did with Enron, and as he does here. Miriam Buether’s design is like a lap dancing club (not that I’ve been to one, of course) with people sitting at the cross shaped bar / stage and scenes played out upon it. Tom Hollander’s terrific performance as Berezovsky, determined manipulative and strong willed, is a career highlight, but there are excellent performances too from Will Keen as an emotionless Putin and Luke Thallon as a cool, calculating Abramovitch, plus a fine supporting cast of eight, most playing multiple roles. It’s good to see Jamael Westman, who originated the role of Alexander Hamilton in London, playing another Alexander, Litvinenko, here.

This is a fine drama, very timely given Putin is on our screens almost daily, informative, thought provoking and entertaining. I feel another West End transfer coming on.

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It takes a lot of bravery to make your stage debut in a 105 minute one-person play on a West End stage, but Jodie Comer manages to exceed expectations. It’s a very good play and an excellent production too, so its not just a star vehicle.

Tessa is a young criminal law barrister who specialises in defence, in particular sexual harassment cases. In the first part she shows us her craft, developing strategies and arguments, grilling witnesses, doing her job. Important flashbacks to her law studies at Cambridge and visits home to Liverpool gives us her background; a bright Liverpudlian working class girl who’s excelling in a world of posh boys.

Then the tables turn and she’s a victim. We follow her experience from police investigation through an extraordinary wait for trial to the trial itself, where roles are reversed and she’s on the witness stand. Then playwright Suzie Miller takes a big risk and ends in campaigning mode, but by now we’re heavily invested in both the character and the inadequacies of the justice system, so it proves to be an impassioned ending.

Miriam Buether’s giant set, shelves full of legal tomes rising out of sight, doesn’t dwarf the actress, it gives her the space she needs to animate the story. Rebecca Lucy Taylor’s music, Ben & Max Ringham’s sound design and Natasha Chivers lighting invest the show with atmosphere, increasing the tension. I much admired how director Justin Martin combined these components to provide a truly riveting experience which held you throughout.

In more than forty years of theatre-going, i have never seen a more impressive stage debut. Jodie Comer’s fast delivery, piercing audience contact and physical prowess take your breathe away. Her transitions from predatory lawyer to injured victim to passionate campaigner are extraordinary. She is so mesmerising you can’t take your eyes off her.

A great night in the theatre.

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This is my 18th Mike Bartlett play (inc. 3 adaptations) in just fourteen years of his twenty as a playwright, and the second new play by him in eight days. That’s what I call prolific. The diversity of his subjects and forms has always been one of his trademarks. Given the subject matter of this one, well the subject really, I was expecting something wildly satirical and hysterical. To some extent it is, but its also serious, sometimes chilling.

It starts brilliantly, with a spin on one of Shakespeare’s most famous opening scenes. We’re in the middle of Biden’s term as President, with Trump and his three eldest children – Donald Jnr, Ivanka & Eric – and he’s about to kick start his comeback plan. What evolves eventually becomes a continuation of the Capitol Hill insurrection, but his attempt at re-election takes some surprising though not implausible turns. In between, we attend campaign rallies and TV debates, plus behind-the-scenes meetings within the Trump family, political parties and the US Administration.

Bertie Carvel’s characterisation of Trump is extraordinary. He captures every stance, expression and vocal inflection so perfectly it’s uncanny. The trouble is, when he’s offstage you find yourself waiting for his return, Trump is such an overpowering character and Carvel’s is such a towering performance that it imbalances the play. Our cast of other real life characters includes President Joe Biden & his VP Kamala Harris and Republican Senator Ted Cruz, all played by an excellent supporting cast of nineteen actors (though the actors playing the Trump siblings seem to be playing well above their years). Miriam Buether’s design takes us from golf course to the Oval Office via many other locations with a judicious use of projections. Her revolve is thrust out into the stalls making the Old Vic seem more intimate.

