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Posts Tagged ‘Richard Bean’

What better way to launch London’s newest theatre than to reunite the creative team behind London’s biggest recent comedy hit, One Man, Two Guvnors, and it’s great to report that both the theatre and the show are a big success.

Richard Bean & Clive Coleman’s play tells the true story of Karl Marx’s period of exile in London, whilst he writes his definitive work, Das Kapital. He’s living in Soho with his wife Jenny, children Qui Qui and Fawksy and their housekeeper Nym (all nicknames). They are spied on by the Prussians and their Communist League is watched over by the British authorities too. Good friend and benefactor Friedrich Engels pays regular visits from Manchester, where he’s a cotton baron, but a secret commie. They are broke, so the police, pawnbrokers and bailiffs all make appearances. Everyone indulges Marx, until he crosses a line which threatens to turn them all away.

Though it’s historically true, it’s often very funny, occasionally farcical and always entertaining. There’s a delicious running joke about the early days of the police and Charles Darwin turns up in a delightful cameo. It’s surprising how the political views still sound fresh; you could hear them being spoken today by left-wing politicians, and increasingly by disaffected ordinary people – like me! Designer Mark Thompson has built a revolving structure which becomes the Marx living room, a pub where the league meets, a pawnbrokers, the British Library Reading Room, the outside of a church and Hampstead Heath! Nicholas Hytner’s production has great pace, but it’s never rushed. It takes an unexpected dark turn, and ends more gently and thoughtfully.

Rory Kinnear’s performance as Marx is very athletic, with great comic timing. At one point, from my front row seat, I feared for his safety. Nancy Carroll is superb as Jenny, loyalty tested at every turn. Oliver Chris continues to impress, this time as Engels, with great chemistry with Kinnear’s Marx. The ever wonderful Laura Elphinstone is excellent as Nym. In the supporting cast, Eben Figueiredo, Miltos Yerolemou and Tony Jayawardena all shine as Konrad Schramm, Emmanuel Barthelemy and ‘Doc’ Schmidt respectively.

A lovely evening to welcome a new theatre and the return of a great contemporary playwright. With this, Ink, Oslo, Labour of Love and Albion, we’re on a real new writing roll in London.

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Playwright Richard Bean was late to his eventual career, of which he is now pre-eminent, starting at 40. He’s made up for it since, writing 23 plays including two adaptations and one musical in twenty years. One of the features of his output is the diversity of subject and style. Another feature is its quality. No. 23 is unlike any of the others, a finely polished little gem.

It’s set soon after the First World War. A man arrives at the lodgings of a war widow. He’s been sent by a doctor because she wants a baby. It’s something he does for women like her, plus the wives of the war wounded. He wasn’t in the war. They exchange pleasantries, but they aren’t allowed to know their real names, or anything about each other, under the parameters established by the doctor. In the end she can’t go through with it. They part but something is left behind which enables her to find him, and another sort of relationship starts. 

It’s easy to see why, despite his drawing power, it’s in Hampstead Theatre Downstairs; it needs its intimacy. With the audience facing each other on two sides, it takes place on and around a solitary bed in a small space. It’s beautifully written, with a depth of characterisation that’s astonishing given its 70 minute length. It often surprises you and there’s a gentle, warm humour in keeping with the subject matter. He says some nice things about the Welsh too, but that didn’t influence me!

Anna Ledwich’s direction is very sensitive to the material, and to the audience too, given the traverse staging. Both Claire Lams and Ben Lloyd-Hughes are a delight, managing to convey the repression of the period but the intimacy of their relationship.

A much shorter theatrical feast than iHo upstairs, but a feast nonetheless.

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A very early revival for this 2014 show, a new smaller scale actor-musician production, is showing at the nearest producing theatre to the Ford Dagenham plant, just five miles away. You could hear and feel the connection the audience made with the story. I’d loved the show in the West End and couldn’t resist seeing it again. One of my better decisions as it turns out; it’s an excellent production. 

The 1968 strike by the Dagenham machinists started as a dispute about down-grading through job evaluation but became a key moment in the campaign for equal pay, a battle which in truth continues to this day. They had to win over their own union reps, their male colleagues (many their husbands, boyfriends, fathers, and brothers) and the TUC before the government would intervene. It’s largely told through Rita, their unlikely and reluctant leader, whose relationship with her husband Eddie comes under great strain. She finds an unlikely ally in the Ford site manager’s posh wife and a powerful enemy in the parent company’s hit man (who seemed very Trump-like last night!).

The show works well because it presents us with important social history in a very entertaining way. Richard Bean’s book and Richard Thomas’ lyrics are very funny and very authentic. As Mark Shenton says in his programme note, there have been a few of musicals revolving around strikes – Billy Elliott, The Pajama Game, The Cradle Will Rock – but surely this is the funniest and the edgiest. I will forever be puzzled why it had such a mixed reception and a ridiculously short life in the West End, as this lovely revival reminds me.

