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Posts Tagged ‘Patrick Marber’

At the end of this play I was convinced Partick Marber’s ‘version’ was substantially different to Ibsen’s original. Then I read the synopsis and discovered it wasn’t. It’s contemporary not just in setting and dress, but also in dialogue and behaviour. The only thing that jarred with the contemporary was the guns, but even that wouldn’t have in the US. The combination of Marber, director Ivo van Hove and the mesmerising Ruth Wilson proves irresistible.

The newly married Tesmans return from honeymoon to their new home, which does indeed look as if they’re in the process of moving in. It doesn’t take long before we realise it’s a loveless marriage (well, at least on Hedda’s part) and the contrast between the coldness of George & Hedda’s relationship and the warmth of the relationship between George and his aunt Juliana, who brought him up, is striking. Lovborg, George’s former colleague, now competitor, was once in love with Hedda and is now in a relationship with her school friend Thea. Brack, a judge, is in lust with Hedda. Despite the fact Lovborg has cleared the way for Tesman’s professorship, Hedda still spikes his career in loyalty to her husband, and his relationship with Thea, perhaps through jealousy. The knowledge that Brack has a hold on her propels the play to its tragic conclusion.

It feels slow at first but when it gets going it becomes broodingly intense and eventually feels like a contemporary Scandinavian thriller. The vast one-room set adds to this atmosphere and there is some striking imagery, not least the way the light changes from dawn to sunrise through the French windows and the physicality of Hedda stapling flowers to the walls and virtually attacking the blinds. There were things I didn’t really get, most notably the continual presence of maid Berte, even illogically acknowledging her presence; she wasn’t an actor sitting on the side-lines but she wasn’t a character all of the time. It’s hard to take your eyes off Ruth Wilson, even when action and interactions are elsewhere; she is such a spellbinding presence. That said, it’s a fantastic cast with Kyle Soller’s earnest but naïve George and a very maternal Juliana from Kate Duchene. Brack’s sexual chemistry with Hedda was brilliantly conveyed by Rafe Spall and Chukwudi Iwuji was passionate and intense as Lovborg.

Patrick Marber gets more than his fair share of the National stages, but it’s great to see them welcoming world class directors like van Hove and Yael Farber. If I had seen it in 2016, this would have been one of my candidates for Best Revival of a Play, a completely fresh look at a playwright who is often produced like a museum piece.

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I blow hot and cold with Tom Stoppard. I wasn’t in London for the first outing of this piece, but I was for the first revival, with Anthony Sher in the lead role, and I recollect being dazzled by it. Time is a funny thing, though, and on this occasion I found it hard to engage with it. It had an air of superiority about it and made me feel like I was being patronised.

It links real people who were in Zurich during the First World War – Lenin, James Joyce, Dada founder Tzara and The British Honorary Consul Henry Carr – and weaves in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. Carr was apparently in a production of that play at that time and Joyce was involved. The rest is an exploration of revolution and art. This time I found it glib, clever for the sake of it, and I didn’t think it had much to say. Pointless intellectual fireworks.

It has moments of delicious absurdity and humour, particularly when it unexpectedly bursts into surreal scenes of song and dance, but they were few and far between, especially in the longer first half. Patrick Marber’s direction is very assured and Tim Hatley has designed an excellent set. The whole ensemble, led by Tom Hollander as Carr, give virtuoso performances.

I’m clearly at odds with most of the audience and critics, so I’m prepared to accept it’s a matter of taste. Not for me, I’m afraid.

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This ‘version’ of Turgenev’s 1869 play is set over three days in mid-19th century Russia on the estate of Arkady and his wife Natalya and young son Kolya. Arkady’s mother Anna, her companion Lizaveta and Natalya’s ward Vera also live with them, but its a small family unit for the place and time. Turgenev was more of a novelist than a playwright (the only other piece of his I’ve known staged in modern times was actually adapted from a novel) and somehow it shows here; it felt at times like a reading.

