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Posts Tagged ‘Rajha Shakiry’

I have to confess I knew next to nothing about the assassination of Gandhi, and not much more about post-war Indian history. What I knew about the partition I learnt from another play, Howard Brenton’s Drawing the Line. When I was at school history studies focused on Europe and ended in 1939! So if nothing else, I learnt a lot from this play, and the excellent programme.

Indian playwright Anupama Chandrasekhar chooses to tell the story through the eyes of the assassin, Nathuram Godse, interweaving his early life with key events in Gandhi’s life, plus the politics of colonialism, race and religion. He narrates his story, talking directly to the audience with an irreverence, and with contemporary references. This is audacious, but it works.

None of the interested parties come out of that period of history well, the British too focused on a quick fix and the regional players struggling to compromise. Any solution was going to upset someone and it was inevitable that implementation would be fraught and long. The revelation for me was that the love for Gandhi, the ‘father of the country’ wasn’t universal and it was the detractors who felt he was betraying the Hindu cause that dealt the fatal blow.

Indhu Rubasingham’s production has an organic flow, using the often problematic Olivier stage to great effect, with an impressionistic design by Rajha Shakiry, whose focal point is a giant partly woven cloth. Siddhartha Khosla’s music and Oliver Fenwick’s lighting add atmosphere. It’s a great ensemble of British Asian actors, with Paul Bazely embodying Gandhi and Shubham Saraf a defiant Godse, and a cheeky narrator. Marc Elliott was particularly good as Nehru, independent India’s first leader.

Good to see the NT’s main stage hosting some non-European history for a change, and on an epic scale like this.

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This is a 1955 work by African American playwright Alice Childress, written and first produced at the beginning of the civil rights movement (Rosa Parks challenged segregation the same year) which was staged off-Broadway but never got its planned Broadway run because of the playwright’s refusal to water down its satire on racism in the American theatre. Until 2021, that is, when it finally made it to the ironically named ‘Great White Way’ (actually named after the white lights on billboards and marquees).

The whole play is a rehearsal for a ‘coloured show’, where black actors play stereotypes like servants and ‘mammies’. It sends them up with exaggerated acting and mannerisms. Leading character Wiletta has a song and dance background but is desperate to become a proper actor, something reserved for white people at the time. Though relationships develop and individual character stories emerge, it’s essentially a one issue play. One reviewer of this production suggested each of the three acts are set in historically different periods, moving forward in time, but I have to confess I didn’t see that.

Though it’s important in highlighting unacceptable practices, I felt it was somewhat laboured, often lacked pace and despite the exceptional performances, 2.5 hours felt like a long time to make its point, perhaps less effectively because of the length. I’m not sure it has stood the test of time. Designer Rajha Shakiry has created a very realistic period backstage environment. Tanya Moodie leads an excellent cast that includes the great Cyril Nri, on fine form, a superb performance from Rory Keenan as the director of the play-within-a-play, a delightful cameo from Gary Lilburn as Henry the stage doorman and an outstanding professional debut from Daniel Adeosun as John Nevins, a newbie actor from the same town as Wiletta.

Though the black lives matter movement has made us realise this issue still exists, I’m not sure this play brings them to the fore in a way that would add to the debate and promote reform. I felt it was an interesting period piece rather than a contribution to the current discussion.

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For some reason this early 80’s Athol Fugard play moved me more today than it did during the apartheid period in which it was written and is set. Perhaps it’s relief that, though there’s much wrong with the world today, that particular slice of inhumanity is over.

Fugard’s biographical play is set in a cafe in Port Elizabeth in 1950, the early days of apartheid. It’s owned by a white woman but run by her two black employees, Sam and Willie. The owner’s son Hally regularly visits after school and Sam & Willie have had more to do with his upbringing than his alcoholic father and about as much as his mother; Sam is very much a father figure. They have developed strong supportive relationships, regardless of apartheid. The men are rehearsing for a ballroom dancing competition which at first seems incongruous, but proves both in keeping and charming, when Hally comes home from school to a meal and news of his dad’s discharge from hospital, which sends him into a rage. He takes it out on the men, demanding to be called Master Harold and adopting typical apartheid behaviours of superiority, something he soon regrets.

