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Posts Tagged ‘Paapa Essiedu’

Danai Gurira’s play is set in what was Rhodesia, the country in which she was brought up as Zimbabwe, but late in the 19th century. It’s look at colonialism is more left field, doing so by examining the impact of missionaries on the local communities, and it has as fine a set of performances as you’ll find anywhere. I was captivated.

Chilford is a convert, given an English name, now going about converting others. When his housekeeper Mai Tamba’s niece seeks refuge from her uncle, who is trying to marry her off following her father’s death, he takes her in, names her Esther and she becomes his next target, and if anything a more passionate convert. When protests break out in the country, the head of their church is killed, and Chilford’s colleague Chancellor takes refuge too, but we soon realise he is much less principled.

The play examines how the community is divided between the converted and those that stick to their heritage and beliefs. Set in Chilford’s home, we hear of events outside, as people come and go, until events inside become as dramatic. The simplicity of the design, in the round with a platform, a few bits of furniture and gauze walls that rise and fall, beautifully lit by Bruno Poet, provides intimacy and ensures you focus on the story. Above all, it’s stunningly performed by a terrific company led by Paapa Essiedu as the earnest Chilford and Letitia Wright as Esther, and both are mesmerising.

Another great night at the Young Vic.

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If you take out the two operas, the three foreign language productions, the deconstruction and the filleted three-hander, I think this is my 12th Hamlet. Simon Godwin’s bold and brilliant staging, with a mesmerising performance by Paapa Essiedu, may well be the best of them. I regretted not going to Stratford to see it, but now I don’t, because it’s particularly thrilling to see it at the Hackney Empire amongst an enraptured young and diverse audience.

It’s an African Denmark, colourful and throbbing with music and life, which works brilliantly. It serves the play well, adding some magic, but no gimmicks. So many scenes are superbly staged it’s hard to know where to begin. It gets off to a great start at Hamlet’s graduation ceremony, emphasising his youth and the likely effect of this on his grief at losing his dad and anger at his mother’s swift re-marriage. His confrontations with a cool Claudius are particularly spikey and the resentment of his mother palpable. As the play progresses, we get a superb play-within-the-play, Polonius’ death deftly handled, Ophelia’s grief heartbreaking, a wonderful grave digging scene and a thrilling fight between Hamlet and Laertes using double sticks. Godwin hardly puts a foot wrong and I felt I was hearing the verse afresh with new emphasis and intonation.

Paapa Essiedu really is extraordinary. His verse speaking is enthralling, he totally engages with the audience and every one of those many soliloquies, where he’s alone on that vast stage, are captivating. The rest of the cast is excellent too. I thought Clarence Smith was a particularly fine Claudius and Buom Tihngang made Laertes his own. Mimi Ndiweni is very moving as Ophelia and Lorna Brown navigates Gertrude’s emotional journey very well. Joseph Mydell is luxury casting indeed as Polonius. Paul Wills set, in red-rust colours, and colourful costumes evoke an African kingdom, with Sola Akingbola’s music adding that final touch.

It’s somewhat ironic that within 48 hours our two big national companies have given me one of the worst and one of the best Shakespeare productions I’ve ever seen. I can’t emphasise enough how much seeing it in Hackney Empire, surrounded by young people spellbound by the Bard, added to my experience.

DON’T MISS THIS

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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.

 

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