Rupert Goold’s production has a lot of high spots, but it suffers from uneven pacing, perhaps because of the Trump dominance (though that’s a bit like reality too!), meaning it did lag at times. Overall, though, I thought it was a fascinating speculation that did illuminate the power of this man to appeal to seemingly unlikely constituencies like blue collar workers. Lets hope its prophesies don’t come true.

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Who’d have thought a stage adaptation of a 1960 novel could seem so relevant 60 years on. There was an earlier stage version in 1990, by Christopher Sergel, which is still performed in and outside the courthouse of Monroesville Alabama each May, with a jury selected at the interval from white male audience members, just as it would have been in 1930, when the play us set. That was hugely successful at the Open Air Theatre in 2013 and 2014 (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2013/06/18/to-kill-a-mockingbird), but this is a new adaptation from Aaron Sorkin, better known for film and TV.

At it’s core is a courtroom drama, the case of a black man alleged to have raped a white girl. A similar real life case in the same year formed the basis of Kander & Ebb’s musical The Scottsboro Boys, co-incidentally a big success here at the same time as the OAT’s Mockingbird. The court scenes alternate with others set in the town, where we see the social background to the case, the ingrained racism and what we would now call white supremacy. This is contrasted with the goodness of a small number of liberal, kind souls including Atticus Finch, small town lawyer, widower and father of two and Judge Taylor, who persuades Atticus to defend the accused, Tom Robinson.

Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation seems to tap in to everything we’ve heard from the far right in recent years. I’m told he’s mined Breitbart, which would account for its resonance today. He’s also added balance by having Atticus’ black housekeeper Calpurnia (a passionate performance from Pamela Nomvete) challenge his blind liberal ‘there’s good in everyone’ sensibility. This takes away some of the saccharine that we Brits sometimes find hard to swallow, leaving a harder edged morality.

Atticus’ two children, Jem & Scout, and their neighbour’s visiting nephew Dill act as narrators and all three – Harry Redding, Gwyneth Keyworth & David Moorst – are terrific. Patrick O’Kane’s characterisation of Bob Ewell, who invents the crime against his daughter whilst himself guilty of abuse, is brilliantly terrifying. We don’t see Rafe Spall on stage anywhere near enough, so it’s great to see him as Atticus, tolerance personified until his shattering outbursts of indignation and rage.

Bartlett Sher’s staging and Miriam Buether’s design are in complete harmony, gently propelling the story organically through many scenes and multiple locations. A deeply satisfying evening in the theatre.

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In another life as a theatre investor, I lost my shirt (well, actually a wardrobe full of shirts!) on the original West End production of Steven Slater & Duncan Sheik’s ground-breaking show. It arrived from Broadway just 5 days after its production ended its highly successful and profitable two-year run there, garlanded with eight Tony’s and four Drama Desk awards. It previewed at the Lyric Hammersmith, where it played to packed houses, earning more 5* reviews than I’d ever seen before, but it lasted just two months at the Novello, failing to find an audience, despite the reviews and four Olivier Awards, including Best New Musical. It launched the careers of newcomers including Charlotte Wakefield, Aneurin Barnard and Iwan Rheon, the latter two getting performance Olivier’s of their own. I’ve never really understood its commercial failure; theatre can be a surprising and risky world. So here we are 13 years later with an opportunity to re-evaluate it.

The show is based on Frank Wedekind’s 1890 German expressionist play about adolescence. The teenagers are growing up in a conservative and emotionally repressed world while they are experiencing the angst associated with these years. The issues are, somewhat surprisingly, still relevant today – coming to terms with their sexuality, mental health, suicide and teenage pregnancy – but in a world where they are told babies are delivered by storks, and both parents and teachers are disciplinarians, even bullies. The story, character names and period are unchanged, but feelings are expressed through contemporary music. It’s one of the most audacious ideas in musical theatre, yet somehow it works brilliantly.

