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Posts Tagged ‘Samuel Barnett’

Alan Bennett’s last play, People, at the NT six years ago, was about the heritage ‘industry’. It tried to cover so many issues that it lost focus and proved a bit of a disappointment. He covers a lot of ground here too, but it’s more cohesive, a homage to the NHS with a swipe at the decline in our sense of social responsibility for good measure.

We’re in a Yorkshire general hospital, led by trust chairman and former Mayor Slater, that’s facing closure. They’re campaigning against it, and in the geriatric ward they’ve set up a choir as part of the campaign. There’s an omnipresent film documentary team, which Slater hopes will aid their campaign. Dr Valentine (anglicisation of his real name) is a caring doctor with a gentle bedside manner and genuine affection for his geriatric patients, but he’s facing deportation. Sister Gilcrest is old school, obsessed with continence and cleanliness. Nurse Pinkney is more focused on contentment and happiness. The real interest of Salter is his own career. Amongst the visitors, patient Mrs Maudsley’s family are predatory fortune hunters and coal-miner Joe’s son Colin is up from London, exorcising his fraught relationship with his dad; he’s a Management Consultant advising the Health Minister, an architect of closure plans. Just before the interval it takes a sinister turn.

Bennett’s acute observation of people shines again with finely drawn characterisations, delicious turns of phrase and a very clever unfolding narrative. I couldn’t stop smiling at the new ward names, changed at the suggestion of the minister. The twelve geriatric patients each have lovely back stories, which they share with us between songs. Our attitudes to the old, patient abuse, bed blocking and the obsession with targets, specialisation, outsourcing and privatisation are all covered. Of course, its very funny, but its also poignant and bang on target much of the time. Valentine’s final words direct to the audience pierced my heart.

The twelve patients are a delight, veteran thespians relishing such great writing. Deborah Findlay is brilliant as the cold but seemingly loyal, hard-working ward sister who becomes positively chilling. Sacha Dhawan has genuine warmth and empathy as Valentine. Samuel Barnett’s character Colin is rather unsympathetic, but he spars with Jeff Rawle’s brittle dad and both do eventually melt. There’s a lovely cameo from David Moorst as work experience affable Andy, who also turns unexpectedly. Peter Forbes makes a great job of the pompous self regarding Salter. Director Nicholas Hytner and designer Bob Crowley have worked with Bennett a lot, and they continue to serve his plays well.

I think the play divides people in many ways, with older audience members, NHS advocates and lefties the most positive. I loved it!

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Yet another occasion where the critical reception lowered expectations only for them to be exceed on the night! I saw the world premiere of this Manuel Puig play in the tiny (old) Bush Theatre in 1985, with Mark Rylance and Simon Callow no less, but this production of a new version by Jose Rivera & Allan Baker opens it up, and seems to me to have even more power in its coruscating examination of the evils of tyrannical regimes.

Valentin is a political prisoner in a Buenos Aires jail in 1975. He has clearly been tortured. His cellmate Molina is a gay window-dresser, imprisoned for alleged indecency, who the authorities are hoping to use to get information on Valentin’s activities and associates. As a result, Molina is given supplies after each supposed visit by his mother or lawyer, in reality meetings with the authorities, so that they don’t have to eat the vile prison food. In order to kill time, Molina describes his favourite movies, a ritual which initially irritates Valentin, but one he learns to embrace and enjoy. The unlikely relationship between the chalk-and-cheese cellmates becomes affectionate, and more.

Designer Jon Bausor has used the concrete of the Menier space to create the prison, with cell doors along a corridor above and around around the cell of our subjects. When Molina is outlining the stories of his films, sound and projections onto the prison walls illustrate the fantasies. The design, and Laurie Sansom’s staging, are effective in conveying the claustrophobic intimacy of the cell, bringing a cinematic quality to the fantasies and underlining the power of the opressive state. Declan Bennett as Valentin and Samuel Barnett as Molina are both outstanding, playing very different characters with different motivations, but also making their intimacy and affection for one another believable.

This is way better than the critics will have you believe; go and make up your own mind!

