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Posts Tagged ‘Peter Gill’

Peter Gill is better known as a director, and a lot less prolific as a playwright, but he’s written a handful of very good plays, of which this is one of the best. First seen in 2002 at the Royal Court, revived just seven years later at the Riverside Studios, which Gill founded, and now nine years on at the Donmar Warehouse in what might be the best of the three.

Farm labourer George lives with his widowed mother in their tied cottage, with his sister Barbara, husband Arthur and their three children in the nearby council estate. Neighbour Doreen persuades George to get involved in the York Mystery Plays where he meets Assistant Director John, up from London, with whom he develops an unlikely friendship and a clandestine relationship; this is the early sixties. It starts and ends after the relationship, moving back to the visit John makes at the beginning of their relationship, an evening after the show and then to George’s mothers’ funeral. It’s not until the end that we fully understand the intervening years.

The culture clash between city and country, North and South, thespian and farmer are deftly handled and the understated writing is matched by a restrained production and a set of beautiful, authentic performances. Robert Hastie’s staging is finely tuned and hugely sensitive. Peter Mackintosh has designed an evocative, realistic, intimate cottage, with the countryside projected high above. Ben Batt and Jonathan Bailey give wonderful, delicate, nuanced performances. Lesley Nicol is simply lovely as the archetypal working class loving Mother. Lucy Black is a down-to-earth Barbara who may be more knowing than we think, and Matthew Wilson her husband Arthur who isn’t knowing at all; both fine characterisations. Katie West beautifully conveys neighbour Doreen’s yearning for George, and there’s an auspicious stage debut from Brian Fletcher as young Jack. A faultless cast.

This is an impeccable revival which draws you in to the world and lives of the characters and captivates you, proving conclusively that its a fine play indeed. This is why I go to the theatre.

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I know a reasonable amount about the first world war – I’ve got things that used to be called ‘O’ levels and an ‘A’ level in history, after all – but it took this play to make me understand the profound implications of the fragile peace that followed it. This really was an enriching theatrical experience.

Peter Gill’s play is set over six months in 1919. In the first act we meet the middle-class Rawlinson’s – mother Edith, son Leonard & daughter Mabel – and their neighbours and friends and explore what the war meant for each of them. Leonard is a civil servant about to go to Paris to work behind the scenes on what will become the Treaty of Versailles. Mabel and maid Ethel’s boyfriends Hugh and William have returned from the war but friends & neighbours the Chater’s son Gerald hasn’t. Local businessman Geoffrey is raising money for a memorial and trying to woo Leonard’s much younger university friend Constance. Talk turns to current affairs and politics and the issues suddenly seem contemporary – Ireland, the Middle East, Europe…..

In Act II we’re with Leonard and fellow civil servant Henry working on the peace proposals. Leonard is idealistic and passionate whilst Henry just does his job. Leonard becomes disillusioned as he prophesies disastrous consequences of a botched peace where national self-interest and the wish to punish Germany override long- term European security. Leonard begins a dialogue with the dead Gerald Chater and we learn that they were more than friends.

In the third act, Leonard is forced to explain his premature return, issues of class picked up in Act II are developed and the likely outcome of Versailles and changes to come and debated. Mabel tells Hugh she won’t marry him, Constance goes cold on Geoffrey and Edith and the Chater’s just wish things would get back to normal. At this point, the profound impact of this moment in time slaps you in the face.

It’s a slow burn, but in the second act it grabs you and doesn’t let go. You have to work at it – it comes in at 3h 10m with 2 intervals, though I’ve seen plays half as long that don’t sustain their length as well as this. By the end, my head was so full it almost hurt. Richard Hudson’s period design is elegant and the ensemble is superb. Gwilym Lee is wonderfully passionate as Leonard, well matched with Tom Hughes’ Gerald and Edward Killingback’s Eton toff Henry. Francesca Annis and Barbara Flynn are great as the two matriarchs. It’s a bit invidious to single anyone out really as it’s such a good unstarry cast.

A fascinating, enlightening and timely play which will surely be a contender best new play of 2014.

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Well, I’ve got seriously behind with my blog, so instead of individual play reviews, I’m adding them to the customary monthly round-up, which given I only spent 12 days of April in the UK, wasn’t much to round-up!

The highlight was undoubtedly the ballet – Scottish Ballet’s new working of A Streetcar Named Desire at Sadler’s Wells. I felt just like I did the first time I really ‘got’ ballet as dance drama, when I saw Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo & Juliet. This wordless form was more dramatic than any production of the play I’d seen – and both operas adapted from it. Starting with Blanche’s back story (way before her arrival in New Orleans when the play starts) was inspired. The drama unfolded chronologically from her childhood to her incarceration in an asylum by her sister Stella & husband Stanley. The fingerprints of director Nancy Meckler were all over it and the choreography of Annabelle Lopez Ochoa matched it seamlessly. Graeme Virtue’s jazz influenced score was hugely atmospheric, played beautifully by a small 13-piece orchestra. Niki Turner’s designs were elegant, evocative and simply beautiful. You got every bit of the play’s intensity, the longing, the sadness, the testosterone, the fragility….this is a masterpiece I can’t wait to see again.

