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Posts Tagged ‘Richard Eyre’

This early David Hare play was first staged at the NT’s Cottesloe Theatre 33 years ago, paired with another called Wrecked Eggs. It’s now flying solo at the Menier in an impeccable production by Richard Eyre with a stunning design by Fotini Dimou, but I’m not sure its substantial enough to hold an evening on its own.

It’s 1955 and Valentina Nrovka has been invited to the Hermitage in St Petersburg to contribute to the debate about the provenance of a painting believed to be by Matisse, who was her friend. Valentina’s daughter Sophia comes too, and much of the play is in fact about their relationship and Sophia’s intention to leave her husband for a much older man, Peter, who also turns up. The personal story, the art and the Soviet state are interwoven to form the narrative.

Valentina is acid tongued and Hare has written some brilliant lines for her, delivered to perfection by Penelope Wilton, so much so that she dominates the piece, a bit like Lady Bracknell does in The Importance of Being Earnest. Ophelia Lovibond provides fine support as Sophia, and David Rintoul as Peter and Martin Hutson as the Assistant Curator give fine cameos, but it’s Wilton’s evening, worth the visit for her masterclass in acting, plus a truly evocative design of a seemingly vast room in the Winter Palace.

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It’s only four months since our own Carey Mulligan wowed with her one-woman show at the Royal Court, now on Broadway. American actress Laura Linney is premiering here, but I suspect she’s Broadway-bound too. They both gave virtuoso performances, but the stories they tell couldn’t be more different.

Rona Munro has adapted Elizabeth Strout’s 2016 novel. Laura Linney is Lucy Barton, but she plays her mother too. Lucy is looking back on a period when she was seriously ill in a New York hospital. Her husband and young children rarely visited, but her estranged mother turns up unexpectedly. This triggers childhood memories, when she felt as lonely as she does in the hospital. Her upbringing in rural Illinois was in a poor family with seemingly unloving parents, remote from her two siblings. We learn about these relationships, but also learn about her family life at the time she’s in hospital, her career as a writer and forward fifteen or so years to see how it unfolded.

It’s storytelling, and you know it’s good storytelling because you have vivid pictures of the characters and places in your head. Structurally, it hops around, back and fore in time, which is one reason why it engages you throughout. The other reason is the storyteller. Laura Linney moves around the space, engaging with her audience on three sides, and the Bridge Theatre shrinks in your imagination (not difficult for me in the front row!). The performer is as lonely as the character, which increases your empathy with both. It’s a big stage, with only a hospital bed and chair in Bob Crowley’s design, and projections by Luke Halls of the New York skyline through the hospital window, moving us to the streets of her New York neighbourhood and back to her rural homeland. I was captivated by it, and I’m renowned for not liking monologues!

I’ve been a fan of Laura Linney since the 1993 Tales of the City Channel 4 series and I have nothing but admiration for the bravery that must be required to play this role. Getting a novel adapted and on stage in another country in just two years is some feat, but with playwright Rona Munro and director Richard Eyre, you have a premiere league team to pull it off in style.

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This is the play that started my obsession with the work of American playwright Eugene O’Neill, more than thirty years ago in a Jonathan Miller production with Jack Lemon as James Tyrone and Kevin Spacey as James Tyrone Jnr. I was the same age as James Jnr. Now I’m the same age as James Snr. Subsequent productions had Timothy West and David Suchet as James Snr. The 2000 West End production had Jessica Lange as Mary Tyrone, with Olivia Coleman as the Irish maid. Now its the turn of Jeremy Irons and Lesley Manville.

It’s O’Neill’s most biographical play, which he insisted wasn’t published until 25 years after his death, and never staged, but his widow didn’t honour this wish. It’s a long play, 3.5 hours in this Richard Eyre production, part of the Bristol Old Vic’s 250th anniversary programme. It takes place over one day and night in one room in the Tyrone home. James is a Shakespearean actor, drinks a lot and is a bit of a bully. His wife became addicted to morphine during her recent illness. Youngest son Edmund is seriously ill. His elder brother has followed his father into acting, more by default than anything else. The only other character is Cathleen, the Irish maid, whose scenes bring some light relief to what is otherwise a rather depressing piece.

Rob Howell’s impressionistic design is beautiful, also lightening the gloom of the play. The performances were a touch tentative at first, but became more natural as the play unfolded. Jeremy Irons’ James is an appropriately charismatic presence as James. The wonderful Lesley Manville navigates Mary’s decline delicately, with carefully controlled emotionality. Rory Keenan plays a spiky James Jnr, under the influence of alcohol most of the time, and Matthew Beard a fragile Edmund, both excellent. I very much liked Jessica Regan’s cameo as Cathleen.

