Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Nick Sampson’

David Hare’s new play is about an art form I love and institution I loathe. The birth of Glyndeborne. It does come after a 26 day theatrical famine and a 36 day absence from London theatre, so perhaps that helped me enjoy it despite that – oh, and a brilliant performance from Roger Allam.

John Christie was clearly a true British eccentric. His plan for a 300-seat opera house on his Sussex country estate was more than a bit bonkers. When you add that he wanted it to stage Wagner, apparently with a full cast but only a string quartet and organ, even more insane. He persuaded two German pre-war exiles (though one was actually of Irish and Polish descent) and an Austrian to fulfil his ambition, though they persuaded him to start more modestly and appropriately with Mozart and to hand over much control (on condition his wife Audrey, the moderate soprano of the title, played Susanna in Figaro). Audrey was very much his muse, his visionary partner and his moderator.

It’s good subject matter, but Hare has focused so much on the role of Christie, who has all the best lines, that it comes out imbalanced, with other characters much less well developed. In the middle of a series of short scenes over just 100 minutes, there is a much longer central scene where the German’s provide background to their exile. Despite the importance of this background, it’s overlong relative to the rest of the piece. The time-hopping away from the core period wasn’t always clear enough too. There’s much to enjoy in the play, particularly it’s humour and its central character, but it is flawed and I was left feeling it could be developed into a better one.

What makes it unmissable is the central performance of Roger Allam as Christie, a very likeable character whose eccentricity charms the socks off you in Alam’s characterisation. I thought Paul Jesson was excellent too as the imported Musical Director Fritz Busch, but the part of Christie’s wife Audrey was underwritten so even an actress as good as Nancy Carroll had too little to work with. The same applies to Nick Sampson’s Carl Ebert and George Taylor’s Rudolf Bing (who went on to run The Met), both doing very well with what they had.

As much as I enjoyed it, and Jeremy Herrin’s staging and Rae Smith’s design both serve it well, it felt more like work-in-progress than the finished article. I also felt it might make a better TV play than a stage one. Worth a visit nonetheless.

 

 

Read Full Post »

I was traumatised before the play started. Jane Asher is old enough to play a seventy-something, her stage son is Alexander Hanson and her real daughter plays her 39-year old stage daughter. Once I’d recovered, I had one of the finest times at a new play in a long time.

After a short preface in 1964, the piece moves to Easter weekend in 1997 at the Pennington home. The family has gathered for William’s 75th birthday. He’s a recently retired judge, recently diagnosed with dementia. His eldest son Sam is autistic and lives in a nearby home. His second son Giles is a doctor with a 22-year-old son Simon, 19-year-old daughter Emily and a shaky marriage to Sophie. William is estranged from his youngest child Alice following the birth of her illegitimate mixed race daughter Aurelia 17 years ago, but she has returned for this occasion. What follows is an extraordinary yet entirely plausible series of re-opened wounds, revelations and some reconciliation. William is cantankerous, to put it mildly, preoccupied with the damage Tory sleaze is doing and with ensuring a male Pennington line. His long suffering wife Olivia is devoted to him and all of her children and grandchildren; a deeply sympathetic character.

Andrew Keatley’s play is beautifully written, brilliantly structured and plotted, without an ounce of flab. A captivating story that unfolds enticingly and oozes authenticity. The cast is extraordinary, with not one but two real life parent-child pairings, Jane Asher & Katie Scarfe and Alexander & Tom Hanson. Clive Francis is simply magnificent as William and Nick Samson plays late forties autistic son Sam with great skill and sensitivity. Both had exit applause after their most effective scenes. I was puzzled by the choice to play it front of the bare theatre back wall and frame, but it was so good it didn’t seem to matter. There were a few too many scene breaks which weren’t as slick as they could have been, but again the quality of everything else made that seem unimportant.

Unquestionably a highlight of the year and surely too good to end here, it’s crying out for a transfer and more deserving of one that anything I’ve seen of late, but you’d be wise to catch it in the more intimate Park Theatre while you can.

Read Full Post »

I was so excited about two of my favourite actors cast as Othello (Adrian Lester) and Iago (Rory Kinnear), heightened by seeing Lester play Ira Aldridge play Othello in Red Velvet at the Tricycle last year, there was a big risk of disappointment. The surprise turns out to be  how much else I loved about Nicholas Hytner’s production and how the exciting casting didn’t overshadow it at all. This is one of the best Othello’s I’ve ever seen, and one of the best modern settings of Shakespeare.

After the initial scenes in Venice, we are propelled to a hyper-realistic army camp in Cyprus, brilliantly designed by Vicki Mortimer. As soon as you get into the rhythm of the verse, this is a contemporary thriller, not a 400-year-old play. It builds brilliantly and draws you in to the story of power, jealousy and revenge. About the only implausibility in a contemporary world is that it all rests on a handkerchief!

