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Posts Tagged ‘Olivia Darnley’

When I paired this with Me & My Girl for a day trip to Chichester, with this following the musical, I hadn’t really thought about the effect of the contrast. We were still on a high when this much more restrained piece started, and though it did affect our response, Charlotte Jones’ play still proved to be very original and thought-provoking.

It’s set in a Sussex Quaker community at the beginning of the 19th century. Britain is at war, threatened by invasion on this coast, gung-ho patriotism rife. This pacifist community are best keeping themselves to themselves, but one of their number, Rachel, wanders towards and into the town, and on one trip comes across young military man Nathaniel, who shares a name with the three children she has lost and who are buried nearby. Her husband Adam desperately needs an apprentice, so she takes him home, disposing of his uniform as she does.

Nathanial poses as a Quaker to integrate into the community, but his arrival makes waves and challenges many of their values – peace, honesty, equality and non-aggression. Rachel’s deaf but highly intuitive mother Alice is the only one who seems to grasp the profound effect his arrival has had. When all is revealed, the community has to work hard to regroup and recover.

Vicki Mortimer’s highly original, subdued design seems reflective of both the setting and the community – grey stones, light wood furniture and grey cream and brown costumes. A series of short scenes, perhaps too many and too short, propels us quickly through the story in director Natalie Abrahami’s sensitive staging. Lydia Leonard is superb as Rachel, with Gerald Kyd as Adam and Laurie Davidson as Nathaniel excellent as the two men in her life. Jean St Clair communicates brilliantly without speech. I very much liked Olivia Darnley’s characterisation of neighbour Biddy, a character low in emotional intelligence.

The juxtaposition with a feel-good musical probably meant we didn’t do it justice, but I’m glad I saw such a quality play and quality production nevertheless.

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A play about the use of virtual reality to relieve severe pain in injured war veterans doesn’t sound particularly promising, but by including the personal stories of one veteran and her family and friends, and given a superb production by Indhu Rubasingham, it becomes rather captivating.

Jess is the protagonist in Lindsey Ferrintino’s play. She returns to her Florida home from Afghanistan with massive injuries, disfiguration and severe disability. The VR therapy she undertakes does reduce the pain significantly, by taking her to a calming mountainscape. She lives with her sister Kacie, a primary school teacher, in their mom’s house – she’s in some sort of home. Kacie has a new boyfriend Kelvin, a bit of a loser, courtesy of her ‘dream board’ it seems. Jess bumps into her ex Stevie and we learn that her third (voluntary) tour of duty causes their break-up. Though Jess’ world and her story is the core of the piece, the other three very different world’s revolve around it and connect with it, with a fourth added towards the end. Significantly, it’s set nearby and at the time of the final shuttle launch.

I loved Es Devlin’s design, with Luke Halls’ brilliant projections. When we’re in the real world, we can also see out to the environment around us. The virtual world is wrapped around the stage, revolving and evolving. Kate Fleetwood as Jess in on stage throughout and it’s a virtuoso performance, with the audience wincing as she feels her pain. Olivia Darnley captures the charming naivity of the almost childlike Kacie. I also very much liked the characterisations of Kelvin and Stevie by Kris Marshall and Ralf Little respectively.

I think the performances and production paper over the cracks in what seemed like an unfinished play, a touch slight to be on a major stage like the Lyttleton, but it’s an original piece, there was much to enjoy, it held me throughout and I was glad I caught it. 

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I missed this at regular haunt The Finborough Theatre three years ago; it was hard to get a ticket because it had someone from the Archers in it! So gold stars to young producers Nicola Seed and Sarah Loader for bringing this first London revival of Emlyn Williams’ 1950 play to St James Theatre. Given the events since the Finborogh outing, it may well be even more timely.

Highly successful novelist William Trenting leads a double life as Bill Trent, with the full knowledge and support (but not participation) of his wife Rona. He has a bedsit in Rotherhithe where he engages in morally dubious practices, including orgies, with his drinking pals from the Blue Lion and others who may be paid to participate. The play opens on New Years Day when he adds a knighthood to his Nobel Prize (a touch implausible for a 50’s novelist with seedy themes?). People visit and call to offer congratulations, including Rona’s best friend Marian and Phyllis and Harold from the Black Lion, salt of the earth swingers! His world begins to fall apart three months later on the eve of his investiture when his publisher tells him his activities may no longer be private. Then a blackmailer arrives, but he’s far from being your average blackmailer.

It must have been a real shocker in 1950 and its surprising it even got through the Lord Chamberlain, the censor of the time. Less racy fare by people like Terence Rattan had cuts, but Welsh playwright Emlyn Williams seems to have cleverly steered his play to acceptability. It feels pretty contemporary today, covering themes of privacy, celebrity and exploitation of the young. It you updated the costumes and dialogue, you could probably pass it off as a new play, which is extraordinary for something that’s 64 years old. Blanche McIntyre’s impeccable production manages the changes of tone and mood extremely well.

A faultless cast is led by Alexander Hanson as Trenting, a fine performance in a role that suits him very well indeed. Abigail Cruttenden makes you believe Rona’s love for him withstands what other wives wouldn’t tolerate. Jay Taylor and Olivia Darnley are so lovely as the Harold and Phyllis, you rather wish they frequented your local. Jay Villiers is excellent as stern, humourless but loyal publisher Thane and Bruce Alexander is wonderful (and surprisingly funny) in the key role of ‘blackmailer’ Daker. Daniel Crossley is great as retainer Albert – secretary, chauffeur, butler & more – who many years ago found his way from the pub to the home and has loyally served the Trenting’s since. There’s a lovely cameo from Claire Fox as Marian and a hugely impressive performance from Sam Clemmett as son Ian. It’s hard to imagine a better cast.

I’ve so enjoyed the Finborough finds and was very disappointed to miss this there, but I’m delighted to see it transfer and to see such a good play get such a fine production further west, if not completely ‘up west’. More Emlyn Williams revivals, please!

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