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Posts Tagged ‘Monica Dolan’

American playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins continues to impress, with this play the best of the three we’ve seen here. I’m vey fond of family dramas and American playwrights gave us the best in the 20th Century, from Eugene ONeill through Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller to Sam Shepherd. Now Jacobs-Jenkins gives us a contemporary one.

It’s set in an Arkansas plantation home where the head of the Lafayette family has recently died. His children, Toni, Bo and Frank, Bo’s wife Rachel, Frank’s girlfriend River, Toni’s son Rhys and Bo & Rachel’s children Cassidy and Ainsley have come for the auction of the house and sale of its contents. Their dad was a hoarder, so they first have to attempt to declutter and in doing so come across some photos which, if they are their dad’s, mean he wasn’t the man they thought he was.

Bo is a seemingly successful businessman who has apparently been financing his father’s final years, Toni is a single mother who’s been providing more practical support. Frank, now called Franz, is the black sheep, last to leave home and the longest to be dependent on their father, with a history of drink, drugs and worse. No-one knew where he was for many years until now. He’s under the spell of new age River and has ostensibly come to ask for forgiveness. Emotions run high, a whole load of skeletons leave cupboards and secrets and lies run amok. There’s even an air of a ghostly presence.

It’s superbly written and expertly plotted, with crackling dialogue. Ola Ince’s production is edgy and atmospheric, with loud sudden scene breaks that I found heightened the tension, though others jumped and / or were irritated by them. Fly Davis’ faded mansion is superb; the stage management deserve an award for decluttering it in the interval. Anna Watson’s excellent lighting and Donato Wharton’s atmospheric sound design play a key role. The diverse siblings are superbly characterised by Steven Mackintosh, Edward Hogg and especially Monica Dolan with another of her star turns. The rest of the ensemble is outstanding.

A great evening of drama from a playwright who, at only 34, the same age as Tennessee Williams was when A Doll’s House hit Broadway, has already delivered six plays, and based on the three we’ve seen is clearly going to have a monumental career The only remaining questions are – when will we see the other three and what’s next?

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This is one of the most anticipated West End openings this year. A stage adaptation of the iconic 1950 film of the same name, with Gillian Anderson taking Bette Davies’ role and Lily James playing Eve, and the much sought after director Ivo van Hove at the helm. Could it possibly live up to the hype?

Margot is a successful stage actress, surrounded by an entourage that includes the writer, director and producer of her current play, her best friend Karen and companion / maid Birdie. Eve enters her life, a fan who says she attends every performance, brought from outside the stage door by Karen. In no time at all, she’s working for Margot, becomes indispensable, putting Birdie’s nose out of joint but virtually everyone else under her spell. Soon she’s understudying Margot, getting to perform after some tricks and deception, inviting a critic also under her spell to ensure her career takes off.

Such a theatrical story makes an excellent transfer from screen to stage, and at the same time suits Ivo van Hove’s cinematic house style. All of his usual ingredients are here, with live video footage the most significant. The three walls of the multi-purpose room set rise to reveal the real theatre walls painted silver, enclosed bathroom and kitchen, from which we have scenes projected onto the set’s back wall, props, costumes and photos of the star. It feels like both backstage and film set and works brilliantly. There are some real theatrical coup’s, notably Margot ageing before our eyes as she looks in her dressing room mirror, and the photos turned around as Eve’s career progresses.

Gillian Anderson plays Margot with great subtlety, and looks simply stunning. Lily James navigates her manipulative road well, with restraint but steely determination too. It’s a fantastic supporting cast, including a brilliant performance from Monica Dolan as Karen and Stanley Townsend outstanding as the acerbic critic Addison DeWitt, a manipulative match for Eve. Rashan Stone is excellent as playwright Lloyd Richards, Karen’s husband, as is Julian Ovenden as director Bill Sampson, Margot’s boyfriend. There’s a lovely cameo at the end from Tsion Habte as Phoebe, who completes the circle of a deliciously rounded story.