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Restoration comedy can be a fusty and dull affair for a modern audience, but there’s so much flair and so many fine performances in Simon Godwin’s production that it scrubs up fresh, cheeky and joyous. When you hear Mrs Sullen’s feminist speech at the opening of the second half, its hard to believe it’s over 300 years old.

Two groups are on the make – Aimwell & Archer, gentlemen down on their luck, and highwayman Gibbet and his companions, in cahoots with the landlord of the inn – and the target of both is the riches of Lady Bountiful and her family. Lady Bountiful’s daughter Dorinda is in the market for a man to marry and her daughter-in-law wants rid of her drunken husband. No-one gets what they expected, but Aimwell and Archer do both get a wife. The presence of French soldiers provides another opportunity for humour, not all at their expense.

Lizzie Clachan’s three-story building transforms from inn to house and back again slickly and elegantly. The costumes are gorgeous and there’s a tea set to die for! Michael Bruce’s brilliant live music, superbly integrated within the play, contributes much to its success, and the song cues themselves make for a very funny running joke. Samuel Barnett and Geoffrey Streatfieild are a fantastic comedy double-act as Aimwell & Archer, very sprightly with great chemistry between them, as are Suzannah Fielding and Pippa Bennett-Warner as the sister and sister-in-law who are the closet of friends. There are so many other lovely performances, including Pearce Quigley as ever so droll servant Scrub and Jaimie Beamish as Folgard, a French priest who’s really Irish – his hybrid accent is a hoot.

This is the sort of thing the National do so well and it really compliments the rest if the current repertoire. Thoroughly recommended.

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Director Tim Carroll has been responsible for some of the best things The Globe has done, notably Twelfth Night (about to be revived), Richard II and Romeo & Juliet. This too is a  ‘traditional practices’ all-male production and it has Mark Rylance, a great Shakespearian actor, in the lead. Sad to report then that in my view it’s a bit of a misfire.

On this occasion, Jenny Tiramani’s costumes are part of the problem. They are loud and cartoonish and make it difficult to take any male character seriously. The second problem is that Roger Lloyd-Pack is badly miscast as Buckingham; he has no presence and doesn’t project. On this occasion, engaging the Globe audience gets in the way of the drama, rather than drawing you in. The fatal flaw, though, is the decision to play Richard as some sort of cartoon baddie rather than a tyrant. You just couldn’t believe he could dispatch so many in his desperation for power.

There are some things to enjoy! Claire van Kampen’s music is lovely (thought the musicians participate in costumegate). Performance-wise, Samuel Barnett makes a great queen and Johnny Flynn and James Garnon are very good as Lady Anne and the Duchess of York respectively. The young actors playing the princes, despite their bright pink satin costumes, spoke the verse beautifully and clearly. In fact, Lloyd-Pack notwithstanding, the standard of verse speaking was excellent, though placing too much at centre stage went against audience engagement and resulted in even poorer sight lines than we’re used to at The Globe (those two bloody pillars!).

The show is still in preview, so there is hope they might make a partial recovery, but it’s probably too late to make enough changes to rescue this misguided outing of a great play.

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Waiting for Godot meets Six Characters in Search of an Author, but not as satisfying as either.

Memory is a funny thing. I think I’ve seen this twice before and I think I liked it on both occasions. Last night it irritated the hell out of me…..Tom Stoppard at his best sparkles with wit and invention. This one’s smug, glib, pompous and too clever for its own good. It’s like an intellectual student showing off. Stephen Fry on stage.

The characters of the title are of course minor roles in Hamlet and Stoppard puts them centre stage and weaves them in and out of that play and the work of The Players of that play, but its all rather pointless. It does have some good lines and it is sometimes funny, but like an overlong joke, it just goes on and on for 2.5 hours.

I’d love to say that fine young actors Samuel Barnett and Jamie Parker were good, but for some reason they overacted mercilessly; Barnett particularly camp in a way that seemed at odds with the role – whatever was director Trevor Nunn thinking of? The rest are mere bit players as they say, but they did their bit perfectly well. I liked Simon Higlett’s simple design with what seem like time tunnels through which the ensemble enter and leave.

I am a bit hot and cold when it comes to Stoppard, so I’m prepared to accept that it’s a matter of taste. For me, though, a profoundly annoying piece of theatre and a waste of a lot of talent.

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