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Posts Tagged ‘Oliver Chris’

The Bridge Theatre’s biggest success so far was probably their promenade Julius Caesar last year (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2018/01/29/julius-caesar-bridge-theatre). This even more immersive promenade staging of A Midsummer Night’s Dream proves how suitable the space is for this style of performance. I found it captivating from start to finish.

They’ve really cracked the promenade form at the Bridge, largely because of their ability to bring platforms up from the floor, and this time flying in the space above. There are no sightline issues for either promenaders or those looking on from the galleries, and the marshalling is very unobtrusive. This Dream starts in serious tone with Athenians dressed like puritans as Hermia’s arranged marriage is confirmed, emphasising its unacceptability like I’ve never seen before, before we’re whisked away to the forest.

The very acrobatic fairies swing above the promenaders and the lovers and royal couple move along platforms with leaf-strewn beds on. The simple change of spell from Titania to Oberon heightens the comedy greatly. The lovers are particularly feisty and modern, and Puck is a marvellous creation, looking like a punk, wicked, funny and brilliantly athletic. The use of music is terrific, with the promenaders, seemingly unprompted, breaking into moves in unison. They take a lot of liberties with Shakespeare’s words, and there are ad libs and audience involvement, but they are all completely justified by the result.

Gwendoline Christie has great presence as Hippolyta / Titanya, towering over Puck and the fairies in a long green dress. Oliver Chris brings his considerable gift for comedy to the role of Oberon; his scenes with Hammed Animashaun’s Bottom, as great a performance in this role as I’ve ever seen, are positively sublime. David Moorst continues to deliver on his early promise with a simply terrific Puck and a contrasting Philostrate. It was great to see half of the rude mechanicals played by women, with Ami Metcalf’s butch Snout feared by all.

The Bridge must do more in this configuration, with the unique possibilities the building affords. Director Nicholas Hytner and designer Bunny Christie have created a magical tale with a great sense of fun, a Dream for our times. Take every young person you know as it may convert them to live theatre for life. They were still partying as we left.

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We’ve had lots of verbatim theatre, plus those Tricycle tribunal plays, but never a hybrid of both based on a 415-year-old trial. Well, it could have been a trial for 400 years of deaths from tobacco or obesity through potatoes!

Actor Oliver Chris has gone back to accounts of the original trial, which took place exactly 415 years ago in the very same hall (because there was plague in London) and dramatised it. The Attorney General presided, with two other ‘judges’, but to my surprise there was a jury to make the judgement, here twelve audience members. The complex case for treason was presented by two lawyers representing King James I. Ralegh had no representation. The evidence presented was written; there were no witnesses.

It’s really a duologue between Ralegh and Coke, the King’s counsel, and the case hinges on whose account you believe – Ralegh or chief conspirator Lord Cobham, who has already been found guilty and sentenced to death for the treason of the Bye (a catholic sub-plot) and confessed but not yet sentenced for the treason of the Main (for which Ralegh is now being tried). It turns out to be dry material for drama, I’m afraid, though the politics of it all are fascinating.

They haven’t retained the dress and conventions of the period, with the Attorney General, both prosecutors and clerk to the court all played by women, and everyone in modern dress. The setting is extraordinarily atmospheric and knowing you’re in the very same room adds more than a frisson. Simon Paisley Day as Ralegh and Nathalie Armin as Coke are both excellent. I think I enjoyed what I learnt about Ralegh – favourite of Elizabeth I, explorer, colonist, military man, lawyer, MP, poet and wine merchant – by reading around it than I did the re-enactment of the trial itself. He was a colourful character who had a pretty dull trial so that James could give him his comeuppance.

As event theatre, well worth a day trip to the gorgeous city of Winchester, where there was even more to see. As drama, a bit of a disappointment, I’m afraid. A Shakespeare’s Globe production that’s coming to the candlelit Sam Wanamaker Playhouse next week.

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What better way to launch London’s newest theatre than to reunite the creative team behind London’s biggest recent comedy hit, One Man, Two Guvnors, and it’s great to report that both the theatre and the show are a big success.

Richard Bean & Clive Coleman’s play tells the true story of Karl Marx’s period of exile in London, whilst he writes his definitive work, Das Kapital. He’s living in Soho with his wife Jenny, children Qui Qui and Fawksy and their housekeeper Nym (all nicknames). They are spied on by the Prussians and their Communist League is watched over by the British authorities too. Good friend and benefactor Friedrich Engels pays regular visits from Manchester, where he’s a cotton baron, but a secret commie. They are broke, so the police, pawnbrokers and bailiffs all make appearances. Everyone indulges Marx, until he crosses a line which threatens to turn them all away.