The opera was ROH 2’s Opera Shots in the Linbury Studionew operas by those new to opera. Graham Fitkin’s Home wasn’t really an opera but a dance drama with music! Nice music though, and lovely flowing movement. What it was about is another matter; don’t ask me. Neil (the Divine Comedy) Hannon’s Sebastopol was more substantial, but still felt more like a staged song cycle than an opera. Again, nice music – though lots of missed words with opera singers singing the way they do i.e often unintelligibly!

I first saw Filumena in the West End in 1977 in a Zeffirelli production starring Joan Plowright – though I didn’t really know who Zeffirelli and Plowright were! Samantha Spiro at the Almeida makes a great Filumena and Clive Wood is an excellent Domenico. Robert Jones’ vast set is so realistic it looks fake (all those artificial plants!). Somehow though the play doesn’t seem that good now. There’s an implausibility to the story of a prostitute who ‘goes native’ but never manages to bag her man, even using the parentage of her sons as bait. A good production, but I’m not sure the play has stood the test of time.

I was recalling my first trip to NYC in my recent travel blog and in particular that one of the plays I saw in that 1980 visit was a preview of Arthur Miller’s The American Clock (which closed soon after opening, but got an NT production some years later). The co-incidence was that I’d booked to see it at the Finborough two days after my return – and very glad I was that I had. Director Phil Wilmott’s idea of framing the play with scenes at a present day exhibition of great depression photos was inspired and heightened even further the parallels between 1929 and today. Given the number of scenes, the production has to be simple and it was, and the acting was the usual high standard we’ve got used to at the Finborough – but what grabs you is the uncanniness of the contemporary relevance of Miller writing 30 years ago about something that happened 80 years ago. Spooky!

Big & Small’s big draw is its movie star lead – Cate Blanchette – and she is an extraordinarily good stage actor. Sadly, her vehicle here is a load of pretentious bollocks about a woman searching for meaning in her life. I will allow the director’s quotes in the programme to sum it up as I can’t – ‘It alludes simultaneously to the spiritual and political dimensions of life; macro / micro, cosmos / cell, state / individual, history / present, eternity / now. The expansion and contraction of being…..the seemingly fragmented de-centred dramatrugy…..the slow-motion detonation of character and narrative…..the existential puzzle…..the play offers a radical perspective on society. Lotte’s odyssey confronts us with the limits of rational order. She is a stranger in her own culture. A fool and a saint dancing on the rim of the abyss. As I said, bollocks.

Making Noise Quietly gets a gentle loving production from Peter Gill and the three playlets are finely acted. Again the problem is the material, Robert Holman’s 27-year old piece, now apparently an ‘A’ level text! Loosely connected by the second world war and the Falklands war, I didn’t really find them satisfying, particularly the last (title) play which I found unbelievable; I just couldn’t buy in to the characters and situation. Not the Donmar at its best.

Babes in Arms wasn’t the Union at its best either. Hampered by a weak book, this musical just didn’t sparkle as it could and has. The musical standards weren’t up to the Union’s usual high, though the choreography of Lizzi Gee was outstanding so all was well in the dancing department. Overall, a disappointment though.

I’ve lost track of the number of Alan Ayckbourn shows I’ve seen – maybe half of his 75? – but of late the new ones have seemed dated and the old ones like veritable museum pieces. Neighbourhood Watch at the Tricycle (what’s it doing here?) was no different. The one location and setting was dull and restrictive and the whole thing was just a bit predictable and dull. The premise was fine and it was nicely acted, but it didn’t sustain its 130 minute length and left me thinking ‘so what?’

Not the greatest eight days in theatre, then…..

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It doesn’t take much to fill the Bush Theatre – c.2500 in a month-long run like this; about as many as three nights in a West End playhouse, two at the Olivier or one at the Palladium. Add in a couple of people ‘off the telly’ and it’s tickets become hot indeed. If only the play were as hot. The Bush has an extraordinary track record in spotting good new plays, but it’s certainly failed here I’m afraid.

The Aliens by Annie Baker is an insubstantial and slight piece about a pair of losers who hang out in the back yard of a cafe and their relationship with each other and the teenage waiter who engages with them when he pops out to empty the rubbish. That’s about it really. It’s the opposite to Wednesday’s The Big Fellah – nothing really happens. Of course, some reviewers are talking ‘Chekovian’. Well I’m talking ‘bollocks’.

So much talent wasted – another great redesign of this tiny theatre, by Lucy Osborne; Peter Gill,the master of small-scale himself, directing; and fine acting from Mackenzie Crook and Ralf Little as the losers, though ironically it’s young Olly Alexander who takes the real acting honours.

A rare disappointment at the Bush.

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