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Posts Tagged ‘Ruth Wilson’

At the end of this play I was convinced Partick Marber’s ‘version’ was substantially different to Ibsen’s original. Then I read the synopsis and discovered it wasn’t. It’s contemporary not just in setting and dress, but also in dialogue and behaviour. The only thing that jarred with the contemporary was the guns, but even that wouldn’t have in the US. The combination of Marber, director Ivo van Hove and the mesmerising Ruth Wilson proves irresistible.

The newly married Tesmans return from honeymoon to their new home, which does indeed look as if they’re in the process of moving in. It doesn’t take long before we realise it’s a loveless marriage (well, at least on Hedda’s part) and the contrast between the coldness of George & Hedda’s relationship and the warmth of the relationship between George and his aunt Juliana, who brought him up, is striking. Lovborg, George’s former colleague, now competitor, was once in love with Hedda and is now in a relationship with her school friend Thea. Brack, a judge, is in lust with Hedda. Despite the fact Lovborg has cleared the way for Tesman’s professorship, Hedda still spikes his career in loyalty to her husband, and his relationship with Thea, perhaps through jealousy. The knowledge that Brack has a hold on her propels the play to its tragic conclusion.

It feels slow at first but when it gets going it becomes broodingly intense and eventually feels like a contemporary Scandinavian thriller. The vast one-room set adds to this atmosphere and there is some striking imagery, not least the way the light changes from dawn to sunrise through the French windows and the physicality of Hedda stapling flowers to the walls and virtually attacking the blinds. There were things I didn’t really get, most notably the continual presence of maid Berte, even illogically acknowledging her presence; she wasn’t an actor sitting on the side-lines but she wasn’t a character all of the time. It’s hard to take your eyes off Ruth Wilson, even when action and interactions are elsewhere; she is such a spellbinding presence. That said, it’s a fantastic cast with Kyle Soller’s earnest but naïve George and a very maternal Juliana from Kate Duchene. Brack’s sexual chemistry with Hedda was brilliantly conveyed by Rafe Spall and Chukwudi Iwuji was passionate and intense as Lovborg.

Patrick Marber gets more than his fair share of the National stages, but it’s great to see them welcoming world class directors like van Hove and Yael Farber. If I had seen it in 2016, this would have been one of my candidates for Best Revival of a Play, a completely fresh look at a playwright who is often produced like a museum piece.

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Three short plays by favourite playwright Eugene O’Neil with favourite actor Ruth Wilson in the lovely Hoxton (music) Hall. I was seriously over-excited going in, but deeply satisfied coming out.

This is a perfect match of play(s) and venue. Hoxton Hall is tall but narrow, with a wrought iron balcony on three sides. They’ve put in rickety old chairs for this production, and the multi-tier stage recedes some way, making the performance area look surprisingly big. Richard Kent’s design makes full use of the space, with perfect period costumes, superb lighting by Neil Austin and a six-piece jazz band. The atmosphere of apartments in an early 20th century US city is brilliantly created.

The first play is virtually a monologue by Wilson as a woman whose world is in decline after marrying an unfaithful loser. She takes a short while to get into her stride, but becomes mesmerizing as the story unfolds. The plays are linked by terrific songs from Nicola Walker as the stage is reset. In no time, we’re with prostitute and single mother Rose, suffering with TB and abused by her lover / pimp. She’s rescued by neighbour and bank robber Tim, but not for long. The third play takes us to a black family where the mother is dying and son Dreamy is on the run. He has to choose between dying mom’s bedside and escape.

Though best known for his lengthy epics, O’Neil is able to pack a lot of drama into these three short plays which, even with musical interludes, add up to less than 90 minutes. I’ve had my eye on director Sam Yates since a pair of superb productions at the Finborough in 2011-12 (Cornelius & Mixed Marriage) and his staging of the first two of these is outstanding. Ruth Wilson, wonderful in the same two plays, directs the third very well. There are two excellent performances from Simon Coombs, both criminals, both on the run, and Zubin Varla is great as Steve in the second play, and plays a mean sax too.

They’ve taken over the whole ground floor, with a period design bar named after O’Neil’s sometime NYC haunt. I don’t know who Found Productions are, but they are to be congratulated on a magnificent evening of drama and first class theatrical craftsmanship. Brilliant.

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The US gave us three great playwrights in the 20th century and Eugene O’Neill was one of them. I’ve been lucky enough to see 10 of his plays, but this one has evaded me. So a chance to see it in a favourite theatre with a favourite actress. Treat watch!

O’Neill was apparently a seaman, and his insight into this world shows. We’re in the bar of an East Coast port with Swedish bargeman Chris and his woman Mathy. At first I wasn’t convinced by David Hayman (an actor who, surprisingly, I’ve never seen on stage before), largely because of his odd accent, but after the play settled, I got there. Jenny Galloway was, as always, excellent as Marthy. When Chris’ long lost daughter turns up, her female intuition means she susses her  profession – a prostitute – quick as a flash. Ruth Wilson in the title role is mesmerizing, with a defensive brashness masking her vulnerability. She is at times delicate and at times hard, prowls the stage with a sexiness and excitement that means you just can’t take your eyes off her. This is her finest performance so far, but I suspect there’s a lot more to come. A Dame in waiting!

We move to sea as a storm erupts, the stage becomes a barge and rises, and we get one of the most exciting stage entrances I’ve ever witnessed as Irish seaman Mat climbs a rope and boards the barge drenched and half-naked. I’ve liked the handful of Jude Law’s performances I’ve seen before, but this is on another level altogether. It’s extraordinarily physical as he picks up Chris like he was a sack of flour, throws an empty crate at a wall to see it shatter and lifts a bed on which Anna lies as if it were a bag of shopping. He acts with every inch of his body, looking every bit the seaman – at home in working clothes but clumsy in a suit, the pupils of his eyes piercing when he’s angry.

The balance of the play explores the relationship between Anna, the dad who deserted her and the man she falls for (and the relationship between the two men) as her profession is revealed. The chemistry between the three actors is terrific and the triangle completely believable and compelling. The proximity and intimacy of the Donmar again works to bring you right in to the minds of the characters and the heart of their story. Wonderful.

For a choreographer, Rob Ashford is turning into one hell of a director. This equals his Streetcar, also here, for impeccable staging. Paul Wills design and Howard Harrison’s lighting create the bar, barge at sea and barge interior superbly with next to no props. The stage tilt (a first at the Donmar?) is an inspired ides.

There have been many great evenings at the Donmar and this is up there with the best of them. I’d like to say ‘book now’ but I’m afraid you’ve missed the boat, as it were.

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Yet another film I haven’t seen ends up on stage. This time, Ingmar Bergman’s study of a family’s attempts to cope with mental illness within it.

The husband, a doctor,  just tries to deal with the practical implications and consequences. The teenage brother is scared; he just isn’t mature enough to deal with it at all. The father, who is reliving what happened to his wife, has a complex bag of emotional responses that include running away, intellectual curiosity and hopelessness……and that’s it really; yet somehow, it makes for a compelling and fascinating 90 minutes.

It speeds along at quite a pace in a way that draws you in without seeming rushed;  it doesn’t waste words but doesn’t linger risking your attention or your patience. Michael Attenborough’s staging is simple yet atmospheric (helped by superb use of music and sound by the chap behind Kursk). The performances are all excellent and Ruth Wilson is yet again positively mesmerizing.

I’m not going to analyse why I found it a very satisfying evening, I just did!

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