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Posts Tagged ‘Philip Arditti’

After twenty-six days without theatre, I would probably have been satisfied with a light snack. I started the famine after a musical feast, Follies, and I end it with this dramatic banquet. This is a terrific play, superbly performed.

American playwright J T Rogers gift for taking historical events and turning them into brilliant entertainment was first seen here in Blood & Gifts (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2010/11/02/blood-gifts). Our own more prolific James Graham (two shows now in the West End!) has a similar gift, though with subjects closer to home. Rogers has chosen to dramatise the secret talks between Israel and the PLO which ran in parallel with the much bigger formal ones which excluded the PLO, before eclipsing them by securing the deal signed the following year at the White House with that iconic handshake between Rabin and Arafat, which resulted in their shared Nobel prize.

Terje is a Norwegian sociologist running a think-tank. He and his wife Mona, a Norwegian foreign office employee, had the idea and instigated the process in 1992, initially without Norwegian government approval, and managed the talks without actual involvement in the substance of them. By focusing on building relationships and trust, in an informal setting in a country house (with good homemade food and lots to drink!), in seven short rounds of talks they made extraordinary progress, taking it so far that Rabin and Arafat were able to conclude it by phone in seven hours. The first half starts when the Norwegian FO are informed and flashes back to the seed of the idea in Cairo, then back to where we started. The second half moves chronologically from here to the White House signing. It’s packed with humour, adding to rather than detracting from the seriousness of the subject and it grips throughout.

On a plain wall, projections are used very effectively to change location and show real time events happening elsewhere. It’s a superb ensemble led by Toby Stevens as Terje and Lydia Leonard as his wife Mona, onstage for almost all of the three hours. Peter Polycarpou continues to demonstrate his extraordinary range as the senior PLO negotiator. His more hardened and defiant colleague Hassan eventually softens, an excellent transition from Nabil Elouahabi. The Israeli’s initially field a pair of academics, beautifully played as a bumbling double-act by Paul Herzberg and Thomas Arnold, the former channelling Stan Laurel!, before Philip Arditti’s hard-line, abrasive Uri Savir upgrades their delegation and then the even tougher Israeli-American lawyer Joel Singer takes an  even more aggressive stance, a pitch perfect performance from Yair Jonah Lotan. There’s a delightful cameo from Geraldine Alexander as the housekeeper whose food is the one thing they can all agree on.

It steers an objective course, enabling you to see the reasons for the impasse and the deep emotional foundations of the conflict. Even though the peace never lasted, it was a partial success and the play is ultimately hopeful. A real theatrical feast which lives up to all the hype.

 

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Verbatim theatre meets promenade performance in Michael Wynne’s piece about the NHS. Seeing it the day before the election and now writing about it a day after the results gives it an extraordinary resonance, relevance and poignancy.

We start and end as an audience of c.40, initially in an A&E waiting room listening to the experiences and views of doctors, nurses, porters, cleaners and patients. From here we split into three groups for more intimate meetings in GP surgeries, outside a hospital, in an operating theatre etc. hearing more real testimonies and opinions before we assemble for a series of concluding scenes in the Theatre Upstairs. A lot of verbatim theatre is too dry and a lot of promenade performances allow the marshalling to interfere with the flow, but this solves both of these problems with warmth and humour and snatches of dialogue en route from scene to scene (particularly useful during the big climb up four or five flights of stairs!).

Though it’s clearly pro NHS, it’s reasonably objective, including the campaign against North Staffs incompetence and negligence and the impossibility of blank cheque funding. It’s more of an affectionate homage to the country’s best loved institution, taking us right back to its foundation through the White Paper ‘In Place of Fear’ (I never knew that). It really made me reflect on its value, it’s faults and its future. A unique institution which employs more people than any organisation in the world other than the US & Chinese armed forces, Wall Mart & MacDonald’s, and a recent and current political football.

In a uniformly fine cast, Elizabeth Berrington was very engaging as a GP and passionate as the North Staffs campaign leader, with Robert Bathurst very believable as both a dishevelled consultant and MP Andrew Lansley. Edna O’Brien is so lovely as Marjorie the old school nurse that you wish she was your mum, Philip Arditti’s character Jonathan provides effective continuity and there are excellent multiple characterisations from Paul Hickey, Martina Laird, Nathaniel Martello-White and Vineeta Rishi. I loved the way designer Andrew D Edwards uses all of the spaces, including corridors and stairs, so effectively.

It’s great to be heaping praise on the Royal Court again, doing exactly what they do best – putting up a mirror to our society and making us reflect and think.

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This play about Afghanistan during the 80’s started as one of the Tricycle’s Great Game playlets a couple of years ago; it has now become a very interesting and satisfying full length play.

It was the decade when the then USSR occupied this troubled land whilst the US, with British help, sought to undermine them by funding and arming Pakistani security forces and Afghan militias. It followed periods of western influence and was followed by the rise of the Taliban and subsequent US / British invasion and occupation. The geopolitical history is absolutely fascinating and playwright J T Rogers achievement is to make this so entertaining! It unfolds like a thriller and is packed with irony and humour, without ever debasing the seriousness of the events it presents. It also weaves in the stories of the home lives, and in particular the sons, of the three main players which adds an important personal dimension.

Designer Ultz use of sliding screens enables Howard Davies production to have real pace, moving quickly between the many short scenes without losing impetus. The central character of CIA agent James Warnock is excellently played by Lloyd Owen, who is onstage throughout, torn between his country’s pragmatism and his personal idealism. His British counterpart has been around longer and is therefore more realistic and cynical; also well played by Adam James. These performances are well matched by the other two key characters – Russian Dmitri (Matthew Marsh) and Afghan Abdullah (Demosthenes Chrysan) and there are fine supporting performances from Gerald Kyd as the representative of Pakistani security and Philip Arditti as Abdullah’s son (whose obsession with Western music and quoting of their lyrics is hysterical) and excellent cameos from Simon Kunz as James’ boss and Danny Ashok as the Pakistani military clerk.

I liked this play a lot; it explains so much about how we got to where we are in Afghanistan and the hopelessness of it all – but above all it’s a deeply satisfying evening modern drama.

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