Though it’s historically true, it’s often very funny, occasionally farcical and always entertaining. There’s a delicious running joke about the early days of the police and Charles Darwin turns up in a delightful cameo. It’s surprising how the political views still sound fresh; you could hear them being spoken today by left-wing politicians, and increasingly by disaffected ordinary people – like me! Designer Mark Thompson has built a revolving structure which becomes the Marx living room, a pub where the league meets, a pawnbrokers, the British Library Reading Room, the outside of a church and Hampstead Heath! Nicholas Hytner’s production has great pace, but it’s never rushed. It takes an unexpected dark turn, and ends more gently and thoughtfully.

Rory Kinnear’s performance as Marx is very athletic, with great comic timing. At one point, from my front row seat, I feared for his safety. Nancy Carroll is superb as Jenny, loyalty tested at every turn. Oliver Chris continues to impress, this time as Engels, with great chemistry with Kinnear’s Marx. The ever wonderful Laura Elphinstone is excellent as Nym. In the supporting cast, Eben Figueiredo, Miltos Yerolemou and Tony Jayawardena all shine as Konrad Schramm, Emmanuel Barthelemy and ‘Doc’ Schmidt respectively.

A lovely evening to welcome a new theatre and the return of a great contemporary playwright. With this, Ink, Oslo, Labour of Love and Albion, we’re on a real new writing roll in London.

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It’s a long way from my first introduction to Twelfth Night, for something that used to be called ‘O’ levels, to this – 50 years and 130 miles to be precise. This is the freshest production of this play I’ve seen since; it positively sparkles.

When Tamsin Greig was cast as Malvolio, I assumed it was just gender blind casting, but in fact she’s playing Malvolia; the character has had a sex change. This gives the attraction to Olivia another dimension altogether. In fact, one of the striking things about this production is the believable sexual frissons – between various combinations of Orsino, Olivia, Cesario (Viola) & Sebastian as well as Malvolia and Olivia. Another is the success of both the high comedy and the pathos in a production with an extraordinary attention to detail – visual, gestural, postural and linguistic. There are so may lovely touches.

The outstanding cast is high on established comic performers. Oliver Chris brings a humour to Orsino I’ve rarely seen. Tim McMullan and Daniel Rigby are as fine a double-act as Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek as you’ll find anywhere. Doon Mackichan’s take on Feste is delightful. Tamsin Greig creates a frumpy Malvolia dressed in black, with a bob hairstyle, that brings the house down and makes her humiliation all the more tragic. Tamara Lawrence and Daniel Ezra are both excellent as the shipwrecked twins and Phoebe Fox brings a cheekiness to Olivia. Somehow, Maria seems to play a much bigger role in the humiliation of Malvolia and is brilliantly played by Niky Wardley. The whole ensemble gels perfectly.

Soutra Gilmour’s design has a central feature which moves us between locations as it moves itself. There are cars, scooters and bikes and her costumes are witty and colourful. Though there are songs in the play, director Simon Godwin appears to put more emphasis on the music (as he did in The Beaux Stratagem) and Shelley Maxwell’s movement contributes a lot to heightening the humour of the piece. It all sits very comfortably on the Olivier stage.

It’s a while since I saw this play, so perhaps that added to my enjoyment of what is indeed a fine revival.

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It’s always good to see theatre tackling current issues, and it’s particularly good to see the Chichester theatres, home of musicals, revivals and ‘safe’ new plays, doing so; particularly as Fracking is also a local issue. On the whole, this was successful in presenting all sides of the arguments and does so entertainingly, though it comes off the fence in the end.

Deerland Energy is applying for a fracking permit, aided by a PR firm with some dubious methods. The local council appear to be about to cave in, but they haven’t accounted for the unlikely opposition of retired professor-turned-campaigner Elizabeth, who starts by outing a university professor in the pay of oil companies and continues by turning the planning chair’s sister against him by pointing out the chaos it would unleash on her quiet neighbourhood. She’s seen by the activists as a trump card and becomes so passionate she follows the path from campaigner to activist herself. Odious PR man Joe digs into his dirty tricks bag and the planning chair wavers.

It’s a satire and it’s often very funny. It’s very up-to-date, with some lines bringing the house down with their acid response to very recent events. That said, it does cover a reasonable amount of ground when it comes to scientific background and different perspectives. The environmental consequences are covered, but so are the NIMBY attitudes of the local hypocrites driving gas-guzzling cars. The endless switching from short scenes in Elizabeth’s home to the PR office and back, where most of the play takes place, became a bit irritating, but Richard Wilson’s production is otherwise well paced, and it held my attention throughout.

