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Posts Tagged ‘Nina Raine’

I haven’t really got back into the swing of blogging theatre yet. I’ve already seen 10 shows (one twice) but have only blogged one, the actor-less Flight at the Bridge Theatre, so I thought I’d catch up. I have an interest in three of the rest, so I’ll just cover the remaining six, in one blog.

Call Mr. Robeson – Greenwich Theatre

It was almost three weeks after Flight, the actor-less one, before this one-man show, for one night only. I have to confess that even though I knew who Paul Robeson was, and was well aware of his historical significance, I didn’t know much about the man and his life. Tayo Aluko, who both wrote and plays Robeson, redressed that with a 90-minute whistle-stop biography with songs, accompanied by Roland Perrin. The vocals were sometimes shaky, and barely audible in the lower register – it was his first live performance for over a year – but it was a comprehensive and captivating biography of a fascinating life.

Out West – Lyric Theatre Hammersmith

It was another two weeks before my next outing, to not one but three one-person plays in one evening, the first of six consecutive days at the theatre. Tanika Gupta’s The Overseas Student told the story of Gandhi’s period in London qualifying to be a lawyer, his first exposure to the idiosyncrasies of the West. Both the play and Esh Alladi’s performance were utterly charming. In Simon Stephens’ Blue Water and Cold and Fresh, Tom Mothersdale’s Jack grapples with his relationship with his dad, whose racism comes to the surface when he embarks on a mixed race marriage which leads to a mixed race son, in a deeply moving tale. Favourite playwright Roy Williams completed the unrelated trio with Go, Girl, a lovely story of a single mum’s pride in her daughter, beautifully realised by Ayesha Antoine, an uplifting conclusion to the evening. Fine writing and fine performances all round.

Under Milk Wood – National Theatre

By now it was time for a stage full of people, a cast of 14 led Michael Sheen, a real favourite of mine, in one of the greatest literary works of my homeland, Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood. It wasn’t written for the stage of course, though I’ve seen it presented successfully as such twice before, once in this very theatre, the National’s Olivier. This version is ‘framed’ by scenes in an old peoples home written by Sian Owen,where Owain Jenkins, a writer, visits his dad, seemingly desperate for reconciliation. The ‘play for voices’ emerges organically as if from the memories of the home’s residents, who play all the characters. I wondered if Owain, who becomes our narrator, was meant to be Thomas. In any event, his words were beautifully spoken by an excellent cast that included Sian Phillips no less, playing three characters.

Romeo & Juliet – Shakespeare’s Globe

This was less successful for me (so my search for a definitive R&J continues). Statements and facts about contemporary teenage mental health and suicide puncture the scenes of Shakespeare’s story of the star crossed lovers, underlined in neon above the stage. I felt it was aimed at a young audience, somewhat heavy-handed, and failed to engage me, despite some fine performances. It had its moments, but the choice of Juliet’s mode of despatch was the final straw for me, steering too far from Shakespeare for my liking. The ‘greatest love story ever told’ becomes a contemporary lecture on mental health.

Bach & Sons – Bridge Theatre

Nina Raine’s play focuses on Johann Sebastian’s family more than his music, as the title suggests, and in particular on the two sons who followed in his footsteps (of the 20 children he had with his two wives, only 10 of whom survived into adulthood). His favourite, Wilhelm, is a drunkard who lives with, and off, his dad. His younger brother Carl ends up working as a musician for Frederick the Great, with whom his relationship is somewhat ambiguous. A scene where JS visits Frederick only to be humiliated by him and his son for his obsession with counterpoint is the only time we see Bach away from home. Simon Russell Beale is perfect for the part and I enjoyed the play, though it was a bit slow and dark (lighting wise) in the first half. I felt it needed more than the 7 characters and more (live) music to animate it, in an Amadeus way, but Covid no doubt put paid to that.

Last Abbott of Reading – Reading Abbey Ruins

An outdoor treat from Rabble Theatre amidst the ruins of the abbey on the 900th anniversary of its founding. Staged very effectively in-the-round, it tells the story of Abbott Hugh Faringdon’s rise from nowhere to become a key religious figure and friend of Henry VIII, until the king, under Cromwell’s influence, closes the Abbey and has Hugh murdered. The Abbott’s mother Alice acts as a narrator, a device which worked really well. The costumes were excellent, the space atmospheric, the performances very good indeed; Beth Flintoff’s play was excellent storytelling. Well worth a trip to Reading.

