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Posts Tagged ‘Niamh Cusack’

It seems to me that adapting Elena Ferrante’s four Neapolitan novels for the stage is hugely ambitious, not that I’ve read them, and though there’s much to enjoy in Melly Stills’ terrific production of April De Angelis’ adaptation, it didn’t quite come off for me.

It has an epic span of sixty years, with forty-six characters, combining the personal story of two women with the concurrent history of a city and the socio-political history of a country. Lenu and Lila are working class Naples girls, who we first meet when they are eight as they become best friends. Their lives diverge when Lila’s very traditional parents force her to leave school, whilst Lenu continues at school, then becomes one of the first in their neighbourhood to go to University.

Lenu moves into academia and becomes a writer, marries a professor, moves to Florence and has two children, but struggles to remain a successful author. Feisty Lila is much more of a rebel and leaves her marriage to ‘the boy next door’, a puppet of gangsters, for a rather wild life that starts with factory work but leads her to fighting for workers and women’s rights and brushes with terrorists and gangsters before she marries a local boy again and sets up a business. Their lives converge again when Lenu leaves her husband for a old flame, returning to Naples.

They’ve captured the edginess of Naples very well and Soutra Gilmor’s set of four movable steps with projections, shadows and silhouettes is impressionistic and very evocative. There’s so much story that it is inevitably episodic, but the staging is very inventive, using every trick in the book, including puppetry and stylised movement; the fights, riots, killings and an earthquake (!) are particularly well staged, some gruesomely. You have to keep your wits about you to keep up, though, as it occasionally fails to signpost something that can derail you. An excellent cast of twenty-three actors play all forty-six roles, led by Niamh Cusack as Lenu and Catherine McCormack as Lila.

I admired the production and performances more than I liked the storytelling. I’m not sure they could have done a better job, except perhaps lengthening it and turning it from two parts into three. I’m glad I went, though. I admired the ambition and the inventiveness.

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I’ve got a soft spot for this late Shakespeare play. How can you not like something with a man-eating bear, Time as a character to explain the passing of sixteen years between acts, a sheep-shearing festival with a dance of satyrs and a statue that comes alive! This production in the candlelit Sam Wanamaker is the finest I’ve ever seen.

It’s got a very dark beginning, with the king’s rampant suspicion and unfounded jealousy leading to deaths of the queen and the young prince and the abandonment of a baby princess. When the oracle declares the queen innocent, the king is initially unrepentant, but later becomes wracked with guilt. Meanwhile in Bohemia, the prince has fled and hooked up with a shepherd’s daughter but get’s found out at the aforementioned sheep-shearing festival. The progress from here to the happy ending is a joy.

Like Cymbeline a couple of weeks ago the play, also written for an indoor playhouse, fits this one like a glove. Again, it had few props but gorgeous costumes from Richard Kent and some particularly original and quirky choreography from Fleur Darkin.

John Light is a terrific Leontes and Rachael Stirling is great as Hermoine. I very much liked Niamh Cusak as Paulina and there was a superb comic turn from James Garnon as Autolycus. Luxury casting in the smaller parts too, with David Yelland particularly good as Antigonus and Fergal McElherron likewise as Camillo. Director Michael Longhurst has assembled an outstanding ensemble.

This late play season at the SWP is turning into a real treat. Bring on The Tempest!

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I wasn’t at all convinced that staging Mark Haddon’s iconic book was wise, but I was wrong. For once, it was just like it was in my head when I read it. Playwright / adapter Simon Stephens appears to have been successful by not messing with it!

In case you didn’t know, it’s the story of teenage Christopher, brilliant but challenged by being in a world of his own because of asperger’s syndrome. He decides to investigate the death of his neighbour’s dog, which leads him to some revelations closer to home and a solo adventure from Swindon to London to find his mother. It’s the strain on his parents, struggling to cope with their son, that is at the heart of the play, but Christopher is its focal point.

Luke Treadaway gives an extraordinary performance as Christopher, on stage for the whole 2hrs 45mins with the audience unable to take their eyes off him. He inhabits Christopher and you do all the things he can’t – laugh, smile and cry. At times, you just want to give him a hug, but if you could, it would be the worst thing you could do. It’s hard to play against this, but Paul Ritter and Nicola Walker as his parents do so so well, you want to get up out of your seat and help and console them.

Marianne Elliott’s production is staged in a rectangular ‘bear pit’ with three entrances that illuminates, with projections (Finn Ross) onto it, including the mathematic formulae which Christopher is so brilliant at (designer Bunny Christie). Those Frantic Assembly boys Scott Graham & Steven Hoggett have provided brilliant choreography / movement which proves so crucial to the flow of the story. Naimh Cusack is lovely as Christopher’s teacher, also part narrator. Five other actors play the remaining 36 roles! There’s lots of quirkiness, including direct references to the fact this is a play, which is completely in  tune with the story.

I loved the book and I loved the play. Maybe it was good that many years have passed between reading and watching, but nothing can take away the fact that this is a compelling and funny, yet ultimately deeply moving show. Unmissable, whether you’ve read the book or not.

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