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Posts Tagged ‘Richard Kent’

Samual Adamson’s examination of sexuality and marriage from the late 50’s to the present day uses Ibsen’s play The Dolls House, and its main character Nora, as it’s starting point and it’s both clever and intelligent.

We start in 1959, backstage after a performance of the play when Suzannah, the actress playing Nora, is visited by an acquaintance and her boorish husband Robert. It soon becomes clear that Daisy and Suzannah are much more than acquaintances, but also that Daisy is pregnant. In subsequent scenes we meet a descendent of Daisy & Robert at two points in their life, thirty and sixty years later, with encounters with different Nora’s / Suzannah’s at each point. There’s a nod to the future, but its not particularly well developed.

In effect, we’re moving from marriage as cover story to partial same sex legality (not age or marriage) to the equality we have today. To say more would be to spoil it, but I loved its cleverness and humour. There are great performances from all six actors, who play fourteen roles between them. Richard Kent has kept the design simple to facilitate speedy scene changes within acts and Indhu Rubasingham’s direction seems totally in tune with the material.

The clever structure and humour could have swamped the serious historical examination, but it doesn’t. It added much to making it such a satisfying evening.

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If you want a musical with showstoppers, dance routines and jazz hands, you’ll be disappointed. Tim Firth’s show is more musical play than musical – quirky, charming and ultimately moving, as warm & cosy as a duvet on a cold winters day. I loved it.

Thirteen-year-old Nicky enters a competition to write about her family – older brother Matt, a seventeen year old goth full of teenage angst, parents Steve and Yvonne, who both seem to be having their own mid-life crisis, grandma May, showing signs of dementia, and aunt Sian, single, carefree, loving life, serial girlfriend. The prize is a family holiday to anywhere in the world, but when she wins she chooses a camping trip!

The holiday proves to be a bit of a disaster, largely because of the weather, though Steve’s handiwork as a bodger is partly to blame. By now, Sian has another boyfriend, Matt’s intense relationship with his girlfriend becomes more on-off, May’s ability to look after herself comes into question and the parents mid-life crises continue. Nicky seems to be the only sane, balanced one, but when the significance of the location to both Steve & Yvonne and May becomes clearer, it brings out the best in the whole family.

There are lovely tunes interwoven with the dialogue, but I wouldn’t call them songs. They do add a lot, though, because feelings and emotions are better conveyed by music. Both book and lyrics (Firth does the lot) are very funny. You really do get to know and love this family of six in a very short time. Richard Kent’s design is a great use of the Minerva space, with a two-story house as a backdrop, but an intimate playing area in front, and in the interval the stage management team work wonders turning it into a muddy wood.

Nicky is the beating heart of the piece and Kirsty Maclaren’s performance is delightful, a totally believable thirteen-year-old. Scott Folan is superb as teenage Matt, often having to change style and behaviour, as teens do. Rachel Lumburg is lovely as the singleton determined to live life to the full, and Sheila Hancock gives us another of her late career character acting gems as May. For the third time in less than a year Clare Burt has captured my heart, with Yvonne hot on the heels of Mrs Harris and Miss Littlewood. This is a rare stage appearance for James Nesbitt who proves what we’re missing in a role which suits his natural charm and likability.

Like last year’s wonderful Flowers for Mrs Harris, this started out in Sheffield. Daniel Evans is at the helm again, creating a feel-good, heart-warming show which deserves a life beyond this second eight-week run, but you’d best get to Chichester just in case.

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The 20(ish)-year revival rule applies again for this Terry Johnson play, which I first saw at Hampstead Theatre in 1994. Natural justice was served that night when David Haig was indisposed and the playwright had to step in to play a role he wrote for a middle-aged man with a paunch who has to get his kit off!

The play follows members of a society which celebrates the classic British comedy of the 1960’s to 1980’s. They meet to reminisce, recollect and relive classic characters and shows, in this case the recently departed Benny Hill and, as news of his death arrives during the play, Frankie Howard. Couple Nick & Lisa, singleton Brian and host Richard are all committed members, but Richard’s wife Ellie isn’t. During the play we learn that Richard & Ellie are having problems having sex (and a baby) and Nick hasn’t really taken to his new-born, for reasons that emerge.

It does start slowly, with few laughs at first, and this time around I felt there was an imbalance between the light comedy of the first act and the significantly darker and much better second half. It’s natural audience is British people of a certain age and there were a number in the audience (young or foreign!), who missed many of the references, including my Icelandic companion, even though he was of a certain age and brought up in a country and at a time when British TV was plentiful. This is a homage to the comedy families used to stay in and watch together on a Saturday night and that narrows its demographic significantly.