It’s a while before it takes hold of you, but then it doesn’t let go. It resonates in our celebrity obsessed age as much, if not more, than it must have done 69 years ago. The story, the staging & design and the performances come together to ensure it does live up to the hype. In a life-imitates-art moment, the lovely Canadian lady sitting next to me, an avid Gillian Anderson fan, told me before the start she was seeing in three more times during her eight day stay!

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Three stage adaptations of his books running simultaneously in the West End is a real testimony to the timelessness and enduring appeal of Roald Dahl. This is one I haven’t read, so I approach it afresh.

Chloe Lamford has created a brilliant design which is spectacular yet intimate, grotesque yet funny. Mr & Mrs Twit live in a giant circular space and the monkeys they persecute in a cage which rises from underneath at the front. The circle is sometimes replaced by a stage (which looks like it will cover the front of the stalls when it lowers) onto which the caravan of the fairground folk enters and opens. You seem to be peering in to something very close but other worldly.

Jason Watkins and Monica Dolan also create grotesque characters that you have to hate but love just a bit. The monkeys they imprison and torment (Welsh!) are charming, none more so (well, for me anyway) when singing Welsh hymn Calon Lan unaccompanied quite beautifully. Those they have robbed of their fairground (northerners) seem hapless in the face of their trickery and mercilessness. Martin Lowe has added great music, not least punk rhythms to convey The Twits manic menace.

I don’t know whether it’s the book or Enda Walsh’s ‘mischievous adaptation’, but I found the story a bit thin, with a lot less substance that I’m used to with Dahl. In truth, not a lot happens in two hours. I also felt it didn’t have as strong a moral compass as we expect from Dahl. That said, the young people around us were having a grand old time (well, apart from the girl in the second row who paid more attention to her seemingly bottomless packet of crisps) and it was the day after the BAFTA’s so Jason Watkins provided a cheeky ad lib when he was encouraging contributions from the audience – acceptance speech, anyone?

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A play about the no win-no fee compensation culture has been a long time coming. Playwright Nick Payne’s Constellations was one of the most original plays of recent years and one of last year’s big hits. The Donmar is a great, intimate space for new plays. My expectations were going to be difficult to live up to and so it was. They make the best of the material, but the material isn’t really good enough.

Barry and Andrew are no win-no fee merchants, though there is clear ethical blue water between them. Kevin, an old school chum of Andrew (married to his first lay) lures him into serial fake claims. One target decides to defend which, unusually in these cases, leads them to court. It becomes much more than a claim as the relationship between Barry and Andrew is strained to breaking point and the relationship between Andrew and Kevin’s wife is recalled.

In the first half, we’re in the solicitor’s offices and in (most of) the second half we’re in court – something I wasn’t expecting until I returned to the theatre after the interval to see the extraordinary transformation. The problem is that the issues are touched on but not fully explored, so the play lacks depth. I liked the introduction of personal stories, but again they are glimpses. It was often just too slow. Scott Pask’s designs are superbly realistic, though the configuration of the courtroom means some actors have their backs to you much of the time (a bit like a court, really!).

The performances are uniformly excellent. Daniel Mays & Nigel Lindsay’s characterisations of Andrew & Barry compensate in part for the writing; their relationship evolves satisfyingly. Marc Wootton is brilliant as Kevin, the chancer you love to hate but can’t help loving. Monica Dolan and Peter Forbes make delicious transformations from Kevin’s co-conspirators in the first half to barrister and judge in the second. Niky Wardley brings Kevin’s put-upon pregnant wife to life, complete with courtroom vomiting (!) and Joanna Griffin and Isabella Laughland’s cameos are terrific; the latter so good she gets a round of applause as she leaves the witness-box.

It felt like an unfinished pay to me; edited and rewritten I suspect it would be a much better play. As it is, it’s down to superlative performances to make the evening worthwhile.

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