Posts Tagged ‘Naomi Dawson’

A play about family therapy might not sound like everyone’s cup of tea, but I thought it might be mine, particularly in the intimacy of Hampstead Theatre Downstairs.

Naomi Dawson’s design places the action inside a frame, making the audience voyeurs of the therapy sessions. This proves to be a double-edged sword as it distances you from the characters, making it difficult to engage emotionally with Ruby Thomas’ play, which follows therapy sessions inside an institution where Sam has been placed since his attempted suicide. The sessions are facilitated by therapist Daniel and include his separated parents Tim & Rita and younger sister Sofia.

I’m afraid I failed to engage with the characters and the situation, except briefly during an outburst by Sam. I couldn’t get over the barrier that I was watching actors speaking lines, not helped by feeling like I was looking into a cage in a zoo. I didn’t have the empathy I would expect to have with these people. I found myself waiting for it to end.

I am clearly at odds with the critics and the audience, so don’t let me put you off. Not my cup of tea after all.

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Kneehigh have created a large number of very successful stage adaptations from diverse sources, but I think they may have been a touch ambitious and misguided with this one, Carl Grose’s adaptation of a 500-page 1950’s German political novel by Gunter Grass.

The central character Oskar is born with adult capacity but decides not to grow up. He narrates the events happening in the world from 1924 to 1954, a rather dramatic part of the 20th century, to put it mildly, from his perspective. Family scenes and political & social events are woven together to create an epic sweep, though it often comes over as a bit if a ramble.

The problem is that the material doesn’t really suit Kneehigh’s playful style. There’s too much of Charles Hazelwood’s music, often not fully fledged songs, so it feels like more like an opera than a play, and the synthesised instrumentation jarred with me. Together with the vast space, it conspires to make quite a lot of the spoken and sung dialogue barely audible.

It’s a pity, because Naomi Dawson’s design is great (the backdrop looks uncannily like it’s the venue’s real wall), the puppetry is excellent, Mike Shepherd’s staging is full of Kneehigh inventiveness and there are some fine performances, including Nandi Bhebhe and Damon Daunno as Oskar’s mum and dad, and personal favourite Beverley Rudd shining in a number of roles, including a policeman, nurse, Satan and a baby!

It was only the second of two previews, so maybe that was part of the problem, though it has been touring for over two months. I’m more inclined to think it’s the wrong kind of story for the Kneehigh magic.

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I think Polly Stenham hadn’t finished her play when the NT called and said ‘rehearsals start tomorrow; we need it today’, so she just stopped where she was. I’m not sure I’ve seen anything that felt so unfinished.

In the theatre formerly known as The Shed, we’re in a villa in a hotel compound on an island in the Indian Ocean. British Government minister Vivienne resigned when news of a sex scandal involving her husband Robert broke, so the couple and their teenage children Ralph and Frances escape to this desert island idyl, though it turns out to be not much of an idyl, what with the squabbling, the truth about Robert’s internet dating and a pair of armed locals with a grudge.

The grudge concerns political decisions taken by Vivienne which caused deaths, some close to home for the captors, but as soon as the reprisals begin, another bunch of more professional kidnappers gazump the first and off go the adults, leaving the kids to get violent all on their own. The End.

It’s brilliantly staged by Maria Aberg on a very good set designed by Naomi Dawson and it’s genuinely shocking, with terrific effects. The acting, particularly Susan Nokoma as the chambermaid come captor, is excellent. The trouble is it only touches on the issues and doesn’t really go anywhere. A lot of talent wasted on not a lot of play.

I didn’t see Tusk Tusk, but based on No Quarter and this, I’m afraid Miss Stenham isn’t living up to the early promise shown with That Face.

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My fourth Rattigan in his centenary year, but my first visit to the lovely Royal Derngate in Northampton.

Like Cause Celebre, this is late Rattigan – you can tell from the early 70’s dialogue alone – not at all what we’re used to seeing revived. It’s a four-hander about a rather boorish writer and his Estonian wife, their son and family friend. The marriage appears loveless (on the husband’s part), the best friend is in love with the wife and the father-son relationship is somewhat strained.

As the play progresses, particularly in the second half, secrets and lies are revealed as is the true theme of the play – that we express love in many different ways, many of them unseen. The trademark Rattigan emotional repression and restraint are there but, like Cause Celebre, it feels more modern. To say much more would be a spoiler, so I won’t.

Naomi Dawson has created an evocative Islington flat with more books than your average second-hand bookshop (which all seemed real from the third row of the stalls). It’s very realistic but gives the play an intimacy you might not expect in a theatre of this size. Richard Beecham’s direction is subtle, restrained and sensitive allowing the story, characters and dialogue to breath freely.

Jay Villiers is excellent as the overbearing husband / father, a larger-than-life character who dominates all around him. Geraldine Alexander avoids the pitfalls that often make a heavily accented character unreal and gives a very moving portrayal of a long-suffering ex-refugee besotted with both her son and her unfaithful husband. Sean Power’s American pulp fiction writer has to play differently against both and does so very well. Gethin Anthony captured the combination of youthful enthusiasm and rebellion in the son (though I have my suspicions he’s wearing a dodgy wig!).

Delicate music and slow curtains setting the scene and ending each half created a thoughtful atmosphere and the closing moments as father and son sat playing chess in silence spoke volumes.

This is a lovely little play given a pitch perfect production. Well worth a trip up top Northampton and a welcome contribution to the centenary.

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