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Posts Tagged ‘Pip Carter’

Playwright Joe Penhall’s last work for the stage was the book for the Kinks musical Sunny Afternoon, much of which revolved around the exploitation of a bunch of sixties teens by a load of music biz men (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2014/04/20/sunny-afternoon). This is a contemporary tale of similar exploitation, of an artist by a producer. The artist is young and female, which adds another layer, and a timeliness.

Record producer Bernard takes on young Irish singer-songwriter Cat, produces her album and plays in the band that tours to promote it. He claims credit for much more than production and when it wins an award, claims recognition too. Their musical collaboration works well, but the power games result in them talking through lawyers and confiding in psychotherapists, amidst much debate about the importance of the truth of the music.

The structural idea of the lawyers and therapists is a good one, but too much is told through conversations between just two parties – the musical protagonists, artist and their lawyer, therapist and their client and lawyer to lawyer. This damages the dramatic narrative if not the debate, making it often too static. However, the discussion is wide-ranging, thorough and intelligent and its bang up-to-date, so I admired and enjoyed it nonetheless.

I’m not sure the thrust staging, presumably intended to bring an intimacy, worked that well; in truth, the play needs a smaller theatre like the Donmar or the Dorfman. Ben Chaplin’s performance as Bernard is reason enough to go, though; he’s simply brilliant as the manipulative, narcissistic, archetypal middle-aged pop-rock figure. Seana Kerslake plays Cat with a totally believable vulnerability and naivety. The therapist roles are a bit underwritten, both played as cool and detached, as they often are in reality, by Jemma Redgrave and Pip Carter; the lawyers are more fiery and confrontational, as lawyers are, played well by Neil Stuke and Kurt Egyiawan.

Yet again the indifferent critical reception lowered my expectations, which were exceeded on the day. Go and make your own mind up.

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Some time ago I was involved in a (civil) legal case where two eminent QC’s were pitted against one another in what turned out to be a grudge match. I soon realised the case was more about the competition between them than the facts. That’s one problem with our adversarial legal system. Another problem is that friends and colleagues can advocate against each other; in any other sector this would be prevented lest it lead to collusion. Early in this play it raises another problem in criminal law. No-one represents the victim. The defence represents the accused and the prosecution represents the crown. No-one represents the victim of a crime.

This excellent new play examines the issue of consent in rape cases, and the legal system in general, by juxtaposing a case where two barrister friends are pitted against one another with the infidelities going on in their own lives. The competitiveness issue is much greater in rape cases because it leads to completely unacceptable, bullying behaviour by barristers which is psychologically damaging to victims (with no representation) and leads to fewer cases being brought. In other words, our legal system allows rapists to walk free.

New dad Ed, married to Kitty, prosecutes and friend / colleague Tim is the defence. Victim Gayle (brilliantly played by Heather Craney) is all on her own. Ed exploits her defencelessness to win his case. Whilst this is happening, Ed’s best friend Jake and his wife Rachel (both lawyers) are riding a relationship roller-coaster due to Jake’s infidelity, with Ed and Kitty taking sides. Much later Ed & Kitty ride a similar roller-coaster through Kitty’s more surprising infidelity, with Jake & Rachel involved as if they were pitted against each other in court. Tim and Kitty’s best friend become embroiled. It’s a superbly structured and brilliantly written piece, simply staged with the audience on all sides. 

There’s a real authenticity to the characterisations with superb performances from Ben Chaplin, Anna Maxwell-Martin, Adam James and Priyanga Burford as the two couples and Pip Carter and Daisy Haggard (just about the only sympathetic character) as those drawn into their lives.

Such a good blend of current issues and a personal story, unquestionably a candidate for Best New Play and as fine a set of performances as you’ll see anywhere.

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The first word that popped into my head at the close of this play was ‘beautiful’. It was beautiful to look at with its simple evocation of the British countryside. It was beautifully written, closing somewhat appropriately with one of its subject’s poems. The performances were beautifully judged characterisations of real people. It also mentions beautiful Tooting!

Nick Dear’s play tells the story of the relationship between British poet Edward Thomas and American poet Robert Frost. Frost comes to Britain for just three years from 1912 to 1915. He makes his name here and returns to the US more famous that when he left. Thomas reviews Frost and they become friends, enjoying long conversational walks in the countryside. Frost encourages Thomas to write poetry, is in awe of his original prose style and champions him both here and back in the US. Their friendship had a depth and intensity that is extraordinary given they only spent time with one another for two years.

Thomas has a strange relationship with his brittle and passionate wife Helen. When he’s with Frost, he treats her with disdain. She is resentful of his bond with Frost and suspicious of his close relationship with family friend Eleanor Farjeon, who seems obsessed with both Thomas and Frost. Yet they are clearly in love. His relationship with his conventional Welsh father is strained when he quits the Civil Service but repaired when he enlists as an army officer. Less than two years after he enlists and Frost has returned to the US he is killed in action. His real success as a poet under his own name is posthumous.

The play is not chronological, including flash forwards the forties and fifties when Frost returns to the UK. These are fascinating people living at a fascinating time, which Dear has captured perfectly. The depth of characterisation is extraordinary and he doesn’t waste a moment. Richard Eyre’s direction is faultless and Bob Crowley’s design is just a stage of earth with opaque projections and lighting on the brick wall behind. It’s simple but its beautiful. It has been very rewarding to watch the development of both Hattie Morahan and Pip Carter in recent years and here they give perfectly judged performances as Edward and Helen. Shaun Dooley has great presence as Frost and Pandora Colin is a delight as Eleanor.

I loved everything about this play and it really doesn’t matter if you know nothing about these people or indeed poetry; the play stands alone as a captivating biographical drama. Unmissable.

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