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Posts Tagged ‘Sam Cox’

When you’ve seen a play tens of times, you invariably focus on the interpretation you are now watching. For the first half of this heavily cut ‘Dream’ I couldn’t get the questions ‘what are you getting at here?’ and ‘where are you going with this?’ out of my head. In fact, they weren’t fully answered by the end.

The Young Vic has acquired a giant mud pit with a mirror wall behind it, in which the whole play takes place. Perhaps it’s a comment on the state of our countryside 400 years on? Running at just two unbroken hours, director Joe Hill-Gibbins has dispensed with most of the fairies (or maybe they walked out in protest at their working environment). The story is intact until the end, where madness seems to have replaced marriages (some would say they are the same thing). Puck has gone part-time, and the only fairy doesn’t really have her heart in it, though she sings beautifully. The spells are lame, and Bottom’s relationship with Hippolyta appears to continue with Titania. 

The two things it got right, in my view, are the chaotic who-loves-who scene (despite the lame spells) and one of the funniest rude mechanicals plays I’ve ever seen, courtesy of some sublime comic acting by Geoff Aymer, Aaron Heffernan, Douggie McMeekin, Sam Cox and a completely unrecognisable Leo Bill as Bottom. 

I’m not a purist; I just didn’t get it. It veered too far from Shakespeare’s original for me and just wasn’t anywhere near magical enough.

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Tennessee Williams was very prolific in his 47 active playwriting years and amongst his output were more than 70 short plays. The three showcased here were all written in a three year period that ended just two years before his first big hit, Glass Menagerie, and the central character of each is a familiar TW face – a troubled young man.

The youngest young man appears in the first play, Summer at the Lake. He’s living with, and stifled by, his mother, who doesn’t know what to do with him. Her hisband’s a travelling musician and his tour has been cut back, which limits her finances and her options. In the end, the boy solves the problem.

In the second play, Auto-da-fe, we have a young man working in the post office and living at home, with a dominant mother again. It revolves around a piece of open post he intercepts and takes a strange moralistic turn. I found this one the most difficult.

The Strangest Kind of Romance was the meatiest and most satisfying of the three, with its 45 minute running time allowing more narrative and character development. This time a young man takes a room in a lodging house, whose landlady also gets him a job. He adopts his predecessor’s cat (beautifully played by Bella!). Things go wrong at work, he disappears and is replaced by another lodger, a boxer, then he returns….

Nikesh Patel is excellent as the young boy / man in all three, believable in roles up to 15 or so years different in age. Justine Mitchell is very good as both smothering mother(s) and predatory landlady, particularly the latter. Sam Cox is a very edgy boxer, an unusual character (even for TW!), who seems to be playing younger than his age. The cast is completed by Janet Henfrey in two small roles.

They are staged, without breaks, in a traverse setting with three steps down to a long, narrow pit with a giant frame that moves along the traverse. I wasn’t entirely convinced this stylised staging, with a brooding soundscape, served TW as well as a more naturalistic setting might, but it certainly created tension and atmosphere and the plays gripped throughout.

This is a showcase for the Genesis Foundation future directors award winner Finn Beames and when you look at who came before you find mature talents like Rufus Norris, Carrie Cracknell, Matthew Dunster, Natalie Abrahami and John Fulljames – a list that says a lot about its value.

 

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John Ford is a 17th century Quentin Tarantino. This revenge tragedy has incest, torture, a handful of murders and a lot of blood. If it was written today it would be controversial, so I can’t imagine what they thought 400 years ago.

A few suitors are circling Annabella but before any get very far her brother Giovanni confesses his love for her, only to find it’s reciprocated and then quickly consummated. They agree she has to marry one of her suitors anyway and she’s soon betrothed and wed to Soranzo, but on their wedding night he discovers she’s already pregnant, so clearly no virgin! Thus begins the carnage which ends with five dead bodies at Soranzo’s birthday party.

The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse was created for Jacobean plays like this and it fits it like a glove. It’s handsomely costumed by Alex Lowde and excellently staged by Michael Longhurst, with a nice touch of quirkiness. The bed scene is both sexy and squirmy, the treatment of Annabella by her new husband when her plight is revealed is truly shocking and the final bloody scene is masterly.

Fiona Button and Max Bennett are well matched and sexy siblings. The rest of the fine cast includes the excellent Michael Gould as the Friar, Giovanni’s confidante, Morag Siller as a great Putana, Annabella’s confidante, and Sam Cox, as their dad Donado, makes a very believable transition from proud father to distraught father who can’t live with the truth. Stefano Braschi is very good as the affronted Soramzo and James Garnon almost steals the show as a brilliantly buffoonish Bergetto, one of the suitors, returning after his character’s murder as a stern, ice cool Cardinal.

Within a year of it’s opening, the SWP has established itself as a flexible, intimate and indispensable space. This is the first Jacobean drama I’ve seen here, but it’s also been successful staging Shakespeare and early music and opera.

Bloody brilliant.

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On the same day I expressed a view that a lot of new plays at The Globe have disappointed, along comes one of the best new plays they’ve ever done, and one of the best WWI centenary commemorations.

Howard Brenton has chosen to stage the story of a pioneering plastic surgeon called Harold Gillies who developed his skin graft treatments in the first world war, rebuilding the faces of soldiers injured at the front. An eccentric character, he had an alter ego called Dr Scroggy who dealt with his patients morale by dressing up as a caricatured Scotsman to deliver alcohol and cheer after hours. This was as much to do with keeping his own spirits up, having to see his patients return to the front once more.

It also tells the story of one of his patients, Jack Twigg, a working class lad who’s got to Oxford but gives it up to volunteer for service. He’s befriended by a young peer through whom he gets both a prestigious posting as an aide de camp and a posh girl, but he gives up both for glory – twice.

Of course, it’s also telling us a lot about the First World War itself, and that is why the play succeeds – weaving these three threads together to provide a very satisfying dramatic experience, and blending the serious with humour to make it entertaining too.

Like Blue Stockings before it, this period (give or take 20 years!) seems to suit The Globe stage well, evoked simply through costumes, a few beds and lampposts. Jonathan Dove’s direction, using an enlarged stage and platform jutting out into the auditorium, is very effective and no time is wasted. There are some lovely performances, not least from James Garnon as Gilles / Scroggy and Will Featherstone as Twigg. Sam Cox and Paul Rider as a pair of Field Marshall’s are excellent, Patrick Driver and Katy Stephens are great as Twigg’s parents and Catherine Bailey provides a fine characterisation as Penelope, and in particular navigating the transition from good-time posh girl to caring and principled woman.

A charming and deeply satisfying evening, sadly closed but surely to resurface sometime?

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