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Posts Tagged ‘Rupert Goold’

This is only Peter Morgan’s third play, but like the other two it’s brilliant. He’s best known for The Crown, films like The Queen and TV features like The Deal. He’s a master of true life dramas based on facts with varying degrees of speculation. This examination of Russia from 1991 to 2013 is new ground, but still masterly.

The protagonist is Boris Berezovsky, once a brilliant mathematician, a child prodigy, who moved into business and politics as the USSR broke up and Yeltsin became President of Russia. He was one of the oligarchs who cleaned up as Yeltsin proceeded to sell / give away his country’s assets, but more importantly he was the krysha (advocate, godfather) of two men who went on to very much bigger things – Abramovitch and Putin. He’s a business mentor to the former, with a verbal agreement that would give him a significant slice of the profits as his businesses grew. To Putin he’s a kingmaker, as he moved from relative obscurity as Deputy Mayor of St. Petersburg to become head of the FSB, the successor to the KGB, before Berezovsky persuaded him to become Yeltsin’s Prime Minister, and in no time he succeeds Yeltsin as President.

He was a very clever man who had studied decision-making theory and put it into action. He bought the state TV channel as well as becoming krysha to these two men. His power and success of course relied on their loyalty, but both eventually deserted him, Abramovitch after he’d outlived his usefulness and Putin as part of his plan to clean up corruption, put the oligarchs in their place and cement his position of absolute power, and as we now know get his own slice of the action. The final straw for Putin may have been his humiliation on Berezovsky’s TV channel over the Kursk submarine fiasco.

Berezovsky becomes an exile in the UK, with his security man Litvinenko, getting political asylum from the Blair government. There’s a brilliant theatrical moment when events collide with those in Lucy Prebble’s play A Very Expensive Poison, as Litvinenko goes to meet someone over tea and gets poisoned in the process. Homesick after ten years in the UK, he seeks to return to a quiet life in Russia, but Putin is having none of it. He dies, allegedly committing suicide.

Rupert Goold has a great talent for staging epic stories with great clarity and pace, as he did with Enron, and as he does here. Miriam Buether’s design is like a lap dancing club (not that I’ve been to one, of course) with people sitting at the cross shaped bar / stage and scenes played out upon it. Tom Hollander’s terrific performance as Berezovsky, determined manipulative and strong willed, is a career highlight, but there are excellent performances too from Will Keen as an emotionless Putin and Luke Thallon as a cool, calculating Abramovitch, plus a fine supporting cast of eight, most playing multiple roles. It’s good to see Jamael Westman, who originated the role of Alexander Hamilton in London, playing another Alexander, Litvinenko, here.

This is a fine drama, very timely given Putin is on our screens almost daily, informative, thought provoking and entertaining. I feel another West End transfer coming on.

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This is my 18th Mike Bartlett play (inc. 3 adaptations) in just fourteen years of his twenty as a playwright, and the second new play by him in eight days. That’s what I call prolific. The diversity of his subjects and forms has always been one of his trademarks. Given the subject matter of this one, well the subject really, I was expecting something wildly satirical and hysterical. To some extent it is, but its also serious, sometimes chilling.

It starts brilliantly, with a spin on one of Shakespeare’s most famous opening scenes. We’re in the middle of Biden’s term as President, with Trump and his three eldest children – Donald Jnr, Ivanka & Eric – and he’s about to kick start his comeback plan. What evolves eventually becomes a continuation of the Capitol Hill insurrection, but his attempt at re-election takes some surprising though not implausible turns. In between, we attend campaign rallies and TV debates, plus behind-the-scenes meetings within the Trump family, political parties and the US Administration.

Bertie Carvel’s characterisation of Trump is extraordinary. He captures every stance, expression and vocal inflection so perfectly it’s uncanny. The trouble is, when he’s offstage you find yourself waiting for his return, Trump is such an overpowering character and Carvel’s is such a towering performance that it imbalances the play. Our cast of other real life characters includes President Joe Biden & his VP Kamala Harris and Republican Senator Ted Cruz, all played by an excellent supporting cast of nineteen actors (though the actors playing the Trump siblings seem to be playing well above their years). Miriam Buether’s design takes us from golf course to the Oval Office via many other locations with a judicious use of projections. Her revolve is thrust out into the stalls making the Old Vic seem more intimate.

Rupert Goold’s production has a lot of high spots, but it suffers from uneven pacing, perhaps because of the Trump dominance (though that’s a bit like reality too!), meaning it did lag at times. Overall, though, I thought it was a fascinating speculation that did illuminate the power of this man to appeal to seemingly unlikely constituencies like blue collar workers. Lets hope its prophesies don’t come true.

