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Posts Tagged ‘Nicholas Hytner’

A hit new play at the Bridge Theatre? I’d say so. A proper play, too. Remember those? Stories, plots, characters. Something that takes you on an enjoyable journey to somewhere. It’s a stage adaptation of Harriett Lane’s novel by playwright Lucinda Coxon, and jolly good it is too.

Frances works for the arts supplement of a Sunday paper, specifically the Books section. She’s very put upon – fetching coffee, fixing couriers – someone always in the background. Returning home from Christmas with her family, she witnesses a fatal car accident, the last person to speak to its victim Alys, whose family ask the police if they can meet her. She declines at first, but when she discovers Alys’s husband is famous author Laurence Kyte, she changes her mind.

Frances’ boss Mary is surprised to bump into her at Alys’ memorial service where she is seen speaking to her family, as a result of which her currency at work rises sharply, and she gets books to review and functions to attend. At the same time, she inveigles herself into the Kyte family, at first as a confidante for Alys’ daughter Polly, but becoming much more. Underneath the cloak of invisibility lurks a rather cunning, determined, intelligent and somewhat manipulative person, who creates a future for herself and cleverly navigates the journey towards it.

Nicholas Hytner’s staging is very well paced, drawing you in and keeping you engaged with Frances’ story. Bob Crowley’s design, with video projections by Luke Halls, allows the action to move swiftly and fluidly from offices to rooms and gardens in a handful of locations. I thought Joanne Froggatt perfectly captured the seemingly unobtrusive Frances, revealing what’s really going on in her head by a subtle glance or a hint of a smile. The supporting cast are first class, with Sylvestra Le Touzel giving another of her nuanced performances as Mary, then turning up virtually unrecognisable as Audrey.

Five week run? I smell a transfer for this thoroughly entertaining tale.

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Alan Bennett’s last play, People, at the NT six years ago, was about the heritage ‘industry’. It tried to cover so many issues that it lost focus and proved a bit of a disappointment. He covers a lot of ground here too, but it’s more cohesive, a homage to the NHS with a swipe at the decline in our sense of social responsibility for good measure.

We’re in a Yorkshire general hospital, led by trust chairman and former Mayor Slater, that’s facing closure. They’re campaigning against it, and in the geriatric ward they’ve set up a choir as part of the campaign. There’s an omnipresent film documentary team, which Slater hopes will aid their campaign. Dr Valentine (anglicisation of his real name) is a caring doctor with a gentle bedside manner and genuine affection for his geriatric patients, but he’s facing deportation. Sister Gilcrest is old school, obsessed with continence and cleanliness. Nurse Pinkney is more focused on contentment and happiness. The real interest of Salter is his own career. Amongst the visitors, patient Mrs Maudsley’s family are predatory fortune hunters and coal-miner Joe’s son Colin is up from London, exorcising his fraught relationship with his dad; he’s a Management Consultant advising the Health Minister, an architect of closure plans. Just before the interval it takes a sinister turn.

Bennett’s acute observation of people shines again with finely drawn characterisations, delicious turns of phrase and a very clever unfolding narrative. I couldn’t stop smiling at the new ward names, changed at the suggestion of the minister. The twelve geriatric patients each have lovely back stories, which they share with us between songs. Our attitudes to the old, patient abuse, bed blocking and the obsession with targets, specialisation, outsourcing and privatisation are all covered. Of course, its very funny, but its also poignant and bang on target much of the time. Valentine’s final words direct to the audience pierced my heart.

The twelve patients are a delight, veteran thespians relishing such great writing. Deborah Findlay is brilliant as the cold but seemingly loyal, hard-working ward sister who becomes positively chilling. Sacha Dhawan has genuine warmth and empathy as Valentine. Samuel Barnett’s character Colin is rather unsympathetic, but he spars with Jeff Rawle’s brittle dad and both do eventually melt. There’s a lovely cameo from David Moorst as work experience affable Andy, who also turns unexpectedly. Peter Forbes makes a great job of the pompous self regarding Salter. Director Nicholas Hytner and designer Bob Crowley have worked with Bennett a lot, and they continue to serve his plays well.

I think the play divides people in many ways, with older audience members, NHS advocates and lefties the most positive. I loved it!

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I’ve lost track of the number of productions of this play I’ve seen. In the last five years alone there’s been the RSC’s African one, Dominic Dromgoole’s ‘inside and out’ at both The Globe and the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, the Donmar’s all-female prison setting and the RSC’s classical take earlier this month. Could the new Bridge Theatre add anything? Well, as it turns out, it does. It proves to be a very versatile space, transforming into a sort of indoor Globe, without the restriction of a stage and with a very flexible floor which solves sight line issues for smaller promenaders!

