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Posts Tagged ‘Peter McKintosh’

The original leads of the 1982 West End premiere of Julian Mitchell’s play have done rather well for themselves. Rupert Everett was the first Bennett, followed by Daniel Day-Lewis and Colin Frith, and Kenneth Branagh was the original Judd! The class of 2014, who seem a lot younger, are excellent (and include an Attenborough!) so it will be interesting to see if history repeats itself.

It’s particularly fascinating seeing one’s reaction to the play in three productions over 32 years. In 1982, Thatcher was challenging the old boy network in her own party and this grammar school / polytechnic / manufacturing industry boy felt like he was peering into some mysterious other world. In 2000, New Labour had caught our imagination and this seemed like distant history. Today, it’s like seeing the formative years of our current rulers, helping you understand where all the hypocrisy and duplicitousness comes from and realising that nothing has actually changed. I found that annoying and profoundly irritating.

It’s a 30’s British public school, breeding ground for leaders and spies. Bennett is openly gay, behaving like a child in a toyshop. Judd is a Marxist revolutionary, all idealism and rebellion. Their bond is that they won’t play the conservative game and conform with the absurd traditions. The rest are chips off the old blocks, clones of their dads, being brainwashed into following in their footsteps. The suicide of a boy caught inflagrante delicto with another and the visit of an old boy, uncle of a present one, are used to stimulate the debate about what these places actually breed.

It is an extremely well written play, superbly staged by Jeremy Herrin within Peter McKintosh’s simple wood-panelled world, and it’s beautifully performed by nine young actors and Julian Wadham as the old boy, who appeared as one of the boys in the original production. Somehow, though, it made me frustrated, hopeless and angry and I couldn’t shake that off.

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After what seems like an age of pompous pop operas and jukebox musicals, this old-fashioned but new musical comedy comes as a breath of fresh air; and I mean old-fashioned in a positive way! In what seems like a golden age French Riviera, designed by Peter Mackintosh, it fits the art deco Savoy Theatre like a glove.

I’ve never seen the film, so I come to it fresh with the twists and surprises unspoiled. Lawrence Jameson is the reigning king of the con and as the show starts he’s in the process of getting money for his destitute kingdom. New grifter on the block, young American upstart Freddy Benson arrives to challenge him and after some initial competition, an unlikely friendship develops and they start combined scams, though not without some healthy competition for good measure.

There’s nothing like a lovable rogue and here you get two for your money – the suave smoothie and the cheeky chappie – played by actors with terrific chemistry. The role of Lawrence was made for Robert Lindsay and he doesn’t disappoint. His particular brand of slick charm contrasts well with the rough-and-ready clumsiness of Rufus Hound’s Freddy. This is only Hound’s third stage role, and his first musical, and he’s a revelation, virtually unrecognisable, red-faced and cherub-like without that trademark tash. Katherine Kingsley is sensational as Christine Colgate, in fine voice and gliding effortlessly as if assisted by some modern day dance machine. There’s great support from her poshness Samantha Bond and John Marquez, complete with dodgy French accent, in an unlikely but delightful sub-plot love story.

On first hearing, David Yazbek’s score did’t wow, but it was perfectly enjoyable and the lyrics are sharp. It’s the comedy that shines through with a good book by Jeffrey Lane, nimble staging by Jerry Mitchell and the infectiousness of a cast that is clearly having as much of a ball as the audience, with the occasional ad lib and knowing look. The show was broken in out of town so at the third London preview it’s more than ready. I thoroughly enjoyed it and left the theatre feeling nostalgic about something brand new.

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I’ve come late to this, first because if indecision (I like it, but do I want to see it again?) and then because of a cancelled performance, so you’d be forgiven if you’re by now not really interested in my view!

What struck me most about this superbly cast revival was how contemporary the play is – and always will be I suspect. A play written almost 70 years ago based on a true story some 30 years before is a completely relevant and up-to-date debate about human rights. As John Morrison points out in his excellent programme essay, it serves the same purpose as today’s tribunal and verbatim plays.

Young Winslow is a navy cadet expelled for stealing a postal order (remember them?). His father decides to clear his name at all costs. In the first act, the facts of the case itself are examined; in the second – ending in a brilliant mock interrogation which brings spontaneous applause – they decide how to proceed; in the third the real costs of fighting the case are revealed and in the fourth act we learn the outcome. We even get a topical (for the early 20th century) sub-plot about the suffragettes. It’s a perfectly formed play which holds you from beginning to end. It might sound dry, but it’s often funny, sometimes moving and a perfect balance between thought-provoking and entertaining.

