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Posts Tagged ‘Naomi Frederick’

Eleven years ago I went to see a 17th century play by a Mexican nun as part of the RSC’s Spanish Golden Age season and here I am now seeing a play about that very nun, and a jolly good play it is too.

Based on the life of Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, Helen Edmundson’s play is set at a fascinating time in New Spain (Mexico). The Spanish colonists rule through their Viceroy, but the Roman Catholic church wields as much power in the land through its resident Archbishop. The convents are somewhat more liberal than you might expect, with nuns able to write secular works and employ servants amongst other things. There’s a delicate and complex power balance between Madrid, the Viceroy, the Archbishop and the indigenous people.

A new, more zealous Archbishop arrives and starts to disrupt this balance, questioning Sister Juana’s right to write plays and poetry (even those written in honour of his arrival) and her close friendship with the court, both of which have been tolerated or even encouraged by the local clergy who have ‘gone native’ after many years there. The response starts with book burning as Sister Juana’s confessor, Father Antonio, does the Archbishop’s bidding and the more Machiavellian Bishop Santa Cruz, bitter at having been passed over for promotion, plays a more duplicitous role. There is also an important sub-plot involving the relationship between Sister Juana’s niece Angelica and a member of the court.

It’s an extremely well written play, anchored in a clearly well researched real life but, by necessity I suspect, extrapolated from there. It has great pace in Jonathan Dove’s production, and is often surprisingly funny, without in any way disrespecting its subject. Michael Taylor’s clever but simple design creates a realistic convent with some wrought iron framing, a couple of crests and a lot of books. There’s a trio of musicians led by MD Phil Hopkins playing William Lyons evocative music.

It’s a long way from 1960’s Dagenham to 1760’s Mexico City but Naomi Frederick follows her role in Made in Dagenham with another outstanding characterisation as Sister Juana. Anthony Howell is excellent as the dodgy Bishop, with soliloquies to the audience telling us what he’s really up to. Sophia Nomvete and Gwyneth Keyworth add a delightful light touch as loyal servant Juanita and niece Angelica, and Phil Whitchurch has great presence as the inquisitorial Archbishop.

This new production comes only three years after its RSC première in Stratford. I never saw that so I can make no comparison, but I thoroughly enjoyed this. It seems very much at home at the Globe and it was lovely to see the captivated faces and to hear the whooping, sighs and laughter of the groundlings, particularly young and largely female on this occasion.

Another fine new play at Shakespeare’s Globe.

 

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Like Billy Elliott before it, they’ve taken a great British feel-good film and made it into an even better musical. Though the lyricist has written musicals before, the book writer and composer haven’t, which makes the achievement hugely impressive.

Of course, it’s the true story of the Ford Dagenham sewing machinists who took on the multinational, the UK government and their male colleagues over equal pay. It was a landmark in equal opportunity, with the Equal Pay Act following two years later. Many would argue that we still haven’t got true equality today, but the Ford women’s strike was the first big step on the journey. The triumph here is that they respect the true story, which is both stirring and moving, whilst injecting it with boundless energy and humour. Richard Bean’s first musical book is as funny as his plays and it propels the story well, Richard Thomas has produced lyrics that are sharp, witty, naughty and sometimes just a little bit shocking and David Arnold has come up with some great songs – some funny, some moving – and rousing choruses. Bunny Christie’s design seems to be inspired by a model aircraft kit and transforms into a busy factory floor, machine room, family home, hospital ward, Westminster office and the TUC conference in Eastbourne! The costumes are retro joy – the multi-coloured world of the swinging sixties. It’s all pulled together by director Rupert Goold with his usual inventiveness and pizzazz.

Gemma Arterton is very impressive and sweet voiced in her first musical role as Rita. It’s wonderful to see Adrian der Gregorian centre stage in the West End at last and he’s great as Rita’s husband Eddie. There are so many other excellent performances, but I have to single out Sophie Stanton, whose performance as foul-mouthed Beryl continually brings the house down, Sophie-Louise Dann who is a terrific Barbara Castle, Mark Hadfield’s hilarious Harold Wilson (though he needs to do a bit more work on the accent) and Naomi Fredericks, who has to play serious amidst all the hilarity and pulls it off brilliantly. Steve Furst plays Tooley, the American sent in the sort out the Brits, with great brash panache and there’s an excellent cameo from Scott Garnham launching the new Cortina in song with dancing girls.