The racism Othello is subjected to struck me more than ever. Iago seems much more complex here than I’ve ever felt before. The scene where the authorities decide to send Othello to Cyprus could be a cabinet meeting at the outset of the Iraq war. In the barrack room, the soldiers play drinking games and get drunk, as they would. Ludovico arriving by helicopter rather than ship makes complete sense. This is intelligent rather than gimmicky, though perhaps Roderigo as Prince William is a little tongue in cheek! From the moment that Othello takes Iago’s bait (in the gents!) it unfolds like the best thrillers.

Neither Lester nor Kinnear disappoint and compare favourably with my other Othello’s, from Ben Kingsley (when it was acceptable!) to Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Iago’s, from Ian McKellen to Ewan McGregor. Lyndsey Marshall as a soldier Emilia is the best interpretation of this role I’ve ever seen. In a distinctly unstarry company, there is fine support from William Chubb as Brabantio and Nick Sampson as Ludovico, amongst others.

I think I enjoyed this even more than any of the other Hytner Olivier Shakespeare’s and at the end I was desperately hoping his departure as AD won’t mean its the last.

Read Full Post »

When I was trying to buy a beer at a rock concert in Albuquerque, they asked to see my wristband. I didn’t have one so I was shown where to get one and told I would need ID to do so, but the only reason they gave me for needing a wristband was ‘to buy a beer’ (I was twice the minimum age). When I asked the wristband people why I needed it they said ‘to get a beer’. I still don’t know why I needed to produce ID to get a wristband to get a beer, but this recollection popped into my head half-way through the first half of this play and helped me identify with the absurdity of Wilhelm Voigt’s situation . Fresh out of prison, he needs a passport to get a resident permit to get a home or a job.

Given the history and pedigree of the play, based on a true story, you can see why the NT wanted to stage it, Adrian Noble to direct it, Ron Hutchison to adapt it and Anthony Sher to play the lead role. A satire set in an early thirties Germany in transition from the Kaiser to Hitler? Yes please! They don’t quite pull it off, but I don’t think you’d be able to predict that from the page; there is however enough to enjoy to make it a worthwhile evening.

It’s the longer first half that’s the problem. It starts very well, but then takes too long to get to Voigt’s big con – impersonating an army Captain and getting all the way from the street via the Town Hall to the Interior Ministry, embarrassing the establishment of Kaiser Wilhelm’s Germany along the way. We don’t actually get there until the second half where it turns into absurdist farce and finds its form. The first half’s satire on bureaucracy and authority is just too long. They’ve clearly already shortened it; another 15 minutes would do it.

Anthony Ward’s Vorticist city backdrop is great, they use the Olivier’s drum revolve to great effect and the use of music adds much. Anthony Sher is excellent as Voigt, contemptuous of the absurdity around him and visibly relishing the process of showing it up. The role does dominate, but there’s excellent support from a large cast of 26, particularly Anthony O’Donnell as The Mayor of Kopenick & a toilet cleaner (!), Adrian Schiller as a revolutionary tailor, Nick Samson as a banker and Minister of the Interior and David Killick as a pair of shopkeepers.

Playwright Carl Zuckmayer is better known as the writer of The Blue Angel, though this play did get three film adaptations. Voigt was apparently a bit of a folk hero and after a couple of years back in prison was touring Europe to capitalise on this fame. It’s fascinating stuff, even if it doesn’t quite make great theatre in this adaptation / production.

Read Full Post »

When they first read the play, I would imagine the reaction was ‘how are we going to stage this?’, such is the cinematic quality of the writing – not surprising given the playwright seems to have only ever done screenplays before. Well, I suppose if anyone was going to pull it off, it would be Nicholas Hytner (with help from Bob Crowley’s clever set with four entrances – and what seems like a lot of dangerous angles).

The starting point is of course true. Stalin liked Mikhail Bulgakov’s The White Guard (brilliantly staged at the National just last year) which led to him being asked (?) to write something about Stalin. Beyond this, much is speculation and fantasy in John Hodge’s play. Stalin ends up writing most of the play about his early life while Bulgakov runs the country, benefiting from Stalin’s patronage to a point where it is almost Faustain.

This is all surprisingly entertaining and often funny (though it gets darker in the second half) with lots of short scenes interrupted by flash forward rehearsal scenes of the play what they are writing. Of course, when you have Alex Jennings as Bulgakov and Simon Russell Beale as Stalin, two of our best actors at the height of their powers, you’ve got a head start and both deliver the goods bigtime. Mark Addy is also outstanding as a secret service officer / intermediary and there’s excellent support from Nick Sampson as a doctor, William Postlethwaite (the late great Peter’s son)  as idealistic young writer Grigory and Pierce Reid as Sergei, who inhabits the Bulgakov’s kitchen cupboard in true Bulgakov fashion!

It’s a fascinating picture of the mechanics of a tyranny and in particular Stalin’s. He only has to think of something and its done. There are acts of extraordinary generosity as well as vile deeds – everything, of course, for a reason. There is much depth to the characterisations of Bulgakov and Stalin and their mutually dependent relationship is intriguing.

At last a new play at the National worthy of the venue’s stature.

Read Full Post »