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Posts Tagged ‘Rachel Stirling’

It’s hard to imagine two plays more different than the current pairing at the Finborough. 70’s Glasgow gangsters to 50’s British socialites on the French Riviera! This is the first time in 50 years this Terence Rattigan play has been seen in London. It comes from the period when he was overshadowed by the angry young men (who get an obvious snipe here) and he only wrote three more plays in the following twenty years until he died. It’s flawed but fascinating.

Rose has bought a place on the Riviera where she can gamble and party to her hearts content. She has three husbands behind her, a teenage daughter and a housekeeper who is titled but destitute after a life of gambling! She’s about to marry No. 4, a filthy rich German with a dubious black market background but more than enough money to fund her lifestyle, when she meets British ballet dancer Ron(!) who sweeps her away. She flip-flops between Ron and Kurt for the rest of the play, her health deteriorating, with housekeeper and mother figure Hettie and Ron’s choreographer and father-figure Sam eventually warning her off the dancer.

Based to some extent on Dumas’ La Dame aux Camelias, this is unlike the more restrained and emotionally repressed Rattigan plays that came before it, but prepares the way for the more open ones, like Cause Celebre, that followed. There’s gambling, adultery, hints of homosexuality and a whole load of dysfunctionality that must have been a bit of a shock in 1957. In truth, there’s a bit too much flip-flopping (you find yourself wanting to shout out ‘oh, make your bloody mind up’), it doesn’t sustain it’s length and it lacks subtlety, but it’s well worth this stylish revival.

Rachel Stirling is outstanding as Rose, looking gorgeous in a whole wardrobe of elegant period clothes, Susan Tracy is simply marvellous as the somewhat improbable Hettie and there’s an excellent performance from David Shelley as Sam, who shines in his crucial second act scene with Rose. Fontini Dimou has worked wonders creating a Riviera villa terrace in this space and her costumes are superb.

Can we have French Without Tears now, please?!

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I wasn’t very excited by Josie Rourke’s opening season at the Donmar, but I may have to eat a few words. Her opener is something the Donmar doesn’t normally do (restoration comedy) and it gets a handsome production with a full set of great performances.

The theatre has had its biggest makeover since the 25th Putman County Spelling Bee. It has been turned into an 18th century playhouse with the stalls back wall removed, the circle railing replaced with a wooden one, wooden floors and (false) wooden ceiling, a painted back screen with candle holders and real lit candles, more real lit candles around the auditorium and three chandeliers, also with real lit candles! Lucy Osbornes’ setting is warm, welcoming and gorgeous, as are the period costumes.

George Farquhar’s comedy takes place in Tewksbury where two army captains are recruiting using all means, fair and foul. Both  have designs on different local girls, Sylvia and Melinda – who also has the attentions of local businessman Worthy. The girls fall out and Sylvia returns disguised as a man, Wilful, who both captains seek to recruit. Captain Plumes’s Sargent Kite plumbs new depths of deception, there’s a lot of confusion but it all ends happily – except for the recruits. It’s a comedy but it does make a serious point about the treatment of recruits and ends with a powerful statement as they head for the war.

In addition to the lovely design, the use of music is terrific. The jigs and reels played brilliantly by five of the actors add much – including a delicious twist on the ‘turn off you mobiles’ advice now common at the start of plays. The performances too are terrific, with Nancy Carroll and Rachel Stirling as Sylvia and Melinda shining and Tobias Menzies commanding the stage with great authority as Captain Plume. Mark Gattis’ excellent comic turn as Captain Brazen suggests we need to see as much of him on stage as we already do his League of Gentlemen colleagues Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton. The other two leads, Nicholas Burns as Worthy and Mackenzie Crook as Sargent Kite, complete an excellent set of leads and the supporting cast of eight are all excellent.

Somehow though it didn’t add up to the sum of the parts; the first half in particular was uneven and didn’t sweep you away anywhere near as much as the second half did. I don’t know whether this is the play or the production. It’s not the complete delight the NT’s She Stoops to Conquer is, but it’s still an impressive start to the Rourke reign. Don’t wear too many clothes though, as for some reason the Donmar is set at sauna level temperatures.

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When I first saw this play, in a production by Peter Hall c.15 years ago, it fizzed; so much so that I went back to see it again when it returned to London after an extensive tour. It seemed to me to be so much better than the play most consider his best – The Importance of Being Ernest. For reasons I cannot fathom, in Lindsay Posner’s production the first half is ponderously slow – one of the longest ‘set up’s’ I can remember – whilst the second half zips along.

Oscar Wilde’s play may be 115 years old but if you ignore the settings and costumes, its thoroughly modern – unlike contemporaries like Chekhov or Ibsen, it has hardly aged. The story is rather timely – a corrupt act in the past comes back to haunt a rising star politician. The morals of the case are explored as the events unfold, but with Wilde’s usual sharp wit, satirising the upper classes along the way.

Stephen Brimson-Lewis’ opulent gold set becomes three different rooms in the same house and with the insertion of a simple green wall transforms into a room in another house. With superb period costumes, it looks gorgeous and seems to me to capture the time and the society of the protagonists perfectly.

What makes this revival is brilliant casting. Samantha Bond is a suitably icy Mrs Cheveley, Rachel Sterling (looking mote like her mother than she ever has before) a moralistic Lady Chiltern and Alexander Hanson a somewhat ernest archetypal politician with an ability to change his stance and rationalise it seamlessly.  The star of the show though is Elliott Cowan’s Viscount Goring, a brilliant and witty creation in full flight, and there are lovely cameos from Charles Kay, Caroline Blakiston and Fiona Button.

Such a shame the first two acts didn’t have the pace of the second two, but worth a look nonetheless.

 

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Well, the Rose Theatre at Kingston is full at last – but it took a Dame to do it. I hope this has given the good people of Kingston and environs a theatre-going habit, because their excellent new theatre won’t survive relying on us Londoners risking our street credibility to venture into the suburbs. 

This isn’t a particularly revelatory production, but it stands out in two ways – uniformly well acted and beautifully spoken. I particularly liked the physicality of the lovers scene in the forest and though the rude mechanicals were rather too subdued at first, they came into their own when they got to put on their play.

In the acting department, there’ a lot more than a Dame, including Rachel Stirling’s passionate Helena, Oliver Chris’ very funny Bottom and a fine regal pair in Charles Edwards and Julian Wadham. As for Her Highness, well you have to take any opportunity these days to be in the presence of her greatness and she’s as great as ever.

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