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Posts Tagged ‘Rakie Ayola’

I think I would best describe this intriguing play by Ed Thomas as Samuel Beckett meets Dylan Thomas. It’s dialogue is poetic and it’s story is obscure, something I often turn against, but here I found it rather captivating.

John Daniel and his wife Noni are the last inhabitants of Bear Ridge. They’ve had to close their butchers shop. The post office has stopped delivering mail and their phone line has been cut. Their shop assistant & slaughter-man Ifan William has stayed with them. We don’t exactly know why Bear Ridge is being deserted, though it appears to be the result of a war of some sorts. Fighter planes occasionally fly overhead and an army man, The Captain, pays a visit.

Their conversation ranges from their plight to reminiscences about a happier past and reflections on tragedy, when we learn that John Daniel & Noni’s son, and Ifan William’s best friend, went to university to study philosophy but was killed because he spoke ‘the old language’. The Captain, a clearly tortured soul, has his own tragic story to tell. I’m still trying to piece it all together, with an intriguing note in the play-script suggesting it is ‘semi-autobiographical’.

Rhys Ifans and Rakie Ayola are both terrific as the couple at the centre of the story, with fine support from Sion Daniel Young as Ifan William and Jason Hughes as The Captain. Cai Dyfan’s design is hugely atmospheric, the exit of the walls representing the decline, as is the music and sound design. The Royal Court’s AD Vicky Featherstone co-directs with the playwright.

National Theatre Wales has gone through a difficult time of late, but it’s good to see them back, and in London, with this Royal Court co-production. I suspect I will be processing it for some time yet.

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I loved Inua Ellams last play, The Barbershop Chronicles, so much so that I went twice. This is a very different proposition, a storytelling two-hander, a poem really. The staging and performances are excellent, but I’m afraid I failed to engage with the story.

Demi is a Nigerian basketball prodigy. We learn that he is the result of his mother Modupe’s rape by Greek god Zeus, the prize in a bet with a Yoruba god. Demi is therefore a half god, which gives him powers over and above his sporting prowess. When he learns how he was conceived, he’s intent on revenge. Half god v the most powerful god of all.

The performances of Kwami Odoom as Demi and Rakie Ayola as Modupe are captivating, prowling around the stage, very animated. Max Johns’ simple design, Jackie Shemesh striking lighting, Tanuja Amarasuriya’s atmospheric sound design and Imogen Knight’s movement contribute significantly to Nancy Medina’s excellent staging. In the end though it was the story itself which left me cold. The previous play had so much truth, humanity and energy. This just had energy.

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This new musical by The Bloc Party’s Kele Okereke and TV writer & producer Matt Jones takes a 360 degree view of gay marriage from the perspective of the families of both parties, as well as the couple and their friends.

Alex and Obi’s relationship has been a whirlwind ten months. Alex is an American working in London, though his employer intends to relocate him to the Middle East. Obi is British, of Nigerian decent, a successful advertising Account Manager. Their coming out stories couldn’t be more different. Alex’s mother Diane embraced his sexuality, joining him at Pride marches, his father Brian more reluctant but ultimately accepting. Obi was thrown out by his dad Kenneth when he was sixteen, his mother Grace forced to tow the line, his sister Chichi supporting him. He put himself through the rest of his schooling and both his degree and his masters.

They live together but decide to marry so that Alex can avoid his relocation and have leave to remain. They don’t plan to invite their families, but Alex breaks first, so Obi attempts a reconciliation and invite his. Alex’s parents arrive and his mom forces the issue by arranging a dinner where both families can meet. From here on it becomes an emotional roller coaster and skeletons come out of cupboards with gay abandon.

Robby Graham’s production has great pace and energy, propelled by superb dancing and movement. I really liked Okereke’s music, played by an onstage guitarist with a backing track. Some have called it a play with music, but in my book it’s a musical, as the songs move the narrative forward. The pivotal scene where the families meet over dinner is superbly staged. When current scenes are interwoven with flashbacks to Obi’s youth, the latter are cleverly staged in slo-mo. The final scene of simultaneous conversations between four couples is brilliant.

Tyrone Huntley & Billy Cullum are both terrific as Obi & Alex. Johanne Murdoch conveys the liberal, effervescent but somewhat controlling Diane superbly. Rakie Ayola is a very dignified Grace, Aretha Ayeh a feisty independent Chi Chi and Cornell S John a defiant Kenneth, all excellent, as indeed are the rest of the ensemble.

A very assured musical theatre debut, a highly original show that’s expertly staged and very well performed that’s very much to be recommended.

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I’m sure no-one is interested in my view, fifteen months after the show opened, but I shall record it nonetheless. What could have been cashing in on, or spinning out, a franchise is nothing like it. Though it is clearly a license to print money, its also some of the best storytelling and stagecraft I’ve ever seen. From page to screen to stage, Harry Potter proves to be the most enduring phenomenon.

Let’s start with the writing. J K Rowling, director John Tiffany and playwright Jack Thorne’s story begins nineteen years later, when school friends Harry, Hermione and Ron are married and parents themselves. This is an inspired idea, though it is the same as the epilogues of both the final book and final film, so Rowling may already have had the idea, if not the form. It enables us to return to Hogwarts with the next generation and to see the development of the generation we’ve grown up with, with flashbacks to their time in school, and even further. It’s densely plotted but completely lucid. Brilliant storytelling, just like the books.

Tiffany’s staging is fast-paced, with beautiful movement by regular collaborator Steven Hoggett, and it flows like a dream. Jamie Harrison’s special effects are some of the best I’ve ever seen on stage; to say more about them would be a spoiler. Christine Jones’ design manages to make us believe we’re in Kings Cross Station or Hogwarts’ Great Hall, but also smaller spaces like offices and libraries, even under the stairs at the Dursley’s. It’s brilliantly lit by Neil Austin, crucial to many of the illusions, and Imogen Heap provides a suitably atmospheric soundtrack.

This is the second cast, but they all seemed top notch to me, with Jamie Glover even looking like Jamie Parker! The trio of friends have grown up as you would expect – serious Harry (Glover), earnest Hermione (Rakie Ayola) and joker Ron (Thomas Aldridge) – all excellent, but I particularly liked Aldridge’s characterisation of Ron. In the next generation, Samuel Blenkin is terrific as young Scorpius Malfoy, son of Draco and a Hogwarts contemporary of Harry’s son Albus (Theo Ancient – very good). In what must be the biggest ever company for a West End play (38!), David Annen and Elizabeth Hill make excellent contributions in their multiple roles, Annabel Baldwin shines in her transformation and April Hughes gives a lovely cameo as Moaning Myrtle.

Late I may be, but terrific to report that it’s such a welcome and high quality addition to the London stage, about to become an export success too.

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