This is a high quality revival and its good to see another Bristol Old Vic production in the West End, but it didn’t engage me emotionally or maintain my attention as it should, probably more to do with me and the night I went. Don’t let me put you off.

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It’s a while since I’ve been to The Mill at Sunning dinner theatre – their programming of whodunit’s alternating with farce’s isn’t really to my taste – but I couldn’t resist ‘big’ musical High Society in this intimate space, even though it’s less than eighteen months since I saw it in a big space, or perhaps because I had…….

It’s set in the elegant thirties amongst the rich socialites of Long Island. Tracey is about to marry ever-so-dull George, but not before she has an elongated drunken flirt with tabloid photographer spy Mike and has been visited by her ex (and true love) Dexter. Her feisty teenage sister Dinah is determined to reignite her relationship with Dexter and spike the wedding. Her mum is rather pre-occupied with reigniting her relationship with her own ex Seth, a bit of a philanderer, and Uncle Willie chases any woman in sight, but particularly tabloid journalist spy Liz, who’s love for colleague Mike is unrequited. Liz and Mike have been promised the wedding story in exchange for burying the story of Seth’s fling with a dancer. Still with me?

It’s based on the 1939 Hollywood film The Philadelphia Story and started out as a film musical in 1956 before making it to the stage in 1987 in London in a Richard Eyre adaptation (nine years before another stage version on Broadway). The Broadway version had a very successful Ian Talbot production at the Open Air Theatre in 2003, which toured before transferring to the West End, where it only lasted a few months. The latest incarnation was Maria Friedman’s sensational in-the-round production at the Old Vic in 2015. The show’s trump card is Cole Porter’s score-to-die-for with more standards than just about any other show.

Scaled down for a cast of eleven and a three-piece band, it works superbly on this scale. Though it’s occasionally unclear which location we’re in, it’s a simple elegant design by Ryan Light (with great costumes by Natalie Titchener) which enables fast-moving action and scene changes, leaving enough space for director / choreographer Joseph Pitcher’s nifty staging and movement. The musical standards under MD Charlie Ingles are excellent. There isn’t a fault in the casting, with a lovely leading lady in Bethan Nash, a great comic turn from David Delve as Uncle Willie and Kirsty Ingrams’ spirited Dinah.

I love musicals on this scale and this was certainly a treat, and where else can you see a quality musical with a decent two-course meal, coffee and a programme for not much more than £50! On this form, a deserved winner of the 2016 UK Theatre Most Welcoming Theatre Award.

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Ibsen is the second most performed playwright in the world (no guessing who’s first) but this late play is one of his least performed. In Richard Eyre’s new version, it’s a devastating but brilliant eighty minutes. I left the theatre emotionally drained.

Alfred and Rita’s relationship is very rocky. Rita feels Alfred’s sister Asta and their son Eyolf somehow come between them. Alfred comes back from a spot of self-imposed solitude determined to devote more time and energy to Eyolf, but before he even begins the boy drowns and all three adults, plus Bjarne who is desperately wooing Asta, are plunged into deep grief during which the complex web of their relationships unravels.

It packs so much into eighty minutes and doesn’t feel anything like a 120-year-old play. It has great psychological depth and unfolds like a thriller. The intimacy of the Almeida increases the intensity of the drama whilst Tim Hatley’s elegantly, simple design (with superb projections by Jon Driscoll, beautiful lighting by Peter Mumford and an atmospheric soundscape by John Leonard) provides a window to the world around them.

Though I’ve seen all of the actors before, they blew me away last night, especially Lydia Leonard and Eve Ponsonby as Rita and Asta respectively, who invested so much emotional energy into their performances.

I’ve only seen the play once before but this definitive production was a revelation, placing it up there with Ibsen’s masterpieces. Unmissable. 

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Samuel Foote, an eighteenth century actor, the subject of Ian Kelly’s play, may well be the most fascinating person you’ve never heard of – well, I hadn’t. He was a friend of David Garrick and Peg Woffington, the most famous actors of their day, Samuel Johnson, Benjamin Franklin and King George III. He appears to have invented a new form of theatre – improv! – getting around the stringent restrictions of the day by having no script to be approved and charging for the tea rather than the entertainment. The play is as enthralling as it is entertaining.