As always, Anne Reid is a pleasure to watch, and this is a very different role for her, one which she appears to relish. James Bolam is excellent as her put-upon husband who doesn’t share her passion and resents its intrusion into his quiet retirement. Oliver Chris is well cast as the PR man you love to hate, a real modern day baddie. Michael Simkins makes the energy company CEO sympathetic, at least initially, which helps give the play balance. They are well supported by nine other actors in multiple roles.

Following mediocre reviews, this exceeded my expectations again and, paired with Half a Sixpence, made for a great day out in Sussex!

 

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It’s nights like this that re-energise my theatre-going. A 17-year-old play that has somehow matured with age. Patrick Marber hasn’t been a very prolific playwright, producing only a handful in 20 years, and two of those were adapted from another source. He started with a bang with Dealer’s Choice and when I saw the revival of that at the Menier in 2007 I was convinced it was his best original work; now I think this is. It has scrubbed up well, there are four excellent performances and the new production sparkles. Another fine revival at the Donmar.

Dan meets Alice when he witnesses her being hit by a taxi and takes her to hospital. She’s a former stripper and all-round nomad and he’s an obituarist and wannabe novelist. They become an item. Dan meets photographer Anna when she takes his picture for the cover of his first book. He sets her up with doctor Larry by posing as her in a chatroom and fixing a meeting. They become an item. From here their lives become entwined and we peek into the very heart of their relationships and their sex lives laid bare. It’s a spiky, sexually explicit and often unpredictable ride, with so many brilliant scenes. The chat-room is a hoot and at several points it switches between scenes in an instant (with the actors of both scenes on stage), on one occasion in reverse chronology! I loved it all over again.

For those of us who don’t do Pinter, it’s 9 years since Rufus Sewell was on a London stage in Stoppard’s Rock & Roll and its a very welcome return to remind us how magnetic he can be. I’m so used to seeing Nancy Carroll in classics, she quite took my breath away in an incredibly sexy performance. Oliver Chris extends his range again following more comic roles in One Man, Two Guvnors, Great Britain and Charles III. Relative newcomer Rachel Redford more than holds her own in this company as feisty, unpredictable Alice. Director David Leveaux and designer Bunny Christie make the whole thing flow seamlessly; neither the writing nor the staging has any flab.

I’ve never credited a House Manager before, but it dawned on me last night what a well run, welcoming theatre this now is. Add in another terrific revival and the Donmar’s indispensability is yet again confirmed. I hope you’ve got tickets already.

 

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The first of two Mike Bartlett plays in seven days, and the seventh in five years – you can’t say he isn’t prolific. What I like most about his work is that each piece is so very different. You identify them by their quality and imagination rather than their style. This one, ‘a future history play’, is like none of the others, except that’s imaginative and very very good.

Charles has at last succeeded to the throne and within days he’s started interfering in government. He provokes a constitutional crisis, divides the country and his family and in no time unleashes a series of events which have profound personal, constitutional and political impact. Somewhat ironically, it’s a privacy bill that triggers his involvement, just before his family is on the receiving end of things the bill was trying to prevent.

It’s quite a cerebral and weighty play, but staged with a lightness of touch that ensures its always entertaining as well as thought-provoking. Charles does have form, which means it’s in no way implausible and though the debate is often funny, it is underneath rather profound. I found myself drawn in quickly and gripped throughout.

It’s not a typical Rupert Goold production; the staging is much simpler, relying on the writing and the characterisations more than inventive staging, but it is very effective. Tom Scutt’s design is dominated by a large dais, surrounded by parquet flooring throughout the auditorium and a huge semi-circular panel of fading faces suggesting history, heritage and tradition. Actors enter from all sides and through the auditorium, which provides for grand entrances in keeping with grand people and grand occasions.

Tim Pigott-Smith is terrific as Charles, capturing the essence of the man rather than giving us an impersonation. Oliver Chris and Richard Goulding are very good as contrasting princes, with just enough caricature to provoke smiles but not so much that they become joke characters. Camilla and Kate are presented as power behind the throne and Margot Leicester & Lydia Wilson provide excellent characterisations. The PM and leader of the opposition are called Mr Evans (Labour) and Mr Stevens (Conservative) respectively and Adam James & Nicholas Rowe seem to emphasise the similarities we see in our politicians these days.

This may prove to be prophetic, but for now it’s fascinating and entertaining speculative ‘future history’ and certainly a candidate for 2014’s best new play. Catch it if you can.

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