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Posts Tagged ‘Paul Miller’

The resurgence of interest in Terence Rattigan’s plays seems to have focused more on the intense dramas, like The Deep Blue Sea. The Orange Tree Theatre now gives us the second of the rarer comedies, following French Without Tears four years ago. I thought that earlier play hadn’t aged well, but this one comes up sparkling and fresh.

It’s set in the London home of The Earl of Harpenden, a man without a family who’s about to marry the daughter of The Duke of Ayr & Stirling. The Earl likes a good time and befriends an American Lieutenant at one of his drinking sessions and invites him to stay. His partying friend Mabel, a bit of a vamp, also turns up. His fiancee Elizabeth visits with someone she’s befriended, a French Lieutenant. Both fall for Elizabeth, which sends the play along a sophisticated, hysterical, delightful path to its happy conclusion.

The Orange Tree is the perfect space to give the comedy intimacy and pace. All you need is a few bits of furniture, and in this case a superb ceiling feature, to create this bachelor apartment; well, Horton the butler as well, obviously. All seven performances in Paul Miller’s pitch perfect production shine. Notwithstanding the period it’s still set in, this seventy-six-year-old play feels so fresh. What must have been a tonic in war-time London, proves to be a tonic still.

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This was one of the first plays I saw at the Traverse Theatre, and indeed at the Edinburgh Fringe, 33 years ago, which began a lifelong love of both, leading to ten shows at the new Traverse just last month. It was part of a golden age for Scottish drama, led by the Traverse, which went on to mount three more Jo Clifford plays before moving on to the next generation. It hasn’t been revived there since and I’m not sure it’s ever been seen in London before.

It’s set in the early 17th century, when Spain was an aspirational expansionist power with particular designs on the states which would one day become Italy. The newly married Duke of Osuna, not really enamoured with his new wife and seemingly impotent, avoids the honeymoon by heading to Venice on behalf of King and country to make Spain great again, with his poet Quevedo and servant Pablo, whose partner Maria stays at court in Madrid with the Duchess. On the way they encounter pirates and when they get there, it’s all a bit weird, with little to say and not really going anywhere.

I’m not sure Jess Curtis’ hybrid period / contemporary design helps Paul Miller’s production, but the actors work hard to breathe life into it, notably the four central performances by Tim Delap as the Duke, Christopher Logan as poet Quevedo, Eleanor Fanyinka as Maria and an excellent professional debut from Remus Brooks as Pablo. I can see why they thought the time was right to revive it, and indeed I was very much looking forward to seeing it again, but time hasn’t been kind and I’m afraid it comes over as dull and a bit pointless today.

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I’m fond of a bit of Marivaux, though there’s been a bit of a famine of late. This early 18th century French playwright wasn’t as highly regarded as the more earnest Racine or the more grandly comedic Moliere in his day, but contemporary British audiences have rather taken to his perfectly formed minimalist romantic comedies, and there were some 37 of them over 50 years (I’ve only seen four!). This one was last seen (I think) at the NT 24 years ago, titled The Game of Love & Chance, a translation by Neil Bartlett, who was partly responsible for rekindling interest in Marivaux. This is a translation by the late John Fowles, set in Jane Austen’s Regency England, workshopped by the NT nine years before that, but not staged until now.

It’s a simple but intricate plot. The father’s of Sylvia and Richard have arranged for them to meet in the hope they will become a match, but it’s not an arranged marriage. With her father’s agreement, Sylvia decides to swap roles with her maid Louisa so that she can observe Richard’s character, but unbeknown to her, Richard has decided to do the same with his manservant Brass. Sylvia’s father knows of Richard’s plan as his dad wrote and informed him, and her brother Martin is now in the know too. It unfolds like a dance of love over ninety minutes until we have not one, but two, happy couples. It’s got bags of charm and there isn’t a wasted moment.

Paul Miller’s in the round production has great pace, with no props to slow down scene changes. Simon Daw’s simple but elegant design comprises a lamp and flower ceiling feature, an illuminated floor and sky painted canvases on each side. All six performances are excellent, with Ashley Zhangazha & Dorothea Myer-Bennett as Richard and Sylvia and Claire Lams & Keir Charles as Louisa and Brass. It never outstays its welcome and you leave the theatre with a warm glow.

Lovely to see Marivaux again. Lets hope it starts another reawakening of interest.

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Pomona

Well if this is part of new AD Paul Miller’s plan to shake up the Orange Tree, he’s certainly succeeding. Like the Hampstead audience and Wildfire last week, the OT regulars were visibly hating this play (something that’s hard to avoid with them on all sides). It remains to be seen if a new audience replaces them; Friday night was far from full, despite excellent reviews.

It’s hard to describe because I didn’t fully unravel it. We appear to be in the future. Zeppo, a man in underpants and parka, claims to own most of Manchester, including the inner city island of Pomona with only one way in and mysterious goings on. Ollie is looking for her lost sister. Charlie, who is obsessed with covering the world with his sperm (!), is hosting role play parties that no-one attends, except Keaton. There’s organ and baby harvesting and other incomprehensible events. If there was an intelligible story, I didn’t find it.

They’ve created a square swimming pool-like pit with a drain in the middle, and the action takes place in and around it. The trouble with this is that if you’re downstairs and not in the front row, the sight-lines are dreadful and you have to stretch and turn and even then you miss stuff completely. The lighting and sound create the atmosphere of the piece and the performances are fine. I just couldn’t engage with it and it was a very long 100 minutes without an interval.

I’m sure it means more to someone younger, and in particular to a gamer, but it certainly doesn’t have universal appeal. I couldn’t help thinking about the Almeida’s Mr. Burns. I was outraged when they lost their Arts Council grant and I admire Paul Millers intentions, but it seems to me this might be running before they can walk, far too radical at the beginning of a transition – I’m not even sure Richmond will ever be the place for the cutting edge.

Not for me, I’m afraid.

 

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The catch-up continues with this revival of Michael Frayn’s 9-year-old play (only 9?!) about Germany in the cold war and in particular the infiltration of Chancellor Willy Brandt’s office by a spy from the east and the relationship that develops between them. It’s not as dry as it sounds!

There aren’t many (any?) plays set in Germany in the cold war, so on that level it proves a fascinating insight into the time, but it’s the evolution of the relationship that is the most fascinating thing about it. Brandt and Gunter Guillaume are drawn to one another and become good friends, which gives the deceit and betrayal so much more impact.

It might sound odd, but I found the longer first half slow and less engaging, yet the story seemed rushed. The second half, as the deception is revealed, is a cracker though. Simon Daw’s design loses the first four rows of the stalls to provide more intimacy but perhaps too much extra space for director Paul Miller to consider in his staging. I was hugely impressed by an unrecognisable Aiden McArdle as Gunter and found Patrick Drury captured the man-of-the-people charisma of Willy. There isn’t a weak link in the suporting cast of eight actors (all men!).

It’s great to see something from Daniel Evans’ regional powerhouse in Sheffield finding its way to London (but why not Othello or Company?!) and it was well worth taking another look at one of Frayn’s best plays.

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