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Posts Tagged ‘Pippa Nixon’

This final play in Classic Spring’s Oscar Wilde season seems to be dividing people on the basis of how broad the comedy is played, and the frisson between Algernon and Jack. I was happy with the former, but the latter did puzzle me, with the kissing seeming incongruous (especially with Lane, Algernon’s servant).

Wilde’s most famous and popular comedy was the fourth and last of his social satires, charting the relationships between Jack and Lady Bracknell’s daughter Gwendolen and Jack’s ward Cecily and Algernon, Gwendolen’s cousin, ending with the big reveal that Jack is more than Algernon’s friend and Gwendolen’s intended. Though these four are the main protagonists, when productions are announced, most are interested in who’s playing Lady Bracknell, in this case Sophie Thompson, who exceeded my expectations.

Designer Madeleine Girling’s palette of greens create a beautiful London flat and country house and garden, all adorned by hardly any furniture. Gabriella Slade’s period costumes are excellent. It builds in pace and interest to an excellent third act, though the story somehow felt even more contrived than usual. I assume director Michael Fentiman’s added frisson and kisses are meant to reference Wilde’s sexuality, but within the otherwise period comedy, they just jarred.

I thought relative newcomers Fehinti Balogun and Jacob Fortune-Lloyd had great chemistry and brought a youthful playfulness to Algernon and Jack respectively, and Pippa Nixon and Fiona Button both sparkled and shone as Gwendolen and Cecily. Sophie Thompson resisted her normal urge to overact and her Lady Bracknell was all the better for it, and Stella Gonet gave a fine performance as Miss Prism, particularly when her past emerges. Good casting has been a feature and a strength of this Wilde season.

I’ve enjoyed seeing all four over a relatively short period, in four very different productions. The plotting creaks a bit these days, but the dialogue still crackles.

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Another occasion where the critical reception lowered my expectations so that the experience exceeded them. Alexi Kaye Campbell’s play is a lot better than I was led to believe.

It’s set on the Greek island of Skiathos in 1967, just as the coup which installed the Colonels is about to happen. We’re on holiday with budding British playwright Theo and his actress wife Charlotte. They’ve befriended / been befriended by an American couple in a local bar and they invite them over to their rented house. It’s an unlikely friendship, with an even more unlikely sexual tension between Harvey and Charlotte. Harvey is on leave from his US government posting in Athens with his wife June, who is a bit of a dumb blonde caricature, overly fond of the booze. Harvey is a highly persuasive control freak and by the end of the evening, he’s persuaded Theo & Charlotte to buy the villa for a song from it’s owners, who are about to emigrate to Australia.

In the second act, we move forward nine years. Greece has recently returned to democracy. Harvey is a successful playwright and he and Charlotte now have two children. The Americans have been posted to Chile, but are briefly back in Athens en route to Zaire (spot the pattern here?). They visit for a few days and we learn more of the bidding Harvey does for his government to keep communism at bay, and the guilt he carries, but the Brits have reason to be guilty too, albeit on a smaller scale. Their relationships disintegrate. Underneath the personal stories, we explore the ethics of power – big countries clandestinely dominating small ones and little people exploited by bigger people. Nothing changes, of course, and Greece today suffers the same, albeit economically.

Hildegard Bechtler has built a brilliant two-story whitewashed house on a rocky promontory; it’s very imposing in the Dorfman space. I was very impressed by Ben Miles as Harvey, particularly his American accent (well, to this British ear), forceful and larger than life. Elizabeth McGovern’s June was a bit too much of a stereotype for me, though very funny. Pippa Nixon is excellent as Charlotte, initially submissive but eventually defiant, and Sam Crane is very good at navigating Theo’s more complex journey. Characters seemed to have their backs to a significant chunk of the audience much of the time, but otherwise Simon Godwin’s direction was good.

An underrated play with a particularly good set of performances and a fine production.

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This is the last in this mini season of Shakespeare’s late plays and the last but one he wrote. It completes a quartet of successful staging’s of plays intended for an indoor playhouse in an indoor playhouse.

I’ve always thought it was an odd concoction. Prospero, the deposed Duke of Milan, and his daughter Miranda are shipwrecked on a remote island with the spirit Ariel and the subhuman witches son Caliban for company. When the courts of Naples and Milan are later also shipwrecked, Prospero can make mischief and right some wrongs. It has an other-worldly, magical quality, which this production didn’t get over as well as it did the royal shenanigans and the comedy. On this occasion I couldn’t help feeling Prospero was Shakespeare signing off.

Trevor Fox and Dominic Rowan virtually steal the show as royal butler Stephano and court jester Trinculo respectively, though I thought the added lines pushed it a bit too far, and Fisayo Akinade is a fine Caliban. Once he was in his stride, I very much liked Tim McMullen’s Prospero, more elder statesman than larger-than-life presence.

Seeing all four late plays has made me realise that there are fewer design and staging choices that can be made in this space. On this occasion the offstage dialogue and sounds were particularly effective, but the spirit characters less so, particularly Pippa Nixon’s Ariel, who seemed way too ordinary for me. There’s good use of music, despite the off-key singing at Miranda and Ferdinand’s wedding.

I’ve very much enjoyed this season and I suspect and hope we’ll see more Shakespeare in this lovely space.

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I saw this ‘lost’ Shakespeare play as Double Falsehood at the Union Theatre earlier in the year. This time it has been re-imagined by Gregory Doran with the resources of the RSC to help him. I still don’t know how much of a hand Shakespeare had in it, but I really enjoyed the play nonetheless.

I hadn’t realised that it was based on Cervantes. There’s an authenticity about the Spanish setting that’s created simply by Niki Turner’s costumes and Paul Englishby’s music. It has a passionate Andalusian feel and is staged with great pace.  Cardenio’s delay in obtaining his father’s approval to marry Luscinda means the Duke’s youngest son Fernando makes a move on her (but only after he’s slept with – raped? –  farmer’s daughter Dorotea). Thinking Luscinda has betrayed him, Cardenio disappears into the mountains for his King Lear moment. Fortunately, Dorotea searches for and finds him in order to pursue her claim against Fernando based on the fact that their sexual congress constitutes marriage and his marriage to Luscina is therefore invalid. It’s a good story and I’m now more disposed to believe Shakespeare was involved.

Oliver Rix makes an impressive professional debut as Cardenio. It’s easy to dislike Fernando as played oilily by an excellent Alex Hassell. Both Lucy Briggs-Owen and Pippa Nixon impress as the girls, as do a trio of dad’s – Nicholas Day and Christopher’s Ettridge and Godwin. The Swan is the perfect intimate space for this play; on this occasion with the bonus of fireworks and a superb coup de theatre involving a coffin!

Whether it is or it isn’t, it’s well worth seeing for what it is – a very good pay well staged and performed.

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