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Posts Tagged ‘Samantha Bond’

I’ve enjoyed all of the Mike Bartlett plays I’ve seen, some fifteen of them, including two other adaptations and three before at this theatre, which itself has form with this very play when it successfully produced it in the West End twenty years ago. So all the more surprising to be be so hugely disappointed.

Gorky wrote it in 1910 and set it between the 1905 & 1917 Russian revolutions, though it wasn’t staged for another 25 years or so, in a new version. Perhaps he was representing the end of empire and a transition to a new world, and maybe Bartlett sees some parallels with our current populist revolutions. Why else would you adapt it?

Vassa is the family matriarch, a bit of a monster. Her husband is dying. She runs the business he’s built. Her children have been disappointments. Her brother-in-law can’t wait to get his hands on his share of the business. She berates, bullies and bruises all around her. The first two acts are played as farce and this whole seventy-five minutes did nothing for me, apart from a few laughs. Even the second act’s shocking ending didn’t touch me.

I would have left at this point, the interval, but I’d already invested 70% of the necessary time, so it seemed worth seeing it through. This act could have been directed by a different person. Dad is dead and everyone is seemingly grieving and the dysfunctional family unravels. A stage strewn with flowers, blame, secrets, lies and arguments about inheritance. It was much more stylised, mannered gestures, offstage actors sitting at the sides not entirely neutral. By now I didn’t really care about anyone or anything and was fantasising about the glass of wine awaiting me at home.

The cast work hard, but at the curtain call they seemed relieved another performance was over; I felt sorry for them. Samantha Bond, originally cast as Vassa, pulled out, which may be good sense rather than illness. It seemed to me to be a pointless revival, a rare dud for the Almeida and the first turkey by its adapter. May it rest in peace.

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The four Florian Zeller plays we’ve seen here in London in the last few years have been in a different order to how they were written / first produced. We’ve had The Father, The Mother, The Truth and now The Lie in that order, but The Mother, The Truth, The Father and The Lie is how they were written. The significance of this is that The Lie follows The Truth, 18 months later rather than the three years after, and this, in my view, affects its welcome. I felt it was more of the same and I left the theatre disappointed.

The Lie concerns a couple, Paul & Alice, and their friends, another couple, Michel & Laurence (female). It’s a who’s-having-an-affair-with-whom concoction full of false trails and even a false ending, which to be honest I found irritating. It’s clever, but that’s about all. I felt I was being manipulated by a writer for his enjoyment rather than mine.

The whole thing is set in Paul & Alice’s apartment and we don’t know how much time has passed between scenes. It’s expertly performed by real-life husband and wife Alexander Hanson and Samantha Bond, supported by Tony Gardner and Alexandra Gilbreath, all of whom who also seemed to be enjoying it more than me.

There’s a fine, elegant apartment setting by Anna Fleischle and Lindsay Posner’s staging works like clockwork, but I’m afraid it left me cold. Cleverness for its own sake, it just seemed pointless. I have enjoyed this other three plays and I hope we have better to come as I’d identified Zeller as a real find. Hopefully a blip rather than a burst bubble.

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After what seems like an age of pompous pop operas and jukebox musicals, this old-fashioned but new musical comedy comes as a breath of fresh air; and I mean old-fashioned in a positive way! In what seems like a golden age French Riviera, designed by Peter Mackintosh, it fits the art deco Savoy Theatre like a glove.

I’ve never seen the film, so I come to it fresh with the twists and surprises unspoiled. Lawrence Jameson is the reigning king of the con and as the show starts he’s in the process of getting money for his destitute kingdom. New grifter on the block, young American upstart Freddy Benson arrives to challenge him and after some initial competition, an unlikely friendship develops and they start combined scams, though not without some healthy competition for good measure.

There’s nothing like a lovable rogue and here you get two for your money – the suave smoothie and the cheeky chappie – played by actors with terrific chemistry. The role of Lawrence was made for Robert Lindsay and he doesn’t disappoint. His particular brand of slick charm contrasts well with the rough-and-ready clumsiness of Rufus Hound’s Freddy. This is only Hound’s third stage role, and his first musical, and he’s a revelation, virtually unrecognisable, red-faced and cherub-like without that trademark tash. Katherine Kingsley is sensational as Christine Colgate, in fine voice and gliding effortlessly as if assisted by some modern day dance machine. There’s great support from her poshness Samantha Bond and John Marquez, complete with dodgy French accent, in an unlikely but delightful sub-plot love story.

