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Posts Tagged ‘Sam West’

This is the fourth Caryl Churchill play I’ve seen in the last twelve months – three revivals (two of which I’d seen before) and one new play(s). I first saw this seventeen years ago at the Royal Court with Michael Gambon and Daniel Craig. Cloning was a hot topic at the time. Eight years later there was a certain frisson seeing a real father and son – Timothy & Sam West – playing it at the Menier, something that was tried again at the Young Vic in 2015 with John & Rex Shrapnel. So this is my third exposure and I’m still confused. That’s Caryl Churchill for you.

It’s set in the home of Salter, where he is visited by someone who turns out to be a clone of his son, who was sent to some sort of home by his father when he was struggling after the suicide of his wife. Salter realises the doctors have created more than one clone and is preoccupied with suing them. His actual son then visits, furious with his father about the cloning. Salter now says he was just trying to have a second chance to bring up a son properly. The first clone returns, knowing the truth, now hating Salter. After another visit from his real son, now very troubled, Salter invites another of the clones, Michael, who proves to be very normal and unfazed by it all.

Polly Findlay’s excellent staging plays out in five scenes over sixty minutes, superbly performed by Colin Morgan as all of the boys and Roger Allam as Salter. In Lizzie Clachan’s clever set we’re in the same room, but from a different perspective in each scene, miraculously transforming in the darkness between them. It’s a much more realistic setting than previous productions, and Morgan is much better at creating different personalities than his predecessors. The nature versus nurture debate is interesting, but I was left wanting to understand more about Salter and the doctor’s motivations, and the extent of and reasons for the cloning.

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This is based on one of two unfinished works by Jane Austen. Coincidentally, the TV adaptation of the other, Sanditon, is currently on our screens. There have been other attempts to complete The Watsons, though not as a play it seems. Laura Wade takes this as her starting point, but it goes way beyond that in a brilliant Pirandellian concoction.

As soon as you walk into the Menier the stage and the two actors on it scream Austen. Dad is in his sick bed, with his daughter Elizabeth looking on. We soon meet her sister, eighteen-year-old Emma, who has been living with her aunt since she was five, other sister Margaret and brother Robert and his wife. They are all rather preoccupied with getting the sisters married.

We move to a society ball where Lord Osborne takes a fancy to Emma, she takes a fancy to Mr Howard the clergyman and local gentleman Tom Musgrave takes a fancy to any woman in sight. Despite hardly engaging with her at the ball, Osborne visits Emma at home and surprises everyone by proposing. When he leaves, she discusses her intentions, at which point she is interrupted by a maid questioning her choice.

We soon realise this is Laura the writer who has had to intervene as her character appears to have taken over her story. From here, it’s meta theatre all the way as the characters mutiny and we discuss Austen’s intentions, enact the characters wishes and explore the process of writing in an anarchic, hilarious romp. Laura even takes a call from her producer David, who asks how the writing is going! It’s hugely entertaining, but you do delve into the mind of Austen, her period and the reasons why she may have abandoned the piece.

Sam West has staged it expertly and Ben Stones has created an authentic period design. It’s a big cast for a play and they seem to be having a ball. Grace Molony is lovely as Emma and Louise Ford delightful as Laura the writer. In a uniformly excellent supporting ensemble, Joe Bannister is superb as the timid Osborne, Jane Booker superb as his officious mother, Sophie Duval a treat as bossy Mrs Robert and there’s a very assured performance from Isaac Forward as the ten-year-old Charles.

A real fun evening. Don’t miss.

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This theatrical debate about our patriarchal society is bang up-to-date. Ella Hickson’s play is original, challenging, audacious and sometimes uncomfortable. I found it hugely stimulating and I’m still processing it.

It revolves around a writer and her interactions with the director of her play and her partner. In a Pirandellian way, it mugs you into thinking a scene is something it isn’t, giving it an unpredictability that proves gripping in itself. Starting in a theatre after a show, an audience member and a theatre producer discuss the play that’s just been performed. From here, we move off and on stage in a way it’s impossible to describe without spoiling it. The issues are debated in six scenes over two unbroken hours and I was enthralled.

Blanche McIntyre’s staging and Anna Fleische’s design also continually surprise too; you can’t take your eyes off the scene changes as well. Romola Garai’s passion for the subject comes over in her brilliantly passionate performance as the writer, but there are great performances too from Michael Gould as the director and Sam West & Lara Rossi in more than one role each, which would also be a spoiler to describe.

Theatre can be very powerful in debating current issues and so it proves here. It’s difficult to describe, not always easy to watch, but essential to see.

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I’m finding it hard to believe it’s only 8 years since I saw the original production of Caryl Churchill’s play about cloning at the Royal Court. I remember the starry casting of  Michael Gambon and Daniel Craig and the West End transfer being scuppered by their refusal to move with it.  I remember finding it intriguing, but confusing and ultimately an unsatisfying 50 minutes. So why did I go and see it again?

Well, because it’s at a lovely intimate theatre – the Menier Chocolate Factory (though on Friday suffering from distracting extraneous noise of a band rehearsing somewhere) – and father and son Timothy West and Sam West play the father and sonS.

It must have been ahead of its time in 2002 because the debate about cloning in the subsequent 8 years make it now seem more timely. I’m not sure the father and son casting actually added anything and I still found it intriguing, though a little less confusing, but  just as unsatisfying.

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