Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Oliver Johnstone’

There’s something astonishing and wonderful about having two Arthur Miller classics revived at the same time at theatres on the same street less than 200 meters apart, at the Old and Young Vic’s. They were first staged two years apart, this being his first big hit 72 years ago. I’ve seen a number of great revivals over the years and this one is up there with the best. Seeing it sixteen hours after I’d left Death os a Salesman made me think how alike they are, though this is entirely naturalistic, without flashbacks and imaginary scenes. As productions, they are very different, Jeremy Herrin taking his lead from this naturalism and opting for a more conventional take and a realistic setting. Both however are absolutely unmissable.

It’s just after the end of the Second World War and only one of Joe & Kate Keller’s two sons have returned. Older son Larry is still missing in action, his mother convinced he’s still alive, whilst most think he’s dead. Younger son Chris has survivors guilt, though Larry’s girlfriend Ann is visiting and he is set on proposing marriage, despite his mother’s conviction. Chris works in his dad’s engineering business, which sold faulty parts to the military, resulting in deaths. His father’s business partner Steve Deever, Ann’s dad, took the rap and went to prison, though many think Joe is really to blame.

It’s a surprise that Broadway could stomach this story just two years after the war ended, but they did, and it ran for almost a year and was made into a film just one year later. It’s timeless, as Miller often is, with corporate ethics as much of an issue today, but it’s a family tragedy, so its as much about the complex relationships within and between the Keller’s and the Deever’s. Max Jones’ uber-realistic design places a suburban home and garden on the Old Vic stage in a way that draws you in, seemingly shrinking this big theatre, well at least from the stalls.

Jeremy Herrin’s production is impeccable, building the tension slowly, taking hold of you. As I was across the road the night before, I was in awe of the acting talent on stage. Bill Pullman’s performance as Joe has a naturalism that makes you forget he’s acting. Sally Field is superb as Kate, holding on to hope her son is alive and belief in her husband’s innocence. Colin Morgan navigates Chris’ complex emotional journey brilliantly. This appears to be Jenna Coleman’s stage debut, and an auspicious one it is too. In an excellent supporting cast, I very much admired Oliver Johnstone as George Deever and Sule Rimi and neighbour Dr Jim Bayliss.

How lucky we are to have two outstanding revivals of these modern classics at the same time. The informal Miller fest becomes a Miller feast on The Cut!

Read Full Post »

Cicero gets nine lines in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar; here he gets a play in two parts, each of three acts, with a playing time of six hours. The RSC have given us a number of two-part epics in recent years. from Nicholas Nickleby through Canterbury Tales to Wolf Hall. Mike Poulton was responsible for the adaptation of the last two of these, as he is for this adaptation of Robert Harris’ Cicero Trilogy, a big slice of fascinating Roman history littered with contemporary parallels, and it’s brilliant.

Cicero may be the most significant Roman you don’t know much about. That’s because he was an orator and lawyer rather than an Emperor or military figure, but was considered the father of the republic and the go-to man for legal advice and rhetorical coaching, becoming a philosopher in later life. His life was extraordinarily well documented by his slave-turned-confidente & biographer Tiro. Though his papers were lost, they were known to Plutarch, who was the source for Shakespeare’s play, so Harris’ books and these plays have a solid foundation in fact, based on Plutarch.

When it starts, Rome is a republic, with democracy of a sort, two consuls elected annually by a senate made up of the great and the good of Rome, most rich patricians, but some self-made plebeians like Cicero. Cicero is a Consul and protector of the republic, but Julius Caesar is due back in triumph intent on turning Cicero’s precious republic into a dictatorship. Cicero is sent into exile, but is allowed to return before Caesar’s assassination, in which he doesn’t really play a part, though he does approve of the return of the republic, or so he thinks.

Next up is Mark Anthony, whose wife Fulvia is ‘the power behind the throne’ and he seems permanently pissed. Cicero is their biggest critic but he fails to take the Senate with him in his plan to deal with Mark Anthony, and ends up in exile once more, while Mark Anthony & Fulvia continue their life of excess and corruption. Cicero is approached by Julius Caesar’s chosen heir Octavian, who he takes a shine to and decides to help, but he too is more than meets the eye. and when he forms an alliance with Mark Anthony, Cicero is violently dispatched. Octavian will go on to become Augustus, the next dictator.

