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Posts Tagged ‘Sam Holcroft’

Though its billed as a comedy and it made me laugh – a lot – there’s more to Sam Holcroft’s play about the family Christmas from hell; it made me think a lot too.

Emma, the daughter of Adam & Sheena, is to undergo CGT (cognitive-behavioural therapy) in an attempt to cure her chronic fatigue. CGT requires you to create rules for living – coping strategies. Until we meet Emma, we spend Christmas morning with her parents, grandmother, uncle and his new girlfriend preparing the lunch. They have their own coping strategies too and these are explained to us on two giant scoreboards. In the second half these ‘rules for living’ are elaborated and explained and points scored whenever the strategies are successfully implemented. Everyone begins to realise mum has been in denial about dad’s illness when he arrives for a visit from hospital, at which point things break down completely as rules are abandoned, truths revealed and things get thrown – big-time! When we do meet Emma, she appears to be the only normal person in the room.

The Dorfman is configured as a large rectangular kitchen / diner with multi-level seating on the long sides and one level high up, above the scoreboards, on the short sides. It felt very voyeuristic from behind a half-wall on the front row. Chloe Lamford’s clever design is matched by the originality of the structure of the play and Marianne Elliott’s audacious production. The characterisations are excellent and they are brilliantly brought to life by the five lead actors. The chalk-and-cheese brothers are very well played by Stephen Manghan, ex-cricketer now legal associate, as Adam and Miles Jupp, sometime actor who’s also settled for the law, as Matthew, both influenced if not bullied by dad. Adam’s wife Sheena, beautifully played by Claudie Blakley, is too fond of a tipple and focused on alternative therapies for Emma, solutions not exactly embraced by Adam. Maggie Service is a loud, clumsy, dippy delight as Matt’s new(ish) girlfriend, actress Carrie. Deborah Findlay is superb as the pill-popping mum who has clearly been put upon for donkey’s years. Lovely performances.

In between the laughs, I found myself thinking about my own (and others) coping strategies and reflecting on my own dysfunctional family! An original and entertaining evening .

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I’ve been a critic of the NT’s ability to pick new plays for some time, but based on the first pair in this interesting summer season, the tide might be turning. They’ve created a ‘pop up’ theatre in the paintframe at the back /side of the building with its own bar and a live band pre-show, post-show and during the interval. The benches are a bit uncomfortable and you have to nip next door to the Cottesloe for a pee, but this is their best showcase of new work since they created a theatre box in the Lyttleton circle foyer some time back.

Sam Holcroft has contributed a clever and original play called Edgar & Annabel set in some police state where the opposition is torn between the forthcoming election and more violent opposition. It would be a spoiler to say a lot more. It’s really well structured (though a touch too long) and its performed in a kitchen that looks like it’s in a container that (appropriately) makes you feel as if you’re spying on them. It occasionally surprises you and is often funny, but it’s ultimately rather chilling.

I missed DC Moore’s much lauded The Empire, but based on his contribution here, I won’t be missing his plays in the future. The Swan is set in a London pub immediately before the wake of Michael, whose father, wife and step-daughter are the characters at the heart of the play. The father misses his son’s funeral, the step-daughter leaves it part way through and the wife turns up just before the other guests. Michael has left a trail of lies and deception and the debate centres on who needs to and who should know. The expletive littered naturalistic dialogue sparkles and the character development extraordinary for a short play.  It makes you laugh but you’re also much engaged in the debate. The traverse staging adds an intensity to your involvement. I loved it.

Soutra Gilmour has created two excellent designs and two configurations; its like going to two different theatres. The pub is particularly evocative. In an exceptional cast of 13, Trystan Gravelle captures the political passion of Nick in the first play and Nitin Kundra and Claire-Louise Cordwell a pair of brilliant cameos in the second.

An 8.15pm start and 11pm finish is a bit of a mistake for people with post-theatre journeys and jobs the following morning, but I’m looking forward to the next pairing and very much welcome both the new venue and great new writing.

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OK, so nine short plays on the history of women in politics (and the ‘testimonies’ of five living politicians) isn’t everyone’s idea of fun on a hot, sunny Saturday in June! Well, helped by the Tricycle’s aircon, it proved to be a theatrical feast I wouldn’t have missed for the world.

The Tricycle is the only theatre with the bravery and balls (inappropriate terminology, I know) to stage this. It’s only a year since they did a thrilling whole day history of Afghanistan in the same way and I have to confess I never thought they’d match it – but they have.

The nine plays take us from Elizabeth I to all-women selection lists and the writing, by nine different women playwrights, was even more consistent than The Great Game, with an intriguing and unpredictable selection of subjects and innovative approaches to them. There really wasn’t a dud amongst them, though Sue Townsend’s albeit funny contribution steered furthest from the theme in the cause of her cartoon-like relentless and tired snipes at the New Labour project.

Marie Jones and Rebecca Lenkiewicz gave us fascinating new historical perspectives on the suffragettes and Liz I respectively. Moira Buffini’s take on Thatch & Liz II was clever and funny yet insightful. Lucy Kirkwood reminded us how we’ve virtually eliminated Greenham Common from history. Joy Wilkinson shows us that little has changed between the 1994 and 2010 Labour leadership contests. Zinnie Harris viciously but accurately shows us many men’s attitudes to all-women selection lists. Sam Holcroft stages a very intelligent debate about pornography through a conversation between a successful pornographer and a PM let down by her husband. Bola Agbaje is bang up-to-date with her study of the power of sex. Add to that verbatim contributions from Shirley Williams, Edwina Currie, Oona King,  Jacqui Smith & Anne Widdicombe, and a late addition (?) from Nick Clegg which proves to be the most chilling of all! Well if that doesn’t live up to my ‘theatrical feast’ epithet, I don’t know what does!  

Indira Rubasingham, assisted by Amy Hodge, has given each play a fresh directorial perspective with Handbagged, Bloody Wimmin and Acting Leader getting particularly inventive staging. She’s assembled an excellent ensemble of twelve actors who play up to six roles each, except Lara Rossi who gets to play Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, John Prescott, Peter Mandelson, Clare Short and Margaret Beckett’s husband in the same play – a tremendous debut from someone still at LAMDA! It was particularly good to see Kika Markham, Tom Mannion and Stella Gonet again.

If you saw The Great Game, you shouldn’t miss this different but equally exhilarating experience. If you didn’t, suspend disbelief and go see this and you’ll be back for The Great Game when it’s revival follows it. Seeing them all together, it’s an intelligent, relevant and thought-provoking experience – and great entertainment too.  

Yet again, The Tricycle leads the way.

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