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Posts Tagged ‘Paul Miller’

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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