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In another life as a theatre investor, I lost my shirt (well, actually a wardrobe full of shirts!) on the original West End production of Steven Slater & Duncan Sheik’s ground-breaking show. It arrived from Broadway just 5 days after its production ended its highly successful and profitable two-year run there, garlanded with eight Tony’s and four Drama Desk awards. It previewed at the Lyric Hammersmith, where it played to packed houses, earning more 5* reviews than I’d ever seen before, but it lasted just two months at the Novello, failing to find an audience, despite the reviews and four Olivier Awards, including Best New Musical. It launched the careers of newcomers including Charlotte Wakefield, Aneurin Barnard and Iwan Rheon, the latter two getting performance Olivier’s of their own. I’ve never really understood its commercial failure; theatre can be a surprising and risky world. So here we are 13 years later with an opportunity to re-evaluate it.

The show is based on Frank Wedekind’s 1890 German expressionist play about adolescence. The teenagers are growing up in a conservative and emotionally repressed world while they are experiencing the angst associated with these years. The issues are, somewhat surprisingly, still relevant today – coming to terms with their sexuality, mental health, suicide and teenage pregnancy – but in a world where they are told babies are delivered by storks, and both parents and teachers are disciplinarians, even bullies. The story, character names and period are unchanged, but feelings are expressed through contemporary music. It’s one of the most audacious ideas in musical theatre, yet somehow it works brilliantly.

When I walked into the auditorium to see ten rows of steps the width of the entire stage, Miriam Buether’s design reminded me of the Open Air Theatre’s semi-staged versions of Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita, but the space is used very differently, and more theatrically, in Rupert Goold’s new staging, with great choreography from Lynne Page. Nicky Gillibrand’s costumes aren’t all identical school uniforms, as I recall in the original, which allows the personalities and idiosyncrasies of the characters to come through. It’s both more intimate and more ‘in your face’ which gives it a lot more emotional impact. Goold also references the activism of today’s teenagers, without it jarring with the rest of the story.

Raw talent was cast first time around, which gave it great energy and edginess, but here more experienced actors seem able to develop the characters, bringing out more visceral qualities which engage you with what they are experiencing. Laurie Kynaston impressed greatly in The Son, now with a brilliant Melchior he extends his range to include musical theatre. I last saw Amara Okereke play the lead in The Boyfriend, which is about as far as you can get from Wendla, but she’s just as thrilling. Stuart Thompson is terrific as the much troubled Moritz, as is Carly-Sophia Davies as the rebellious Ilse. It’s a great ensemble,who shine in chorus numbers. All of the adult ‘authoritarian’ characters are played by just two actors, Mark Lockyer and, on the night I went, an impressive stand-in by Mali O’Donnell.

A fresh new interpretation of an important contribution to the musical theatre genre. I loved seeing it again in this stunning new production.

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It’s rare to be so emotionally engaged with a play whilst at the same time kept on the edge of your seat as the story unfolds. This quietly devastating piece is rich in drama, staged and performed to perfection.

We’re in a small community in rural Denmark. Lucas has been teaching at the primary school for a term, since the secondary school closed. His wife has left him, heading for the city with their teenage son Marcus. Lucas is well integrated in the local community, though, with strong friendships amongst his neighbours and with the men at his hunting lodge, until an accusation of inappropriate behaviour at the school changes everyone’s attitudes and perceptions and his life begins to fall apart. The positives of this idyllic, liberal, tight community turn very negative very quickly.

The suspense gives it the aesthetic of a thriller, the presumption of guilt means you’re rooting for Lucas, and it becomes an emotional roller-coaster. Rupert Goold’s gripping production, on Es Devlin’s very Scandic set, uses music to great effect, including the impressive vocal talents of Adrian der Gregorian. The small revolving house at the centre becomes classroom, lodge, home, with scenes played inside and outside looking in. I haven’t seen the film by Thomas Vinterberg & Tobias Lindholm, but David Farr’s adaptation doesn’t put a foot wrong.

Tobias Menzies’ restrained central performance as Lucas is a career high for this fine actor. Justin Salinger and Poppy Miller are brilliant as his close friends in a troubled relationship. In a superb supporting ensemble, Danny Kirrane as Gunner and Stuart Campbell as Marcus shine. Then there are two extraordinary child actors and dog Max, as restrained as his master.

A very satisfying evening in the theatre that I haven’t stopped thinking about since I left it.

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Anne Washburn is an original and interesting playwright, but after a third exposure to her work, this juror’s still out on whether she’s a good one.

Jools & Jim have invited five friends to their new remote country home. They’re not experienced in country living and they’re not particularly good hosts, so as the weather deteriorates and the power is cut off, their supplies run out. They don’t run out of conversation, though, as they reflect on life in Trump’s divided America and how they got there. These are the liberal Americans – a wealthy gay couple, New York lawyers Andrew & Yusuf, a struggling straight, somewhat alternative couple, Richard & Laurie, and singleton Allie. The conversation widens to all sorts of apparently related subjects including the Jonestown massacre, racism & colonialism and Lord of the Rings!

