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Posts Tagged ‘Russell Tovey’

When I first saw these Tony Kushner plays 24-25 years ago, in the NT’s Cottesloe auditorium, there was a gap of more than a year between them; the second play, Perestroika, hadn’t been written when the first, Millennium Approaches, opened. I saw both parts of the only London revival, Headlong at the Lyric Hammersmith ten years ago, in one day, but then it seemed like recent history. I repeated that experience at the latest revival in the National’s Lyttelton theatre on Wednesday, but now ‘the AIDS plays’, as many called them, feel like much more than that, and in so many ways bang up-to-date.

Prior and Louis are a gay couple; the former hails from early English immigrants and the latter from more recent Jewish immigrants. Pryor has AIDS and his close gay African-American friend Belize is an AIDS nurse, who is reluctantly looking after a racist, homophobic, corrupt Jewish lawyer called Roy Cohn, who disguises his condition as liver cancer. Roy’s protege, object of his desires, and possible sexual partner, is a closeted Mormon called Joe, whose agoraphobic, depressive wife Harper and Mormon mom Hannah, who becomes Pryor’s unlikely friend, are also characters. Joe begins a relationship with Louis when the latter deserts his sick lover. Roy M Cohn was a real person, right-hand man to chief witch-hunter Senator Joe McCarthy, and sometime lawyer to Donald Trump, representing him in the now infamous racist rental case, who appears to have been a mentor, even role model, to the current president. Of course, it’s set in the reign of that other celebrity president Ronald Regan, but in lines written 26 years ago, we hear things we heard last year.

Marianne Elliott’s new staging starts intimately, with scenes stage front on small sets on three side-by-side revolves. This continues for two of the three parts of the first play and, though emotionally engaging, wasn’t as epic as I remembered, and for someone who needs visual as well as narrative stimulation, constituted a slowish start. From here, though, it opens out with small scenes in a giant space giving the epic feel I expected, with scenes in the second play changed by the Angel’s spider-like puppeteers crawling eerily. It fully sustained it’s 6.5 hour playing time, over a 10 hour period, to the point where the gaps felt like waiting time during which you became impatient to return. The inclusion of two intervals in each part was the right decision though.

It’s hard to imagine a better cast, packed full of favourite actors. I first saw a very promising Andrew Garfield eleven years ago in another theatre in the same building, but I had no idea he would grow into the extraordinary talent that plays Prior now. I’ve admired James McArdle’s stage work for years, most notably as King James, also next door, but his Louis is a new career high. Russell Tovey first wowed me at the opening night of The History Boys on the same stage and here he is owning it in a more difficult role as introspective Joe, whose eventual emotional explosions take your breath away. I’ve only seen (and loved) Nathan Lane in The Producers, so watching him create the monster that is Roy Cohn was a revelation. I’ve seen little of Nathan Stewart-Jarrett’s work, but now can’t wait to see more; he brings Belize alive by wordless facial expressions, then adds a delicious bite with his dialogue. Denise Gough continues to impress in another tough role in the shadow of so many larger-than-life characters, her restraint amplifying the emotional outbursts. In addition to Hannah, who Susan Brown navigates from conservative Mormon to loving friend, she plays three men – a Rabbi, a doctor, and an old Bolshevik – plus the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg, one of Roy Cohn’s victims, in a series of terrific performances. The ever wonderful Amanda Lawrence gives us our Angel, but also many others in another set of fine turns. What an ensemble.

When I look back at my lifetime of theatre-going, this will be another of those days that justify my obsession with the stage. No other art form could provide such a dramatic feast that leaves you exhausted and emotionally drained, but energised, thrilled and deeply satisfied at the same time. I woke up the following morning feeling completely blessed.

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I’ve not seen anything by playwright John Donnelly before and on this form he’s one to add to my catch-them-when-you-can list. I like my plays well structured and this has a roundedness that makes it very satisfying.

His play starts in a Bulgarian hotel room the night before a football match where Jason & Ade, two 17-year-old ‘academy’ players and good friends, will be assessed for the first team. They dart around the room playing practical jokes on one another, overdosing on banter, before a frisson of attraction changes their relationship forever. It is likely only one will make it to the first team and so it is.

Their lives diverge and in the second act we’re in another hotel room, this time in Spain seven years later, glimpsing some of the more unpleasant results of success with the chosen one and a table dancer. In the third act, the boys are reunited after twelve years in a UK hotel room. What follows is a wild scene where they are joined by a concierge, the same age as they were when they met, on an alcohol and pill-fuelled binge of dangerous games and hotel damage before the boy leaves and they revisit that first night.

In Laura Hopkins’ design, with traverse staging, the hotel rooms are created by reconfiguring beds and minibars. There’s a balcony at one end and a shower room at the other. The floor’s green covering resembles a football pitch, with floodlights high in each corner to complete the reference. John Tiffany’s superb staging is energetic, highly physical, edgy and sometimes unpredictable, with touches of the stylised ‘movement’ we saw in Black Watch and more recently Let The Right One In downstairs. The pace never lagged and the time flew by.

Russell Tovey has clearly worked hard to look the part and probably needed to given that he spends almost the entire evening in his pants. He has to age 12 years without physical change and from naive young lad to manipulative, materialistic and somewhat obnoxious celebrity footballer and he does so very well by subtle changes in behaviour, demeanour and manner. Gary Carr has to show more restraint and jump from twelve to twenty-nine between his two scenes; this is another fine performance. Lisa McGrillis & Nico Mirallegro (an auspicious professional stage debut)have smaller but pivotal roles which they play to perfection.

We’re used to shorter less substantial fare at the Royal Court’s Theatre Upstairs. I felt this was a fully-formed play with a lot to say which it did so unpredictably and entertainingly. The first contender for this year’s best new play.

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