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Posts Tagged ‘Paul Higgins’

Whenever people think of late 19th / early 20th century Russian drama, only one name usually crops up – Chekov. This means Gorky rarely gets a look in; we get 50 Cherry Orchard productions for every Summerfolk. Whilst Chekov was pumping up the introspective middle classes, Gorky was trying to raise the plight of the poor. Much more up my liberal street.

This play was written whilst Gorky was in prison and produced on the eve of the 1905 revolution. It revolves around scientist Protasov. He is being pursued by widow Melaniya whilst his wife Yelena is being pursued by artist Vageen. Melaniya’s brother Boris, a vet, is in love with Protasov’s emotionally fragile sister Liza. Their attractive young maid, Feema, is being pursued by lots of men! It’s open house at the Protasov’s, presided over by Nanny with Protosov himself eccentric, weak and somewhat otherworldly.

Whilst all this is going on in the house, disease begins to wreak havoc in the village. In the second act, things begin to unravel in their relationships as rumours begin to circulate that it’s Prosotov’s work and not cholera that’s the cause of the disease and the outside begins to threaten the inside, eventually leading to an invasion which ends with an extraordinary coup d’theatre. We spend a bit too long in the interior world of the fortunate before the events outside are introduced, but from then on it’s a great piece – more because of superb characterisation than story.

The unstarry ensemble is brilliant; not a weak link amongst them. Geoffrey Streathfield is every inch the mad professor. Paul Higgins as Boris and Maggie McCarthy as Nanny each turn in another fine NT performance and Lucy Black, someone who is new to me, was hugely impressive as the besotted Melaniya. It’s another of Bunny Christie giant wild sets; she really knows how to make the best of the difficult Lyttleton stage. Director Howard Davies continues to show his affinity with this Russian repertoire with a masterly staging of Andrew Upton’s accessible adaptation.

More of a treat than the press led me to expect & something only the NT could do.

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There was a time when Schiller’s plays were dull and turgid. Then along came Mike Poulton with adaptations which breathed new life into them. His  adaptation of Don Carlos was masterly and now he excels with this cross between Les Liaisons Dangereuses and Romeo & Juliet.

The Chancellor’s son, an army major, is in love with court musician’s daughter Luise, but his father plans to wed him to the Prince’s mistress to provide cover for the Prince and obtain influence for himself.  The Chancellor’s private secretary, appropriately named Wurm, wants Luise himself and with the help of Lady Milford and Hofmarschall ( I wasn’t quite sure what his role is) his machiavellian plans unfold, ending tragically with its R&J moment. It’s a cracking story and the dialogue is sharp and often witty; not a word is wasted.

The Donmar space is simply but beautifully designed and lit by Peter McKintosh and Paule Constable respectively and Michael Grandage’s staging is as ever impeccable. I don’t think even the Donmar has ever assemble an ensemble this good. You totally believe in the love and passion of Felicity Jones and Max Bennett as Luise and Ferdinand. Ben Daniels has never been better than here as the Chancellor, whose craze for power unleashes such tragedy and results in his own deep remorse. John Light and David Dawson provide the intrigue in their deliciously smarmy, oleaginous fashion (and in the case of Dawson, very camp) whilst Alex Kingston is every bit the arch manipulator whose only interest is herself – at any cost . I also really liked Paul Higgins devoted passionate father who does much to illustrate the backdrop of the class divide.

This will I’m sure be one of the highlights of the year, and one of the defining productions of Grandage’s reign at the Donmar. Miss at your peril.

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