You can’t help reflecting on the present debate about whether human rights have gone too far, recent responses to terrorism which fly in the face of these rights and the lengths people have to go to – and the price they have to pay – for justice and truth. We even get a bang-up-to-date snipe at the press. At one point a guilty personal reflection of an occasion where I tried to talk a friend out of pursuing fairness for pragmatic reasons popped into my head and at another point a professional reflection of a case where human rights had gone too far came back.

This is all beautifully staged by Lindsay Posner in a period perfect Edwardian drawing-room designed by Peter McKintosh. Henry Goodman was made for the part of the indignant, determined father and Deborah Finday is superb as his somewhat fluffier wife. Naomi Frederick perfectly captures the feistiness of suffragette daughter Catherine, Nick Hendrix brilliantly conveys son Dickie’s loyal but superficial attitude, and Charlie Rowe is hugely impressive as the Winslow boy himself. Add to this Peter Sullivan’s terrific barrister, with a professional exterior hiding a passion for justice, Richard Teverson’s pitch-perfect stiff upper lipness, Jay Villiers lovable love-struck Desmond and Wendy Nottingham’s delightful maid and you really do have a crack cast.

So glad I did go after all. You have 4.5 more weeks to see why.

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Though there have been numerous TV and film adaptations, there have been surprisingly few stage adaptations of Henry James’ late 19th century novella; possibly because of the difficulty (more so in the past than now perhaps) in pulling off the ghost stuff effectively. That’s actually the major strength of this production, though it still doesn’t match Benjamin Britten’s opera; conclusive proof of the power of music?

Playwright Rebecca Lenkiewicz has been faithful to her source, though perhaps more explicit, and Director Lindsay Posner and his designer Peter McKintosh have been just as respectful with their staging and design. James’ story starts with Sackville interviewing a new governess for his nephew and niece, orphaned by the death of both their parents and left with a housekeeper and governess in the family home (with infrequent visits from their uncle). As the play unfolds, we learn about the death of the previous governess and another employee, who now seem to be haunting or even possessing the children. There is more than a suggestion that in life they may have preyed on them sexually.

McKintosh’s design is excellent and Scott Penrose’s effects, Tim Mitchell’s lighting and John Leonard’s sound design are all terrific – the staging of the apparitions was good enough to get a lot of gasps and a few squeals from the audience. The performances are excellent, led by Anna Madeley’s governess (who seemed to have a cold, which somehow added something to her more emotional scenes) and Gemma Jones’ housekeeper Mrs Grose. The children, Laurence Belcher and ANO (there are three alternating as Flora!) are exceptional in what are big roles with lots of lines.

The major problem is the pacing. It’s slowed down by a lot of scene changes, despite their slickness using the Almeida’s revolve, though ironically the second half – with more scene changes – is better paced! In the end, I felt that despite the quality of it all, it doesn’t transfer well from page to stage (without music, anyway) but in all fairness, I’m not really a ghost story fan and it is, after all, an up-market ghost story.

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I broke my self-imposed Shaw ban last night and, on balance, I wish I hadn’t. I know he’s an important playwright, but I want more than a moving 3D museum experience when I go to the theatre. I felt I was being told ‘Look, this is a classic. It’s rarely revived. You have to see it’ and I fell for it.

It’s not as fusty as most of Shaw. It’s a (sort of) comedy but it is a bit odd. We start in the consulting rooms of a doctor who has just been knighted. His colleagues visit to congratulate him. At this point you think it’s a satire on the medical profession; they all appear to be pushing one therapy to make their name (and money).

The play turns on the arrival of a woman desperate for treatment for her artist husband who has TB. Somewhat implausibly, she and her husband join the doctors for dinner, during which they all drool over the wife and are unwittingly conned by her husband. When they discover his trickery, they visit his garret to confront him (and drool over her some more). The doctor who was to treat him now refuses and another takes over. He doesn’t survive. The doctor who declined treatment reveals his true motivation.

