Posts Tagged ‘Nick Payne’

Apart from his big hit Constellations, I’ve been less enamoured than most with playwright Nick Payne’s work, and I’ve seen a handful of his plays now. They often seem like snacks rather than a full meal, leaving me feeling hungry on the journey home, as this did. It’s a slight, somewhat insubstantial seventy minutes.

He seems to have a bit of an obsession with the brain. This, like Incognito two years ago, takes it as its theme. This time it’s about Lorna and her brain surgery. Starting and ending after the operation, it explores the impact of her surgery on memory. She’s lost all of the memories of her life with wife Carrie, who is of course devastated by this. The surgeon Miriam warns of the consequences in advance, trying, but not entirely succeeding, to explain the science. That’s about it really.

There’s nothing wrong with Josie Rourke’s staging. Tom Scutt’s setting is elegant and atmospheric. The three fine actresses – Zoe Wanamaker, Barbara Flynn and Nina Sosyana – are all excellent. Sadly, that wasn’t enough for an evening of theatre. I had to eat again when I got home.

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It looks like I’m going to a lone voice again, as I fail to join in the euphoria for this new Nick Payne play. It’s a bit of a Stoppardian affair, both slick and somewhat glib, but unlike Stoppard doesn’t really go anywhere. I left the theatre thinking ‘so what?’

Three narratives interweave – the story of the American pathologist who stole Einstein’s brain in the hope of learning where genius comes from, a man who’s brain is damaged after botched surgery for his epilepsy and a neuroscientist and her relationships and her challenging views on the brain. This latter thread is the weakest.

It’s all very well staged by Joe Murphy in a traverse setting underneath a geometric web of chrome tubes, with a piano at each side. You can’t fault the four actors who play multiple roles, with switches seemingly faster as the pay goes on.

At first I admired the cleverness, the stagecraft and the performances, but I tired of it. It came to seem self-indulgent, an intellectual exercise that exists for itself rather than to illuminate or entertain. In the end, I just didn’t see the point of it. Then again, maybe I’m just thick.

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This takes Kat Banyard’s book Equality Illusion as it’s starting point and it’s title is a swipe at Robin Thicke’s sexist, misogynistic song of the same name. I hadn’t read the book or heard the song, but I’m glad I went to see this.

Eight excellent actresses, including Clare Skinner, Ruth Sheen, Sinead Matthews & Byrony Hannah, perform on an unfeasibly steep and high white staircase. They start by listing stereotypical descriptions of woman that you often hear in the media and move on to show typical scenes of sexism, misogyny and objectification of women in film & TV, advertising, fashion, music…..well, in the modern world really. It’s a smorgasbord of scenes and soundbites which add up to a stimulating, challenging and thought-provoking 75 minutes.

You might have expected it to be preachy or heavy, but it’s entertainingly presented, which makes it all the more powerful. There are some lovely moments which use humour to make a point, and others which have you squirming in disgust. I consider myself a feminist, but even I began to question some of my attitudes. It’s a clever way to present the issues and does so with as much attitude as the attitudes it challenges.

The text is by playwright Nick Payne (a man and a feminist), the design (the scale of which surprises you as soon as you enter The Shed) by Bunny Christie and the inventive staging by Carrie Cracknell. It helps to have such a fine cast (who have also shaped the piece). In adition to the four I’ve already mentioned, there’s Susannah Wise, Lorna Brown, Michaela Coel (who adds her poetry) and Marion Bailey, who’s turn as a male theatre director brings the house down whilst underlining the point brilliantly.

It seems to me this is what The Shed set out to do – present something different and challenging – and it succeeds in doing so.

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A play about the no win-no fee compensation culture has been a long time coming. Playwright Nick Payne’s Constellations was one of the most original plays of recent years and one of last year’s big hits. The Donmar is a great, intimate space for new plays. My expectations were going to be difficult to live up to and so it was. They make the best of the material, but the material isn’t really good enough.

Barry and Andrew are no win-no fee merchants, though there is clear ethical blue water between them. Kevin, an old school chum of Andrew (married to his first lay) lures him into serial fake claims. One target decides to defend which, unusually in these cases, leads them to court. It becomes much more than a claim as the relationship between Barry and Andrew is strained to breaking point and the relationship between Andrew and Kevin’s wife is recalled.

In the first half, we’re in the solicitor’s offices and in (most of) the second half we’re in court – something I wasn’t expecting until I returned to the theatre after the interval to see the extraordinary transformation. The problem is that the issues are touched on but not fully explored, so the play lacks depth. I liked the introduction of personal stories, but again they are glimpses. It was often just too slow. Scott Pask’s designs are superbly realistic, though the configuration of the courtroom means some actors have their backs to you much of the time (a bit like a court, really!).

The performances are uniformly excellent. Daniel Mays & Nigel Lindsay’s characterisations of Andrew & Barry compensate in part for the writing; their relationship evolves satisfyingly. Marc Wootton is brilliant as Kevin, the chancer you love to hate but can’t help loving. Monica Dolan and Peter Forbes make delicious transformations from Kevin’s co-conspirators in the first half to barrister and judge in the second. Niky Wardley brings Kevin’s put-upon pregnant wife to life, complete with courtroom vomiting (!) and Joanna Griffin and Isabella Laughland’s cameos are terrific; the latter so good she gets a round of applause as she leaves the witness-box.

It felt like an unfinished pay to me; edited and rewritten I suspect it would be a much better play. As it is, it’s down to superlative performances to make the evening worthwhile.

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What an intriguing, fascinating and challenging 65 minutes this is. Nick Payne’s play tells the story of a relationship from first meeting at a friends BBQ to its tragic and premature end, but it’s actually relationships plural – happening in parallel universes – I think.

It’s a two-hander performed on a platform with no props. The audience sits on all four sides. The ceiling is obscured by white balloons through which light shines. Most scenes are played out a handful of times, though each one is in some way different, depending on the universe? Somehow it tells a captivating human story / stories. It owes something in structure to Caryl Churchill’s A Number and in production style to Mike Bartlett’s Cock (the play!), but it’s a highly original piece.

It’s great to see actors of the calibre of Sally Hawkins & Rafe Spall rise to such challenging roles in a small intimate space without the aid of set, props or music. These performances are raw and thrilling. Part of me feels privileged to be one of only a few thousand who will see them, but the other part feels sad that they will only be seen by as many people as fill the Olivier on just three nights – not that it would work in the Olivier. Lets see them both in something that would on one of our big stages soon please.

Plays that play with structure are often clever but don’t entertain. I’m not sure I fully understand this one, but it was both stimulating and satisfying.

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I suffer from Wanderlust, so I was expecting a play that examined this very condition. Of course, it’s a play on words which is about lust and how and why people wander. I don’t suffer from that.

At its centre there’s a middle-aged middle-class couple struggling to maintain a healthy sex life. One flirts with and fantasises about an old flame and the other more than flirts with a work colleague. Set against this we have their teenage son’s sexual awakening and experimentation, which proves less trite than you might think. Cue stuff about love versus sex, funny stuff, clumsy stuff, embarrassing stuff but no profound stuff. It’s the charming teenage story which proves to be the heart of the play, though at 80 minutes, a playlet might be more apt description.

There was nothing ground-breaking about the staging or the design and the performances were OK – except the teenagers, James Musgrave and Isabella Laughland, who seemed to find more depth in their characters than the rest and raised the bar acting-wise.

A perfectly acceptable evening, but not one I’ll be talking about next month let alone next year, I’m afraid – and nowhere near as good as playwright Nick Payne’s earlier play ‘If there is, I haven’t found it yet’ at the Bush last year.

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