We’re occasionally visited by Mark, the adopted black son of white parents who appear to be the former inhabitants of the house, who tells us his story. We also get a meeting between Trump and George W Bush as president, and towards the end a surreal version of that infamous confrontation between Trump and FBI chief Corney. There’s an awful lot of ground covered but at almost 3.5 hours it didn’t sustain its length (there were a conspicuous number of empty seats after the interval). Often thought-provoking and fitfully gripping, it was too much of a ramble, wordy and undramatic, lacking coherence, a download of thoughts and ideas, trying to say so much that more became less.

It’s staged in the round, in a design by Miriam Buether which has a partly revolving stage and a platform against the back wall on which there are projections. There was one row of audience sitting in chairs close to the stage as if at a dinner table, who participated in the surreal scene. There are lovely performances from Justine Mitchell, Fisayo Akinade, Adam James, Elliott Cowan, Tara Fitzgerald, Khalid Abdalla, Raquel Cassidy and Risteard Cooper, but these and Rupert Goold’s production are a lot better than the material.

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Another day, another allegorical play, but this time a brilliant one, staged and performed to perfection. Mike Bartlett proves himself to be as much the master of the epic as he is the miniature masterpiece.

Audrey is widowed, with a daughter in her early twenties and a new husband, Paul. She lost her son to war in the Middle East. She has a successful retail business, but decides to escape to the country, buying her deceased uncle’s former home Albion, with its huge garden, set on restoring it to its former glory using the plans of its famous garden designer. She’s self-obsessed, self-centred and domineering and she drives away her daughter, best friend and her son’s partner. Only her put-upon husband remains loyal. She also upsets the old retainers, neighbours and villagers along the way.

It’s an allegory of recent history in England’s green and pleasant land (Albion) and has way more depth than that brief description suggests. The Almeida has been reconfigured with the audience wrapped around an oval garden rimmed by a plant border and dominated by a tree; another extraordinary design from Miriam Buether. When the season changes, the border is transformed, itself a coup d’theatre, as is the end of the first half. Though its entertaining and often funny, it is above all deeply thought-provoking.

Audrey is a great part for an actress and Victoria Hamilton is sensationally good, but she’s surrounded by a host of other fine performances, notably Vinette Robinson as the son’s grieving partner Anna, Helen Schlesinger as best friend Katherine and Charlotte Hope as daughter Zara. Christopher Fairbank and Margot Leicester are lovely as the gardener / cleaner husband and wife and there’s an excellent nuanced performance as young neighbour Gabriel from Luke Thrallon.

We are so lucky to have so many good contemporary playwrights. Lets hope we don’t lose Mike Bartlett to TV after his success with Dr Foster. Only days ago I was worrying that some were given high profile stages too soon. Ironically, this would probably work on the Olivier stage where the other allegorical play Saint George & the Dragon doesn’t, but it’s more intimate at the Almeida where it engaged and moved me deeply.

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Rupert Murdoch is my greatest bête noire. From interference in elections to invasions of privacy via oceans of tackiness & sexism and the creation of exploitive monopolies, he offends me at every turn. So I was expecting to have my prejudices pandered to in liberal Islington. They weren’t, though largely because this play about his early English adventures, in particular the rise of The Sun, takes place before he hired the evil unholy trinity of McKenzie, Morgan and Brooks, plunging his organs into even deeper moral depths. Covering little more than a year, but covering it in depth, Ink is as fascinating as it is enthralling and entertaining.

When the play starts he already owns The News of the World, but he wants a daily. He buys the ailing Sun from the Mirror Group, hires one of their own, Larry Lamb, as editor, and sets the seemingly impossible target of matching their circulation, the highest in the world at the time, within twelve months. I’d forgotten that it all started as irreverent, anti-establishment and, well, fun. Populism personified, until some tragic events close to home (which I’d forgotten) nearly killed it, only to be rescued by…..well, it’s the tits wot done it.

The relationship between Murdoch and Lamb is the beating heart of the play, and Bertie Carvel and Richard Coyle are simply terrific. I struggle to understand how playwright James Graham is so successful presenting people and events that happened before he was even born – perhaps its because he has the objectivity rather than the baggage that those of us who lived through them have. Like Our House, The Angry Brigade and the underrated Monster Raving Loony, he captures the sixties and seventies with pinpoint accuracy.

Rupert Goold’s staging owes something to his own Enron, including audacious use of music and movement to add life, and Bunny Christie’s superb set of ramshackle offices piled high, with projections behind, adds even more life. Amongst the superb supporting cast, Sophie Stanton gives another of her priceless turns as Geordie Women’s Editor Joyce, and Tim Steed is particularly good as a posh fish-out-of-water Deputy Editor.

Good to see something provide competition for The Ferryman as Best New Play! A real treat.