The play pits the morals of the medical profession against those of the con artist, but it doesn’t really go anywhere. It’s implausibility is at the core of why it didn’t work (for me) and it takes a long time to make it’s somewhat slight points. You can’t fault the production, though. It’s an impressive NT debut for director Nadia Fall and Peter McKintosh’s sets are uber-realistic period pieces (maybe a bit too much so, adding to the museum feel). It’s a fine cast with Malcolm Sinclair particularly funny as the pompous Sir Ralph Bloomfield Bonington. David Calder was good (and unrecognisable) as Sir Patrick Cullen, though his accent wasn’t consistent and Aden Gillett and Maggie McCarthy give fine performances as the newly knighted Sir Colenso Ridgeon and his housekeeper . 

In the end though, it’s another one of those ‘great productions, pity about the play’ evenings; hopefully I will have more will-power when Shaw turns up again.

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Almost twenty years ago, American writer Ken Ludwig (best known for Lend Me A Tenor) and British director Mike Ockrent had the bizarre idea of staging a ‘new’ Gershwin musical. Using Girl Crazy as their starting point they created a new book and added Gershwin songs from elsewhere. Not exactly a ‘jukebox’ musical, but close. They may well have inadvertently given us the best musical the Gershwin’s (n)ever wrote.

Bobby is a banker (there, I’ve said it!) who yearns to be a Broadway boy. To divert him from his attempts to join the Zangler Follies, his haridan of a mother sends him to the Wild West to foreclose on a theatre that has defaulted on its mortgage. Of course, he falls in love with both the theatre and the owner’s daughter and sends for the Follies girls (on their vacation) to stage a show with the local rednecks to rescue the theatre.  Cue lots of east coast  meets wild west culture clash and knowing jokes about how gambling will never catch on in Nevada.

Peter McKintosh has created a terrific set which starts with the neon lights of  Broadway but soon moves to the dusty streets and saloon bars of the old west; a few real horses tied up outside the saloon and you’d think you were there. Timothy Sheader’s staging and Stephen Mear’s choreography sparkle with ingenuity and wit and there’s a fine ensemble of hapless cowboys and pretty chorus girls. It’s packed full of Gershwin tunes, from solo gems like Someone to Watch Over Me, Embraceable You and They Can’t Take that Away From Me to big chorus numbers like the show-stopping I Got Rhythm, which closes the first act leaving you desperate for the second to start. The book is very funny and the drunken scene where the real Zangler and his imposter meet is a comic masterpiece.

Sean Palmer is terrific as Bobby and Clare Foster is delightful in her transition from tomboy to lovestruck girlfriend. David Burt and Harriet Thorpe give us great cameos as Zangler and Bobby’s mum. The band is as big and as brash as it should be when necessary, but plays tunes delicately when needs be.

This season, the OAT has gone from desert island crash site to Hogarthian London to Broadway / the Wild West and all three show have been hits. The new policy of a more varied repertoire is paying off and the space is proving it can just about stage anything. Now all they have to do is replace the caterers! Miss this at your peril.

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There was a time when Schiller’s plays were dull and turgid. Then along came Mike Poulton with adaptations which breathed new life into them. His  adaptation of Don Carlos was masterly and now he excels with this cross between Les Liaisons Dangereuses and Romeo & Juliet.

The Chancellor’s son, an army major, is in love with court musician’s daughter Luise, but his father plans to wed him to the Prince’s mistress to provide cover for the Prince and obtain influence for himself.  The Chancellor’s private secretary, appropriately named Wurm, wants Luise himself and with the help of Lady Milford and Hofmarschall ( I wasn’t quite sure what his role is) his machiavellian plans unfold, ending tragically with its R&J moment. It’s a cracking story and the dialogue is sharp and often witty; not a word is wasted.

The Donmar space is simply but beautifully designed and lit by Peter McKintosh and Paule Constable respectively and Michael Grandage’s staging is as ever impeccable. I don’t think even the Donmar has ever assemble an ensemble this good. You totally believe in the love and passion of Felicity Jones and Max Bennett as Luise and Ferdinand. Ben Daniels has never been better than here as the Chancellor, whose craze for power unleashes such tragedy and results in his own deep remorse. John Light and David Dawson provide the intrigue in their deliciously smarmy, oleaginous fashion (and in the case of Dawson, very camp) whilst Alex Kingston is every bit the arch manipulator whose only interest is herself – at any cost . I also really liked Paul Higgins devoted passionate father who does much to illustrate the backdrop of the class divide.

This will I’m sure be one of the highlights of the year, and one of the defining productions of Grandage’s reign at the Donmar. Miss at your peril.

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Gosh, what a dull and frustrating evening this is.

