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Posts Tagged ‘Paul Freeman’

This is the second play about Lawrence of Arabia in this centenary year of the Arab Revolt. When I saw Howard Brenton’s Lawrence After Arabia recently at Hampstead, I had no idea Terence Rattigan had written a play about the same man 46 years ago. This rare revival at Chichester was therefore an opportunity not to be missed for a Rattigan fan with a new interest in T E Lawrence. 

Like Brenton’s play, it starts and ends with scenes after his return from the Middle East, but this time during his first spell of attempted anonymity in the RAF rather than his second spell in the army, and we’re there with him rather than on leave at the home of G B Shaw and his wife. The filling in this sandwich is a more substantial period in the Middle East. Rattigan uses his RAF experience once more in writing terrific scenes of camaraderie, funny at the beginning, more moving at the end. There’s real emphasis on his genuine affection for, and friendship with, the Arab rebels he effectively leads. The Turkish forces appear this time and the account of the horrors he experienced when apprehended by them are very graphic. Though I enjoyed Brenton’s play, I found this had more depth, both in narrative and characterisation, but it did lag a bit in the initial Middle East scenes.

The eighteen strong all-male cast won’t win any awards for diversity, but that was unlikely to be on Rattigan’s mind 46 years ago. It’s a uniformly excellent ensemble too, led by Joseph Fiennes as an introspective but passionate Lawrence. Peter Polycarpou and Michael Feast are both very good, and virtually unrecognisable, as Sheik Auda Abu Tayi and the Turkish Military Governor respectively. Paul Freeman is great as General Allenby and Brendan Hooper a delight as Flight Sergeant Thompson. The stage seems much deeper than usual and William Dudley’s superb design features very imposing Egyptian pillars at the back and an open rough sandy stage which can change from British barracks to desert to office with just the minimum of furniture. I thought Adrian Noble’s staging was outstanding.

Well worth suffering Southern Rail’s chaos on a trip down to Chichester, good to see both Fiennes brothers in the same week, and to see the second of three plays by or about Rattigan in a three week period!

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I’d love to report that Ed Hall’s first production as artistic director of Hampstead Theatre is a stonking success. His appointment at this beleaguered venue, which has never truly arrived in its new building,  is very welcome indeed, but I can’t lie – Enlightenment is at best OK.

Shelagh Stephenson isn’t a very prolific playwright but she has written some interesting plays, notably The Memory of Water. Her subject this time is the disappearance of a son whilst back-packing, using this story to explore themes of connectedness and unease in the post-09/11 world. What you get is a tale which is part thriller part mystery which doesn’t really go anywhere but passes a couple of hours you don’t necessarily regret but you won’t be talking about soon after leaving the theatre.

It’s fairly intriguing and occasionally funny, though a lot of the dialogue seems forced and clumsy, as if she really hadn’t believed in her own characters. Francis O’Connor’s design is outstanding – a minimalist home which easily morphs into other locations like an airport and a park with a few props and excellent projections on the walls and ceiling.  

The acting honours belong to newcomer Tom Weston-Jones, though he’s lucky to have the most interesting character. Julie Graham and Richard Clothier were unconvincing as the parents and Polly Kemp’s psychic and Daisy Beaumont’s documentary maker were mere caricatures. Paul Freeman makes a very believable politician / grandfather.

The rest of Hall’s  first season looks promising, though allowing three writers to direct their own work and letting Katie Mitchell, the queen of pretension, loose in the new studio may prove foolhardy!

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