The recent arrival of assistant tutor Belyaev seems to have worked wonders on Kolya, but caused havoc amongst the ladies as Vera, Natalya and maid Katya have all fallen for him. This puts a couple of noses out of joint – family friend Rakitin, who has carried a torch for Natalya for some time, and manservant Matvey, who loves Katya. Add in two sub-plots of neighbour Bolshintsov seeking to wed Vera and the doctor, Shpigelsky, proposing to Lizaveta (one of the highlights of the play) and you have a lot of love and relationships to unfold in three stage days (a month in Turgenev’s original), under two hours playing time, and it turns into an eighteenth century soap opera.

This is all played out in front of a giant painting (design Mark Thompson), the canvas of which appears to continue to cover the stage, ending in rough edging at the front. The wings are exposed and the actors often sit at the back and sides when not performing. There is some furniture, but it feels like a oversized space much of the time, perhaps intentionally, representing the vast estate.

The evening’s chief pleasure is a uniformly excellent cast, though they appear to have been directed to play in a less naturalistic, somewhat old-fashioned way. Amanda Drew is exceptional as Natalya, able to instantly convey passion and emotion. John Simm impresses in the role of Rakitin, unlike any other I’ve seen him in. Mark Gatiss provides much of the comedy as Shpigelsky, particularly in scenes with the superb Debra Gillett as his love interest. Though the role is a bit underwritten, John Light is great as Arkady and Royce Pierreson gives a fine performance in the pivotal role of Belyaev.

When a writer directs his own work, I worry where the creative tension will come from. Patrick Marber has directed three of his own plays here at the NT (though not The Red Lion, currently running next door https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2015/06/15/the-red-lion) but not his other two adaptations, both at the Donmar. I found the seated actors a bit passe, pointless and distracting and the I found the playing style a bit quirky, so I did leave wondering what another director would have made of the material, which was indeed well written. A more conventional period staging may have served it better.

It was a pleasant enough evening, and I enjoyed it more than The Red Lion, but it didn’t wow me and I left feeling that it was a bit unfair giving over two of the three NT stages at the same time to the same playwright for plays which may not be entirely worthy of them.

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Playwright Patrick Marber has shot himself in the foot by producing a very dull 50-minute first act. I’ve never seen so many people fail to return after the interval. What followed were two much better acts, but it never really recovered, for those who stayed.

We’re in the world of semi-professional football, in the changing room, so I was rather surprised to find it is a three-hander. There’s the manager Kidd, a bit of a spiv but he appears to have turned the team around. Then there’s the kit man John, a former player who fell on hard times. He’s a bit of a father figure who commands respect and love. Finally, there’s the new player Jordan who shows much promise. Scene-setting and character introductions are about all we get in this first act.

For those that did return, in the second act we see the murkier side of football, where people are on the make, more interested in business and money than sport. To many, the new boy is a commodity rather than a player and we realise the processes of realising value from such commodities are both formal and informal and complex. I’ve thought for ages that business has swallowed up football, but I hadn’t realised that included obscure semi-professional clubs. In the third act it all comes home to roost and John proves to be the only truly honest one, with his principles intact, and a love of the game and the club which overrides everything else. The ending is somewhat melodramatic.

Anthony Ward has created a high-ceilinged uber-realistic dressing room, complete with tacky signs and mud. This is one of Peter Wight’s very best performances, a deep and delicate characerisation of John. I’m a huge fan of Daniel Mays and he’s perfect for the role of the manager, though I felt he overplayed it occasionally. Calvin Demba continues to show the promise he showed in the even more disappointing Wolf at the Door at the Royal Court; let’s hope he gets a better role and play next time.

Seeing Closer at the Donmar last year made me realise what good plays Marber has written. He preceded this with Dealer’s Choice and After Miss Julie and followed it with Don Juan in Soho, but that’s nine years ago now. Perhaps he’s lost his mojo, or perhaps he’s too involved in semi-professional football himself to see the flaws in his own play, but I would have expected a director as good as Ian Rickson to have addressed that. There’s a much better, shorter, more evenly balanced play in here crying to get out. A disappointment.

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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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