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Posts Tagged ‘Our Class’

I’m not being perverse by reviewing the last night; as I was travelling for most of the run, it was the first chance I had to see it, and I’m glad I did.

Ryan Craig’s family drama takes us through fifteen years, from the late 60’s to the early 80’s. Widow Yetta Solomon is the matriarch of an East London Jewish family whose business is in ‘rubber goods’. Both her sons, Nat and Leo, are in the business, but they are forever fighting. Leo is intent on escape, but Yetta always has a trick up her sleeve to stop him. Leo’s son Micky doesn’t want to join the business, but Yetta draws him in and eventually he, and other grandson Gerard, are involved, fighting just like their dads. There are references to real events of the period, which was indeed a fascinating one.

Yetta is full of contradictions. She is benevolent to workers like Monty and Rosa, until they cross her. Everything she does is to keep the family together and the business alive, but we eventually learn just how manipulative she is and just how dirty her tricks have been. It’s a commanding performance by Sara Kestelman, owning the stage as she does her family and her staff. Louis Hillyer and Dorian Lough are very good as the bickering brothers, as are Callum Woodhouse, Jack Bannon and Callie Cooke as the next generation. Ashley Martin-Davies’ two-story set is full of period detail and you can almost smell the rubber. 

I really took against Craig’s 2009 play Our Class and wasn’t at all keen on his 2011 play The Holy Rosenbergs – https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2011/05/27/the-holy-rosenbergs and this one becomes a bit too melodramatic at times, with some of the twists and turns a touch contrived, but it’s a big improvement on his previous work.

A meaty play with a superb late career performance by Sara Kestleman at it’s core.

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It’s hard not to be affected by so much negative buzz but I tried to approach this with an open mind. I’m partial to a bit of Spanish Golden Age, though I’m more of a Lope de Vega man than a Tirso de Molina man (the latter wrote this) and have fond memories of the RSC’s mini-season eight years ago. Then I remembered that Tirso’s contribution, Tamar’s Revenge, was the weak link in that season…..

…..but nowhere near as weak as this, though I have to confess I only survived the first half; if they were offering free Rioja in the second half, you couldn’t have dragged me back.

It’s one of the tackiest and ugliest sets ever to grace the Olivier stage – a big plastic mountain with three white petals. The opening monologues of Frank McGuiness’ translation / adaptation are forced and turgid.  The worlds of hermit Paulo, intent on penance, and gangster Enrico, destined to burn in hell, collide in one of the most implausible and preposterous set-ups you’ll ever see. After fifty minutes of clumsy staging and histrionic performances, you are thankfully handed an escape manual AKA an interval.

It’s hard to know where the blame lies – writer, adapter or director – but I suspect it’s a bit of all three. I’ve had a bit of a downer on director Bijan Sheibani who’s ‘credits’ include that travesty Greenland, the beyond dull Our Class and a surprisingly flat The Kitchen. You have to question why he’s an NT associate director and why Nick Hytner didn’t pull this before it was too late.

I feel really sorry for the cast, including talents like Bertie Carvell and Amanda Lawrence, who have to suffer this 32 more times to half full houses (with a top price of £32 and most seats at £12). They can’t do a runner like me!

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