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Posts Tagged ‘Sam Crane’

Another occasion where the critical reception lowered my expectations so that the experience exceeded them. Alexi Kaye Campbell’s play is a lot better than I was led to believe.

It’s set on the Greek island of Skiathos in 1967, just as the coup which installed the Colonels is about to happen. We’re on holiday with budding British playwright Theo and his actress wife Charlotte. They’ve befriended / been befriended by an American couple in a local bar and they invite them over to their rented house. It’s an unlikely friendship, with an even more unlikely sexual tension between Harvey and Charlotte. Harvey is on leave from his US government posting in Athens with his wife June, who is a bit of a dumb blonde caricature, overly fond of the booze. Harvey is a highly persuasive control freak and by the end of the evening, he’s persuaded Theo & Charlotte to buy the villa for a song from it’s owners, who are about to emigrate to Australia.

In the second act, we move forward nine years. Greece has recently returned to democracy. Harvey is a successful playwright and he and Charlotte now have two children. The Americans have been posted to Chile, but are briefly back in Athens en route to Zaire (spot the pattern here?). They visit for a few days and we learn more of the bidding Harvey does for his government to keep communism at bay, and the guilt he carries, but the Brits have reason to be guilty too, albeit on a smaller scale. Their relationships disintegrate. Underneath the personal stories, we explore the ethics of power – big countries clandestinely dominating small ones and little people exploited by bigger people. Nothing changes, of course, and Greece today suffers the same, albeit economically.

Hildegard Bechtler has built a brilliant two-story whitewashed house on a rocky promontory; it’s very imposing in the Dorfman space. I was very impressed by Ben Miles as Harvey, particularly his American accent (well, to this British ear), forceful and larger than life. Elizabeth McGovern’s June was a bit too much of a stereotype for me, though very funny. Pippa Nixon is excellent as Charlotte, initially submissive but eventually defiant, and Sam Crane is very good at navigating Theo’s more complex journey. Characters seemed to have their backs to a significant chunk of the audience much of the time, but otherwise Simon Godwin’s direction was good.

An underrated play with a particularly good set of performances and a fine production.

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You wouldn’t want to be a young boy growing up in 18th Century Italy with a talent for singing. The odds of castration to conserve your voice would be high, and the subsequent odds of a successful career very low. Farinelli (real name Carlo Broschi) was unlucky in that he got the knife (pork butchers, apparently!) but lucky in that he got the singing career. He travelled throughout Italy, then to Munich and Vienna and on to London aged 29, though he wasn’t a favourite of Handel, adopted Londoner and probably the most famous composer of the time.

Three years into his London career, he get’s the call from Spain’s Queen Isabella to come sing for King Philippe V to cure his depression. He pops in on Louis XV in Paris en route (as one does) and on to Madrid. Philippe’s mental health condition was what we now call bi-polar. He was close to being deposed when Farinelli arrived as a singing cure, and he did indeed lift his spirits. In the play, the king is fond of talking to goldfish and plants and at one point moves their home to the middle of the forest where he grows things and his wife cooks things, and Farinelli sings, often in the middle of the night to accommodate Philippe’s nocturnal habits. He stayed, singing exclusively for the royals for more than twenty years; it’s a bit of a puzzle as to why he gave up his career for this.

Claire van Kampen’s play has a lightness of touch and if often very funny. Philippe is at the lovable eccentric end of the madness scale and we are laughing with him more than at him. I can think of no-one more suited to the role than Mark Rylance, an eccentric himself, who seems as if he’s making it up as he goes along, such is the naturalism of his magnetic performance. Farinelli is acted by Sam Crane with counter-tenor Iestyn Davies never far behind in matching costumes with heavenly singing. It’s an unusual evening, but it captured my imagination and wrapped me in its warmth.

The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is the perfect venue. Jonathan Fensom’s design and costumes are sumptuous. Robert Howarth’s period quartet played beautifully from the gallery and onstage. The candlelight is perfect. A lovely evening.

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