Simon Gray’s 40-year old play really has only one character; the rest are mere foils. The trouble is, this character has few redeeming features. He’s self-obsessed, misogynistic and contemptuous of all around him. He’s sexist, homophobic and just a little bit racist. Given that he is a university lecturer, written by Gray at the time he was also a university lecturer, some think it’s autobiographical – if that’s true, Gray must really have hated himself.

In one day, Butley learnes that his wife is leaving him for another man, his protege / colleague / flatmate is moving out of both office and home and his alleged ‘poaching’ of a student whilst drunk has caused a rift with another colleague. He smokes, drinks and snipes at everyone and everything. It’s clear why this is all happening to him – who’d want to be married to / live with / work with this man? – and you have no sympathy, just loathing. 2.5 hours in this man’s company seems like a sentence.

Dominic West is an excellent actor and he gives the role his all. The talents of other excellent actors like Paul McGann, Penny Downie and Amanda Drew are wasted on paper thin supporting roles. Peter McKintosh has created a realisitc university office with the wall of books on Butley’s side of the office looking like it will collapse any minute. There’s really nothing wrong with the production except that everyone’s talents are wasted on a terrible play. The only reason I can think of for going to see it is to see how much we’ve moved on in 40 years – but you can do that by watching one episode of Ashes to Ashes.

Avoid!

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Though I don’t doubt middle class addiction is a real issue, this play and its characters don’t seem in the slightest bit believable.

TV presenter Lucy is on the slippery slope of addiction watched but her surprisingly sympathetic mother Barbara, who herself shows signs of alcoholism. There is a sister, though it’s not clear why her character is there at all. All of the men are played by the same actor – and your point is?

This is all played out as ‘designer theatre’ on a slick revolve that takes us relentlessly from one location to another and one room to the next (designer Peter McKintosh). Lucy and her mother are deeply unsympathetic characters who just whine on and on in an enormously irritating way; if they had seemed more real I would have wanted to get out of my seat, give them a slap and tell them to get a grip. For some reason – writing (David Eldridge) and direction (Michael Attenborough), I suppose – normally fine actors like Lisa Dillon and Margot Leicester provide us with flat cardboard characterisations.

I’m sure it improved in the second half – they often do! – but I just couldn’t face another 70 minutes of this implausible story full of unbelievable characters. I can’t help but contrast this example of a poor new play with Mogadishu, a great new play at the Lyric Hammersmith. This one’s a premiere league dud.

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The Royal Court really is on a roll. In less than two years, we’ve had great new plays like Jerusalem, Enron, Posh, Clybourne Park, Sucker Punch and Tribes – and now Richard Bean’s terrific new play The Heretic. Its evenings like this that remind me why go to the theatre; I’d sit through five Greenland’s for one play as good as this!

I’ve long been a fan of Bean, but he’s excelled himself here. Unlike the NT’s Greenland, this isn’t a play about climate change, but it uses it as a back-drop to develop its main themes of science v activism whilst weaving in the stories of the complex relationships of its four main protagonists. It’s rich in detailed story-telling, well developed characters, sparklingly sharp & funny dialogue and boy does it make you think. It twists and turns continually – sometimes you see them coming and grin in expectation, but sometimes you don’t and smirk at the surprise. He sets you up for an obvious outcome, only to confound you by doing the opposite. It’s clearly well researched; he even shows a HR Manager arranging the chairs for a disciplinary meeting exactly as HR managers do!

As someone who was heavily involved in a major employment law case which resulted in the interpretation of ‘religious or similar philosophical beliefs’ to include views on climate change, I’d already begun to buy Bean’s proposition that climate change has become a religion and in doing so the debate has ceased to be objective. He puts this point centre stage and debates it more eloquently and entertainingly than you would ever think possible – whilst, unlike Greenland, remaining objective and not patronising or preaching to his audience.

Peter McKintosh has created two excellent realistic sets and Jeremy Herrin’s direction is impeccable. The performances are terrific. The wonderful Juliet Stevenson clearly relishes her meaty role. James Fleet has never been better than here as her boss. Johnny Flynn and Lydia Wilson are both terrific in the complex roles of Ben and Phoebe, and there are fine cameos from Adrian Hood and Leah Whitaker.

The Royal Court is now fully established as the place where you go for intelligent, thought-provoking, topical, entertaining plays and this one is an absolute unmissable treat!

 

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