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Posts Tagged ‘Sara Kestelman’

Though it’s still set in the 50’s, but relocated to the US, the moral message of Tony Kushner’s adaptation of Swiss playwright Friedrich Durrenmatt’s play seem very now. Though it’s a long evening, I really enjoyed it.

The North Eastern US town of Slurry is down on its luck. Factories have closed, jobs are hard to get and no-one has money to spend, but the world’s richest woman, Claire Zachanassian, is about to return home, and expectations are high. She has a track record of philanthropy, traveling the world scattering money as she goes. She also seems to collects husbands along the way. Trains no longer stop at Slurry, but she makes sure hers does.

It isn’t long before she offers an extraordinary sum – one billion dollars – to the town and its people, but there are conditions. People start spending, running up credit with willing retailers, and the town makes expensive plans. There’s a sense of anticipation, even though the price would be very high indeed, particularly for her old flame Alfred. Finally a meeting is called where the residents will vote on whether to accept the money, and therefore accept and implement her demands. Claire looks on, in control, vengeance on her mind.

Director Jeremy Herrin has resources only the NT could provide – a cast of twenty-eight, five musicians, a choir, children and supernumeraries. Designer Vicki Mortimer conjures up a railway station, town hall, shops, homes and a forest, with excellent period costumes by Moritz Junge and superb lighting from Paule Constable. Paul Englishby’s jazz infused score adds much to the period feel and atmosphere.

Hugo Weaving is superb as Alfred, with a huge physical presence and a pitch perfect vocal tone and accent. Lesley Manville plays Claire brilliantly, ice cool, determined, vindictive and unforgiving. They are surrounded by a terrific ensemble that includes luxury casting like Nicholas Woodeson as the Mayor, Sara Kestelman as the school principal and Joseph Mydell as the church minister.

They seem to have cut it considerably during previews, but it’s still too long at 3.5 hours, albeit with two intervals. That said, it’s a wonderful production which in my view has to be seen. The story of a town that sells its soul to the devil in a Faustian pact with the richest woman in the world proves timeless. As it is, was and forever will be, there’s nothing people won’t do for money.

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I’m not being perverse by reviewing the last night; as I was travelling for most of the run, it was the first chance I had to see it, and I’m glad I did.

Ryan Craig’s family drama takes us through fifteen years, from the late 60’s to the early 80’s. Widow Yetta Solomon is the matriarch of an East London Jewish family whose business is in ‘rubber goods’. Both her sons, Nat and Leo, are in the business, but they are forever fighting. Leo is intent on escape, but Yetta always has a trick up her sleeve to stop him. Leo’s son Micky doesn’t want to join the business, but Yetta draws him in and eventually he, and other grandson Gerard, are involved, fighting just like their dads. There are references to real events of the period, which was indeed a fascinating one.

Yetta is full of contradictions. She is benevolent to workers like Monty and Rosa, until they cross her. Everything she does is to keep the family together and the business alive, but we eventually learn just how manipulative she is and just how dirty her tricks have been. It’s a commanding performance by Sara Kestelman, owning the stage as she does her family and her staff. Louis Hillyer and Dorian Lough are very good as the bickering brothers, as are Callum Woodhouse, Jack Bannon and Callie Cooke as the next generation. Ashley Martin-Davies’ two-story set is full of period detail and you can almost smell the rubber. 

I really took against Craig’s 2009 play Our Class and wasn’t at all keen on his 2011 play The Holy Rosenbergs – https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2011/05/27/the-holy-rosenbergs and this one becomes a bit too melodramatic at times, with some of the twists and turns a touch contrived, but it’s a big improvement on his previous work.

A meaty play with a superb late career performance by Sara Kestleman at it’s core.

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Sometimes you look back on an old classic and it seems ever so of the moment, but on a more modern classic and it seems ever so dated. So it is with this 30-year old three-acter (not a trilogy i.e. three plays, in my view). Having said that, there was much to enjoy at this Menier Chocolate Factory revival.

In the first act we meet drag queen Arnold as he meets Ed. This takes place in his dressing room, in front of a row of light bulb bordered mirrors. In the second act, Ed is now in a relationship with Laurel and Arnold with the much younger Alan. This is brilliantly staged in one big bed as they writhe and turn into different combinations. In the third act, Arnold is in the process of adopting a dysfunctional youngster when Ed comes back on the scene and mother turns up.

The first act doesn’t get the play off to a particularly good start, but it hits its stride in the second. There are some great lines and the relationships between Arnold and his typical though somewhat stereotypical mother is nicely spiky and with David, the potential adoptee, very moving. Ed isn’t a particularly believable character though, and this proves to be a fatal law. Even though I saw the original West End production of Harvey Fierstein’s play (with Anthony Sher as Arnold), I’m not sure if this is the character or the characterisation of Joe McFadden.

Douglas Hodge stages the second and third act well and Soutra Gilmour turns this small space from dressing room into bedroom into virtually a whole apartment cleverly (using the same row of mirrors / windows). David Badella is very good as Arnold and there’s a lovely cameo in the third play from Sara Kestleman as his Jewish mom.

I enjoyed the evening, but more as an opportunity to check out the play after 30 years than anything else. 2 hours 50 mins is a long time to spend on the Menier’s unrelentingly hard seats (on a uncharacteristically hot evening), so perhaps it’s a tribute to it that it held my attention despite this. Worth a re-visit or a first visit, but don’t go expecting too much.

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