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Based on the two Rupert Goold Shakespeare productions I’ve seen – the exciting Stalinist Macbeth and the brilliant Las Vegas Merchant of Venice – I was expecting something a lot more radical. This is a relatively conventional take on Richard III, which is no bad thing, but it surprised me by being so.

There’s a superb contemporary preface, which I won’t spoil, references to which recur throughout. This tells you at the outset that this is history not fiction (though no doubt fictionalised history). Though it’s not that radical, it’s in modern dress, virtually the whole think in black, with comparatively low lighting levels. This contributes to its sinister atmosphere, but also made the long 100 minute first half a bit dull. After the interval, though, the production (like the play) ratchets up several notches and it’s a thrilling second half ride, with an excellent coronation scene, an emotional confrontation between Richard & Elizabeth over his proposal to marry her daughter and a well staged final battle scene. I liked the way they marked the deaths, but I thought they went too far with a violent assault in Richard’s scene with Elizabeth.

It’s superbly well cast, particularly the female roles. Joanna Vanderham is a brilliantly passionate and angry Anne, Aislin McGuckin is exceptional as Elizabeth and Susan Engel is outstanding as Richard’s mother. I’m not sure why Vanessa Redgrave is wearing a camouflage boiler suit and carrying a doll, but her performance is less stagey than her norm. Amongst the men, I was particularly impressed by Tom Canton as Richmond. Once you get over the fact he appears to be channelling Rising Damp’s Rigsby, Ralph Fiennes is a very good Richard, though he doesn’t reach the highs of my all-time favourites – Anthony Sher’s spider and Ian McKellen’s 20th century dictator.

Perhaps not a milestone Richard III, but definitely one to catch if you can.

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There is much to admire in this radical, inventive though somewhat self-indulgently written Medea, but it falls at the last hurdle I’m afraid.

I’d never heard of novelist Rachel Cusk. Her Medea is a writer like her. She’s in the middle of a messy divorce (like hers, it seems) from Jason, an actor on the brink of stardom. He’s traded her in for a younger model who we don’t meet, but we do meet her dad, who’s a bit pissed off he’s losing his little girl. The chorus are Sloaney yummy mummies, initially cradling baby dolls. In the brilliant first scene her mum and dad are spouting ‘I told you so’ wisdom like only mums and dads can. She has a Brazilian cleaner who’s pretty good at revenge ideas. 

It’s a radical contemporary take, but I liked it – until it’s time to spill some blood, when it all went wrong for me in ways I won’t describe so as not to spoil it. Ian MacNeil’s striking modern two-story home (creating significant sightline issues for some) turns into an an equally striking impressionistic landscape, and the costumes seem to change at about the same time. Amanda Boxer and Andy de la Tour are terrific as the deadpan mum and dad, the latter returning as a Creon with great presence. Charlotte Randle, in addition to her part in the chorus, is an extraordinary half woman / half man messenger. Justin Salinger is excellent as Jason and Kate Fleetwood swops her Tracy Lord in High Society for a role as different as you can get as a vengeful modern Medea. I liked Michelle Austin’s cleaner, though her accent seemed to be all over the place. The two boys, whichever of the six they were, were great.

I felt the seemingly autobiographical elements were rather self-indulgent and this, together with the liberties taken with the story’s conclusion, were the fatal flaws in AD Rupert Goold’s production, which meant that it didn’t live up to the highs set by the previous plays in Almeida Greeks. A shame, that.

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This radical resetting of Shakespeare’s play started out in Stratford 3.5 years ago and has now travelled 100 miles south east to get a second showing in its director Rupert Goold’s new home in Islington. It’s a much smaller venue, which makes it less grand and more intimate, but designer Tom Scutt has redesigned it to fit the new space well and I feel very much the same as I did first time round (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2011/07/18/the-merchant-of-venice-rsc-stratford).

The Almeida’s former joint AD, Ian McDiarmid, gives a more assertively defiant, more Jewish and ultimately more tragic Shylock than Patrick Stewart in a great role take-over. I was more positive this time round about Scott Handy’s introspective Antonio, because the intimacy of the space brought out the subtlety of his performance. The new Bassanio (Tom Weston-Jones) and Gratiano (Anthony Welsh) both give equally fine interpretations as their predecessors. Staging the battle for Portia’s hand as reality show Destiny brings the comedy that in turn heightens the tension and Susannah Fielding and Emily Plumtree now both steal the show as Portia and Nerissa, with a simply terrific turn again from Jamie Beamish’s Elvis impersonating Lancelot Gobbo.

I overheard an American audience member saying he thought it was sending up American culture. There’s some truth in that, but more important that the Las Vegas setting provides a modern context and cohesion that gives the play an ongoing relevance and accessibility, particularly good for introducing and enthusing young audiences I’d say. Good to see it again.

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