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Posts Tagged ‘Peter McKintosh’

August Wilson was one of the greats of 20th century American drama, though he’s not as well known or as produced internationally as Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams or Eugene O’Neill. His great achievement was a cycle of ten plays, each set in a different decade of the 20th century, all in Pittsburgh’s Hill District where he was brought up, with characters in some plays being referenced in others, documenting 100 years of the African American experience. We’ve seen all bar one here, though revivals after their UK premiere’s have been rare. Seventeen years after it was first seen at the Tricycle, this ninth play (in period, rather than writing), set in the Reagan’s America in the 80’s, gets a superb revival at the Theatre Royal Stratford East.

King Hedley II is home from prison, where he served seven years. He lives at home with his mum Ruby, with whom he has a fractious relationship, and his wife Tonya. He has a seventeen-year-old daughter whom he hardly ever sees. He’s struggling to navigate life as an ex-con, selling knocked-off fridges with his best friend Mister to raise money to set up a video store. They try to speed up the fund-raising with a bigger crime. He’s keen to have a child with Tonya, but she doesn’t like the world it would be born into. Ruby’s old flame, smooth hustler Elmore, walks back into their lives and ghosts from the past emerge, propelling the play to its tragic conclusion. Peter McKintosh has built two full-size houses, evocative of the poor Hill District neighbourhood, whilst providing an intimate playing area in the back yards of the houses.

I was impressed by newcomer Aaron Pierre in Othello at Shakespeare’s Globe last year, but his performance as King Hedley is on another level altogether; deeply emotional and passionate with an extraordinary charismatic presence. Martina Laird is terrific as Ruby, a nuanced characterisation that conveys the complexity of her relationships with her son and Elmore. This is Lenny Henry’s fifth role since his late career extension into stage acting, and he continues to impress. Elmore brings a lightness to what is one of the darker plays of the cycle, and Henry is well suited to this. Dexter Flanders as Mister and Cherrelle Skeete as Tonya both make excellent contributions, and the cast is completed by a fine performance from Leo Wringer as the eccentric neighbour Stool Pigeon, who hoards newspapers to record history and makes prophetic contributions like a Greek chorus.

It’s a bit too long at 3.5 hours, but Wilson’s dialogue and a set of riveting performances just about keep you in their grip in Nadia Fall’s superb production. It’s such a timeless piece, covering issues just as relevant and urgent today, and Stratford East is a great home for a work like this – an auspicious contribution to kick off the next phase in the life of ‘the people’s theatre’. As I left, I looked up at Joan Littlewood’s statue and she seemed to have a smile of approval on her face!

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This is amongst Shakespeare’s most moralistic plays. Vienna has degenerated into a debauched city and its Duke decides to take a break, putting Angelo in charge, though he is hovering in the background, monitoring activities in disguise as a friar. Well, it would’t be Shakespeare without someone in disguise. Angelo takes a no-mercy approach and condemns Claudio to death for having sex with his girlfriend outside marriage. Claudio’s sister Isabella delays her entrance into the nunnery to plead for her brother, when we see Angelo misuse his power in a way we now see daily.

This is filleted to a 75-minute version in period costume – a short, conventional but perfectly good staging of the play. A coup d’theatre then propels us forward to the present time, where the Duke appoints Isabella rather than Angelo, who is now Claudio’s brother, and we embark on a even more filleted 65-minute version, all mobile phones and other contemporary references, where the protagonists have changed gender. Josie Rourke’s production is both very clever and very timely.

Pete McKintosh’s simple set facilitated the show propelling forward 400 years in a matter of seconds, with the emphasis on costumes, lighting and music / sound. Hayley Atwell and Jack Lowden are both excellent in their role reversals, and there are fine performances from Sule Rimi as Claudio, Nicholas Burns as the Duke, Matt Bardock as Lucio, Adam McNamara as the Provost and Raad Rawi as Escalus. Of course, everyone is required to exhibit different period behaviours, and Jackie Clune and Rachel Denning lead their band of prostitutes doing so brilliantly.

It does make an interesting and important point – how we treat the same situation differently depending on the sex of the protagonists, but it wasn’t as emphasised as I was expecting, and I did wonder if it was worth such a radical reinvention to make the point. Still, I much admired both the idea and its execution.

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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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Well, it looks like I’m going against the critical flow again on this one; I rather liked it, particularly the design, the songs and the infectious enthusiasm of the cast. Treating it as a family show might be the key.

It doesn’t have the storytelling quality of Alan Bennet’s iconic non-musical NT adaptation. It’s more character-driven, though there’s more of a story, well, caper, in the second half. Once we’ve established who’s who on the riverbank, the mysteries of the wild wood and Toad’s status, it’s basically about his imprisonment and escape and the takeover and reclaiming of Toad Hall. Julian Fellowes book isn’t up to much, but George Stiles catchy tunes and Anthony Drewe’s witty lyrics do enough plot driving to make up for it.