When I walked into the auditorium to see ten rows of steps the width of the entire stage, Miriam Buether’s design reminded me of the Open Air Theatre’s semi-staged versions of Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita, but the space is used very differently, and more theatrically, in Rupert Goold’s new staging, with great choreography from Lynne Page. Nicky Gillibrand’s costumes aren’t all identical school uniforms, as I recall in the original, which allows the personalities and idiosyncrasies of the characters to come through. It’s both more intimate and more ‘in your face’ which gives it a lot more emotional impact. Goold also references the activism of today’s teenagers, without it jarring with the rest of the story.

Raw talent was cast first time around, which gave it great energy and edginess, but here more experienced actors seem able to develop the characters, bringing out more visceral qualities which engage you with what they are experiencing. Laurie Kynaston impressed greatly in The Son, now with a brilliant Melchior he extends his range to include musical theatre. I last saw Amara Okereke play the lead in The Boyfriend, which is about as far as you can get from Wendla, but she’s just as thrilling. Stuart Thompson is terrific as the much troubled Moritz, as is Carly-Sophia Davies as the rebellious Ilse. It’s a great ensemble,who shine in chorus numbers. All of the adult ‘authoritarian’ characters are played by just two actors, Mark Lockyer and, on the night I went, an impressive stand-in by Mali O’Donnell.

A fresh new interpretation of an important contribution to the musical theatre genre. I loved seeing it again in this stunning new production.

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When this evening was announced, it was three new short plays by Caryl Churchill. Now a fourth has been added, longer than the other three added together, which makes it the longest evening of new Churchill work in ages. I’ve tired of her descent into minimalism of late, also finding earlier works haven’t stood the test of time when revived, but this is a real return to form, a veritable theatrical feast.

The first half consists of three short works, with the inspired idea of front of curtain entertainment between them. The first is an intriguing piece about a glass girl. The characters perform on an elevated white shelf, which at one point is clearly a mantelpiece with ornaments that come alive, but at other times not. The second play features a god on a cloud and a boy playing on the ground, the god giving us a manic telling of Greek myths. In the third, a serial wife killer’s friends discuss him and his crimes and how they should react.

In the longest play, we’re in the home of Dot and Jimmy, cousins who live together, neither of whom work. In most of the short scenes, they are visited by Niamh, a distant cousin from Ireland who has recently moved near them, and Rob, a homeless man Jimmy has befriended during his runs in the park, mostly separately, but sometimes at the same time. Dot has a past and an intriguing object, both of which are revealed.

Death and killing run through all four plays, though they are often very funny. They appear to be modern spins on old tales – Greek myths, Bluebeard and a short story by Robert Louis Stevenson – though I can’t identify the fourth. James Macdonald’s staging is clever, Miriam Buether’s design is stunning and the acting is brilliant, with Tom Mothersdale giving a virtuoso performance as the god and Deborah Findlay and Toby Jones acting masterclasses in the final play.

It’s been a long wait, so all the more welcome.

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Anne Washburn is an original and interesting playwright, but after a third exposure to her work, this juror’s still out on whether she’s a good one.

Jools & Jim have invited five friends to their new remote country home. They’re not experienced in country living and they’re not particularly good hosts, so as the weather deteriorates and the power is cut off, their supplies run out. They don’t run out of conversation, though, as they reflect on life in Trump’s divided America and how they got there. These are the liberal Americans – a wealthy gay couple, New York lawyers Andrew & Yusuf, a struggling straight, somewhat alternative couple, Richard & Laurie, and singleton Allie. The conversation widens to all sorts of apparently related subjects including the Jonestown massacre, racism & colonialism and Lord of the Rings!

We’re occasionally visited by Mark, the adopted black son of white parents who appear to be the former inhabitants of the house, who tells us his story. We also get a meeting between Trump and George W Bush as president, and towards the end a surreal version of that infamous confrontation between Trump and FBI chief Corney. There’s an awful lot of ground covered but at almost 3.5 hours it didn’t sustain its length (there were a conspicuous number of empty seats after the interval). Often thought-provoking and fitfully gripping, it was too much of a ramble, wordy and undramatic, lacking coherence, a download of thoughts and ideas, trying to say so much that more became less.

