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Posts Tagged ‘Peter Forbes’

Alan Bennett’s last play, People, at the NT six years ago, was about the heritage ‘industry’. It tried to cover so many issues that it lost focus and proved a bit of a disappointment. He covers a lot of ground here too, but it’s more cohesive, a homage to the NHS with a swipe at the decline in our sense of social responsibility for good measure.

We’re in a Yorkshire general hospital, led by trust chairman and former Mayor Slater, that’s facing closure. They’re campaigning against it, and in the geriatric ward they’ve set up a choir as part of the campaign. There’s an omnipresent film documentary team, which Slater hopes will aid their campaign. Dr Valentine (anglicisation of his real name) is a caring doctor with a gentle bedside manner and genuine affection for his geriatric patients, but he’s facing deportation. Sister Gilcrest is old school, obsessed with continence and cleanliness. Nurse Pinkney is more focused on contentment and happiness. The real interest of Salter is his own career. Amongst the visitors, patient Mrs Maudsley’s family are predatory fortune hunters and coal-miner Joe’s son Colin is up from London, exorcising his fraught relationship with his dad; he’s a Management Consultant advising the Health Minister, an architect of closure plans. Just before the interval it takes a sinister turn.

Bennett’s acute observation of people shines again with finely drawn characterisations, delicious turns of phrase and a very clever unfolding narrative. I couldn’t stop smiling at the new ward names, changed at the suggestion of the minister. The twelve geriatric patients each have lovely back stories, which they share with us between songs. Our attitudes to the old, patient abuse, bed blocking and the obsession with targets, specialisation, outsourcing and privatisation are all covered. Of course, its very funny, but its also poignant and bang on target much of the time. Valentine’s final words direct to the audience pierced my heart.

The twelve patients are a delight, veteran thespians relishing such great writing. Deborah Findlay is brilliant as the cold but seemingly loyal, hard-working ward sister who becomes positively chilling. Sacha Dhawan has genuine warmth and empathy as Valentine. Samuel Barnett’s character Colin is rather unsympathetic, but he spars with Jeff Rawle’s brittle dad and both do eventually melt. There’s a lovely cameo from David Moorst as work experience affable Andy, who also turns unexpectedly. Peter Forbes makes a great job of the pompous self regarding Salter. Director Nicholas Hytner and designer Bob Crowley have worked with Bennett a lot, and they continue to serve his plays well.

I think the play divides people in many ways, with older audience members, NHS advocates and lefties the most positive. I loved it!

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It’s thirty years since I saw a large-scale production of this show – it’s first, and only, West End outing – though there were three others in quick succession between 2002 and 2010 – a semi-staged version at the Royal Festival Hall, a delightful fringe production at the Landor and another in Walthamstow during Sondheim’s 80th celebrations. Along with A Little Night Music, it’s never been my favourite Sondheim show, though it contains some of his best songs, but just five days after a stunning revival of that other show in Newbury, here we are at the National being blown away by Dominic Cooke’s sensational production, taking us back to the original Broadway version without interval. Now, where did I put my superlatives thesaurus……

It’s a reunion at the New York theatre where the Weismann Follies were between the wars. It’s about to be demolished and the girls of the 30’s and 40’s have been invited back one last time. Nostalgia gives way to regret for lost love and lost opportunities, as the main characters Buddy & Sally and Ben & Phyllis reminisce. There have been follies in their lives as well as Follies in their careers, and we learn how their relationships were formed and how they progressed. All four have the ‘ghosts’ of their former selves onstage, as do ten of the other stars from the past. Interwoven with their story, and ‘character songs’ as Sondheim calls them, we have routines and turns reenacted and a pastiche called Loveland within which all four leads sing of their individual follies.

Imelda Staunton follows her Mrs Lovett, Rose and Martha with another stupendous performance as Sally. It’s wonderful to see Philip Quast again, on fine form too as Ben, and Janine Dee is a terrific acid-tonged Phyllis, a particularly fine dancer as it turns out. Peter Forbes is less of a musicals regular, but he makes a great Buddy. Another piece of surprising but inspired casting is Di Botcher as Hattie, delivering Broadway Baby as if she was. Tracie Bennett takes I’m Still Here hostage with a particularly ballsy rendition, and the duet between opera singers Josephine Barstow and Alison Langer as older and younger Heidi is another stand-out moment in a show full of them. Dawn Hope’s Stella gamely leads the veterans in a thrilling tap dancing number with their former selves. The National is saved from prosecution by the musicals police by casting a Strallen, Zizzi, as Young Phyllis. This teally is a stunner of a cast.

Dominic Cooke isn’t known for musicals, but teamed with choreographer Bill Deamer, he’s done a great job, an elegant staging which is brash when it needs to be, at other times restrained and often very moving. Vicki Mortimer has created an atmospheric set and fantastic costumes. The unbroken 130 minutes was packed full of showstoppers and by the time we got to Loveland, I was overwhelmed and deeply moved. I think my previous, less enthusiastic reaction is down to timing. I was too young and too new to Sondheim and wasn’t really ready for this show – until now.

To the 37 performers and 21 musicians on stage, and the 200 production staff, and of course Messrs Sondheim & Goldman, it was worth every second of your time and effort. Unforgettable.

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I wasn’t sure I needed or wanted to see this again only two years after Out of Joint’s small scale touring version visited St James Theatre, but sometimes during my NT bookings my mouse takes on a life of its own and the next thing you know you’ve clicked a few times and its in your basket and your diary; fortunately on this case. It betters that production, and the original at the Royal Court 25 years earlier, because of its scale and the addition of music by Cerys Matthews.