It’s good to be back, and all venues took safety seriously and organised things well, but I can’t wait to be maskless, for me the one deterrent left to true enjoyment of theatre.

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Nina Raine’s new play concerns a woman’s attempts to have a child before its too late. Her younger husband Tom leaves her in her late thirties, not wanting the child she does, and she begins to navigate the world of sperm donation. Though it covers a lot of serious issues, it’s an entertaining ride.

Anna approaches many of the men she knows and some she doesn’t, straight and gay, old and young, mostly single, but to no avail. They either decline or agree then subsequently change their minds. She even looks at buying sperm from an online catalogue featuring donor photos and key information like intelligence scores. She discusses options with her family and friends. As time goes on, desperation sets in. We learn a lot about the different options, and issues like ongoing involvement of the donors and the child’s rights.

At first I thought she might be taking the subject lightly, but serious issues are covered well, most notably in a very moving scene where she visits an adult with an anonymous donor father to see things from the child’s perspective. The psychological and emotional strain on women of late child-bearing age wanting children has bern covered before, most recently in the Young Vic’s harrowing contemporary take on Yerma, but this is more specifically about sperm donation, and much lighter in tone, yet just as serious in its own way.

Claudie Blakley is excellent as Anna, on stage virtually the whole time. The rest of the adult cast play two or three roles, with Sam Troughton giving a virtuoso performance as husband Tom and no less than five potential donors, changing character with the turn of the head or a hand brushed through the hair. It’s a simple traverse staging, with characters and props coming from the other two sides and it’s very well paced, the playwright directing.

This is the fourth Raine play tackling important contemporary issues very effectively whilst at the same time providing entertaining, satisfying drama. Well worth a visit.

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Some time ago I was involved in a (civil) legal case where two eminent QC’s were pitted against one another in what turned out to be a grudge match. I soon realised the case was more about the competition between them than the facts. That’s one problem with our adversarial legal system. Another problem is that friends and colleagues can advocate against each other; in any other sector this would be prevented lest it lead to collusion. Early in this play it raises another problem in criminal law. No-one represents the victim. The defence represents the accused and the prosecution represents the crown. No-one represents the victim of a crime.

This excellent new play examines the issue of consent in rape cases, and the legal system in general, by juxtaposing a case where two barrister friends are pitted against one another with the infidelities going on in their own lives. The competitiveness issue is much greater in rape cases because it leads to completely unacceptable, bullying behaviour by barristers which is psychologically damaging to victims (with no representation) and leads to fewer cases being brought. In other words, our legal system allows rapists to walk free.

New dad Ed, married to Kitty, prosecutes and friend / colleague Tim is the defence. Victim Gayle (brilliantly played by Heather Craney) is all on her own. Ed exploits her defencelessness to win his case. Whilst this is happening, Ed’s best friend Jake and his wife Rachel (both lawyers) are riding a relationship roller-coaster due to Jake’s infidelity, with Ed and Kitty taking sides. Much later Ed & Kitty ride a similar roller-coaster through Kitty’s more surprising infidelity, with Jake & Rachel involved as if they were pitted against each other in court. Tim and Kitty’s best friend become embroiled. It’s a superbly structured and brilliantly written piece, simply staged with the audience on all sides. 

There’s a real authenticity to the characterisations with superb performances from Ben Chaplin, Anna Maxwell-Martin, Adam James and Priyanga Burford as the two couples and Pip Carter and Daisy Haggard (just about the only sympathetic character) as those drawn into their lives.

Such a good blend of current issues and a personal story, unquestionably a candidate for Best New Play and as fine a set of performances as you’ll see anywhere.

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The roll at the Court continues. This is the seventh gem in the main house in less than two years – that’s some roll.

This one revolves around the mid-life crisis of Hilary and in particular her relationship with teenage daughter Tilly. Her marriage is dull, her job is at risk and her actor best friend is bonkers. What preoccupies her most, though, is her daughter – her schooling and her sexual awakening. Tilly’s best friend gets pregnant as she starts sleeping with boyfriend Josh and from here we’re on an emotional rollercoaster that brings in Josh’s parents and another boy who Tilly brings home. Even these very liberal middle class professionals are severely challenged by the awesome challenge of parenthood during these teenage years.

