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Posts Tagged ‘Ron Cook’

Lucy Kirkwood’s brilliant Chimerica was always going to be hard to follow, so it’s great to report that her new play is very different but just as rewarding, a very mature piece from a young playwright.

Hazel and Robin are retired nuclear scientists / engineers with a small farm and four grown up children with four grandchildren. They live near the plant, on the coast, where they worked. A recent incident has meant a move to temporary accommodation and a significant disruption of their lifestyle. Former colleague Rose turns up after almost 40 years. She’s lived most her very different life in the US. They started their careers together building the plant and the conversation revolves around shared memories and catching up with the events in each others’ and other colleagues’ lives, until Rose says why she’s come.

It’s a very personal story of these three people, but so much more, exploring the diverse ways we fulfil our lives, growing old, relationships, generational legacy and debt, energy policy and the environment. I was captivated by these deeply drawn characters and their extraordinarily unique situation in whay is a play of many layers.

Miriam Buether’s cottage kitchen set is closed in by walls, floor and ceiling so that you feel you are peering into the room and their lives; it has the intimacy of a much smaller theatre. Deborah Findlay, Francesca Annis and Ron Cook are all superb and their somewhat complex relationships and current dilemma completely believable. James Macdonald directs this beautifully written play with great delicacy.

It’s a while since we saw such a fine play on the Royal Court’s main stage. I found it thought-provoking and enthralling, a deeply satisfying evening in the theatre.

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I gave up on Pinter some time ago. I put him with my other problem playwrights, Shaw (verbose) and Chekov (watching paint dry). Then this company lured me back to see The Hothouse because of the cast and creative team and I liked it. Now they’ve lured me back to this 50th anniversary production for the same reasons. What dawned on me last night was that it was the overly reverential, earnest, dull, humourless productions that had put me off. I enjoyed this one too. I think I’m beginning to enjoy the ambiguity.

Widowed Max, his two youngest sons Lenny and Joey, and brother Sam live together in a big house. Max was a butcher, Sam now a chauffer, Joey a demolition man and sometime boxer and Lenny some sort of pimp. They are nasty to one another, especially Max to the rest. Older brother Teddy returns home from the US. He’s a philosophy professor, married with two boys. His wife Ruth, who his family never knew about let alone met, accompanies him. They all continue to be nasty to one another, deeply misogynistic and thoroughly unpleasant. It’s the subtext what counts, and that’s where the ambiguity come in.

Soutra Gilmour’s set is derivative of Francis Bacon with a red metal frame and floor, a few items of furniture and a door and stairs which lead upstairs and downstairs. There’s a brooding soundtrack and dramatic lighting. Jamie Lloyd’s production is both menacing and humorous, and strikingly different to vanilla Pinter productions.

Ron Cook is outstanding as Max, a seemingly loveless monster dad, with hints of a paedophile past. Keith Allen camps up Sam, in keeping with the suggestion that he’s gay (at a time when it was still illegal). John Macmillan is brilliantly dumb as Joey. Gary Kemp plays Teddy as a gentle soul who takes the knocks from the family, but is a possessive, even dominant, husband. I was disappointed by the indisposition of John Simm but hugely impressed by his understudy John Hastings as Lenny. Gemma Chan’s TV role as an android in Humans has prepared her well for the ice cool Ruth; another impressive performance.

There were fascinating and insightful questions and comments from audience members at the post-show Q&A which added much value to the evening. After two rewarding Pinter’s, I think Jamie Lloyd may well have changed my mind about him.

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Until last night I’ve always considered this pay to be a fairly straightforward gung- ho slice of patriotic revisionist history. In this production, it seems to have more depth and complexity.

The young king puts his wayward past behind him and, goaded by the French Dauphin, sets off to teach them a lesson or two. An unlikely defeat of the much stronger French army (well, more of them, anyway) leads to the unification of the two nations by the marriage of Henry to the French king’s daughter. The depth and complexity come in the changing attitudes to war.

I found the first half uneven (as much the play as the production), but after the interval, as the British forces leave these shores, the production really takes off. The scene where Henry inspires his forces is brilliant and his wooing of Catherine is wonderfully staged. Where the production succeeds is in coping with the contrasts and contradictions – love & war, compassion & hate, poignancy & humour.

Christopher Oram’s design seems inspired by his earlier one for Lear at the Donmar – a semi-circle of rough wood painted roughly which takes its shape from the ‘cockpit’ of the prologue. Unlike the NT’s recent modern setting, save for the chorus / narrator in modern dress (a terrific Ashley Zhangazha, who continues to impress – I’m already getting excited about seeing his Othello!) it’s in period and the costumes are superb.

It’s been great to watch Jessie Buckley put the Oliver TV casting show I’ll Do Anything behind her; in just five years, she’s played Sondheim for Trevor Nunn at the Menier / West End, been to RADA, played a couple of shows at Shakespeare’s Globe and is now speaking French and snogging Jude Law in a very impressive performance as Princes Katherine! Matt Ryan is excellent as Fluellen, complete with real leak, and Ron Cook gives us another great turn as Pistol, eating the said leak.

I’ve only seen Jude Law a handful of times since Les Patents Terribles at the NT 19 years ago (where you saw quite a lot if I remember correctly) but he has impressed on each occasion. Here, he handles the various Henry’s very well – the lad with new-found responsibility, the patriot, the warmonger, the leader, the statesman, the lover…..it’s a fine performance.

This is a lot better than the Michael Grandage Company’s other crack at Shakespeare and ends the season on a high. It’s been good to see a 5-play season of such quality succeed in the unsubsidised West End, like Jamie Lloyd’s shorted 4-play season. In the spirit of competition and to encourage a rematch, Lloyd wins though!

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Pinero’s 1898 play is about the theatre and theatre folk at a time of transition from the mannered to the naturalistic. Though I saw the 1994 NT production, I can hardly remember it. I suspect it will now return to my mental theatrical archive even more quickly.

The play opens as her fellow (presumably Sadler’s Wells) actors bid farewell to Rose Trelawny, who is giving up theatre for a life with new love Arthur Gower, initially living with his grandfather Sir William Gower and his Great Aunt Trafalgar(!) in Cavendish Square. She misses the theatre and her theatre friends so much, she escapes and returns to the theatre, despite her love for Arthur. Sadly, her pining gets in the way of her acting and she’s soon confined to bit parts and then sacked. Fellow actors Tom (sometime playwright) and Imogen (aspiring theatre manager) plot to reunite the lovers by opening up a disused theatre to stage Tom’s play starring both of the lovers.

Director Joe Wright has got himself a fine design (Hildegard Bechtler) and a fine company. For some reason, he then decides it’s really a panto, as a result of which there’s more ham than in a fully stocked pork butcher. To make matters worse, the style varies between characters / actors and through the play. Some get away with it most of the time (Ron Cook cleverly doubling as Sir William and theatrical digs landlady Mrs Mossop), some get away with it some of the time (Daniel Mays as camp actor Ferdinand), some get away with it in one of their roles (Jamie Beamish as Ablett, but not as O’Dwyer) and some don’t get away with it at all ( Aimee-Ffion Edwards as Avonia).

Clearly, the play would have meant more in its day, but it’s difficult to see the point of reviving it (yet again at Josie Rourke’s Donmar). If you’re going to, though, why bury the context of a theatre in transition in an eton mess of acting styles? A misfire for Wright’s high-profile theatrical debut and again for this (former?) powerhouse.

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