Nicholas Hytner’s production is very raucous, at times feeling like live news unfolding. There’s live heavy rock as you enter, the promenade audience swaying and swelling as the start time approaches. As the band leave, the crowd swells again, this time with Romans cheering the return of their new hero Julius Caesar. The staging is particularly effective with crowd and battle scenes, with the audience expertly marshalled, acting as extras, but the more intimate conspiratorial scenes work well too, making you feel like you’re eves-dropping on the conversations. One of the most striking things about it is how the verse feels totally naturalistic and contemporary. I felt that I absorbed more than ever, and like the RCS’s a few weeks ago, the contemporary parallels are extraordinary, without being heavy-handed or loaded with gimmicks.

Cassius and Casca are women, with Michelle Fairley giving a particularly fine performance as the former. Ben Wishaw’s intelligent characterisation of Brutus is introspective but with steely determination. David Morrisey commands the space as Mark Anthony, putting on the swagger before the play even starts. David Calder is a more complex Caesar, enjoying the adulation yet somehow uncomfortable with all its trappings. Luxury casting indeed.

My only gripe was the distraction and disrespect of people coming and going from the pit, with ushers talking to them as they did. They need to be firm about no re-entry, which could be helped by ceasing to sell drink in the space, which no doubt contributes to their need to leave during the unbroken two hours!

An unmissable Julius Caesar for our times.

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What better way to launch London’s newest theatre than to reunite the creative team behind London’s biggest recent comedy hit, One Man, Two Guvnors, and it’s great to report that both the theatre and the show are a big success.

Richard Bean & Clive Coleman’s play tells the true story of Karl Marx’s period of exile in London, whilst he writes his definitive work, Das Kapital. He’s living in Soho with his wife Jenny, children Qui Qui and Fawksy and their housekeeper Nym (all nicknames). They are spied on by the Prussians and their Communist League is watched over by the British authorities too. Good friend and benefactor Friedrich Engels pays regular visits from Manchester, where he’s a cotton baron, but a secret commie. They are broke, so the police, pawnbrokers and bailiffs all make appearances. Everyone indulges Marx, until he crosses a line which threatens to turn them all away.

Though it’s historically true, it’s often very funny, occasionally farcical and always entertaining. There’s a delicious running joke about the early days of the police and Charles Darwin turns up in a delightful cameo. It’s surprising how the political views still sound fresh; you could hear them being spoken today by left-wing politicians, and increasingly by disaffected ordinary people – like me! Designer Mark Thompson has built a revolving structure which becomes the Marx living room, a pub where the league meets, a pawnbrokers, the British Library Reading Room, the outside of a church and Hampstead Heath! Nicholas Hytner’s production has great pace, but it’s never rushed. It takes an unexpected dark turn, and ends more gently and thoughtfully.

Rory Kinnear’s performance as Marx is very athletic, with great comic timing. At one point, from my front row seat, I feared for his safety. Nancy Carroll is superb as Jenny, loyalty tested at every turn. Oliver Chris continues to impress, this time as Engels, with great chemistry with Kinnear’s Marx. The ever wonderful Laura Elphinstone is excellent as Nym. In the supporting cast, Eben Figueiredo, Miltos Yerolemou and Tony Jayawardena all shine as Konrad Schramm, Emmanuel Barthelemy and ‘Doc’ Schmidt respectively.

A lovely evening to welcome a new theatre and the return of a great contemporary playwright. With this, Ink, Oslo, Labour of Love and Albion, we’re on a real new writing roll in London.

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I blow a bit hot and cold with Tom Stoppard. At his best, his intellectual jigsaw puzzles sparkle and thrill like fireworks, but they can sometimes be damp squibs too. I’ve actually enjoyed his most recent work – the Coast of Utopia trilogy & Rock & Roll – more than the clever clogs stuff like Jumpers and Travesties, but I’m afraid this is a huge disappointment, devoid of any emotional engagement and, well, rather dull.

I thought reading the programme in advance might help, but it made my brain hurt before I’d even taken my seat. It’s familiar philosophical / scientific territory, this time the brain and consciousness. Psychology graduate Hilary gets to work at a world famous brain science institute which is funded by financier Jerry Krohl for ethically dubious reasons. The intellectual debate is between her and her teacher / lover Spike, competing scientist Amal, the institute’s senior researcher Leo and Krohl himself. There are three strands, as there is a somewhat contrived personal story and a mere brush with the world of finance as well as the core scientific debate, but they don’t combine to produce anything with enough substance.