There was a great buzz in the full house and a spontaneous standing ovation. The show again proves that our social history can be staged as entertainment whilst respecting the events and characters portrayed. We don’t yet know what the Dagenham ladies think, but my guess is they’ll think it as much fun as the rest of last Thursday’s audience. It’s only halfway through previews but its already in great shape and any lover of musical theatre will book now while they can. I’m certainly going back!

 

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I’ve been underwhelmed by director Brian Sheibani’s previous NT work, but this 5th offering does impress. It’s also a lot more impressive than From Morning to Midnight, the other early 20th century German play next door in The Lyttleton, in what appears to be the NT’s teutonic Christmas.

I hadn’t read Erich Kastner’s book as a child, but it seems a lot like the ones I did read – Enid Blyton’s Famous Five & Secret Seven series in particular. Emil heads for Berlin by train, on his own, to stay with Grandma and his cousin, but gets robbed en route and gets off at the wrong stop. He befriends a ragbag of local kids, self-appointed detectives, who encouarge and help him to find the culprit Mr Snow, who had shared Emil’s train carriage. I liked the focus and economy of Carl Miller’s adaptation.

It’s a jolly good yarn and it’s given a superb period Berlin setting (think Fritz Lang’s Metropolis) by Bunny Christie It’s an uncluttered black-and-white design with a few lamposts and manholes , the odd room set and excellent projections. The space is needed for a vast cast of 14 adults, 10 children and c.50 extras, which is the strength of the show – lots of energy and enthusiasm and some simply terrific performances from the child leads, wonderfuly suported by the adults, particularly Naomi Frederick as Emil’s mum, Tamzin Griffin as the local gossip and Ella Kenion & Judy Flynn in multiple roles.

The Olivier stage is used very effectively, they spill out into the auditorium during a chase and we all end up as honorary detectives, urged to stand up for justice. It’s got a nostalgic appeal to adults, adventurous appeal to children and a refreshing morality and humanity which I have to confess brought a tear to my eye. 

Not up there with the iconic NT Christmas shows like War Horse and Coram Boy, but a treat nonetheless.

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I’ve come late to this, first because if indecision (I like it, but do I want to see it again?) and then because of a cancelled performance, so you’d be forgiven if you’re by now not really interested in my view!

What struck me most about this superbly cast revival was how contemporary the play is – and always will be I suspect. A play written almost 70 years ago based on a true story some 30 years before is a completely relevant and up-to-date debate about human rights. As John Morrison points out in his excellent programme essay, it serves the same purpose as today’s tribunal and verbatim plays.

Young Winslow is a navy cadet expelled for stealing a postal order (remember them?). His father decides to clear his name at all costs. In the first act, the facts of the case itself are examined; in the second – ending in a brilliant mock interrogation which brings spontaneous applause – they decide how to proceed; in the third the real costs of fighting the case are revealed and in the fourth act we learn the outcome. We even get a topical (for the early 20th century) sub-plot about the suffragettes. It’s a perfectly formed play which holds you from beginning to end. It might sound dry, but it’s often funny, sometimes moving and a perfect balance between thought-provoking and entertaining.

You can’t help reflecting on the present debate about whether human rights have gone too far, recent responses to terrorism which fly in the face of these rights and the lengths people have to go to – and the price they have to pay – for justice and truth. We even get a bang-up-to-date snipe at the press. At one point a guilty personal reflection of an occasion where I tried to talk a friend out of pursuing fairness for pragmatic reasons popped into my head and at another point a professional reflection of a case where human rights had gone too far came back.

This is all beautifully staged by Lindsay Posner in a period perfect Edwardian drawing-room designed by Peter McKintosh. Henry Goodman was made for the part of the indignant, determined father and Deborah Finday is superb as his somewhat fluffier wife. Naomi Frederick perfectly captures the feistiness of suffragette daughter Catherine, Nick Hendrix brilliantly conveys son Dickie’s loyal but superficial attitude, and Charlie Rowe is hugely impressive as the Winslow boy himself. Add to this Peter Sullivan’s terrific barrister, with a professional exterior hiding a passion for justice, Richard Teverson’s pitch-perfect stiff upper lipness, Jay Villiers lovable love-struck Desmond and Wendy Nottingham’s delightful maid and you really do have a crack cast.

So glad I did go after all. You have 4.5 more weeks to see why.

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