Anyone of a certain age (mine!), whether they’ve had kids or not, will find this all totally believable (I suspect playwright April de Angelis has written, at least in part, from experience), but anyone of any age will find much to enjoy here. The characterisations are terrific and the writing sharp and funny, but at times also very moving with a really heart-warming but unsentimental ending. Compared with the other five de Angelis plays I’ve seen, this is on another level altogether. Director Nina Raine has done a terrific job, with simple white settings from Lizzie Clachan which ensure the pace isn’t slowed down by scene changes (and with a very clever transformation to a seaside setting).

Tasmin Grieg has done some wonderful work in recent years – she was a great Beatrice for the RSC and followed this with a trio of excellent performances in modern plays – Gethsemane, God of Carnage and the under-rated The Little Dog Laughed – and here she is simply terrific. She IS Hilary; every expression, shrug and glance conveying what she’s going through. Bel Powley as Tilly and Seline Hizli as her friend Lyndsey are both outstanding, the former perfectly capturing the love / hate conflict that most teenagers go through with their parents. I also liked Richard Lintern and Sarah Woodward as Josh’s parents with different perspectives on their son’s responsibilities, and Doon Mackichan is a hoot as best friend Frances (to say more would constitute a spoiler).

This is a very satisfying evening of theatre – though-provoking & funny, leaving you with a warm glow and a sense of hope. Miss at your peril.

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Tiger Country

Nina Raine’s play about the NHS at first seems like Casualty 3D on stage, but as it progresses interesting and important issues are discussed. By the end, though, I’m afraid I was left deeply depressed with genuine feelings of hopelessness (though it’s only fair to say that this may in part have something to do with my disposition).

What it tells us is that the NHS is a shit place to work and a shit place to be treated. The leadership and managerial skills of the doctors are prehistoric. The organisation is a shambles. Work in it or use its services at your peril. On the way home, I was congratulating myself for keeping up my increasingly exorbitant BUPA membership.

It seemed very believable, though I don’t know how much of it could be true. I suspect only part of it, but a significant part. To concentrate largely poor practice and experience into 120 minutes clearly exaggerates the reality. I felt like we’d thrown a shit load of money at the NHS and just made it worse.

Hampstead Theatre has been transformed to create a very realistic hospital with double-door entrances for trolleys and beds. There are projections on the walls, including images of the bits in staged operations that aren’t happening but you would see if they were, which I wasn’t sure were entirely necessary.  The staging is very well paced and slick and the performances are all good.

As theatre, it is to be admired, but for me it just presents the problems and issues without any discussion of the reasons and possible solutions – hence the hopelessness. I don’t regret going, though maybe I went on the wrong night. It held my attention, it certainly made me think, I admired the stagecraft and acting, but the lasting feeling will still be hopelessness.

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The first scene hadn’t been playing for long by before I took a profound dislike to four of the five characters. Here was an introspective family of self-possessed ‘Bohemians’ with their inclusive behavioural norms and language (much of it implausibly filthy – I don’t know any 20-somethings who’d speak like that in front of and to their parents!).

I’ve spent time with families like this (well, without the language) and they exclude others even without meaning to. They brought up youngest son Billy to lip-read rather than sign, thinking this was including him. The result was his exclusion from the outer deaf world and without them realising it, from their world too.

Billy, deaf from birth, meets a girl who is going deaf and enters her world and the wider deaf world, learning to sign (to the anger of his family) in order to do so. When he brings her home, the family reaction is a bit curious, a bit bemused, very patronising and somewhat resistant to this invasion from the other world. Eventually Billy asserts himself and withdraws, much to their disbelief.

I was convinced after the first few minutes I wasn’t going to like this play; how can you spend two hours with these horrible people and enjoy it? However, it developed such complexity and depth that I became enthralled; I even woke up this morning thinking about it. It says so much about communication but in a way which plants ideas and expects you to process them yourself.

Roger Mitchell’s sensitive production gets an intimacy from Mark Thompson’s set which seems to reduce the size of the auditorium and draw you towards the stage. The performances are excellent, with Harry Treadaway’s difficult and complex journey particularly impressive. There’s an extent to which Jacob Casselden and Michelle Terry as the deaf couple are given your empathy from the outset, but earn your understanding, respect and compassion.

I missed Nina Raine’s first play Rabbit, but I was hugely impressed by this second one. Jerusalem, Enron, Cock, Posh, Sucker Punch, Clybourne Park, Tribes……The Royal Court really is on a roll.

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