You can’t fault the performances or the staging by the playwright or the design of a 90’s suburban living room by Richard Kent. Katherine Parkinson is particularly good as Ellie, having to play against the flow, a role played by Zoe Wanamaker in the original production. I don’t really know the work of Rufus Jones, but he too was impressive as Richard, having to be believable as a surgeon who likes Benny Hill! Steve Pemberton handles the impressions best as Brian, perhaps because he started in TV comedy, as well as his touching revelation towards the end.

I was glad I revisited it, but it wasn’t the classic I thought it might be. I suspect this is partly due to the passage of time, partly due to its suitability for my companion (though he loved the second half) and partly due to the fact that James Graham’s recent Monster Raving Loony (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2016/06/13/monster-raving-loony) is a better and more comprehensive homage to the same British comedy, even though it’s actually a biography of a politician, albeit a comic one.

 

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I’ve got a soft spot for this late Shakespeare play. How can you not like something with a man-eating bear, Time as a character to explain the passing of sixteen years between acts, a sheep-shearing festival with a dance of satyrs and a statue that comes alive! This production in the candlelit Sam Wanamaker is the finest I’ve ever seen.

It’s got a very dark beginning, with the king’s rampant suspicion and unfounded jealousy leading to deaths of the queen and the young prince and the abandonment of a baby princess. When the oracle declares the queen innocent, the king is initially unrepentant, but later becomes wracked with guilt. Meanwhile in Bohemia, the prince has fled and hooked up with a shepherd’s daughter but get’s found out at the aforementioned sheep-shearing festival. The progress from here to the happy ending is a joy.

Like Cymbeline a couple of weeks ago the play, also written for an indoor playhouse, fits this one like a glove. Again, it had few props but gorgeous costumes from Richard Kent and some particularly original and quirky choreography from Fleur Darkin.

John Light is a terrific Leontes and Rachael Stirling is great as Hermoine. I very much liked Niamh Cusak as Paulina and there was a superb comic turn from James Garnon as Autolycus. Luxury casting in the smaller parts too, with David Yelland particularly good as Antigonus and Fergal McElherron likewise as Camillo. Director Michael Longhurst has assembled an outstanding ensemble.

This late play season at the SWP is turning into a real treat. Bring on The Tempest!

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This was apparently the first play Shakespeare wrote for an indoor theatre, the Blackfriars, to be performed by candlelight. How fitting then that it should be staged at the Globe’s new(ish) indoor playhouse, by candlelight, and the venue really suits the play.

Like other late plays, Cymbeline is an odd concoction. Though anchored in British history, it’s such ancient history (Roman period) that we know little about these times and they feel, and may even be, mythological. Lots of themes from other plays appear and it has an other-worldly, somewhat fairy-tale quality. The central character is not King Cymbeline but his daughter Innogen, who is banished for marrying Posthumous instead of Cloten, the queen’s son by her former marriage.

She returns from Rome disguised as a man, encounters some feral chaps who turn out to be her lost (stolen) brothers who have beheaded Cloten, gets pursued by Iachimo seeking to prove her infidelity, then by Posthumous’ servant Pisanio seeking to punish her for it but unable to bring himself to do so and befriended by invading Romans led by Caius Lucius! Of course it all ends happily (well, not for Cloten, obviously). We even get a visit from goddess Jupiter from above, literally.

With no props, the production has a storytelling quality which didn’t settle until the second half for me; the first half seemed a bit rushed and perfunctory, though in all fairness to director Sam Yates, that’s as much to do with the play’s elongated set-ups. The second half is a cracker, though. There’s great incidental music from Alex Baranowski and excellent costumes by Richard Kent. With some doubling up, the whole thing is delivered by a cast of fourteen, including particularly good performances from Trevor Fox as Pisano, Brendan O’Hea as Belarius and Paul Rider as Caius Lucius.

I’m now very much looking forward to the other late plays in the same theatre.

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I finally caught up with this much talked about play (with the somewhat controversial title) on its transfer to the Arts Theatre. Thankfully. Such a good piece of writing and four terrific performances.

