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Posts Tagged ‘Robert Hastie’

My third and final out-of-town day-trip, this time to the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield for another of my top five musicals, Guys & Dolls, my 9th production / 13th performance. Another treat.

The show is based on a 1930’s story and characters created by writer / journalist Damon Runyon. Nathan Detroit organises a crap (dice) game which moves from place to place whilst dancer Adelaide, his fiancee of 14 years, does everything she can to pin him down to marriage, having told her mother she already is, and invented five children with another on the way as part of the story. Ace gambler Sky Masterson and Chicago gangster Big Jule head into town, and the world of the gamblers and the ailing Salvation Army mission threatened with closure collide, but happiness is just a couple of bets away. Runyon was so fond of the world of these lovable rogues and gamblers that he arranged for his ashes to be scattered on Broadway from a plane!

So what’s this production got going for it? Well, for starters I heard much detail in the orchestrations than I’ve heard before, partly because of new arrangements by Will Stuart, whose superb 14-piece band isn’t buried in a pit, but faces you above the action in a series of decorated ‘rooms’. Matt Flint’s choreography fills the stage with vitality and freshness, with the two Hot Box routines particularly good, and the street-life, Havana club, Luck be a Lady in the sewers and Sit Down you’re Rocking the Boat in the mission all uplifting. At first, I missed the usual Broadway billboards and neon lights in Janet Bird’s set, but her excellent costumes, and Howard Hudson’s terrific lighting, made up for them. Crucible AD Robert Hastie isn’t known for musicals, as his predecessor Daniel Evans was, which makes his staging all the more impressive, achieving the best balance between the comedy and the love stories that I can remember.

Natalie Casey was very impressive as Adelaide, bringing out every bit of her character’s comedy, but with real pathos to her love story, which moved me. Martin Marquez had all the charm and cheek Nathan needs, also melting by the end. I’ve followed Alex Young’s musical theatre career since student productions at RAM and for me her performance as Sarah is one of her career highs. Kadiff Kirwan invests Sky with a suave confidence and again the love story had more feeling than I’m used to seeing. TJ Lloyd was a great Nicely Nicely and Dafydd Emyr was larger than life and positively intimidating as Big Jule.

I’d been to the Crucible before, but not for a musical, and I thought the space was perfect for a big Broadway show like this. We are so lucky to have quality musical theatre productions like this around the country, and my day-trip, including travel, cost about the same as a top price ticket in the West End. Thank you, Sheffield.

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Peter Gill is better known as a director, and a lot less prolific as a playwright, but he’s written a handful of very good plays, of which this is one of the best. First seen in 2002 at the Royal Court, revived just seven years later at the Riverside Studios, which Gill founded, and now nine years on at the Donmar Warehouse in what might be the best of the three.

Farm labourer George lives with his widowed mother in their tied cottage, with his sister Barbara, husband Arthur and their three children in the nearby council estate. Neighbour Doreen persuades George to get involved in the York Mystery Plays where he meets Assistant Director John, up from London, with whom he develops an unlikely friendship and a clandestine relationship; this is the early sixties. It starts and ends after the relationship, moving back to the visit John makes at the beginning of their relationship, an evening after the show and then to George’s mothers’ funeral. It’s not until the end that we fully understand the intervening years.

The culture clash between city and country, North and South, thespian and farmer are deftly handled and the understated writing is matched by a restrained production and a set of beautiful, authentic performances. Robert Hastie’s staging is finely tuned and hugely sensitive. Peter Mackintosh has designed an evocative, realistic, intimate cottage, with the countryside projected high above. Ben Batt and Jonathan Bailey give wonderful, delicate, nuanced performances. Lesley Nicol is simply lovely as the archetypal working class loving Mother. Lucy Black is a down-to-earth Barbara who may be more knowing than we think, and Matthew Wilson her husband Arthur who isn’t knowing at all; both fine characterisations. Katie West beautifully conveys neighbour Doreen’s yearning for George, and there’s an auspicious stage debut from Brian Fletcher as young Jack. A faultless cast.

This is an impeccable revival which draws you in to the world and lives of the characters and captivates you, proving conclusively that its a fine play indeed. This is why I go to the theatre.

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I’m glad I’m not an actor with a part in this Abi Morgan play. I wouldn’t get through a single performance without losing my way, let alone a whole run. It’s structure is clever but must be a nightmare for Sinead Cusack, Genevieve O’Reilly, Michelle Fairley, and Zawe Ashton, so lets start with gold stars for the actors.

We’re in some sort of European dictatorship which is about to be overthrown by the people. In a large, fancy but tasteless room the president’s wife Micheleine is meeting western photojournalist Kathryn, who has come to photograph her husband. She has an interpreter of dubious competence and motivation, Gilma (who’s also a kleptomaniac!). Her oldest friend Genevieve arrives, summoned by Micheleine.

