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Posts Tagged ‘Sam Gold’

Last Monday, I visited the Museum of Musical Theatre, seeing the lavish but dated The King & I at the London Palladium. As if the musical theatre gods were intent on contrast, on Friday I visited this fresh, original new musical at the appropriately named Young Vic, and it swept me away.

Alison Bechel writes graphic novels (illustrated rather than graphic in the explicit sense!). Fun Home, though, was a memoir about her life growing up in Pennsylvania with her parents and two brothers, going to college and coming out and the tragic loss of her dad, who unlike her had lived a lie (with his wife’s full knowledge). She acts as a narrator, with her young self and her college self on stage. We see her childhood, tomboyish, playing with her two brothers, both in fear of and in awe of her dad Bruce, who teaches and runs the family business, a Fun(eral) Home. She spends more time with her dad as her mom Helen is an actress. Her arrival in college, realisation that she’s gay and coming out are interwoven.

It’s a deeply moving portrait of a life, expertly adapted by Lisa Kron with lovely music by Jane Tesori. It’s extraordinary how much you can immerse yourself in someone’s life story in just 100 minutes. It took me a short while to get into the rhythm of the piece, but I soon became captivated. It was funny and moving and ever so real, with stylistic and set changes altering its feel and tone. It’s beautifully staged by Sam Gold, with choreography by Danny Mefford which is particularly good at conveying the young kids playfulness. David Zinn’s design constantly surprises you as it morphs, not just to change location, but also to reflect changes in the story.

An unrecognisable Kaisa Hammerland plays Alison looking back, newcomer Eleanor Kane college Alison and, on the night I went, Harriett Turnbull young Alison and all three were terrific; you could really believe they were the same person at different stages of their life. In my head, Zubin Varla is still the RSC’s Romeo – where did all those years go! – but here he’s a middle-aged dad, a very complex character which he plays brilliantly. Helen the mother is by contrast a relatively underwritten part, as the real Helen seems to have been in Alison’s life, but she’s played by Jenna Russell, who can make something wonderful from just about anything.

David Lan’s final four years at the Young Vic have been extraordinary, with A Streetcar Named Desire, A View From the Bridge, Yerma, The Jungle, The Inheritance and surely this going on to continue their lives elsewhere, to be seen by more people. Another thrilling evening in The Cut.

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For Annie Baker’s last UK premiere, Circle Mirror Transformation, the Royal Court sent us to a sports centre in Haggerston. For this, the National have built a 110-seat cinema on the Dorfman stage!

If you read the programme in advance, as I did, you’ll be expecting a play about the transition from 35mm film to digital and the negative consequences of it. Well, that is the backdrop to the piece, but it’s much more about the relationships between the three principal characters and the back stories of two of them. Every scene – and there are many in its 3-hour playing time – takes place in the cinema auditorium between screenings and at the end of the day, as the three cinema staff  clean between the rows and talk. We glimpse into the projection room through small windows high up the back wall. There is a lot of silence.

The strength of the play is the characterisations. These are fascinating, very real people. At first I wasn’t sure I would stay the length, but it somehow draws you in and captivates you – but for me, the people rather than the technological change. You learn a lot about them as you peer into their lives, somewhat voyeuristically. I became enthralled and it didn’t feel its length.

Matthew Maher and Louise Krause, as Sam and Rose, both of whom have come with the play from New York, are outstanding, and they are joined by Jaygann Ayeh, who is terrific as the third principal character Avery, and Sam Heron in two supporting roles. There is an uber-realistic design from David Zinn and impeccable direction by Sam Gold.

I predict this is going to divide people; the number of empty seats after the interval testifies to that. I surprised myself by not being one of them!

 

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