A New York Jewish family gather for Shiva, the one week mourning observed by close family, after the death of their grandfather, a holocaust survivor. We only meet the three grandchildren, and the girlfriend of one of them. Daphna is intelligent, traditional and brittle; she could disagree about an agreement. Her cousin Liam is the elder of two brothers, the blue-eyed boy, also intelligent, just as brittle but certainly not traditional – he’s going to marry a gentile. Jonah is as passive as they come, in Liam’s shadow, saying anything to Daphna for a quiet life. His favourite phrase is ‘I don’t want to get involved’. Liam’s girlfriend Melody is an archetypal suburban American dumb blonde.

The story revolves around who gets grandad’s Hy (?spelling), a gold item with great sentimental value. Liam wants to use it in place of an engagement ring, as grandad did. Daphna believes she is entitled, as the only religiously observant one. Jonah doesn’t want to get involved. It gets very heated, with Liam and Daphna at war, Jonah balancing precariously on the fence and Liam’s intended in shock – families don’t fight like this in her world. Though it’s a thoroughly Jewish story, replace the item and the cultural references and it could be any family.

All four performers are outstanding. Jenna Augen oozes authenticity as Daphna, which I suspect comes from her own background, and is more controlled in her anger than Ilan Goodman who is otherwise excellent as Liam. Gina Bramhill captures that American everygirl perfectly, with facial expressions that get as many laughs as the lines, and Joe Coen is brilliantly restrained as the one who doesn’t want to get involved. Michael Longhurst’s staging, in Richard Kent’s superb cramped NYC apartment, is as finely detailed as the performances and the Arts Theatre is just the right size for you to see this unfold with enough intimacy to make a big impact.

I think this is playwright Joshua Harmon’s first play. I can’t wait to see how he develops.

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Will someone move Sheffield nearer to London, please? Sheffield Theatres reputation continues to rise and now they outdo the West End by touring probably the best production of Anything Goes I’ve ever seen. This is unmissable.

Cole Porter’s classic musical comedy is 80 years old now, but here it’s fresh and sparkles like new. The score is littered with classics like I Get a Kick Out of You, You’re the Top, It’s De-Lovely, Blow Gabriel Blow and of course the title song, with witty lyrics by Porter and a very funny book, originally by P G Wodehouse & Guy Bolton but revised twice so I’m not sure whose is in use now. Still, who cares, its fun aboard a liner crossing the Atlantic with gangsters disguised as evangelists, evangelists who’ve become nightclub singers, Wall Street businessmen, an American heiress and a British Lord. Singer Reno loves stockbroker Billy, who loves heiress Hope, who’s engaged to nobleman Evelyn but they all get their man / woman in the end, but not until we’ve had a lot of fun aboard ship.

Daniel Evans production has a lovely art deco set by Richard Kent, with the ship’s deck rising up to form the backdrop as well as the stage, and great period costumes. Choreographer Alistair David doesn’t have a lot of space, but works wonders with what he has. There’s a zippiness about the whole thing that lifts you up and sweeps you along. The 9-piece band sounds terrific, and a lot more than nine. Debbie Kurup is sensational as Reno Sweeney, the complete package of great dancer, beautiful singer and comic actress and Stephen Matthews is wonderful as Lord Evelyn Oakleigh, a clumsy but lovable toff. In addition to these star performances, there’s great work from Matt Rawle as Billy, Zoe Rainey as Hope, Hugh Sachs as Moonface Martin, Alex Young as Erma, Simon Rouse as Whitney and the lovely Jane Wymark as Hope’s mum. A fine ensemble of 18 ensure the set pieces sparkle.

The New Wimbledon Theatre isn’t the most suitable (vast) or welcoming (shameful latecomers policy and noisy audience), but with work this good, you’ve got to go where you can, though with hindsight I wish I’d gone to Sheffield, where it appears they outdo the West End regularly. Unmissable indeed.

 

 

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Three short plays by favourite playwright Eugene O’Neil with favourite actor Ruth Wilson in the lovely Hoxton (music) Hall. I was seriously over-excited going in, but deeply satisfied coming out.

This is a perfect match of play(s) and venue. Hoxton Hall is tall but narrow, with a wrought iron balcony on three sides. They’ve put in rickety old chairs for this production, and the multi-tier stage recedes some way, making the performance area look surprisingly big. Richard Kent’s design makes full use of the space, with perfect period costumes, superb lighting by Neil Austin and a six-piece jazz band. The atmosphere of apartments in an early 20th century US city is brilliantly created.

