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Posts Tagged ‘Sam Troughton’

This 1912 play was last seen at the NT 25 years ago, in a production by Katie Mitchell (before she went on to deconstruct and destroy plays!). Since then, it’s been named one of the 100 most influential plays of the 20th Century, and its easy to see why. It must have been shocking to see a prominent industrialist portrayed as a bully on stage over 100 years ago.

John Rutherford owns a glassworks in the industrial North East. Though we’re not explicitly told, he appears to be a widower, living with and looked after by his sister Ann and his spinster daughter Janet. His children have been a big disappointment to him. Richard has become a curate and John Junior, who he hoped would take over the business, has married beneath him and shows no interest in the family firm, though he has returned home to try and sell his father an invention. John thinks he’s entitled to be given it after spending a small fortune on John Junior’s education at Harrow. As the play unfolds he belittles Richard, sends John Junior and Janet away and manipulates John Junior’s wife Mary into involving him in bringing up his grandson.

Sowerby was the daughter of a North East glass manufacturer, so this may be wholly or partly biographical. In any event, the play was brave. It was first attributed to a writer with initials, so the sex was ambiguous and widely assumed to be a man. After all, there weren’t any female playwrights. The first act is a bit slow, and I’m not sure if this is the writing or the production, but it gains pace after the interval. Polly Findlay’s production, with designs by Lizzie Clachan, has great authenticity, with atmosphere created by rain and the movement of the house in which they live, plus a group of female voices singing folk inspired songs a capella.

Roger Allam is brilliant as Rutherford, commanding the stage as well as his family. Sam Troughton, Justine Mitchell and Harry Hepple are excellent as the three siblings who have grown into such different people. Joe Armstrong is great as Rutherford’s right hand man and Barbara Marten is superb as the ice cold uber conventional sister Ann. Lovely performances all round.

Good to see it again, in as fine a production as you could wish for.

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Nina Raine’s new play concerns a woman’s attempts to have a child before its too late. Her younger husband Tom leaves her in her late thirties, not wanting the child she does, and she begins to navigate the world of sperm donation. Though it covers a lot of serious issues, it’s an entertaining ride.

Anna approaches many of the men she knows and some she doesn’t, straight and gay, old and young, mostly single, but to no avail. They either decline or agree then subsequently change their minds. She even looks at buying sperm from an online catalogue featuring donor photos and key information like intelligence scores. She discusses options with her family and friends. As time goes on, desperation sets in. We learn a lot about the different options, and issues like ongoing involvement of the donors and the child’s rights.

At first I thought she might be taking the subject lightly, but serious issues are covered well, most notably in a very moving scene where she visits an adult with an anonymous donor father to see things from the child’s perspective. The psychological and emotional strain on women of late child-bearing age wanting children has bern covered before, most recently in the Young Vic’s harrowing contemporary take on Yerma, but this is more specifically about sperm donation, and much lighter in tone, yet just as serious in its own way.

Claudie Blakley is excellent as Anna, on stage virtually the whole time. The rest of the adult cast play two or three roles, with Sam Troughton giving a virtuoso performance as husband Tom and no less than five potential donors, changing character with the turn of the head or a hand brushed through the hair. It’s a simple traverse staging, with characters and props coming from the other two sides and it’s very well paced, the playwright directing.

This is the fourth Raine play tackling important contemporary issues very effectively whilst at the same time providing entertaining, satisfying drama. Well worth a visit.

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We appear to be in a golden age of new plays. Bartlett, Bean, Butterworth, Graham, Kirkwood & Raine have all delivered gems this year and now David Aldridge joins them. His is on a much more intimate scale, but it’s as captivating as any of the others.

It’s the fag end of a party, the early hours of Sunday morning, and the host Laura and guest Danny, who she doesn’t really know, are the last two standing. There is clearly a mutual attraction. He’s damaged – deserted, divorced, estranged and lonely – and socially clumsy. She’s successful and independent, but with no family, also lonely, and too frank, forward and direct for Danny. They play out the difficult first 100 minutes of their relationship in real time.

Though it’s mostly about loneliness and relationships, there are a whole load of other themes including father’s rights, desperation for children, impersonal modern dating methods and more. It’s voyeuristic to watch, but it’s not uncomfortable. The characters are superbly well drawn and the performances of Justine Mitchell and Sam Troughton are stunning. Troughton in particular perfectly captures the complex cocktail of emotions and vulnerability of Danny. Polly Findlay’s direction is totally in harmony with the writing and Fly Davis’ uber-realistic design anchors it.

I’ve never thought Eldridge’s work as consistent as other playwrights, but he has produced gems before, notably In Basildon, maybe when he’s writing from experience. Somewhat ironically, he produced the least plausible play about middle-class life, Knot of the Heart at the Almeida, and has now produced the most plausible! This is an enthralling experience, particularly welcome at the NT.

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Mike Bartlett’s play about corporate bullying packs quite a punch given that it runs under an hour, perhaps proving less can be more. Verbose playwrights take note.

We’re looking down into a space not unlike a boxing ring, the audience on four sides on six or seven levels including ‘ringside’ standing. There’s just a water cooler in the space with Thomas, Isobel and Tony. They are on edge, waiting for the boss to come. He’s going to choose who stays and who goes. The process isn’t entirely clear (well, not to Thomas anyway). One of them won’t survive. Isobel and team leader Tony play psychological games on Thomas. Tony has withheld information from him, so he’s unprepared. The taunts get personal and more vicious until Carter arrives to confirm the cull.

The tension starts before the play begins, with loud rock music, a bit like the build up to a boxing match. It gets ever more taut and cruel as it progresses and the bullying continues, pointlessly, after the deed is done. There’s a coup d’theatre towards the end which ratchets it up one final notch and we’re left with a tragic image of defeat. It would be funny if it wasn’t so real – in my experience of modern corporate life, this isn’t the slightest bit implausible – but there are laughs, some uncomfortable, some relieving tension. As I was thinking ‘is this what we’ve become?’ I looked around the audience and was a bit horrified by the lack of compassion on others’ faces. As I walked through the bar at the end, it appeared to be full of people who could have been characters in the play.

It’s brilliantly staged by Clare Lizzimore within another of Soutra Gilmour’s extraordinary ‘environments’. Adam James and Eleanor Matsuura are so believable as the bullies I wanted to enter the ring and come to Thomas’ aid. Sam Troughton is outstanding in his emotional roller-coaster ride as Thomas and Neil Stuke is cool and unemotional as Carter.

The play affected me more than I thought it would or could. I wasn’t laughing as much as others because it was making me angry, sad and disillusioned. It’s essential theatre though, putting the ugliness of the corporate rat race on view. If only the audience reaction was more compassionate.

 

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