Fugard hasn’t changed the names of the real people portrayed, including his own, Hally. The piece represents his apology to Sam and Willie; sadly the former died a matter of days before he could have seen it. It’s a gentle piece which shows the inhumanity of apartheid through these relationships more powerfully than shouting from the rooftops would, but its much more than that. The ending is poignant and deeply moving. Lucian Msamati gives yet another beautifully judged performance as Sam. Hammed Animashaun continues to impress with Willie, a very different role that shows and extends his range – from Bottom to Willie in a matter of months! It appears to be Anson Boon’s stage debut as Hally, and an impressive one it is too. Rajha Shakiry’s design anchors the piece in its place and period, beautifully lit by Paule Constable. It’s only the second play I’ve seen by director Roy Alexander Weise, and I’m already a fan.

It’s great to se it again after such a long time, particularly as it proves to be much more than a play of its time. Fugard is not only a key figure in the history of South Africa in the last half of the 20th Century, but a hugely important one in international theatre and this classic belongs on a world stage like the National.

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This Bush Theatre transfer is a real breath of fresh air for the West End. Arinze Kene’s play is an extraordinary concoction of drama, performance poetry, rap and music, staged brilliantly, with a virtuoso performance from the playwright himself. I found it thrilling.

Misty tracks black Londoner Lucas as he navigates the city, starting with an altercation on the night bus, struggling with the changes to, and gentrification of, his city. It also tells the story of the playwright, developing his work with advice and interference from the producer, his agent and friends. Both are interwoven in a series of inventive short scenes, many with music, with the two musicians, the stage manager and a young girl providing brief characterisations of others. It’s structure confounds you as its originality pleases you.

Rajha Shakiry’s simple stylised design relies on Daniel Denton’s terrific projections and shadows to create evocative stage images beautifully lit by Jackie Shemesh. Omar Elerian’s staging is masterly, creative and unpredictable. The music, played live by Shiloh Coke and Adrain McLeod, seems an organic part of the story, and Elena Penoa’s sound made it exciting but fully audible. Arizne Kane has bucketloads of charisma and presence and his performance is stunning. All of the components come together to produce a truly captivating evening, with the audience erupting at the end.

I knew of Kene’s talent as an actor from One Night in Miami and Girl from the North Country, but I had no idea that he had such an original writing voice too. Unmissable.

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This fascinating and rather timely play is actress Natasha Gordon’s hugely impressive playwriting debut. It seems like a breath of fresh air at the NT; the Dorfman was positively buzzing.

Single mother (and grandmother) Lorraine gave up her job to nurse her mother Gloria through her last days with cancer. Gloria came to Britain from Jamaica in the Windrush days (hence its timeliness on the 70th anniversary, even more timely given recent revelations). Lorraine’s brother Robert, his white wife Sophie, Lorraine’s daughter Anita and Gloria’s cousin Maggie and her husband Vince visit during her final hours, and when she dies jointly plan the traditional Jamaican Nine Night ritual and wake. Conflicts emerge between Lorraine and Robert, and both of them and Maggie, and Sophie has a revelation of her own. When step-sister Tanya, left behind by Gloria in Jamaica with her grandmother, arrives more skeletons emerge and the spirituality of the ritual ramps up.

It was clear that those of shared heritage understood more and got more out of it than me, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying a fine play and superb performances, chief amongst them Franc Ashman, who is outstanding as put-upon Lorraine, riding an emotional roller-coaster, and Cecilia Noble’s extraordinary creation that is Aunt Maggie. Rajha Shakiry’s uber-realistic London home and Roy Alexander Weise’s assured direction serve the play well.

I might have missed some cultural references (tip – read the programme in advance) and some dialogue from the most heavily accented characters (and the sustained audience laughter), but I still had a rewarding couple of hours of first class theatre.

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