Posts Tagged ‘Nancy Crane’

This is one hell of a play. It’s ambitious and epic; a jigsaw puzzle that takes you three hours to complete. When it comes full circle at the end, you’re left with a deep sense of satisfaction. It’s why I go to the theatre so often – to come across one of these every now and again.

Joe is an American news photographer who took an iconic picture of a man’s face-off with a tank in Tiananmen Square on 4th June 1989. Many years later he gets a lead which makes him think the man survived and escaped to the US. What unravels is like a detective story. In China, we see what happens to anyone brave enough to expose things like pollution. In the US, we see how China’s economic power can bury just about anything.

Along the way, we meet politicians, market researchers, newspapermen, Chinese immigrants and policemen, but at its heart are the personal stories of Joe and his Chinese friend and source Zhang Lin. It never lets you go and fully justifies its length at just over three hours. It’s never predictable and moves from poignant to funny in a flash. I was enthralled. Es Devlin has designed a brilliant giant revolving cube on which images are projected and within which rooms open up for all of the many scenes. Lyndsey Turner’s staging is simply stunning.

Stephen Campbell Moore is on stage almost the whole time and he’s terrific. Benedict Wong can hardly have caught his breath as he left The Arrest of Ai Weiwei in Hampstead and travelled (with two other actors!) the five miles to Islington and he too is superb. There are lovely performances from Claudie Blakley as a British market researcher who falls for Joe, Nancy Crane as a US senator and Trevor Cooper as a newspaper head.

This is an unmissable theatrical feast which propels playwright Lucy Kirkwood into the premiere league.

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Every now and again you see a neglected play by an established playwright and wonder why on earth it’s neglected. Last night was one of those occasions. This late Tennessee Williams play hasn’t been seen in London for 34 years, but boy has the Kings Head Theatre production made up for it.

The world seems to have given up on TW twenty years before he stopped writing, when The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore flopped on Broadway. He went on to write another 16 plays, of which this is one. Though a Streetcar comes along frequently and you don’t have to wait long for The Glass Menagerie or Cat on a Hot Tin Roof to turn up, these late plays are rare indeed. What’s fascinating about them is that he was now able to write freely and naturalistically, without having to mask or disguise his themes, yet the writing is in a poetic southern dialect with a modern vocabulary.

This play is set in a New Orleans rooming house where a writer (and our narrator) is trying to come to terms with his craft, his sexuality, his poverty and his health. The landlady Mrs Wire is eccentric verging on barking, treating her black maid ‘Nursie’ and her lodgers with disdain. The boarders include Nightingale, a painter and predatory old queen: Jane, a fallen woman and Tye, her bit of rough, and two old ladies who now can’t afford to eat as well as pay rent. The themes are not unusual for TW – breaking free, the artists’ plight, abuse in relationships, sexuality, drink & drugs – but the characterisations are superb and the ‘slice of life’ absolutely fascinating. I was captivated from beginning to end.

The Kings Head Theatre’s intimacy and claustrophobia are perfect for the play. With three beds, a grand piano and a kitchen crammed into this tiny space, they’re almost falling over one another and you’re in there with them. Director Robert Chevara and designer Nicolai Hart Hansen have used the space brilliantly and created the New Orleans French Quarter before your very eyes.

Though their accents sometimes get lost, the excellent cast do full justice to TW’s characters and his prose. Tom Ross-Williams as the Writer combines the character’s vulnerability with excitement at life’s possibilities and adventures. Nancy Crane’s Mrs Wire is eccentric and vituperative on the outside but frail on the inside. You wince as David Whitworth’s Nightingale makes his advances, but your sympathies are with him too. Samantha Coughlan (a double for Lindsay Duncan if ever I saw one!)  plays Jane like a TW femme fatale should be played – a touch mannered, as the lost soul who would rather be loved and abused than not loved at all. Such was the realism with which Paul Standell played her abuser Tye, I wanted to get out of my seat and stop him as he  raped her. There are lovely cameos from Eva Fontaine as Nursie, Anne Kirke & Hildegard Neil as the old ladies and Jack McMillan in a trio of roles.

This is a superb production of a sadly neglected play. How many of the other 15 are as good as this, one wonders? I feel a Kings Head TW season might be in order! I’ll be the first in the quenue for a season ticket. Gold stars are covering the sky over Islington…..

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