It’s based on the true story of the first (penal) colonists shipped to Australia in 1797 as an alternative to imprisonment at home, after North America ceased to be an option. There were just under 600 convicts and 600 crew and marines. The practice continued for 80 years and the rest is history, fresh in my mind after visiting what’s left of these penal colonies and subsequent settlements earlier in the year. The conditions on the journey, and when they first arrived, were horrendous. Many of the officers were vicious and merciless. They were transported for the pettiest of crimes and often tried again and hung after they’d arrived with even less justice for sometimes spurious crimes, or at least with insufficient evidence. In this play, officer Second Lieutenant Ralph Clark is determined to attempt rehabilitation through theatre and he gets the Governor’s agreement to stage George Farquhar’s The Recruiting Officer. Daily life in the colony is interspersed with rehearsals for the play as his fellow officers make every attempt to undermine Clark. The debate about punishment or rehabilitation runs through the play and though it’s set 200 years ago still has relevance today.

Nadia Fall’s production makes great use of the space and resources of the Olivier Theatre, particularly the revolve and drum. Designer Peter McKintosh has created a giant red, orange and brown backdrop inspired by aboriginal art which leaves the stage uncluttered, allowing the piece to flow with the round ever-changing platform. The music provides a melancholic folk-blues sound-scape which does much to create the atmosphere and contains some beautiful songs beautifully sung. A lone aboriginal man is ever present, looking on with curiosity and disbelief. The whole effect is very evocative of the place and time.  It’s a superb cast. Amongst the officers, Jason Hughes is a warm, sympathetic and ultimately moving Ralph. It’s a tribute to the performances of Peter Forbes and David Mara that their brutality repulsed me physically. Amongst the convicts, Ashley McGuire as determined, defiant Bryant, Jodie McNee as feisty Scouse Morden and Lee Ross as obsequious Sideway shone.

In a week where you couldn’t help questioning our humanity as we watched the refugee crisis evolve, it resonated much more. Here was the lack of humanity of another age. This is Timberlake Wertenbaker’s best play and this production may be the definitive one, and perhaps the most timely one too.

 

 

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If you judged this play on the first and last 20 mins, you might think it was rather good. Sadly, the 80 minutes in-between are dire. The Royal Court’s Literary Manager must be away or asleep. This should never have got onto the main stage, at least not in its present form. Not even an actress as good as Maxine Peake can redeem it.

The play opens with Dana and Jarron waking from a night of passion. She thinks this relationship might have legs, he thinks it was a business transaction. He works for the UN, appears to be a demon and certainly leaves his mark, if not his money. Dana is late for her pitch for project funding, preparing in a rush with the help of her sister Jasmin, but it all goes horribly wrong. What follows, it seems, is Dana’s journey, with her pregnant sister, to Alexandria for another pitch. A librarian turns up regularly with appropriate reading suggestions and Jarron is rarely far away. It ends with a bit of a coup d’theatre (thanks to Chloe Lamford’s design) as we seem to be drowning, like illegal immigrants at sea.

The trouble is the whole middle section – a nightmare in both content and experience, an obtuse and deeply frustrating ramble, makes two hours (without an interval – very wise!) feel like a lifetime. I’m sure playwright Zinnie Harris has valid points to make, but they are buried in this incoherent mess. Maxine Peake does her very best with the material, with excellent support from Michael Shaeffer as Jarron, Christine Bottomley as Jasmin and Peter Forbes as the librarian, but it’s not enough. What used to be the home of new writing is yet again the home of shoddy writing that needs to be reigned in and whipped into better shape by a literary manager and / or director Vicky Featherstone.

I’ve spent many years trusting The Court and taking risks, most of which have been rewarded, but on recent form The Twits (surely they can’t mess that up?) may be my last blind punt. It’s very sad to watch a once great institution go down the pan.

 

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A play about the no win-no fee compensation culture has been a long time coming. Playwright Nick Payne’s Constellations was one of the most original plays of recent years and one of last year’s big hits. The Donmar is a great, intimate space for new plays. My expectations were going to be difficult to live up to and so it was. They make the best of the material, but the material isn’t really good enough.

Barry and Andrew are no win-no fee merchants, though there is clear ethical blue water between them. Kevin, an old school chum of Andrew (married to his first lay) lures him into serial fake claims. One target decides to defend which, unusually in these cases, leads them to court. It becomes much more than a claim as the relationship between Barry and Andrew is strained to breaking point and the relationship between Andrew and Kevin’s wife is recalled.

In the first half, we’re in the solicitor’s offices and in (most of) the second half we’re in court – something I wasn’t expecting until I returned to the theatre after the interval to see the extraordinary transformation. The problem is that the issues are touched on but not fully explored, so the play lacks depth. I liked the introduction of personal stories, but again they are glimpses. It was often just too slow. Scott Pask’s designs are superbly realistic, though the configuration of the courtroom means some actors have their backs to you much of the time (a bit like a court, really!).

The performances are uniformly excellent. Daniel Mays & Nigel Lindsay’s characterisations of Andrew & Barry compensate in part for the writing; their relationship evolves satisfyingly. Marc Wootton is brilliant as Kevin, the chancer you love to hate but can’t help loving. Monica Dolan and Peter Forbes make delicious transformations from Kevin’s co-conspirators in the first half to barrister and judge in the second. Niky Wardley brings Kevin’s put-upon pregnant wife to life, complete with courtroom vomiting (!) and Joanna Griffin and Isabella Laughland’s cameos are terrific; the latter so good she gets a round of applause as she leaves the witness-box.

It felt like an unfinished pay to me; edited and rewritten I suspect it would be a much better play. As it is, it’s down to superlative performances to make the evening worthwhile.

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