Peter McKintosh’s design is cute for the riverbank and grand and imposing for Toad Hall, with some excellent train, car and boat journeys in-between. The costumes help define the characters and I thought they were lovely. Aletta Collins choreography also adds much to the characterisations. Rachel Kavanaugh’s production has, above all, a lot of charm, helped by delightful performances like Simon Lipkin as Ratty, Craig Mather as Mole and Gary Wilmot as Badger. I liked Rufus Hound’s very brash, loud, athletic (and green) Toad and Denise Welch’s Geordie mother Otter. Neil McDermott is a good baddie, a suitably oily weasel.

The 6 and 10-year-old seemed to enjoy it as much as the older members of my party and the producers get a gold star for the accessibility that the children-go-free policy provides. Much better than those cynical paid critics would have you believe.

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It was touch and go at the Open Air Theatre on Tuesday, with the rain continuing until minutes before the start, but apart from a short break to mop the stage it went ahead, and the warmth from the stage just about made up for the chill in the air. OAT continues it’s pre-eminence in musicals revivals with this wonderful production of Bernstein’s rarely performed musical comedy, which I’ve only seen in ENO’s 2005 production, and we all know opera companies rarely do musicals well because they are, well, opera companies.

Three sailors arrive in New York on 24 hours leave, determined to make the most of it. Chip wants to see the sights, but Gabey and Ozzie prefer more hedonistic options. Gabey falls in love with a poster girl on the subway and they set about finding her, splitting up to visit the locations mentioned in the poster. Chip finds Hildy who’s just been fired from her job as a taxi driver and Ozzie finds anthropologist Claire in the Natural History Museum, and eventually Gabey finds his poster girl Ivy at Carnegie Hall. They all plan to meet for a date, but Gabey is stood up by Ivy. He eventually learns where she is from her music teacher and sets off for Coney Island to find her, whilst the others go on a bar crawl that gets seedier as they go.

Betty Comden & Adolf Green’s book and lyrics are much funnier than I remember and Bernstein’s score is better than I remember too, proving to be much more than its most famous songs New York, New York (not THAT one) and Some Other Time, and there’s a fantastic 15-piece band under MD Tom Deering to do it full justice. Drew McOnie’s hugely successful transition from Choreographer to Director / Choreographer continues and his staging of this is thrilling, with the balletic dancing so true to Jerome Robbins simply sensational. Peter McKintosh has designed a three-story set inspired by the opening and closing scenes at the dockyard which transforms into streets, subway trains, taxi, museum, apartment and nightclubs, with gorgeous bright and colourful costumes. When we get to Coney Island, the transformation takes your breath away.

Danny Mac, who plays Gabey, doesn’t have a strong voice, but it has a nice tone, he’s a good actor and his dancing is outstanding. Samuel Edwards is a great Ozzie and Lizzy Connelly a superb Hildy. Jacob Maynard has taken over the role of Chip after Fred Haig’s accident, and I thought he was terrific. Then there are two extraordinary professional debuts from Siena Kelly as Ivy and Miriam-Teak Lee as Claire – wow! The whole ensemble is wonderful and contributes much to an exciting, uplifting evening.

Not the best conditions for an evening at the OAT, but one of the best shows I’ve seen there. Go!

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This is Bertolt Brecht’s allegorical satire about the Nazi regime. Every character, scene and incident has a parallel and the title character is of course Adolf Hitler. He wrote it in exile during the war, but it wasn’t staged until thirteen years after it ended, and not in the US, as he intended, but in Germany itself. This expletive-laden new adaptation by Bruce Norris feels very fresh.

Ui runs a protection racket in Chicago (Germany) with designs on Cicero (Austria). He ‘buys’ local politician and trusted businessman Dogsborough (German President Hindenburg) en route to implementing his master plan to control the cauliflower trade! He has to deal with some of his own as well as those in his way, as his gang become disunited along the way. It’s littered with Shakespearean references and this production is also in part a satire on the seemingly equally irresistible rise of Donald Trump, which I thought I would find gratuitous but it was clever, with a light touch, and worked to the play’s advantage. This seems to be a big gig for director Simon Evans and he’s risen to the challenge with an inventive production with lots of audience engagement, including some playing roles!

Designer Peter Mackintosh has turned the theatre into a 30’s speakeasy, with seating on all sides on both levels, including cabaret-style tables on the bottom level and a stairway for the cast to move between levels. His period costumes are superb. Some of the casting is gender-blind, with Lucy Ellison making a superb Giri (Goring), Lucy Eaton excellent in three roles and Gloria Obianyo brilliant in four. Tom Edden playing no less than six, steals the show more than once, most notably as the actor giving Ui lessons. Lenny Henry has great presence as Ui, commanding the stage whenever he’s on it. It’s a uniformly excellent cast.

If you don’t know the play, it would be wise to mug up in advance, to get all the parallels and to get the most out of the evening, which is playful and entertaining without losing it’s satirical bite.

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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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