The musical standards are very high with 20 of the 21 cast contributing instrumentation. Daniella Bowen and Alex Tomkins were excellent as Rita and Eddie O’Grady. Foul-mouthed Beryl is a peach of a part and Angela Bain was terrific. The always wonderful Claire Machin made a great job of Barbara Castle, clearly relishing the role. The rest of the ensemble, half of them doubling or tripling, was first class. I don’t think I’ve seen the work of director Douglas Rintoul, the Queens newly appointed AD, but on this showing I’d very much like to see more.

The show was 45 minutes shorter than my round-trip to Hornchurch, but it was well worth going. Head East, folks.

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In his fifteen year playwriting career Richard Bean has written no less than twenty shows (including two adaptations and the book for a musical) and we’re already getting revivals – his first play Toast at the Park Theatre last year and now his 2002 third play, originally seen at the NT’s first temporary space, The Loft. This one gets a West End run, presumably on the strength of his One Man, Two Guvnors success and the casting of Stephen Merchant in his stage debut.

It’s a two-hander set in a grubby hotel room in north London. Ted has decided to set up a utopian community based on an obscure novel he’s read and he has asked best friend Morrie (Steffan Rhodri) to film a video to help him promote it. By the interval, I was wondering if this really was a Richard Bean play. It was a bit dull. The second half though is packed with revelations, twists and turns. We learn about the nature of their friendship and back stories, we begin to differentiate between realities and fantasies and we learn what the play is really about. For me, though, the imbalance between the acts, holding back so much until the second act, is a fatal flaw.

Stephen Merchant acquits himself well as a stage actor and Steffan Rhodri does very well to play ‘straight man’ (with the attention and focus all on Merchant), but the play isn’t good enough to be a vehicle in itself and I left disappointed. If they’d mounted a lower profile Off West End production as a 90-minute show without the interval I think it would have fared a lot better. In the glare of the West End, with the expectations that (and the ticket prices) generates it sets itself up and fails to deliver.

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Like Billy Elliott before it, they’ve taken a great British feel-good film and made it into an even better musical. Though the lyricist has written musicals before, the book writer and composer haven’t, which makes the achievement hugely impressive.

Of course, it’s the true story of the Ford Dagenham sewing machinists who took on the multinational, the UK government and their male colleagues over equal pay. It was a landmark in equal opportunity, with the Equal Pay Act following two years later. Many would argue that we still haven’t got true equality today, but the Ford women’s strike was the first big step on the journey. The triumph here is that they respect the true story, which is both stirring and moving, whilst injecting it with boundless energy and humour. Richard Bean’s first musical book is as funny as his plays and it propels the story well, Richard Thomas has produced lyrics that are sharp, witty, naughty and sometimes just a little bit shocking and David Arnold has come up with some great songs – some funny, some moving – and rousing choruses. Bunny Christie’s design seems to be inspired by a model aircraft kit and transforms into a busy factory floor, machine room, family home, hospital ward, Westminster office and the TUC conference in Eastbourne! The costumes are retro joy – the multi-coloured world of the swinging sixties. It’s all pulled together by director Rupert Goold with his usual inventiveness and pizzazz.

Gemma Arterton is very impressive and sweet voiced in her first musical role as Rita. It’s wonderful to see Adrian der Gregorian centre stage in the West End at last and he’s great as Rita’s husband Eddie. There are so many other excellent performances, but I have to single out Sophie Stanton, whose performance as foul-mouthed Beryl continually brings the house down, Sophie-Louise Dann who is a terrific Barbara Castle, Mark Hadfield’s hilarious Harold Wilson (though he needs to do a bit more work on the accent) and Naomi Fredericks, who has to play serious amidst all the hilarity and pulls it off brilliantly. Steve Furst plays Tooley, the American sent in the sort out the Brits, with great brash panache and there’s an excellent cameo from Scott Garnham launching the new Cortina in song with dancing girls.

There was a great buzz in the full house and a spontaneous standing ovation. The show again proves that our social history can be staged as entertainment whilst respecting the events and characters portrayed. We don’t yet know what the Dagenham ladies think, but my guess is they’ll think it as much fun as the rest of last Thursday’s audience. It’s only halfway through previews but its already in great shape and any lover of musical theatre will book now while they can. I’m certainly going back!

 

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The settlement of tiny Pitcairn island by the Bounty’s mutineers and their Tahitian wives seems to me like a good subject for a play and it seems well suited to a theatre like The Globe. The trouble is the production is a bit too panto, so its only partially successful.

