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Posts Tagged ‘Natalie Abrahami’

This is the second show in three days which I experienced through headphones – you should definitely try the other one! https://danteordie.com/user-not-found – but they couldn’t be further apart. This one is a cold war thriller created by playwright Ella Hickson and sound magicians Ben & Max Ringham, and the form is they key to its success.

We look through glass into Hans & Anna’s East German apartment. They are hosting a party to celebrate Hans’ promotion, which his co-workers are all attending. Through our headphones we hear Anna (a fine performance from Phoebe Fox) and anything in close proximity – someone else speaking, water running, a cigarette lighting. Everything else is seen but not necessarily heard. The story that unfolds in just 65 minutes has many twists and turns and no-one is who they seem.

The effect of the glass and headphones is to add a layer of intrigue and increase the intensity of concentration; I wasn’t distracted at all throughout it, and I’m very easily distracted! It’s impossible to say more without spoiling it. Vicki Mortimer’s design, with an extraordinary attention to detail, is evocative of the place and the period, with Jon Clark’s lighting playing an important part and Ben & Max Ringham’s sound design absolutely crucial to the piece.

It’s a short evening, but its an original and very clever one, well staged by Natalie Abrahami.

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When I paired this with Me & My Girl for a day trip to Chichester, with this following the musical, I hadn’t really thought about the effect of the contrast. We were still on a high when this much more restrained piece started, and though it did affect our response, Charlotte Jones’ play still proved to be very original and thought-provoking.

It’s set in a Sussex Quaker community at the beginning of the 19th century. Britain is at war, threatened by invasion on this coast, gung-ho patriotism rife. This pacifist community are best keeping themselves to themselves, but one of their number, Rachel, wanders towards and into the town, and on one trip comes across young military man Nathaniel, who shares a name with the three children she has lost and who are buried nearby. Her husband Adam desperately needs an apprentice, so she takes him home, disposing of his uniform as she does.

Nathanial poses as a Quaker to integrate into the community, but his arrival makes waves and challenges many of their values – peace, honesty, equality and non-aggression. Rachel’s deaf but highly intuitive mother Alice is the only one who seems to grasp the profound effect his arrival has had. When all is revealed, the community has to work hard to regroup and recover.

Vicki Mortimer’s highly original, subdued design seems reflective of both the setting and the community – grey stones, light wood furniture and grey cream and brown costumes. A series of short scenes, perhaps too many and too short, propels us quickly through the story in director Natalie Abrahami’s sensitive staging. Lydia Leonard is superb as Rachel, with Gerald Kyd as Adam and Laurie Davidson as Nathaniel excellent as the two men in her life. Jean St Clair communicates brilliantly without speech. I very much liked Olivia Darnley’s characterisation of neighbour Biddy, a character low in emotional intelligence.

The juxtaposition with a feel-good musical probably meant we didn’t do it justice, but I’m glad I saw such a quality play and quality production nevertheless.

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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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I only know American playwright Arthur Kopit’s work for musical theatre – books for Nine, High Society and Phantom (the other one!). This 1978 stage play started on the radio and it seems to me that it was way ahead of its time; a complex examination of the effect of a stroke.

Our protagonist is aviator and wing-walker Emily Stilson, who suffers a stroke. We see her struggling to come to terms with her condition, but we’re seeing it from her perspective – the confusion and intense frustration, like being inside a nightmare. In hospital, we witness medical examinations and therapies, most notably for speech, though some of what we see are memories, often jumbled up. It really is an insight into brain damage and in particular aphasia. It’s only 75 minutes long but I’m not sure I could have taken more as it is a bit relentless.

Kopit’s notes and stage directions are very comprehensive, and director Natalie Abrahami seems to have respected these, but at the same time created an inventive staging. There’s a simple moving platform with moving translucent curtains, but most important of all, inspired by her career, is that Juliet Stevenson spends almost the entire play ‘flying’, only occasionally touching the ground. It’s a brave, virtuoso performance by a fine actress. One of the consequences, though, is that everyone else seemed like a mere ‘extra’.

It hasn’t been seen here for over thirty years, and I’m glad I caught it. It is insightful, and it’s superbly staged, but I didn’t find it wholly satisfying and rather depressing. Perhaps it was too close to home.

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I’ve been a fan of Eugene O’Neill for a very long time, but I don’t recall a production of this play in London, which is rather baffling as it shows another side of O’Neill and is really rather good. It comes two-thirds through his playwriting career, but it’s much lighter than Morning Becomes Elektra and The Iceman Cometh, the plays immediately before and after respectively. I’m not sure I’d call it a comedy, as many seem to, but it does have plenty of funny moments – and a lot of fireworks; literally rather than metaphorically.

The story takes place on Independence Day and revolves around Richard, the Miller’s teenage middle son, and is really a coming of age tale. He’s a bright, very well read boy whose version of adolescence is at the intense, existentialist end of the spectrum. He’s in love with neighbour Muriel and walks around quoting literature, some considered so inappropriate that her dad David seeks to drive a wedge between them. His elder brother Arthur (Arthur Miller!) leads him astray and then abandons him at a bar frequented by prostitutes. When Richard comes home drunk, it challenges his otherwise tolerant parents. There’s a sub-plot involving the relationship between Richard’s paternal Auntie Lily and maternal Uncle Sid, which is deadlocked by the latter’s liking of a drink.

In Natalie Abrahami’s production, O’Neill himself is an ever present ghost, often mouthing the dialogue he wrote and perhaps emphasising that the play may be autobiographical. Dick Bird’s extraordinary design has sand pouring out of the waterfront house, with a bit if a coup d’theatre as water flows later. George Mackay is hugely impressive as Richard, capturing the the full range of teenage emotions. Janine Dee shows her versatility yet again as mum Essie Miller, and I was impressed by Martin Marquez (John’s lesser known brother) as dad Nat Miller. Dominic Rowan is very believable as a drunk and David Annen is excellent as the omnipresent playwright, neighbour David and bar tender George.

It took a while to take off, but I fell in love with it nonetheless. The Young Vic proving to be indispensable yet again.

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This was the first Beckett play I ever saw; 35 years ago, before I left Bristol for London. I’ve seen it three times since (including this one) but it’s one of those plays where your first time will probably never be repeated. A tour de force for an actress – for me June Barrie, Rosaleen Linehan, Fiona Shaw & now Juliet Stevenson – it’s still, somewhat astonishingly, more radical than anything else current.

Winnie spends the first act buried up to her waist and the second up to her neck. In previous productions, it has been a free-standing mound; in Vicki Mortimer’s striking design there is a cliff behind and an occasional light avalanche of scree. It glistens a little like gold in the bright lighting. Though we also see and hear Winnie’s husband Willie occasionally, it’s a virtual monologue as she empties her handbag and obsessively lays out its contents, including a gun, in front of her. The dialogue seems pointless, with more than a touch of sexual innuendo, though nothing is ever pointless in Beckett, just obtuse.

In this production, the contrast between the light(ish) first act and the somewhat bleak second act is greater than I remember. Winnie seemed louder and more shrill, particularly when she is barking instructions at Willie. The infamous bell has become a loud buzz. They stay frozen in character at the end as the audience applaud, presumably until we’ve all left the auditorium. This is my first exposure to director Natalie Abrahami and she makes as much impact as her former Gate colleague Carrie Cracknell did with A Dool’s House here last year.

It probably isn’t the best I’ve seen, but it’s great to see it one more time and Juliet Stevenson makes the role her own. David Beames has to take a back seat, well hole, until his big moment in the light, dressed to kill as it were, or as it maybe, at the end.

Still ground-breaking after all these years.

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