Posts Tagged ‘Nikki Amuka-Bird’

There are lots of parallels between contemporary playwrights Simon Stephens, who wrote this, and Mike Bartlett. Both are prolific, both have given us adaptations as well as original work and both are eclectic. Stephens has been more hit-or-miss for me, but this one is a hit.

Rock star Paul is filling stadiums worldwide and the play starts in Moscow and moves to Berlin, Paris and finally London. We see him become a premiere league monster, exploiting people close to him as well as new ones he meets on tour. He thinks he can buy anything and tries to do so. In Moscow, he makes a play for a married journalist and adds a member of the hotel staff to his entourage. His treatment of band-mate Johnny is particularly heinous, something which results in sweet revenge. He reaches an all time low when he visits Johnny’s deceased girlfriend’s parents. It’s a portrait of a rock star’s descent and the impressionistic staging represents this by black water rising as the decline progresses.

Andrew Scott is mesmerising as Paul. He does mad and manic ever so well, he turns emotion on and off at lightning speed and he really can move. He has fantastic support from Alex Price as Johnny and, in multiple roles, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Charlotte Randle, Yolanda Kettle and a brilliant Daniel Cerqueira who is totally believable as Paul’s dad and his exploitative manager. Designer Ian MacNeil gives us another of his inventive spaces – a platform with a moving arch structure on top, surrounded by what slowly becomes a pool of water. Carrie Cracknell’s expert staging squeezes every ounce of tension, surprise and shock out of the material.

In truth, I think the staging and performances are better than the writing, but it’s a must-see if only for Andrew Scott on blistering form.

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I’m going have to eat my ‘where are the new plays?’ and ‘the National can’t find good new plays’ words as this is a very good and very clever new play at the National!

Playwright Moira Buffini has taken the Greek legends of Thebes and Athens and moved them to a present day African country coming out of violent civil war. The newly elected president Eurydice and her mostly female cabinet are trying to keep the warlords and their boy soldiers, led by Prince Tydeus, at bay. The ‘first citizen’ of wealthy neighbour Athens, which is providing peace-keepers, attends the presidential inauguration and reconstruction conference and the battle for his favours and the newly democratic country’s survival unfolds.

It’s surprising how well this all works and how well Buffini manages to walk the line between serious stuff about war and politics and entertaining drama. There’s some cracking dialogue – at one point someone refers to Antigone’s father Oedipus as ‘your mother-f**king father’ and, more chillingly, a boy soldier is told ‘ you’re old enough to kill but not old enough to vote’ – and the story is well paced.

When he ran the NT, director Richard Eyre always knew how to use the Olivier stage well, and here he is again 12 years on doing it again. Tim Hatley has designed a very believable post-war setting and there’s great use of music, played live by a 5-piece band.

When a large black cast was last assembled on this stage for Death and The King’s Horseman, I remember the Time Out reviewer saying ‘if you’re a black actor and you aren’t in this, get a new agent’! This large and largely black ensemble is also excellent, led by Nikki Amuka-Bird (so good on TV recently in Small Island) who’s President is a combination of passion, dignity and naivety and the wonderful David Harewood following his TV Mandela and theatrical Martin Luther King playing Theseus, first citizen of Athens, as a seasoned manipulative politician.

A good new play at the National – and in the Olivier too!

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