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Posts Tagged ‘Sara Powell’

Though he’s written more than twenty shows, we haven’t seen many of American playwright Christopher Durang’s plays in London, maybe two? This is my first exposure to his work. It’s his most successful play, winning both the Tony and Drama Desk awards for Best Play in 2013. As you can surmise from the title, it references Chekov. This transfer from Bath is delayed because of Covid

Vanya, Sonia & Masha are siblings, named by their amateur thespian parents after characters in Chekov plays. Vanya & Sonia, who was adopted, stayed in Bucks County, Pennsylvania (I’ve been there!) to look after their parents, whilst Masha became a successful actress, though maybe not a particularly good one. She’s been providing a home for the other two, though, for many years. She returns for a society fancy dress party with her toy boy Spike in tow, and some dramatic news about her future plans for the family home and therefore the lives of her brother and sister.

There are many references to Chekov plays and characters over and above the sibling names. Some might find this excludes them, but you don’t need to recognise the references, though it probably helps you admire the writing. Though it covers themes such as climate change and generational disconnection, it’s basically a light comedy that occasionally veres towards farce. There’s also a prophetic cleaning lady who seems to have stepped in from a Greek tragedy – well, she is called Cassandra – and a somewhat underwritten character called Nina who is a fan of Masha, a diversion for Spike and a muse for Vanya.

Janine Dee is great as Masha the actress, who sweeps in and dominates all around her. Rebecca Lacey relishes her sarcy, spikey lines and they hit their target consistently. Michael Moloney is very good at playing the gentle diplomat against his more fiery sisters and comes into his own in a second act monologue. Cassandra has a few scene stealing moments which Sara Powell delivers superbly. There’s little to fault in the staging, design and performance of the piece.

It’s a pleasant evening, but I was struggling to see why it has transferred after mediocre reviews in Bath to the highly competitive theatrical world of London, and even more puzzled that it was once the best play on Broadway. Perhaps the casting there of Durang’s college friend Sigourney Weaver and TV star David Hyde Pierce swayed it. For me it felt more like a night at a regional rep than a London showcase.

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This staging of former Labour MP & minister Chris Mullin’s diary of the period from 1997 to 2009 is surprisingly effective and entertaining. On a simple stage with six chairs in front of a 12-screen video wall, actor John Hodgkinson brilliantly narrates extracts from Mullin’s diary whilst the people he talks about – political and personal, known and unknown – step forward to briefly act out his perception of their part in his reflections.

In addition to Hodgkinson’s star turn, a versatile group of four actors – Sara Powell, Tracy Gilman, Hywel Morgan and Jim Kitson – switch roles completely convincingly, showing enough of the characteristics of the known people – including Blair, Prescott & Straw – to make any ‘signposting’ unnecessary, as well as playing people we don’t know (including his kids!).

What’s so clever about Michael Chaplin’s adaptation is that it tells both the personal story of Mullin’s 12 years, including his family life and visits to Africa as part of his work in the Foreign Office, but also a pretty good history (albeit with a personal spin) of the New Labour period. Mullin has a great self-deprecating humour, so it’s funny and entertaining despite the fact it’s primarily tracking a political journey.

Originated at the Live Theatre in Newcastle, it’s now at Soho Theatre, though staged downstairs with table seating so you can have a tipple while you watch. Great fun, but only 3 performances left!

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