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Posts Tagged ‘Patsy Ferran’

This 1948 Tennessee Williams play immediately followed the much more successful A Streetcar Named Desire, but it took 58 years to get to London, a 2006 transfer from Nottingham to the West End which was pulled early. The director of this revival staged the only other London production, at Southwark Playhouse in 2012, but this is a new one. It’s typical TW fare, set in the deep south at the beginning of the 20th century, a minister’s daughter having a troubled relationship with the son of the doctor next door, who is about to follow in his dad’s footsteps.

The design appears to take its lead from Alma’s musicality, an arc of nine pianos each with a metronome on top. In front, a shallow pit strewn with earth two steps down. Impressionistic rather than realistic, and with music and a soundscape fully utilising the pianos, it’s highly atmospheric and sensuous, totally in keeping with the material.

Alma and John dance around each other, repressed emotions getting in the way of their real feelings. He starts a doomed relationship with a Mexican girl with a dubious but rich dad and much later with the much younger Nellie. Before Alma knows about the latter, she lets her guard down and reveals her true feelings, but its too late.

I was mesmerised by both Patsy Ferran as Alma and Matthew Needham as John, both performances emotionally raw. Ankana Vasan delivers beautifully stylised dance-influenced performances as Rosa and Nellie and Seb Carrington, in an auspicious professional debut, plays some mean piano as well as playing young travelling salesman Archie, who’s in the right place when Alma realises John will never be hers. The doubling-up of roles works OK, except for Forbes Masson as both dads, preacher and doctor, carrying a bible to signify which; I think it would have been better to have two actors here.

Rebecca Frecknall’s staging, Tom Scutt’s design, Lee Curran’s lighting and Angus MacRae’s compositions combine to create something very fresh from timeless material. A must-see.

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The National Theatre has a strong track record staging great family shows at Christmas in the Olivier – Wind in the Willows, His Dark Materials, Coram Boy, Was Horse – most of which have returned in subsequent years and one of which will be on 5 stages in 4 countries this Christmas. The last five years or so have seen less rich pickings, and I’m afraid that trend continues.

Many of the ingredients of this production are outstanding. Lizzie Clachan’s design – from the make-up and tattoos of Bill Bones through the punk-gothic costumes to the stage which transforms from inn to port to ship to island – is terrific. There are some great special effects. Jon Tams has provided some lovely songs. The characterisations – particularly the pirates – are excellent. Yet despite this it has no real sense of adventure, which is a bit of a problem for an adventure story! The way the story is told is a bit patronising and somehow at odds with the style. The actors were trying hard, maybe too hard. The fighting is completely lame. It all seemed ever so half-hearted. Byrony Lavery’s adaptation seems to have removed all of the magic from a classic which has captivated children for 130 years and inspired many other successful adaptations.

Director Polly Findlay has decided to cast women as Jim Hawkins and Dr Livesey. I’m not sure why (though the line ‘girls like adventures too’ is a clue) but it didn’t bother me and both performances, by Patsy Ferran and Helena Lymbery, were excellent. Gillian Hanna was delightful as Grandma and Aidan Kelly positively terrifying as Bill Bones. I thought Nick Fletcher’s Squire Trelawney was too much of a caricature and Arthur Darvill just seemed to be going through the motions as a very low energy Long John Silver, almost devoid of swash and buckle.

At the curtain call, they didn’t look like a particularly happy company – Arthur Darvill couldn’t raise a smile (or even a baddie’s sneer), just a ‘get me out of here’ expression. I felt much the same – much admiration for the craftsmanship, but not in the slightest bit captivated by the story.

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Playwright James Graham wrote a brilliant play about the flip-flopping between Labour & the Tories in the 70s even though he was born after the events in the play and here he is in the same period reminding us of the seemingly long forgotten Angry Brigade – home-grown middle class anarchist terrorists. I’m not sure why he’s obsessed with this period, but I’m enjoying the products of it.

It’s actually a play in two very different parts which he says in the script can be played either way around or even simultaneously or, as he ends his notes in an appropriately anarchic tone, ‘perhaps just do what you like’. In this production The Branch is the first more comedic half set in Scotland Yard where a new unit has been set up within Special Branch for a unified approach to clearly connected terrorist acts. The police are a bit clumsy, but they get there in the end. In the second more anarchic half, The Brigade, we’re in the terrorists’ house learning about their pasts, their motivations and their intentions whilst the crimes are being committed. The style of each half reflects the world in which it is set. At the end of the first half you do wonder where its going, but it leaves you satisfied in the end. James Grieve’s staging keeps you on your toes with its unpredictability.

Felix Scott plays the less comic cop Smith and turns up unrecognisable as terrorist John in the second half; both great performances. I’m thoroughly enjoying following Harry Melling’s grow into a fine young actor and here he’s got two large and four small roles to get his teeth into. Again, the contrast between the hapless Commander and the earnest Jim is great. Patsy Ferran and Scarlett Alice Johnson do well in what are effectively supporting roles in the first half and come into their own as equals in the second.

I was at college when these real life events were played out and I’m struggling to understand my lack of memory, but I’m grateful to James Graham for filling in the gaps with a play that resonates strikingly in our current troubled times.

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