We meet Foote as a well-established member of London society. He’s moved on from acting to semi-improvised prologues and epilogues and on again to create comic and satirical one-man ‘entertainments’ and impersonations of infamous brothel madam ‘Mrs Cole’. He runs the second largest theatre company in the land, but after a riding accident he has to have his leg amputated, which of course impacts his career (and may have affected his mental condition). He does get a prosthetic leg, something that was being pioneered by John Hunter, the father of modern surgery, at that time, but he never really recovers. The sympathetic George III grants him a Theatre Royal license for the Haymarket Theatre, but his fortunes begin to decline when he satirises a Duchess who responds with accusations of sodomy which ultimately bring him down. Why have I never heard of this man or his plays!

Richard Eyre’s production is uproariously funny, though it does get darker as it progresses. Tim Hatley seems to have designed an intentionally small set which is both faithful to the period and rather intimate. Simon Russell Beale’s towering performance is amongst his best, showcasing his brilliant comic timing and ability to raise a laugh without speaking a word. He is as extraordinary as a large eighteenth century society lady as he was as a Carmen Miranda impersonator in Privates on Parade. He’s surrounded by a host of other lovely performances, with Joseph Millson as Garrick and Dervla Kirwan as Woffington and the writer himself as Prince / King George. I was hugely impressed by Micah Balfour as his ‘blackamoor’ servant and Jenny Galloway was a delight as his other help, Mrs Garner.

It was another co-incidence that this play about 18th century theatre folk followed the previous day’s play about 17th century theatre folk, and I thoroughly enjoyed both. It is unthinkable that this doesn’t transfer, and it would be particularly wonderful if it were to be to the Theatre Royal Haymarket which he took over 250 years ago next year!

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This show features in many lists of all-time Best Musicals; it’s certainly in my top 10, maybe my top 5. Yet there have only been two major London productions in the 33 years I’ve lived here, though the NT one had three incarnations (including a 1990 one day only tribute to their original Sky, Ian Charleson; for me, a highlight in a lifetime of theatre-going) and between the two they ran for six years at the NT or in the West End. To stave off withdrawal symptoms, we got a very impressive fringe production Upstairs at the Gatehouse a couple of years ago and a LAMDA one a couple of years before that. So there was no hesitation on my part in making the trip to Chichester!

Damon Runyon’s story of loveable rogues, gullible girls and evangelical (homeland) missionaries is timeless. The characters are beautifully drawn and the situations ripe for both comedy and romance. Good and bad are pitted against one another only to become mutually dependent and mutually beneficial. The bad guy gets his good doll, the good doll gets her bad guy and we send them off on a wave of warmth and goodwill. From the Runyonland overture to the wedding finale, it captivates you. It’s the epitome of the feel-good show.

Peter McKintosh’s brilliant set has an arc of hoarding fragments surrounded by lightbulbs reflected in the shiny black stage. When only the lightbulbs are lit, it’s the New York skyline, when the signs are lit you’re on the street. I’m not sure why they needed to import an American director, but his staging is very good. I’m also not sure why they need ballet star Carlos Acosta as choreographer as ‘co-choreographer’ Andrew Wright is perfectly capable on his own – given that they ‘have form’ with Adam Cooper, perhaps it’s all part of a ballet dancer Career Management ‘transitions’ programme. Anyway, it’s great choreography, particularly in showstoppers Luck Be A Lady & Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat.

At first I thought Sophie Thompson was over-cooking Miss Adelaide, as she has a tendency to do, but she won me over, providing many of the shows laughs but still breaking our hearts in her Second Lament. Peter Polycarpou was simply perfect as Nathan, the most loveable of all the rogues; a lighter touch than previous interpretations. Less experienced in musicals, Jamie Parker was a revelation as Sky, light on his feet and vocally assured. Clare Foster also took a while to convince as Sarah, but when the actress let go as the character let go, she too won me over.  Harry Morrison follows two illustrious Nicely-Nicely’s (David Healy and Clive Rowe) but I liked his sweeter characterisation and he brought the house down rockin’ the boat. The rest of the cast rises to the occasion, busting with energy and enthusiasm.

I’m always nervous seeing a show when you think you’ve seen the definitive production, in this case Richard Eyre for the NT, but yet again it entertains and thrills. It’s like seeing your best friend again after many years apart; hopefully (inevitably?!) this particular best friend will pay a visit to London in the not-too-distant future so that we can get together one more time.

 

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