Designer Bob Crowley’s creativity (and budget!) has gone on a brilliant light installation high above the action, which provides a nice distraction during the over-long and fairly frequent scene changes, but leaves the stage looking sparse during performance. There’s nothing wrong with the performances – the actors do the best they can with somewhat flimsy characterisations. It all seemed a bit half-hearted to me.

Perhaps it would have been better if Stoppard retired with the already impressive body of work he has behind him. My playwriting hero Arthur Miller endangered his legacy with weak late plays like Resurrection Blues and Mr Peter’s Connections and for me Stoppard is in danger of doing the same.

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We don’t have a free press (all of its owners peddle their particular prejudices) but we do have a free theatre, and I think it’s great that days after the end of the obscenely expensive but useless hacking trial, our National Theatre can stage a comprehensive satirical review of what is after all a real life farce. As it turns out, it’s hugely entertaining, though also sometimes uncomfortable and occasionally chilling.

Paige Britain is the news editor of The Free Press. Her boss, an excellent Robert Glenister, is a loud mouthed crude bullying editor prone to regularly naming one member of staff ‘C**t of the Month’ with the award inscribed in black felt tip pen on their forehead. The proprietor, the equally excellent Dermot Crowley, is an Irish media baron. The Free Press is well and truly in the gutter and sinks deeper as the play progresses and phone hacking becomes their new favourite research method. They collude with the police and, to a lesser extent, politicians (who come off a little lightly). The course of events bear a striking resemblance to actual events. It’s packed full of cracking dialogue and jokes, and Nichlolas Hytner’s production zips along at a formidable pace, but it still leaves you feeling you are complicit by buying these odious rags (well, not me, obviously).

Set in the newsroom, with sliding video screens giving us front pages, TV news, select committees and other recorded scenes, it’s very slickly staged and so packed with detail you struggle to take it all in. Tim Hatley’s design facilitates the extraordinary pace. In only her fourth stage appearance, Billy Piper is sensational as Paige; you completely believe in her as an ambitious manipulative woman without an iota of principles. Richard Bean has bravely written the Met Commissioner as a recent politically correct appointment – an openly gay Asian – and Aaron Neil almost steals the show with his deadpan delivery and impeccable timing. There are too many other good performances to mention in a superb ensemble. No-one is free from ridicule, with snipes at The Guardian & The Independent as well as the tabloids.

It’s thrilling to see something so current, relevant and important on the stage, made more exciting by being announced just days before its opening and days after the trial ended, without previews and no time to create programmes. This is one of the best things on the National stage in recent years. Unmissable.

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Perhaps I should start with the two reasons why you should see this show, because you should. This is Rosalie Craig’s big moment and she rises to it in every respect; her performance as Althea is stunning. The imagination of director Marianne Elliott and designer Rae Smith have run wild; it’s a visual feast – clever, colourful and often captivating.

To say ‘suggested by’ a story by George MacDonald is a bit disingenuous – ‘based on’ or ‘adapted from’ might be a fairer way to recognise the origin of Samuel Adamson & Tori Amos’ musical adult fairytale. In this case ‘light’ means floating rather than illuminating as Althea doesn’t do gravity. Though occasionally on wires, this is mostly created by ‘acrobats’ who move her around in a way that is simply extraordinary.

There is animosity between the two kingdoms (a wilderness divides them), both with widowed kings, one with the light princess and her brother (who dies early on) and the other with two princes. This eventually leads to war, but it’s a fairytale, so it all ends happily, with some right-on environmental stuff and some tongue-in-cheek feminism thrown in for good measure. There’s actually nothing wrong with this adult fairytale, except it’s length and unevenness.

The glorious moments sit alongside some very dull ones, which a judicious scissors would have dealt with and turned it into a much better show. There’s too much of everything really – too much story, too much music (particularly sung dialogue) and too much gratuitous spectacle. Despite this, from the whistle-stop but overlong prologue, it still seems rushed. The score is as uneven as the book. There are some nice songs hiding inside some dull recitative; it’s almost sung-through in that irritating ‘pop opera’ style.

This was the last preview, so it’s too late to change it now. This is deeply frustrating, as it’s fresh and original and has much going for it. If only Mr Hytner had given them more of those notes we’ve been told about, it could have been great rather than just good.

 

 

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