On first hearing, David Yazbek’s score did’t wow, but it was perfectly enjoyable and the lyrics are sharp. It’s the comedy that shines through with a good book by Jeffrey Lane, nimble staging by Jerry Mitchell and the infectiousness of a cast that is clearly having as much of a ball as the audience, with the occasional ad lib and knowing look. The show was broken in out of town so at the third London preview it’s more than ready. I thoroughly enjoyed it and left the theatre feeling nostalgic about something brand new.

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With Privates on Parade a recent big success as the opening production of the Michael Grandage Company, an acclaimed A Day in the Death of Joe Egg en route from Liverpool to Kingston and this one on its way into the West End, it looks like we’re in for a long-awaited Peter Nichols revival. I’m sure he’d rather see some of his later plays produced (so would I), but I suppose we have to be thankful for small mercies. Nichols was one of the best and certainly most original British playwrights of the 20th century and he has, up to now, been sadly neglected in this century.

Passion Play is about adultery. The children of music teacher Eleanor & art restorer James have now left home. Friend Albert traded in his wife Agnes for younger model Kate before he died. Kate, with a penchant for older men, now has her sights on James. Nichols big idea is to place Nell & Jim on stage too – Eleanor & James’ alter ego’s who comment, invisible to other characters, giving us the thoughts to accompany the behaviours. Agnes turns up occasionally to present Eleanor with some home truths that drive the story forward.

For a 32-year old play, this still seems innovative and ever so contemporary. David Levaux’s production sparkles. He’s lucky enough to have a premiere league cast with Zoe Wanamaker and Samantha Bond both superb as Eleanor & Nell. Owen Teale and Oliver Cotton are less alike as James & Jim, but succeed in presenting the outer and inner man. Annabel Scholey is an ice cool sexy vamp as Kate and Sian Thomas is luxury casting as Agnes. This was only the second performance of it’s pre-West End run in Richmond, but it’s in remarkably good shape already.

The play has less heart than other Nichols’ plays and one of my companions found it too cynical. Personally, I think it’s revival is perfectly timed and will hopefully propel the renewed interest in this underrated playwright. Now what we really need is to see Poppy again – a musical about the relationship between China and the west during the opium wars times in the favourite theatrical form of those times – the pantomime. A masterpiece!

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When I first saw this play, in a production by Peter Hall c.15 years ago, it fizzed; so much so that I went back to see it again when it returned to London after an extensive tour. It seemed to me to be so much better than the play most consider his best – The Importance of Being Ernest. For reasons I cannot fathom, in Lindsay Posner’s production the first half is ponderously slow – one of the longest ‘set up’s’ I can remember – whilst the second half zips along.

Oscar Wilde’s play may be 115 years old but if you ignore the settings and costumes, its thoroughly modern – unlike contemporaries like Chekhov or Ibsen, it has hardly aged. The story is rather timely – a corrupt act in the past comes back to haunt a rising star politician. The morals of the case are explored as the events unfold, but with Wilde’s usual sharp wit, satirising the upper classes along the way.

Stephen Brimson-Lewis’ opulent gold set becomes three different rooms in the same house and with the insertion of a simple green wall transforms into a room in another house. With superb period costumes, it looks gorgeous and seems to me to capture the time and the society of the protagonists perfectly.

What makes this revival is brilliant casting. Samantha Bond is a suitably icy Mrs Cheveley, Rachel Sterling (looking mote like her mother than she ever has before) a moralistic Lady Chiltern and Alexander Hanson a somewhat ernest archetypal politician with an ability to change his stance and rationalise it seamlessly.  The star of the show though is Elliott Cowan’s Viscount Goring, a brilliant and witty creation in full flight, and there are lovely cameos from Charles Kay, Caroline Blakiston and Fiona Button.

Such a shame the first two acts didn’t have the pace of the second two, but worth a look nonetheless.

 

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