The same scene is played out multiple times, but each one is different in some respect, more differences as we progress through the 95 minutes of the play. We learn more about the true nature of the relationship between Micheleine and Genevieve, where Gilma stands on the conflict and something, but not a lot, about Kathryn. They break the fourth wall frequently and Kathryn doesn’t always understand what the others are saying, or vice versa.

It’s all very clever, but I felt the focus on structure, though not impacting the characterisations, does rob the play of story; there just isn’t enough of it. In addition to faultless acting, particularly impressive from Sinead Cusack as Micheleine and Zawe Ashton as Gilma, there’s a fine set by Peter McKintosh and impeccable direction by Robert Hastie.

I admired it and it impressed me, but the play left me wanting more.

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I wish I’d had a blog 20 years ago so that I could compare what I thought about this then with what I think about it now. In the absence of a blog, I have my less reliable memory, which tells me that I thought it was a good, very funny play, though the post-AIDS promiscuity and unprotected sex was a bit shocking. It seemed to me to be a play of its time and I wasn’t sure it would have the same impact today. As it turns out, it passes the test of time and proves to be more great than good. Sadly, writer Kevin Elyot didn’t get to see this first major revival himself, dying days before rehearsals began.

We don’t meet Reg, though the play revolves around him. His partner Daniel is one of three thirty-something university friends who we join at the flat-warming of another, conservative home-maker Guy, virtually celibate with unrequited love for the third, rich boy John, who has been absent squandering his inheritance and sleeping around. They are joined by newer friends from the pub – Bernie & Benny. Decorative decorator young Eric, also from the pub, is just finishing painting the conservatory. As the play progresses, we attend two wakes and learn why everything revolves around Reg, as Eric joins this circle of friends.

American playwrights responded to AIDS with angry, political plays like The Normal Heart and Angels in America. This was British theatre’s first response – a comedy about friendship, love and sex with two deaths! It has some of the sharpest, funniest dialogue you’ll ever hear and it is truly funny – it won both the Olivier and Standard Best Comedy Awards (also a peculiarly British response) – but it has much more depth than that. The characterisations are superb and there isn’t a wasted moment or an unnecessary word; it really is brilliantly written. This was the third of only six original stage plays Elyot wrote (there were also three adaptations) over a period of 22 years. Later ones, like Mouth to Mouth in 2001 and Forty Winks in 2004 were also good plays, but this was his masterpiece.

The Donmar have done him proud with this fine revival. The space is bigger than the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs where it started, but it’s just as intimate. This is director Robert Hastie’s first ‘big’ high profile show and he more than rises to the challenge with impeccable staging. The casting is faultless. I haven’t seen much of Jonathan Broadbent’s work, but he steps into David Bamber’s shoes and makes Guy his own. Geoffrey Streathfield sweeps in and commands the stage as a charismatic Daniel. I think I’ve only seen Julian Ovenden in musicals and he’s a revelation here as complex John, a character who makes the biggest transition. Richard Cant and Matt Bardock are excellent as the unlikely couple Bernie & Benny. Lewis Reeves, in only his second West End role, is a very impressive Eric (originally played by Joe Duttine, now Sally’s boyfriend in Coronation Street!).

This exceeded my exceptions in so many ways and it was wonderful to see it revealed as a modern classic. A clear favourite for 2014’s Best Revival.

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This is a hugely impressive first play by someone with real world experience of its subject matter, and it shows. What I like most about it is that it takes a subject rarely staged and it doesn’t take sides; it presents you with single mum Anne & her son Tommy’s tragic story for you to consider for yourself.

Tommy was born in prison when his pregnant mother was incarcerated at just 15. Now Tommy is 15 and he is in turn incarcerated. In eleven scenes, we see their relationships with each other and with prison officer, young offender’s institute case worker and social worker then and now and examine their respective responsibilities for their fate.

It’s a gripping 90 minutes, in no small part due to the performances, particularly from Claire-Louise Cordwell as Anne (also ever so good in Hampstead Theatre’s revival of Ecstasy three years ago) and outstanding newcomer Jack McMullen as Tommy. With the audience on two sides, there’s a claustrophobic and voyeuristic feel to Robert Hastie’s production which provides both intimacy and tension.

Chris Thompson’s play is objective and it oozes authenticity. It’s not always easy to watch, but it needs to be seen. I’ve been puzzling over why its called Carthage and I’ve decided it’s more likely to be the Irish name meaning ‘loving’ than the ancient Tunisian city! The Finborough at the cutting edge – again.

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