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Posts Tagged ‘Sam Yates’

This was apparently the first play Shakespeare wrote for an indoor theatre, the Blackfriars, to be performed by candlelight. How fitting then that it should be staged at the Globe’s new(ish) indoor playhouse, by candlelight, and the venue really suits the play.

Like other late plays, Cymbeline is an odd concoction. Though anchored in British history, it’s such ancient history (Roman period) that we know little about these times and they feel, and may even be, mythological. Lots of themes from other plays appear and it has an other-worldly, somewhat fairy-tale quality. The central character is not King Cymbeline but his daughter Innogen, who is banished for marrying Posthumous instead of Cloten, the queen’s son by her former marriage.

She returns from Rome disguised as a man, encounters some feral chaps who turn out to be her lost (stolen) brothers who have beheaded Cloten, gets pursued by Iachimo seeking to prove her infidelity, then by Posthumous’ servant Pisanio seeking to punish her for it but unable to bring himself to do so and befriended by invading Romans led by Caius Lucius! Of course it all ends happily (well, not for Cloten, obviously). We even get a visit from goddess Jupiter from above, literally.

With no props, the production has a storytelling quality which didn’t settle until the second half for me; the first half seemed a bit rushed and perfunctory, though in all fairness to director Sam Yates, that’s as much to do with the play’s elongated set-ups. The second half is a cracker, though. There’s great incidental music from Alex Baranowski and excellent costumes by Richard Kent. With some doubling up, the whole thing is delivered by a cast of fourteen, including particularly good performances from Trevor Fox as Pisano, Brendan O’Hea as Belarius and Paul Rider as Caius Lucius.

I’m now very much looking forward to the other late plays in the same theatre.

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This play was first produced in 1996 (another 18 year revival), the same year Goodness Gracious Me came to our TV screens; both important events for British Asian culture. It’s set 25 years before that, so now we’re looking back 43 years, yet I suspect British families of Pakistani origin are facing the same plus, with the arrival of fundamentalism, even more complex issues; the play still resonates and entertains.

Ayub Khan Din writes about a mixed marriage in Salford. George came from Pakistan in 1936, leaving behind another family he still supports. He has seven children with Ella, six boys and a girl, now all teenagers or young men. George’s attempts to impose Pakistani customs have already driven his eldest away; his kids feel more British than Asian, don’t speak Urdu and have little or no respect for customs like appropriate dress and arranged marriage. It’s played against a backdrop of the then war between East & West Pakistan, which led to the creation of Bangla Desh. The family runs a chippie where they all work at some time. In the first half, we glimpse their normal daily lives, then in the second we get a visit from the parents of two girls destined to marry two of the boys, which becomes a turning point for the family and the play.

It’s a well structured and well written piece with particularly fine characterisations. The culture clash and sibling relationships seem ever so real and it covers a lot of issues in a surprising amount of depth whilst always entertaining. There are both shocking and moving moments so soon after laughter that they are heightened. Even though your sympathies are with Ella and her kids, George proves to be a not entirely unsympathetic character, more a product of his upbringing than inherently bad. Designer Tom Scutt has built a row of terraced houses on the relatively small Trafalgar Studios stage with the home and chippie created by props in the centre of the it; this anchors the play very effectively in both the community and the period. It’s great to see director Sam Yates graduate from terrific work on the fringe (Cornelius and (another) Mixed Marriage at the Finborough and The EI Train at Hoxton Hall) to the West End, and his staging is very assured.

It’s also great to see the playwright in the role he created now that he’s old enough to play it! Linda Bassett (the original Ella) is a hard act to follow, but Jane Horrocks (also great to see her back on stage) makes it her own, a more feisty but still loving wife and mother. The actors playing the six ‘children’ are all excellent; I was particularly impressed by Taj Atwal as Menah, the only daughter and even more feisty than her mum. Sally Banks is terrific as Auntie Annie, never far from Ella, both of them chain-smoking and forever tea-drinking.

A very welcome revival.

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Three short plays by favourite playwright Eugene O’Neil with favourite actor Ruth Wilson in the lovely Hoxton (music) Hall. I was seriously over-excited going in, but deeply satisfied coming out.

This is a perfect match of play(s) and venue. Hoxton Hall is tall but narrow, with a wrought iron balcony on three sides. They’ve put in rickety old chairs for this production, and the multi-tier stage recedes some way, making the performance area look surprisingly big. Richard Kent’s design makes full use of the space, with perfect period costumes, superb lighting by Neil Austin and a six-piece jazz band. The atmosphere of apartments in an early 20th century US city is brilliantly created.

