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Posts Tagged ‘Pierro Niel-Mee’

Of all the countries impacted by the Second World War, I suspect less is known about the Tunisian experience than most others, which makes Josh Azouz’’s play very welcome. It was a short occupation – 6 months – but the Nazi strategy involved dividing the hitherto relatively friendly Muslim majority and Jewish minority in return for the promise of freedom for the Tunisian Muslim majority from the French colonialists, whilst perpetuating outrages on the Jews, as it was elsewhere.

The occupying forces are described by a Nazi character in the play as animals, less disciplined, more unpredictable and viscous. As the play opens one Jew is buried up to his neck with his Muslim friend as his guard. Despite the anti-Semitic example of the French colonists, these men and their wives have hitherto been good friends and in many ways the bigger story is told through the twists and turns of their relationships during the occupation. So we see the geopolitical and military picture through the personal story, the Nazi’s represented by one officer and one aide.

It’s a touch overlong and it needs a bit more pace, and perhaps a bit more of the big picture, but it’s a fascinating story nonetheless, with surprising flashes of absurdity and humour in what is a grim situation. I liked Max Johns’ design of plywood boxes, some of which reveal sets within the set, and it’s uniformly well performed by a small cast of six, probably too small to open up the story. It was good to see Adrian Edmundson make a rare stage appearance as the Nazi officer nicknamed Grandma and he, and the actors playing the two couples – Laura Hanna, Ethan Kai, Pierro Niel-Mee and Yasmin Paige – were all excellent.

It’s better than the reviews and I’m glad I went.

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Playwright Mike Poulton, hot on the heels of his hugely successful stage adaptations of Wolf Hall & Bring up the Bodies, has written a brilliant new play about Terence Rattigan’s ex-lover, with Rattigan as a character, that feels like it could be written by Rattigan himself (after the abolition of censorship, if he came out!). The incident at the core of the play was in fact the source of his classic The Deep Blue Sea, which I am seeing again in a couple of weeks, after another Rattigan play this week. I love it when things coincide like this.

It starts with Kenny Morgan’s attempted suicide, foiled by a neighbour smelling gas. The landlady and another neighbour, a (struck off) doctor, tend to him. His lover is away, so the neighbour calls the first number in his phone book – Rattigan. We learn that Kenny was his en suite lover for ten years, but left to live with Alec who is the age Kenny was when he met Rattigan. Alec is a promiscuous bi-sexual who is clearly using Kenny and is the primary reason for his unhappiness. As the play unfolds, we learn that it wasn’t much happier at Rattigan’s, being hidden away and brought out when needed. He flip flops between staying with Alec or returning to Terry as the play continues. 

It’s such a good cast, with Paul Keating a revelation as Kenny; it’s rare to see an actor invest so much emotional energy into a role. I thought Simon Dutton was spot on with his characterisation of Rattigan; a fine performance. Alec is a somewhat unsympathetic character which Pierro Niel-Mee played extremely well. There is a lovely cameo from Marlene Sidaway as landlady Mrs Simpson, nosy and more than a bit bigoted. Lowenna Melrose as Alec’s ‘friend’, Matthew Bulgo as the neighbour and George Irving as the ‘doctor’ Ritter make up this fine cast. It’s sensitively staged by Lucy Bailey with a suitably seedy period design by Robert Innes-Hopkins.

Fascinating play. Fine writing. Excellent staging. Terrific performances. What more can you ask for? Bring on the next two Rattigan’s……

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