Posts Tagged ‘Polly Sullivan’

Hamlet edited down to ninety minutes for a family of three actors (son, wife & father), two playing four roles each, set in a modern kitchen with an excess of radios. Why?

I honestly can’t see the point. Why cut a classic you clearly love so mercilessly? Why not employ more actors to avoid the blurring of dead dad, uncle / step-dad and king’s counsellor by an one note actor and having to suspend disbelief with the same actress playing roles a generation apart? I’m afraid I thought it was all a bit self-indulgent and it did absolutely nothing for me.

The verse was spoken well, though Hamlet shouted a lot. There were some quirky directorial choices by Simon Evans & David Aula, particularly attempts at ‘movement’ which just looked like bad mime. The one thing I did like was Polly Sullivan’s design, rather luxurious for the fringe, with a wooden floor I’d be happy to take up and re-lay in my kitchen! Did I mention that poor old Yorick’s skull was in the microwave?

Talent and resources wasted on a vanity project, I’m afraid.

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This is the London premiere of an 84-year-old J B Priestly play, with his trademark wittiness and his usual foray into left-wing politics and morals – not the best of either, but certainly worthy of revival in this excellent production by Hugh Ross.

It’s set in the home of Lord Kettlewell, separated from his wife and by default his Oxford University daughter Pamela, trying to extricate himself from a relationship with Hilda Lancicourt. His daughter, now a communist, turns up straight from a period in the USSR, with new friend Comrade Staggles in tow. She turns out to be rather manipulative, much to the delight of lounge lizard family friend Chuffy who watches on gleefully. Before the play is through she’s fended off two men, bagged a third, despatched Hilda and reunited her parents. Lady Knightsbridge is an additional character who doesn’t really serve any purpose but is thoroughly entertaining, and of course there’s a butler and a maid who Comrade Staggles can encourage to rebel.

It’s actually quite densely plotted, though it’s a light and frothy concoction. That said, it made for a pleasant evening and a rewarding one if you ‘collect’ Priestly as I do (three still to see). Polly Sullivan’s design, incorporating the theatre back wall, is very clever and her period costumes are excellent. I thought Steven Blakeley was terrific as the earnest Staggles, and Bessie Carter’s professional stage debut as Pamela was hugely impressive. In an altogether fine cast, Richenda Carey’s cameo as Lady Knightsbridge shone through. 

It’s astonishing that it’s never had a proper revival or a London run. It’s not a great play, but it’s an interesting period piece by an important 20th Century British playwright and this production fully justifies the decision to let us see it at last.

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Here I am again, less than 12 hours after leaving the Tricycle Theatre, hearing news that could just as easily have been part of what I’d seen earlier. I suspect there is no other theatre in the world using its stage to present an objective debate about the issues of our time and their historical perspective. This time, the bomb and its ‘Proliferation’ from 1940 to the early 90’s and its ‘Present Dangers’ – the last 10 years (and forward three).

These ten short plays, and thirteen verbatim interview extracts, take us from wartime Whitehall, where German and Austrian scientists in exile present a startling discovery to the UK government, to recent IAEA inspections in Iran. In between, we visit the 1945 Potsdam Conference, an Indian nuclear facility, post-independence Ukraine, the White House, Pyongyang and the UN.

For me, the highlights were Lee Blessing’s Seven Joys, set in a fictitious club of nuclear nations, and David Greig’s chilling yet funny The Letter of Last Resort, set in 2015 in Downing Street on the first day of our next PM. This latter play simply but brilliantly shows us the rationale (or not) for The Deterrent like a scene from Yes, Prime Minister (which it acknowledges).

Yet again, I learnt so much whilst (yes, it’s true!) being entertained. This is equal measure education, debate, drama and entertainment and if that isn’t a theatrical  achievement, I don’t know what is. In two parts and just four hours playing time, Nicholas Kent’s compelling staging  flows seamlessly on Polly Sullivan’s simple but effective set, with a superb video design from Douglas O’Connell.

Eleven excellent actors each play between two and five of the forty roles and enact the thirteen verbatim statements. Belinda Lang and Simon Chandler were superb in the Grieg play as were Daniel Rabin and Rick Warden, who played the exiled scientists in the two Zinnie Harris plays which frame the whole piece.

A suitably appropriate swan song for Nicholas Kent. I can think of no other person who has made theatre as relevant in modern times, taking plays about the history of Afghanistan into the Pentagon and about events in our own country into Parliament. Within months of the August 2011 riots, they were objectively and forensically examined on this very stage. From the man in Row G, sir, I salute you.

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The Tricycle Theatre continues its pre-eminence as THE theatre which tackles current events and issues by staging objective and gripping evidence-based ‘enquiries’ and reviews.

Like other verbatim theatre, Gillian Slovo’s piece only uses the words of ‘stakeholders’ in the August 2011 riots – victims, rioters, the police, members of the communities in which they occurred and politicians. It takes no sides – indeed, it presents all sides – and you’re left to make up your own mind (or not). This might all sound very worthy and earnest, but it’s actually as gripping and thought-provoking as you want good drama to be – except it’s reality rather than fiction.

Director Nicolas Kent is the master of this type of theatre, and this staging (sadly, his last as Artistic Director of this venue) is as good as his best. Polly Sullivan has designed a simple circular space which allows the various protagonists to tell their stories amongst looted items and detritus, with the corrugated side walls actually on fire during the riots! It’s the evidence that counts, and the staging allows it to be presented so that you listen to it.

Fourteen actors play the 30 parts, sometimes unrecognisable from their last role to the next one. Dona Croll’s transformation from Diane Abbott to Camila Batmanghelidjh on the turn of a swivel chair is a highlight (!), Tim Woodward moves from Chief Inspector to Judge to Iain Duncan-Smith and Rupert Holliday Evans pulls off an equally impressive trio of Michael Gove, Simon Hughes and Sir Hugh Orde. Okezie Morro and Selva Rasalingam paint more personal portraits of people we don’t know but who were in different ways at the heart of the events in Tottenham.

It’s a privilege to live in a city where theatre can react more quickly and more objectively than ‘the establishment’ to what’s happening in our society. When they staged some of the ‘enquiries’ they were invited to perform in parliament and when they presented their history of Afghanistan they were asked to put on the plays in the Pentagon by a US General who wished the military had seen it before the invasion as it would have helped them understand what they were dealing with! This is more close to home, more current and therefore more vital. It has finished at the Tricycle but can be seen in Tottenham in January. If you weren’t in Kilburn, you should be there.

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