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Posts Tagged ‘Reece Shearsmith’

In the seven years between 1996 and 2003 we had six Martin McDonagh plays, then nothing for twelve years until this. Well, the McDonagh famine is over and his distinctive quirky black comedy voice is to be heard again at the Royal Court in what might be his best play to date, and the best new play at the Court for some time.

This is the first of his plays to be set in England rather than Ireland. It’s the early 60’s, capital punishment is being abolished and Britain’s hangmen take up new careers. Former hangman Harry, his wife April and daughter Shirley run a typical Northern boozer, whose regulars include Police Inspector Fry and a group of hardened drinkers who are in awe of Harry’s infamy. He decides to tell his story to a local cub reporter and the published article is unkind to his rival Pierrepoint, who pays him a visit later in the play. His ex assistant Syd, a mousy somewhat passive character, is intent on taking Harry down a peg or two and colludes with the mysterious and menacing Mooney, who may be connected to Harry’s last victim. How this plays out is the heart of the play, which I won’t spoil.

At the interval, I wasn’t sure what to make of it as there was so much to unravel, but the second half plays out brilliantly and unpredictably with horror and humour in equal measure in a style only McDonagh could write, with some of the most un-PC lines you’ll hear in a theatre today! The cast is outstanding. David Morrisssey is terrific as Harry, with a very commanding presence, and Reece Sheersmith is the perfect foil as the hapless Syd. Johnny Flynn captures the menace of Mooney in the best performance I’ve seen him give. The ever-present drinkers are superbly characterised by Ryan Hope, Graeme Hawley and especially Simon Rouse as partially deaf Arthur. When we eventually meet John Hodgkinson’s Pierrpoint, he’s every inch the No. 1 hangman, towering over Harry’s No. 2.

The first scene is two years earlier in prison and when the location changes, the transformation is quite a shock, and perhaps a bit over-engineered and unnecessarily expensive. There’s a third location, a cafe, which is cleverly created more modestly. There’s a real attention to period detail for the main pub set; Anna Fleschle’s design is impressive, as is Matthew Dunster’s direction.

I thought we might have lost McDonagh to films. He never completed the Aran Islands trilogy as he wasn’t happy with the third play and his only subsequent work was written specifically for New York and we haven’t seen it here, so this return is a real treat and the production and performances do full justice to a cracking play.

 

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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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