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Posts Tagged ‘Ria Zmitrowicz’

It’s hard to write about something you find more than a bit baffling, but I’ll try. Mind you, it isn’t the first mind-blowing Alistair McDowell play. First, there was Pamona, which opened Paul Miller’s tenure as AD of the Orange Tree in 2014 with a bang, then X here at the Royal Court in 2016. This latest one is a cocktail of sci-fi, folk myth and mystery that spans 501,998 years!

It starts in the mid 18th Century when a wealthy spiritualist adopts / abducts a young girl from what appears to be an asylum to be some sort of assistant, but she has powers of her own and she takes us back to the 15th Century where we encounter a mute knight at the court of King Henry VI, then forward to the second world war, 1979 and twice into the 1990’s. The journey back to 500,000 BC and forward to the future connect us to the fate of the planet, a familiar subject for McDowell.

Along the way, we experience horror, violence, intrigue and more surprisingly humour and you are rarely distracted, possibly because you’re trying to keep up. The performances are excellent, with Ria Zmitrowicz as our mysterious guide and Tadhg Murphy as the silently charismatic knight (who at times seems to have walked onto the stage from the set of Monty Python’s Holy Grail!). Rakie Ayola and Fisayo Akinade are great in multiple roles.

The set at first seems like some hidden corner of the Barbican complex, but takes on a life of it’s own with its continuous changes of configuration, with projections and lights, accompanied by an atmospheric soundtrack. It’s hard to fault the craftsmanship at play in staging it, but the narrative is another matter – obtuse and baffling. Still, it’s an improvement on Pamona and X.

Despite my confusion, unlike other plays in recent years it does deserve its place on the main stage. I consider myself to be very open to creativity and invention, but maybe I’m becoming more conservative, because when it comes to plays I often yearn for story, plot and characters that I can understand or relate to, something you don’t get here. On this occasion, I find myself ending up admiring the experiment and wishing it had succeeded.

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After contemporary works about China – US relations, a nuclear incident and a sibling relationship as experimental physics, playwright Lucy Kirkwood has turned her hand to something set 260 years ago, women’s place in society at that time, in particular the legal and political worlds. I thought it was a fascinating play, with a superb ensemble of fine actors and a stunning design by Bunny Christie.

We start by briefly watching these women carrying out their daily chores, underlining their limited roles in the world. After a crime is committed and a young girl, Sally Poppy, arrested and tried, a ‘jury of matrons’ is formed to establish if she is pregnant, as she says she is. If she is, her execution will be postponed or she may be transported instead. The jury of matrons for this specific purpose provides the only role women can have in legal affairs at the time; they cannot be jurors who convict.

The final person to join this group of twelve women is midwife Elizabeth Luke, who is sympathetic to Sally. She proves Sally is pregnant, but not all of the others will accept this. As their deliberations progress, conflicts of interest and prejudices emerge. They are offered a (male) doctor to examine Sally and they accept this, but even this doesn’t break the impasse. It twists and turns in ways that surprise you and when they do reach a conclusion, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be implemented.

Bunny Christie has created a brilliant design whose jury room fills the Lyttleton stage, beautifully lit by Lee Curran, with Carolyn Downing’s sound design letting us know there’s an angry lynch mob just outside. The costumes establish the period and the accents the location as East Anglia. The ensemble, led by Maxine Peake in the best role I’ve seen her in, contains fine actors like Cecilia Noble, June Watson, Jenny Galloway and Haydn Gwynne. Ria Zmitrowicz is superb as feisty Poppy. James Macdonald’s staging is masterly.

Good to see another Lucy Kirkwood play, a bit of a departure, of a fascinating subject I’m not sure anyone has tackled before.

 

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