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Posts Tagged ‘Sam Swainsbury’

Writer Jack Thorne has covered a very wide range of subjects in his stage and TV work, including adaptations of other’s material. This one is inspired by his own family history and I liked it a lot, but it could be that it resonates more with my generation.

It takes place at three points in time, each ten years apart, in the shabby chic home of David & Sal near Newbury. On each occasion their three children are either living there or visiting, and a meal is being prepared or delivered. They are idealistic lefties, old labour, regularly protesting or supporting causes. They’ve tried hard to pass on their values to their children whilst at the same time encouraging independent thought.

In 1997, just after the general election which elected New Labour, daughter Polly is home from Cambridge where she’s studying law, son Carl brings home his posh new girlfriend Harriet and wayward teen Tom is late home from school where’s he’s been in a drug related detention. The focus of this act is Carl & girlfriend Harriet’s bombshell. In 2007, Carl, who is now part of his father-in-law’s hotel business, comes with Harriet but without their children. Polly has sold her soul to corporate law and Tom is even more troubled. They’ve been called home to discuss their inheritance, but Tom becomes the centre of attention when his troubled soul erupts. In 2017, they’re there for a funeral, Polly now an associate partner in her law firm, Carl & Harriet’s marriage in trouble and Tom still trying to find his way in the world.

In between acts, the intervening years are signalled by changes of props, items and the calendar, with highly effective dance and movement staged by Steven Hoggett. The play tells the story of one family’s journey from the point at which the children leave the nest, whilst at the same time charting the concurrent political and social changes and in particular the differences in values and attitudes between the generations. The dialogue sparkles and the characters are well drawn. It all felt very authentic to me, perhaps because I’m of the same generation as David & Sal.

Leslie Sharp’s Sal and Kate Flynn’s Polly are occasionally overplayed. David Morrissey was more restrained and ultimately moving as David. I really liked Sam Swainsbury and Zoe Boyle as Carl and Harriett and Laurie Davidson was particularly good at conveys the three very different Tom’s. John Tiffany’s finely tuned direction and Grace Smart’s superb design bring the story alive.

Thorne yet again proves both his talent and his range, one of the most exciting of this extraordinary new generation of playwrights.

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Michael Grandage’s big idea is the have the forest as a new age encampment and the faeries as hippy eco-warriors, with snatches of The Mamas & Papas and Simon & Garfunkel playing in the background. It also comes in at 2h 10m inc. interval; quite possibly the shortest mainstream Shakespeare production ever!

It’s a patchy affair, though. I liked Christopher Oram’s design – burnished bronze panels, rising to reveal a landscape backed by a giant full moon, with side panels a nod to Arthur Rackham. The verse speaking is often weak. The forest scenes work well, with the lovers firing brilliantly off one another, but the rude mechanicals are badly let down by David Walliams’ misguided and predictably camp Bottom (Walliams does Walliams) mercilessly trying to steal the show but just being bloody irritating.

Padraig Delaney is OK as Oberon but has little presence as Theseus. Sheridan Smith is OK as both Titania and Hippolyta but she’s done much better work than this. Chief acting honours belong to the four lovers – Sam Swainsbury, Susannah Fielding, Stefano Braschi & Katherine Kingsley – who are well matched, suitable sparky and by far the best verse speakers.

It’s a bit pedestrian really. It doesn’t illuminate or add anything and is seriously undermined by the miscasting of Walliams, who’s a diva rather than a company man. You won’t miss much if you miss it, as you’ve probably seen a better one and if not a better one will come along soon!

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This Peter Nichols play with music (Dennis King) was first seen at The Aldwych Theatre in 1977, the then London home of the RSC, when the playwright was very much in their favour. A year before he became Artistic Director of the Donmar, director Michael Grandage  staged it there (with Roger Allam, Malcolm Sinclair and the relatively unknown James McAvoy and Nigel Harman). Now, he’s staging it back in the West End (at the very appropiately named Noel Coward Theatre) as the first in his 5-play season, just after leaving the Donmar.