Prolific playwright Richard Bean frames the piece with a visit from a couple of British warships looking for the mutineers. By then though there’s only one left, a nobody (apparently) called Adams, who’s allowed to stay. The balance of the play follows the settlers from when they arrived from Tahiti to make a new life of sexual promiscuity in paradise – until some of the men crossed the line from consent to force, which leads to the women exacting tough and bloody punishment. And then there was one….. Back in the real world, Pitcairn has had it’s own recent sandals where promiscuity was again pushed too far, but in a different direction.

It’a very playful, with Bean’s trademark irreverence and wit, but not very substantial. Breaking the fourth wall frequently, but not always successfully, it exploits the Globe’s capacity for inclusiveness, and occupies the groundling space a fair bit, but at the expense of some depth I thought. The design places a rocky ‘island’ on the stage and rocks on the ground, relying on authentic costumes for time and location. There’s some good movement and use of music and I loved the spin on the Globe’s customary closing dance – a hacker!

There are good performance all round and the cast’s sense of fun is infectious, but it’s not really enough – there’s something missing. It’s hard to see where it could be changed, so maybe its just another partially successful new play here at The Globe – there have been a fair few. Worth a visit, as long you don’t set your expectations too high. As it was Mr Bean, mine were.

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Playwright Richard Bean is a busy man. His 2011 NT hit One Man, Two Guvnors has been seen all around the world and is still touring the UK, his new play Pitcairn opened in Chichester last night, heading for The Globe, and the musical adaptation of Made in Dagenham arrives in the West End this autumn. You’d be forgiven for missing this revival of his first professionally produced play, first seen at the Royal Court Upstairs in 1999, now on the fringe in Finsbury Park for just over 3 weeks. You certainly have to accept he’s prolific – believe it or not, there have been 16 plays and two adaptations in the 15 years since this. Looking back at this early work proves fascinating.

Toast is set in a Hull bakery, like the one Bean worked in aged 18 – and it shows, with realism and naturalism running right through it. There’s old timer Nellie, put-upon at work and home, and chirpy sexually frustrated practical joker Cecil. Younger Peter has more fire (and pretensions) whilst contemporary Dezzie is laid back, taking life as it comes, some of it passing him by. There’s tension between charge-hand Blakey and shop steward Colin, each with a personal agenda. The arrival of student Lance is more than a bit unsettling, for some more than others. We spend just one night shift with these characters, but we learn a lot about them and their disparate lives.

James Turner has designed an uber-realistic canteen, with stairs leading to the off-stage bakery. The performances are as good as the characterisations. They seemed uncannily like people I worked with in my three brief periods in a factory, particularly a summer in a jam factory in Bristol ! The production needs more pace, particularly in the achingly slow opening moments. It would benefit if the passage of time were made clearer – we start the first act at 2.50pm and the second at 10pm, but the timespan of each is a lot longer than real time. I also think they should dispense with the interval, which seemed to me to interfere with the dramatic flow (I don’t recall an interval at the first production). This was the second of only two previews though, so it may be too late to fix.

The chief reason for seeing this – and you should – is to see how one of our great contemporary playwrights started out, writing brilliantly real characters and situations from real life experience, and to see seven fine, and finely matched, performances.

 

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We don’t have a free press (all of its owners peddle their particular prejudices) but we do have a free theatre, and I think it’s great that days after the end of the obscenely expensive but useless hacking trial, our National Theatre can stage a comprehensive satirical review of what is after all a real life farce. As it turns out, it’s hugely entertaining, though also sometimes uncomfortable and occasionally chilling.

Paige Britain is the news editor of The Free Press. Her boss, an excellent Robert Glenister, is a loud mouthed crude bullying editor prone to regularly naming one member of staff ‘C**t of the Month’ with the award inscribed in black felt tip pen on their forehead. The proprietor, the equally excellent Dermot Crowley, is an Irish media baron. The Free Press is well and truly in the gutter and sinks deeper as the play progresses and phone hacking becomes their new favourite research method. They collude with the police and, to a lesser extent, politicians (who come off a little lightly). The course of events bear a striking resemblance to actual events. It’s packed full of cracking dialogue and jokes, and Nichlolas Hytner’s production zips along at a formidable pace, but it still leaves you feeling you are complicit by buying these odious rags (well, not me, obviously).

Set in the newsroom, with sliding video screens giving us front pages, TV news, select committees and other recorded scenes, it’s very slickly staged and so packed with detail you struggle to take it all in. Tim Hatley’s design facilitates the extraordinary pace. In only her fourth stage appearance, Billy Piper is sensational as Paige; you completely believe in her as an ambitious manipulative woman without an iota of principles. Richard Bean has bravely written the Met Commissioner as a recent politically correct appointment – an openly gay Asian – and Aaron Neil almost steals the show with his deadpan delivery and impeccable timing. There are too many other good performances to mention in a superb ensemble. No-one is free from ridicule, with snipes at The Guardian & The Independent as well as the tabloids.