Like his other adaptations, this is rich in story and narrative and is a real theatrical feast. It’s a slow burn at first, but by the third act of the first part you’re in its grip, until its subject’s head is on a pole! In Anthony Ward’s design, the Swan has stairs behind, a pit below and a giant globe above, which provide a brilliantly flexible but evocative setting. Paul Engishby’s music, heavy on brass, is particularly good at accompanying the triumphant entries into Rome. This is the sort of production director Greg Doran does so well – lucid, well paced and often thrilling.

Cicero is a huge part and Richard McCabe is magnificent, a career high I’d say. I loved Joseph Kloska as diffident but loyal Tiro, whose journey takes him from slave to assistant to confidente to advisor and biographer. Peter de Jersey has great presence as Julius Caesar and Joe Dixon shines as both Catiline and Mark Anthony, two power hungry chancers, as does Oliver Johnstone as Cicero’s protege Rufus and Octavian and Eloise Secker as Clodia and Fulvia. A terrific ensemble of seventeen actors play all of the remaining roles.

It was a difficult trip to Stratford, where I almost got stranded in the snow, but it was a real theatrical banquet and I don’t regret the travails one bit. This is the sort of theatre you remember for years.

Read Full Post »

It’s more than two years since I last saw King Lear (unless you count https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2015/08/17/king-lear-with-sheep), so though I didn’t strictly speaking need another Lear yet, it was impossible to resist Anthony Sher in the title role, my 13th Lear (not. counting the sheep!), my 7th theatrical Knight playing the role, and jolly good he is too.

Greg Doran’s production has an elegant, monochrome and gold visual aesthetic and the verse is very well spoken. It looks and sounds great. The opening scene gets us off to a good start (though I was puzzled by the glass box sedan chair) as Lear divides his kingdom amongst his daughters, except Cordelia, who refuses to be sycophantic like her sisters and ends up disinherited and married off to the French king. The scenes where Lear is to-ing and fro-ing between Goneril’s and Reagan’s homes are fairly standard, but the production comes into its own during the storm (unfortunately halted for 15 minutes due to a technical fault on the night I went), then madness and multiple deaths.

Sher is a great Lear, bags of regal presence and totally believably mad, but it’s the strength of the whole cast that swept me away. Great to see David Troughton again (taking time out from The Archers!); an excellent Gloucester. Antony Byrne is a great Kent and Graham Turner a great Fool (with a lovely visual ad lib at the halt). I’m kicking myself for missing Paapa Essiedu’s Hamlet because he’s a terrific machiavellian Edmund, brilliantly matched by Oliver Johnstone as Edgar, as fine as Old Tom as I’ve ever seen it played. The RSC is certainly doing its bit for diversity, with 40% of the cast from ethnic minorities.

There’s nothing ground-breaking about it, but it oozes quality from every pore. A fine production.

 

Read Full Post »

This collaboration between the RSC and Garsington Opera provides a rare opportunity to see Shakespeare’s play accompanied by the music Mendelssohn wrote for a production of it more than 200 years later, and it’s delightful.

It’s an abridged version of the play but loses none of its magic (though it might be sacrilegious to Shakespeareans, the brevity might even be a bonus!). The music is a perfect accompaniment, with different motifs and sounds for different settings, including of course the wedding march composed for the weddings of the lovers but heard at just about every wedding since. The performance happens in front of, at the sides and behind the orchestra with Puck (an excellent Oliver Johnstone) brilliantly emerging from their ranks in tails. It’s costumed and there are a few props, but there is no set as such.

The lovers scenes are particularly energetic and athletic (with Lysander and Demetrius, under spells, sniffing Helena’s high heels a particularly inventive twist) and the rude mechanicals are a hoot, with Forbes Masson and Chris Lew Kum Hoi a terrific comedy double-act as Bottom / Pyramus & Flute / Thisbe and the lion’s mane made from brush heads. It’s tough to make the fairy world magical in this type of staging, but I liked the women’s chorus with head torches and again the performances had great energy.

A unique merging of theatre and music and a rare opportunity that should not be missed in this very short run at the Queen Elizabeth Hall.

Read Full Post »