It’s an autobiographical piece set just after the second world war in a forces entertainment troupe in South East Asia. The rag-bag of performers is led by as-camp-as-they-come (Acting Captain!) Terri Dennis. We see them rehearse and perform, plus backstage relationships, banter and abuse. There are two mute locals whose sinister demeanor tell you they are more than servants to these extraordinary masters.

If you’ve got a decent seat it works well, though not quite as good, in a bigger space – though it has aged a bit and seemed a little overlong this time. It’s a fascinating period and situation though with all sorts of issues explored and the music is completely at home given the context.

The chief reason for seeing it is a superb cast and chief amongst those is Simon Russell Beale with yet another career high. He has the uncanny capacity to act with every part of his body, striking poses that bring the house down, breaking into facial expressions that have you laughing out loud. Angus Wright is perfectly cast as the pompous Major, as is Mark Lewis Jones as the somewhat unsympathetic Sergeant Major, and John Marquez is great as the unlikely Corporal. Joseph Timms, Sam Swainsbury, Harry Hepple and Brodie Ross make a great quartet of singing & dancing soldiers. 

Designer Christopher Oram appears to have re-cycled and roughed up his design for Evita, but it works well as the frame for various South East Asian locations. Grandage’s staging is as always impeccable and there’s a fine band under Jae Alexander hiding in the upper tier on the right.

If you’ve seen the play before, go again to see a fine cast. If you haven’t, go to see a highly original play by one of Britain’s most underrated playwrights. Whatever, you have to go to see Simon Russell Beale at the height of his powers – again!

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I’m not sure what it is about all-male productions of Shakespeare that makes them special, but they are, and not just because that’s how they were first staged. As well as Propeller, The Globe has given us a trio of gems – Twelfth Night, Romeo & Juliet & Anthony & Cleopatra – and previous Propeller productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, A Winter’s Tale, Twelfth Night and The Taming of the Shrew have all been great fun.

They’ve taken more liberties with this and even though there’s still much to enjoy, I think it’s a few liberties too many. There’s heavy editing (it comes in at two hours playing time), entry and exit music & sound effects, added modern dialogue (including references to Walkers crisps!), lots of slapstick business and a fair share of audience engagement. Somehow, in this one, they seem to be trying too hard. I know it’s farce (was it the first farce?) but it’s still a bit too broad for its own good.

It’s set in Mexico or Spain and the ensemble / chorus are dressed in football shirts and sombreros and play a selection of musical instruments. The Duke is dressed in a bright red satin suit studded with rhinestones and the most extraordinary pair of gold, brown & white shoes. The goldsmith Angelo has more bling than you’d see at a rappers convention and each pair of twins are in identical clothes (and for the Dromio’s, identical wigs). Adriana is a picture in leopardskin everything; Luciana is more restrained but for the pink spectacles. The courtesan has walked straight off the street, as it were, and the Lady Abess’ robe is a mini!

There’s much physical acting, which after almost six months on the road has been honed to absolute precision. The performances are all excellent with Dugald Bruce-Lockheart & Sam Swainsbury well matched as the Antipholus twins, Richard Frame & Jon Trenchard both superb as the Dromio twins and both Robert Hands and David Newman delicious as Adriana and Luciana respectively. The Officer starts offstage as a security guard warning against the use of mobiles and flirting with the ladies and Pinch runs through the audience stark naked, hands over his privates and an additional prop I won’t mention as it would be a spoiler.

You can tell these actors have been together for a while, and together on previous productions; this company really gels and is having a ball. It’s all very infectious, but somehow I think a touch of restraint would have worked in its favour on this occasion. That said, its great fun and if you want to introduce someone to Shakespeare, its perfect. I’d love to see their Richard III but I’m afraid Mr Spacey got in first and I’m not sure I can cope with a pair of Richards.

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