The first play is virtually a monologue by Wilson as a woman whose world is in decline after marrying an unfaithful loser. She takes a short while to get into her stride, but becomes mesmerizing as the story unfolds. The plays are linked by terrific songs from Nicola Walker as the stage is reset. In no time, we’re with prostitute and single mother Rose, suffering with TB and abused by her lover / pimp. She’s rescued by neighbour and bank robber Tim, but not for long. The third play takes us to a black family where the mother is dying and son Dreamy is on the run. He has to choose between dying mom’s bedside and escape.

Though best known for his lengthy epics, O’Neil is able to pack a lot of drama into these three short plays which, even with musical interludes, add up to less than 90 minutes. I’ve had my eye on director Sam Yates since a pair of superb productions at the Finborough in 2011-12 (Cornelius & Mixed Marriage) and his staging of the first two of these is outstanding. Ruth Wilson, wonderful in the same two plays, directs the third very well. There are two excellent performances from Simon Coombs, both criminals, both on the run, and Zubin Varla is great as Steve in the second play, and plays a mean sax too.

They’ve taken over the whole ground floor, with a period design bar named after O’Neil’s sometime NYC haunt. I don’t know who Found Productions are, but they are to be congratulated on a magnificent evening of drama and first class theatrical craftsmanship. Brilliant.

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I can’t understand why everyone isn’t raving about this. It’s the best of the handful of RII’s I’ve seen and one of the best Shakespeare productions of Michael Grandage’s reign at the Donmar – better than his Hamlet & Twelfth Night and as good as his Othello & King Lear.

The intimacy of this theatre helps this particular play greatly, and the Donmar’s design ‘house style’ of elegant simplicity does too. On this occasion, Christopher Oram’s ‘pupil’ Richard Kent has produced a terrific two-tiered gothic structure of fading gold. There’s another one of Adam Cork’s atmospheric soundscapes and beautiful lighting from David Plater. As you enter, Richard is (somewhat appropriately) sitting in silence on his throne in a white gown and gold crown. Here begins Shakespeare’s eight play slice of British history.

The first half has great pace, with Richard showing us that he’s uncomfortable with his power and clumsy in the execution of it. You begin to realise that he’s in a job he doesn’t want without the competencies to do it; this makes it both logical and easy for an assured assertive player like Bolingbroke to challenge him. In the second half we get a lot more psychological depth as the coup unfolds and Richard (willingly, it seems) hands over the crown to Henry IV.

I thought Eddie Redmayne and Andrew Buchan were individually superb and well matched as Richard and Bolingbroke, the former conveying the complexity of Richard’s personality and his situation and the latter the determination fueled by his mistreatment, but they head one of the best casts ever put together at the Donmar with a brilliant John of Gaunt from Michael Hadley, a fine Mowbray from Ben Turner and Daniel Flynn excellent as Northumberland. Though it’s a small role, Pippa Bennett-Warner gave a lovely interpretation of Richard’s queen, lost in all this political shenanigans.

This is a great production of a very difficult play and a triumphant swan song for Grandage. I think it’s brilliant that he bows out with a particularly young ensemble, offering a fine young actor his first leading male Shakespearean role (he was Viola for the Globe!) and giving a budding designer a solo West End flight. Enthralling.

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Another neglected gem at the Finborough – this time a passionate 100 year-old play by St John Ervine about the sectarian divide in Northern Ireland.

Influential orange man John Rainey is persuaded by son Hugh and his catholic friend Michael to speak in encouragement of unity against employers exploiting the sectarian divide, but when he overhears his son expressing his love and intention to marry catholic Nora, he turns and reverts to anti-catholic rhetoric. This deepens the divide and starts riots in which the family is caught up.

The personal and political are played out together very successfully in Sam Yates’ excellent production. The writing is a bit idealistic, which makes it occasionally preachy, but it certainly packs a punch in its 80 minute running time. Though the political landscape may seem to have changed, personal attitudes like John’s clearly still exist, which gives the play a contemporary resonance. Richard Kent has created a very evocative one-room set with equally evocative period costumes. Aklex Baranowski’s terrific sound design effectively conjours up the off-stage riots towards the end of the play.

It’s beautifully played by a faultless cast. I don’t know how many of them have Northern Irish blood (if any) but the accents seemed to me to be spot on. Daragh O’Malley has huge presence and charisma as John, balanced by his more tolerant wife, beautifully played by Fiona Victory. Christopher Brandon’s Hugh and Damien Hannaway’s Michael are every bit as passionate as their roles require.  Joel Ormsby as younger brother Tom and Nora-Jane Noone as, well, Nora, complete the fine cast.

Yet another find and another deeply rewarding visit to the Finborough. If ever a theatre punched above its weight, this one certainly does.

 

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