It’s staged in the round, in a design by Miriam Buether which has a partly revolving stage and a platform against the back wall on which there are projections. There was one row of audience sitting in chairs close to the stage as if at a dinner table, who participated in the surreal scene. There are lovely performances from Justine Mitchell, Fisayo Akinade, Adam James, Elliott Cowan, Tara Fitzgerald, Khalid Abdalla, Raquel Cassidy and Risteard Cooper, but these and Rupert Goold’s production are a lot better than the material.

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American playwright Sophie Treadwell wrote this expressionistic play in 1928, not long after Eugene O’Neill’s expressionistic masterpiece Emperor Jones. It was based on a real murder case, and its premiere provided Clark Gable with his Broadway debut. I first saw it in its last London outing twenty-five years ago, directed by Stephen Daldry at the Lyttleton Theatre. I thought then, as I do now, that it must have been way ahead of its time 90 years ago. It’s feminist aesthetic and focus on mental health means it still resonates today.

In ten scenes over ninety minutes we follow our protagonist – ‘young woman’ – doing what society expects of her, from the office job she doesn’t like, or do well, to marriage to the boss who repels her and the birth of the child she struggles to bond with, before she turns and is propelled to an unexpected and tragic conclusion.

Each scene in Natalie Abrahami’s production starts by the parting of screens to reveal locations which are mirrored diagonally above. Miriam Buether’s clever design is accompanied by a brooding mechanical soundscape from Ben & Max Ringham and striking lighting by Jack Knowles. The scene changes are a bit slow, but its an immersive experience nonetheless, though I did find myself admiring the stagecraft and performances at the expense of emotional engagement with the story.

Elizabeth Berrington is hugely impressive in the lead role, at first in fear of just about everything, growing enough confidence to betray her husband Jones, played well, with period behaviour, by Jonathan Livingstone. In a supporting cast of ten, there is an excellent cameo from Denise Black as Helen’s mother.

Treadwelll wrote many more plays, with a diverse range of themes and styles, but this is just about the only one that’s ever been revived. She found it increasingly difficult to get her work produced, and many remained unpublished. Neglected in a man’s world it seems, which makes it even more timely today. It would be good to see more of them.

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The Young Vic main house has had another of its extraordinary makeovers; this time Miriam Buether has recreated Calais’ refugee camp, the so-called Jungle. We walked through one of its houses and a shop to reach our seats in the restaurant in a segment named Afghanistan. The audience are either at tables with benches, or on the sides looking in. The performers are all around, scenes popping up everywhere. This is something only theatre can do.

Though there had been makeshift camps there before, the play concerns the last incarnation, from 2014 to 2016, when the population were largely from Africa and the Middle East. The segments of the space are all named after the countries they come from, as were the sections of the camp. Playwrights Joe Murphy & Joe Robertson were there for seven months, setting up and running the Good Chance Theatre inside the camp, named after the words used for the regular attempts to reach the UK, and the piece feels completely authentic.

Starting close to it’s end, before moving back to its creation, we experience these people’s lives in vivid detail. I hadn’t really grasped before how this was a complete town, with church, mosque, school, shops and a restaurant. Five British charity workers and do-gooders from very diverse backgrounds contribute to the organisation, though there are representatives of the various communities who bring a kind of democracy and promote harmony.

We hear individual stories, witness conflicts, see friendships formed and bonded, understand their aspirations and how they are exploited and abused. It’s deeply moving, but there are many moments of warmth and humour. Both the good and bad in people is exposed, but never judgementally, though the failure of governments and other institutions is. How on earth could humanity allow this to happen?

Everything, from the writing, staging by Stephen Daldry & Justin Martin, all of the design elements and eighteen deeply passionate and committed performances contribute to bringing us the stark truth. I do hope it can be seen by many more than the Young Vic can accommodate by some sort of cinema or TV screening. Though the Jungle has been demolished, there are still refugees in Calais and elsewhere and their stories must be told, in the hope they will be heard by, and will prick the consciences of those who can bring about change.

Good Chance, the Young Vic and the National Theatre have collaborated to create urgent and important theatre.

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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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