The first play is virtually a monologue by Wilson as a woman whose world is in decline after marrying an unfaithful loser. She takes a short while to get into her stride, but becomes mesmerizing as the story unfolds. The plays are linked by terrific songs from Nicola Walker as the stage is reset. In no time, we’re with prostitute and single mother Rose, suffering with TB and abused by her lover / pimp. She’s rescued by neighbour and bank robber Tim, but not for long. The third play takes us to a black family where the mother is dying and son Dreamy is on the run. He has to choose between dying mom’s bedside and escape.

Though best known for his lengthy epics, O’Neil is able to pack a lot of drama into these three short plays which, even with musical interludes, add up to less than 90 minutes. I’ve had my eye on director Sam Yates since a pair of superb productions at the Finborough in 2011-12 (Cornelius & Mixed Marriage) and his staging of the first two of these is outstanding. Ruth Wilson, wonderful in the same two plays, directs the third very well. There are two excellent performances from Simon Coombs, both criminals, both on the run, and Zubin Varla is great as Steve in the second play, and plays a mean sax too.

They’ve taken over the whole ground floor, with a period design bar named after O’Neil’s sometime NYC haunt. I don’t know who Found Productions are, but they are to be congratulated on a magnificent evening of drama and first class theatrical craftsmanship. Brilliant.

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Bliss. A proper play. The Finborough have done it again and made a timely discovery of a seemingly forgotten 77-year old play and given it a superb production with a crack cast.

Cornelius is a partner in an aluminium trading firm which is facing bankruptcy. The business has been trying to continue its principled style whilst the rest of the world of business has become much more competitive, hard-nosed and ethically dubious.  His partner is away trying to drum up trade (apparently) whilst he runs the office and fends off creditors and endless sales reps (‘travellers’ – I’d almost forgotten the term!) many of whom have turned to selling in desperation during the tough mid-30’s. For good measure, we also have the mystery surrounding what has actually been happening to partner Murrison on the road and unrequited love both by and of Cornelius.

It’s a slow start as the situation and characters are introduced, but when it gets into its stride it draws you in and zips along. Designer David Woodhead has created a brilliant period office environment and Sam Yates staging makes great use of the limited space. The performance style also takes time to settle. I found the acting a bit OTT at first, but I think this is getting used to the behaviours for the period; a rhythm develops and it becomes more realistic.

Cornelius is on stage almost the whole time and Alan Cox has to strike the right note as a benevolent businessman with a sprinkling of naivety without making him a patronising bore; he pulls it off beautifully. Col Farrell seems completely at home as Chief Cashier Biddle from the outset; a lovely performance. There are fourteen other fine performances from 10 actors – too many to mention, but all worthy of it.

The subject matter is right up J B Priestly’s moralistic street, but the parallel between his time and ours is simply extraordinary. Yet again we find the Finborough brings us important revivals whilst others are endlessly re-cycling Shaw, Ibsen & Chekov. A bucketload of theatrical brownie points!

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Another neglected gem at the Finborough – this time a passionate 100 year-old play by St John Ervine about the sectarian divide in Northern Ireland.

Influential orange man John Rainey is persuaded by son Hugh and his catholic friend Michael to speak in encouragement of unity against employers exploiting the sectarian divide, but when he overhears his son expressing his love and intention to marry catholic Nora, he turns and reverts to anti-catholic rhetoric. This deepens the divide and starts riots in which the family is caught up.

The personal and political are played out together very successfully in Sam Yates’ excellent production. The writing is a bit idealistic, which makes it occasionally preachy, but it certainly packs a punch in its 80 minute running time. Though the political landscape may seem to have changed, personal attitudes like John’s clearly still exist, which gives the play a contemporary resonance. Richard Kent has created a very evocative one-room set with equally evocative period costumes. Aklex Baranowski’s terrific sound design effectively conjours up the off-stage riots towards the end of the play.

It’s beautifully played by a faultless cast. I don’t know how many of them have Northern Irish blood (if any) but the accents seemed to me to be spot on. Daragh O’Malley has huge presence and charisma as John, balanced by his more tolerant wife, beautifully played by Fiona Victory. Christopher Brandon’s Hugh and Damien Hannaway’s Michael are every bit as passionate as their roles require.  Joel Ormsby as younger brother Tom and Nora-Jane Noone as, well, Nora, complete the fine cast.

Yet another find and another deeply rewarding visit to the Finborough. If ever a theatre punched above its weight, this one certainly does.

 

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