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Posts Tagged ‘Royal & Derngate Northampton’

May 2012

The review below is from the tour of this play one year ago. It’s now at the Royal Court with a new design and a new cast, but the same director, James Grieve. The experience of a Court Friday night crowd was very different from a Northampton midweek matinée!

Despite knowing how it would unfold, I loved the play as much as I did last time. The new design by Lucy Osborne is very good (hats off to the technical team which makes two transformations in such a short time), though no better than the Paines Plough one, so one does wonder why the Court didn’t save a few quid and buy it from them! The new cast though is terrific.

Ben  Miles was so convincing as a 19-year-old in the first act that I googled him in the first interval and was shocked to find he was 44 / 45! This time they’ve cast at the second act, so each has to play both younger and older. Claire Foy is excellent as the daughter, but it was Victoria Hamilton who impressed most – a simply terrific performance(s!).

This is a great play and it occurred to me this time that people probably come out of it having seen a subtly different one, a bit like Oleanna, depending on your attitude to Mike Bartlett’s premise. I’d be surprised if this doesn’t follow Posh and Jumpy into the West End. Another cracking night at the Royal Court.

May 2011

Back in at the lovely Royal Theatre in Northampton for the second time in as many months to catch the Paines Plough tour of this Mike Bartlett three-act play.

We start in 1967 on the night the world first watched TV together and The Beatles premiered All You Need is Love (from which the play takes its title). Oxford student Kenneth is staying with his older brother and proceeds to steal his girlfriend Sandra. Jump forward 23 years and Kenneth & Sandra are now married with careers, two teenagers and a house in Reading, but they’re about to split up. Jump forward another 21 years and we’re in retired Kenneth’s home with his son as the ex-wife and daughter / sister are about to visit.

This is a slow burn because it’s not until the third act we understand what Bartlett is getting at – it’s all the baby boomers fault! Though I think this is a valid and much ignored premise, I don’t agree that the response of the baby boomers is to focus on spending their ‘wealth’ and ignoring the woes of their children in our new inaccessible property / low pay society. Though I don’t have children, most of my friends who do are making significant sacrifices (including re-mortgaging their homes) to help their children. However, it is right to hold them (US!) to account.

It’s an original, captivating and well structured piece. The jumps forward between acts do mean long intervals (with, in our case, an over-run of 20 minutes) that slow down the dramatic flow. It also means actors have to age between 21 and 44 years – a bit of a tall order – and it’s to their credit that they just about pull it off. Ben Addis does particularly well moving from irresponsible student to responsible husband & father and on to irresponsible oldie. James Barrett (so good in the Bush’s 2nd May 1997) is outstanding as both a carefree 14-year old and a troubled 35-year old. Rosie Wyatt’s performed with great passion as an angry 16-year old and an even angrier 37 year-old.

A fascinating and deeply satisfying play from a playwright who is leading the way in modern state-of-the-nation drama that is both entertaining and thought-provoking. Well worth the trip to Northampton. Only one more stop on the tour in Oxford – be there!

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My fourth Rattigan in his centenary year, but my first visit to the lovely Royal Derngate in Northampton.

Like Cause Celebre, this is late Rattigan – you can tell from the early 70’s dialogue alone – not at all what we’re used to seeing revived. It’s a four-hander about a rather boorish writer and his Estonian wife, their son and family friend. The marriage appears loveless (on the husband’s part), the best friend is in love with the wife and the father-son relationship is somewhat strained.

As the play progresses, particularly in the second half, secrets and lies are revealed as is the true theme of the play – that we express love in many different ways, many of them unseen. The trademark Rattigan emotional repression and restraint are there but, like Cause Celebre, it feels more modern. To say much more would be a spoiler, so I won’t.

Naomi Dawson has created an evocative Islington flat with more books than your average second-hand bookshop (which all seemed real from the third row of the stalls). It’s very realistic but gives the play an intimacy you might not expect in a theatre of this size. Richard Beecham’s direction is subtle, restrained and sensitive allowing the story, characters and dialogue to breath freely.

Jay Villiers is excellent as the overbearing husband / father, a larger-than-life character who dominates all around him. Geraldine Alexander avoids the pitfalls that often make a heavily accented character unreal and gives a very moving portrayal of a long-suffering ex-refugee besotted with both her son and her unfaithful husband. Sean Power’s American pulp fiction writer has to play differently against both and does so very well. Gethin Anthony captured the combination of youthful enthusiasm and rebellion in the son (though I have my suspicions he’s wearing a dodgy wig!).

Delicate music and slow curtains setting the scene and ending each half created a thoughtful atmosphere and the closing moments as father and son sat playing chess in silence spoke volumes.

This is a lovely little play given a pitch perfect production. Well worth a trip up top Northampton and a welcome contribution to the centenary.

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What a great pairing this early Eugene O’Neill play is with Tennessee Williams’ Spring Storm, also transferred from Northampton to the National.

The three great playwrights of the 20th century were all American and seeing these two plays reveals the direct line from O’Neill to Williams to Arthur Miller like never before. This was O’Neill’s first full length play, a very assured work that I’m astonished has not been seen here before as in so many ways it betters later work.

The story revolves around two brothers love for the same woman and her unexpected choice, which leads to a tragic turn of events. The one she chooses proves incapable of providing for his family and the one she doesn’t goes to sea so that he doesn’t have to live with the consequences of her choice.

Again, Liz Smith and Michael’s Thomson and Malarkey give absolutely committed and passionate performances and the remainder of the small cast give fine support – particularly Joanna Bacon as a crabby mother / mother-in-law. The staging is impeccable and the design this time is spot on. The final death scene, with the characters not part of the scene observing in silence, was masterly. 

Another deeply satisfying theatrical experience. I think we’ll have to detain Northampton’s director Laurie Sansom here in London – he’s clearly far too good to let go!

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Tennessee Williams wrote this play at University and it lay untouched for the next 60 years until it was first staged in the US in 1996; this is the European premiere. It opened here to rave reviews and for the first 30 mins or so I was wondering what all the fuss was about, but then it began to captivate me.

It covers the usual TW ground – Southern sensibilities, social-climbing, mental illness, alcoholism…. The central character flits between poor macho man – who she loves and who her heart says is Mr Right – and rich wimp – who the family are promoting and who her brain says she should marry. What’s so fascinating is how, from a flawed early work like this, you can see the seeds of genius so clearly. It takes your breath away in the same way as it does when you hear a piece by a very young Mozart – you just can’t believe someone so young can produce something so mature. Of course, what followed were much better plays, but I suspect many playwrights would die happy if this was the pinnacle of their work.

There are some very good performances. I really liked Liz Smith’s energy as heavenly (what a terrific name!) and thought both the male leads – Michael’s Thomson and Malarky-  excelled; this was a very impressive stage debut for Malarky (what must it feel like to have your debut performance go straight to the National!).

I thought it was a huge mistake to have a back curtain on three sides as this required you to suspend disbelief a little more than necessary; in fact, though I appreciate the difficulty of moving from high bluff to home to garden to library,  the design overall was the weak link here. I thought the voice-over stage directions rather quirky – it made it seem like a film – but I can’t say it bothered me.

It’s great to see regional work of this quality being brought to the National. Congratulations to Laurie Sansom for discovering and bringing this play to the UK and thanks to Nicholas Hytner for recognising both the significance and the quality and transferring it to London.

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