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Posts Tagged ‘Paul Chahidi’

As I get older I find myself seeing plays anchored in modern history that I’ve lived through, though with unreliable memories. This is another timely one, about the creation of the SDP as a reaction to a Labour lurch to the left on a tide of member activism with a policy of EU withdrawal and an unelectable leader. Who said history doesn’t repeat itself! To add an extra frisson, I saw it on the day Article 50 was invoked, something there will no doubt one day be a play about, but probably not in my lifetime.

It takes place the day after the Labour conference which cemented the lurch, in David Owen’s fashionable East End home (uber realistic design by Alex Eales). The gang of four, as they were known, are convened by Owen. His attempts to pick the others off one by one are rumbled and seen as manipulative and divisive. His American wife Debbie is key to toning down his excesses, which are clearly winding the others up. They struggle to make decisions under time pressures of their, well Owen’s, making, but they make it in the end, after the debate on alternative options leads them back to there being only one real option. Though the initiative failed in the end, it may in some way have paved the way for New Labour’s later successful bid for power from the same middle ground and the Lib Dems eventual entry into coalition. It lags a bit in the middle, with circular debates that go nowhere (which may be true, but don’t make good drama) and it doesn’t have the pace, energy or incisiveness of something like James Graham’s This House, but it’s a fascinating piece of history and way more timely that you could ever imagine.

Roger Allam is the only actor who doesn’t have the responsibility of playing a living figure. His Roy Jenkins, then President of the EU Commission, is uncanny. He’s very old school, a touch bumbling, with a penchant for expensive French wine. David Owen comes over as a somewhat unsympathetic character and Tom Goodman-Hill captures his ambition, passion and manoeuvring well. I loved Debra Gillett’s characterisation of Shirley Williams, the one everyone loves, and the less well-known Bill Rodgers is played by Paul Chahidi as a passive follower, very much in awe of Jenkins. If the play is to be believed, Debbie Owen had a considerable influence, both on her husband and the others, and Nathalie Armin conveys this very well.

I love seeing plays anchored in real events with real people and, like his previous play Temple about Occupy’ s effect on St. Pauls, Steve Waters particularly timely piece is very welcome indeed.

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I was a bit shocked when I walked into the Olivier to find the stage laid out as a cramped modern office. As You Like It?! I still wasn’t convinced during the first few scenes, but from the moment Lizzie Clachan’s extraordinary design transformed the stage to an impressionistic Forest of Arden, I was captivated. I’m still not sure why we start in the offices of the de Bois family business (some sort of trading floor with staff in different uniforms suggesting different roles) but the rest of the play made perfect sense.

The key to the success of the production is the combination the Clachan’s design, Orlando Gough’s music & Carolyn Downing’s sound effects, the human sheep in Arran jumpers and superb casting and staging by Polly Findlay. It might not look like any forest you’ve ever walked through, but it feels like a magical one. People (and sheep!) weave in and out to play out scenes, seeming to appear from nowhere. The music is gorgeous, particularly the songs sung beautifully by Fra Fee and the atmospheric, wordless choruses. The sound of animals, birds and weather conditions are all-pervading. The verse speaking is outstanding and the gentle amplification (necessary given the soundscape) means you hear every word. The play has never felt more other-worldly or magical.

Ellie Kirk, covering Celia for Patsy Ferran, was terrific; word perfect and confident in such a big role. Rosalie Craig is a brilliantly boyish Rosalind / Ganymede and has great chemistry with Joe Bannister’s excellent Orlando. There’s luxury casting in the smaller roles, from Patrick Godfrey’s loyal Adam through Mark Benton’s particularly funny Touchstone, Alan Williams wise old shepherd Corin and Ken Nwosu’s charming young shepherd Silvius, to Paul Chahidi’s introspective Jaques.

This production appears to have divided people, but I thought it was one of the best I’ve seen.

 

 

 

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