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Posts Tagged ‘Nicholas Woodeson’

Though it’s still set in the 50’s, but relocated to the US, the moral message of Tony Kushner’s adaptation of Swiss playwright Friedrich Durrenmatt’s play seem very now. Though it’s a long evening, I really enjoyed it.

The North Eastern US town of Slurry is down on its luck. Factories have closed, jobs are hard to get and no-one has money to spend, but the world’s richest woman, Claire Zachanassian, is about to return home, and expectations are high. She has a track record of philanthropy, traveling the world scattering money as she goes. She also seems to collects husbands along the way. Trains no longer stop at Slurry, but she makes sure hers does.

It isn’t long before she offers an extraordinary sum – one billion dollars – to the town and its people, but there are conditions. People start spending, running up credit with willing retailers, and the town makes expensive plans. There’s a sense of anticipation, even though the price would be very high indeed, particularly for her old flame Alfred. Finally a meeting is called where the residents will vote on whether to accept the money, and therefore accept and implement her demands. Claire looks on, in control, vengeance on her mind.

Director Jeremy Herrin has resources only the NT could provide – a cast of twenty-eight, five musicians, a choir, children and supernumeraries. Designer Vicki Mortimer conjures up a railway station, town hall, shops, homes and a forest, with excellent period costumes by Moritz Junge and superb lighting from Paule Constable. Paul Englishby’s jazz infused score adds much to the period feel and atmosphere.

Hugo Weaving is superb as Alfred, with a huge physical presence and a pitch perfect vocal tone and accent. Lesley Manville plays Claire brilliantly, ice cool, determined, vindictive and unforgiving. They are surrounded by a terrific ensemble that includes luxury casting like Nicholas Woodeson as the Mayor, Sara Kestelman as the school principal and Joseph Mydell as the church minister.

They seem to have cut it considerably during previews, but it’s still too long at 3.5 hours, albeit with two intervals. That said, it’s a wonderful production which in my view has to be seen. The story of a town that sells its soul to the devil in a Faustian pact with the richest woman in the world proves timeless. As it is, was and forever will be, there’s nothing people won’t do for money.

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I wasn’t convinced I wanted to see this film adapted for the stage, despite the fact a favourite playwright of mine, Mike Bartlett, adapted it, so I was late booking and ended up at the last performance before its transfer to the West End. Ten minutes in, I thought I’d been right all along – there was so much going on it felt like a bit of a mess. It takes a while to get into the pace and rhythm of this piece, but when you do there’s much to enjoy.

Miriam Buether gives us another of her extraordinary design transformations. Hampstead Theatre becomes a stadium with a race track around the lower level, behind the audience – rather like the original production of Starlight Express but without the budget (or the roller skates). Scott Ambler’s choreography is brilliant and Edward Hall’s staging manages to make both the epic and intimate moments work; the personal stories of Abrahams and Liddell both come through well and the race scenes take your breath away. The music is an effective combination of Vangelis’ iconic soundtrack and Gilbert & Sullivan with a tear-jerking finale of Jerusalem. It’s patriotic & sentimental, but hey who cares, it’s the London Olympics in a minute, this is great timing and we’re entitled!

The young cast of athletic actors, excellently led by James McArdle as Abrahams and Jack Lowden as Liddell, is outstanding, and there are lovely cameos from oldies Nicholas Woodeson as Abrahams’ coach, Nickolas Grace as the Master of Trinity & the Duke of Sutherland, Simon Williams the Master of Caius & Lord Birkenhead and Simon Slater in four roles (and as MD!). Tam Williams also stands out as Andrew, Lord Lindsay.

I’m glad I saw it at Hampstead pre-transfer and I’m glad I sat in the second level; I’m not sure how its going to work in the much bigger space of the Gielgud.

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This is like looking at a 30’s Hollywood movie in 3D on a giant screen. The period detail is extraordinary. Unfortunately, in the first half at least, it’s a B movie without much of a story, a poor screenplay and three exaggerated central performances. It is fatally slow and even though it picks up after the interval, it’s too late to recover.

Having a dentist as your central character may be original but is hardly an enticing prospect (unless he is a sadomasochistic dentist like in Little Shop of Horrors, of course). This one’s a real wimp, with a nagging neglected wife, a manipulative father-in-law as benefactor and a tenant dentist who gets away with rent default. There’s another health practitioner in the building (I didn’t quite get his specialty, but it might be something to do with feet) and another neighbour with a fine selection of sharp ties. It’s an offstage character who might provide the clue to why the NT decided to stage this – a certain Mrs Hytner!

The dentist falls for his assistant, as does his father-in-law and the neighbour with sharp ties. His wife is prepared to forgive and forget. The father-in-law wants to  marry her. The neighbour wants a less committed but equally close relationship. The dentist is a wimp…..

I really was puzzled why Joseph Millson, Keeley Hawes and Jessica Raine over-acted. This makes it easy for Nicholas Woodeson to steal the show when he comes on and lights up the stage, though to be fair Peter Sullivan, Sebastian Armesto and Tim Steed do well bringing life to their supporting characters. Anthony Ward’s design is lovely, though so huge the characters do seem a bit lost.

I recall finding it a good play when I saw it forever ago in the West End, so I kept wondering if it was indeed a better play than this production revealed. Director Angus Jackson has form as a plodder (Desperately Seeking Susan – the case for the prosecution rests); perhaps a director with more experience of the great 20th Century American dramatists (not that Clifford – a name subsequently requisitioned forever by Victoria Wood for the classic Acorn Antiques – Odets is one) like Howard Davies might have made more of it.

Today’s word is ‘indifference’……

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