It’s thrilling to see something so current, relevant and important on the stage, made more exciting by being announced just days before its opening and days after the trial ended, without previews and no time to create programmes. This is one of the best things on the National stage in recent years. Unmissable.

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This is a new version of a 10-year-old Richard (one-man-two-guvnors) Bean play first set in Newcastle, now relocated to Kingston and jam-packed with local references (the detail of many was lost on me, someone who lives a whole nine miles away, though you do get the gist). It’s a black comedy about a drug dealing family.

Gavin & Catherine Robinson are children of the 60’s who have since been Kingston main dealers. Son Robert is a few grams short of a wrap but big enough and thick enough to be their enforcer. Other son Sean is in the process of taking over the business and taking it down a much darker street occupied by Russians and the like. Daughter Cora seems to be the white black sheep, more keen on her studies than boys, booze & drugs, much to her mother’s disdain. As the play starts, Robert’s junkie wife has died.

Bean really knows how to write cracking comic lines and it’s packed full of them. The populist local references are clever but come a touch close to overuse and in danger of being too contrived. The dark aspects of their trade – addiction, violence and death – didn’t sit entirely comfortably inside the comedy for me, but I suppose that’s the point of a black comedy. They’re loveable rogues who kill people!

Keith Allen & Denise Welch are very good as the parents, but the real acting honours belong to Matthew Wilson, whose Robert is a superb characterisation, and Harry Melling, who walks a fine line brilliantly between heartless bully and mummy’s boy. Kate Lamb has a real transition to make as Cora and pulls it off well. Richard Wilson’s staging loses pace occasionally, but is otherwise excellent. James Cotterill’s design captures the world of criminal middle class snobs really well and fits the difficult Rose stage better than any other in my experience.

This isn’t vintage Bean, but its a lot of fun and well worth the (9 mile!) trip.

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Well, all the hype and rave reviews are true, then – there hasn’t been so much laughter at the National since Jeremy Sams revival of Noises Off ten yours ago.

I can’t help making comparisons with restoration comedy The School for Scandal currently at the Barbican and French farce A Flea In Her Ear recently at the Old Vic, both of which were seriously unfunny. Perhaps director Nicholas Hytner is lucky that the original is in Italian so that he could commission an adaptation, whereas Deborah Warner and Richard Eyre respectively had to work with the original words on the page. The success owes as much to the adaptation as it does to the first class production and terrific ensemble. The very prolific Richard Bean (three crackers now in the last year alone) has been faithful to the spirit of Commedia dell’Arte whilst moving the action to 1960’s Brighton and produced something with snap, crackle and fizz whilst Sheridan’s restoration comedy has been de-laughed by the production and Feydeau’s farce was so faithfully re-produced and you felt like you were in a museum.

When you enter, there’s superbly played 60’s style pop from a four-piece band in full flow (music – Grant Olding) in front of a gaudy proscenium. The band return to keep us entertained between each scene change and before the second half and during the second half feature a series of brilliant cameo performances from cast members. The design is deliberately period production values with flats that wobble and fabric walls that shimmer. These are brilliant ideas that contribute much to the success of the evening.

Goldini’s plot revolves around a ‘minder’ who ends up with, well, two guvnors which gives us all we need for a cocktail of panto, carry on, slapstick & farce with a nostalgic feel but a contemporary freshness. Bean’s dialogue sparkles with wit and cheekiness with a lot of running jokes, the return of which seem like old friends as the evening progresses. The comic timing of the cast is simply stunning; they squeeze every ounce of laughter from these lines plus lots more that aren’t in the lines at all.

James Corden is excellent in the central role, but it’s far from just his show. There is so much other wonderful comic acting, it’s difficult to single anyone out – but I will! Oliver Chris’ creation of the toff is simply delicious, Daniel Rigby’s actorly actor is a hoot, Claire Lams turns playing dumb into an art form and Tom Edden’s 87-year old waiter is a masterclass in physical comedy. Playing (relatively) straight against these must be tough but I loved Fred Ridgeway’s deadpan Charlie, Trevor Laird’s lovable Lloyd Boateng(!) and Suzie Toase as prophetic feminist Dolly.

There are asides to the audience and even audience participation, but these don’t come over as gimmicks as much of Deborah Warner’s touches did for A School for Scandal; they seem absolutely right for the play and the adaptation. You do miss some of the lines and some of the funny business because of the amount of laughter and the amount going on, which seems like a very good reason to go and see it again! A triumph.

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