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Posts Tagged ‘Sarah Woodward’

This is the third new play by the prolific James Graham in four months, the other two (Ink & Labour of Love) still running in the West End, perhaps soon to become a trio with this. He’s cornered the market with recent history plays and what I love most about his work is that he recalls history you’ve lived through, illuminates and educates, but never forgets to entertain.

This has stylistic similarities with his underrated Monster Raving Loony, where he used British comedy shows to tell the story of that indispensable political party led by Screaming Lord Sutch. Here, the focus is on the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire cheating scandal through the history of quiz shows, with examinations of the psychology of, and motivation for, participation and that very British obsession with fairness and equality along the way. It’s got the same playfulness (an audience quiz, with prizes, voting and even participation) and sense of fun, enhancing the storytelling and guaranteeing the entertainment.

We move from the creation of ITV, it’s earlier game shows and the pitch for this one to the entry and preparation by a network of very determined and thorough individuals to the show itself and the court case which followed, which itself became a bit of an entertainment in a life-imitates-art sort of way. It was fascinating on so many levels and always entertaining. Robert Jones’ terrific set takes you right into the TV studio, but also becomes the court and other locations. Lights, music, live projection and recorded video all add to the authenticity.

Gavin Spokes and Stephanie Street are excellent as the Ingram’s, the couple at the centre of the storm that became an (untelevised) courtroom drama and international media circus. Nine other actors play over forty roles between them, from three to seven each. Keir Charles gets to be Chris Tarrant, Des O’Connor, Jim Bowen, Leslie Crowther and Bruce Forsyth in quick succession; five terrific turns! We even get a Corrie cameo to illustrate a question, with Sarah Woodward and Nadia Albina bringing the house down as Hilda Ogden & Elsie Tanner respectively. The audience voted on their guilt twice and the verdict changed from one to the other, as it had in the vast majority of previous shows (but not me!)

Daniel Evans’ production zips along, captivates and entertains, but you also get an intriguing story within a frame of recent social history, this time popular culture. The return trip to Chichester was twice as long as the play, but it was well worth it.

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This was my sixth and last visit to The Globe this year, and my favourite. Playwright Jessica Swale follows her brilliant Blue Stockings, one of the best new plays staged here, with this hugely entertaining one about Charles II’s mistress.

We first meet sometime prostitute Nell as an orange seller. She is befriended by actor Charles Hart who offers her acting lessons and then suggests the King’s Company cast her, now women are allowed on stage, much to the consternation of their regular male leading lady, Edward Kynaston. Charles’ obsession with her begins with visits to see her perform but it’s not long before she’s doing private performances and is provided with a home and ultimately two children. The relationship lasted some 17 years and the play covers that whole period. What makes it so successful is its humour, cheeky, bawdy and irresistible.

I loved Hugh Durrant’s simple design – a few giant gold tassels and plush curtains (most of it takes place in a 17th century playhouse after all) and superb costumes. The play really suits the Globe stage. Christopher Luscombe’s irreverent, nifty staging teases out great performances all around. Gugu Mbatha-Raw is sensational as Nell – feisty, sexy, cheeky – clearly relishing this terrific role. Greg Hastie is brilliant as Kynaston with a wonderful array of actorly strops and speeches about role motivation which bring the house down. Amanda Lawrence gives us another of her scene-stealing turns as Nell’s dresser Nancy and there are two delightful cameos from Sarah Woodward as Charles’ Portuguese queen and Nell’s mum (a performance one groundling with a beer in hand will never forget).

All hail la Swale. This was one of those joyous occasions that make The Globe unique and indispensable. Proper entertainment. Go!

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The roll at the Court continues. This is the seventh gem in the main house in less than two years – that’s some roll.

This one revolves around the mid-life crisis of Hilary and in particular her relationship with teenage daughter Tilly. Her marriage is dull, her job is at risk and her actor best friend is bonkers. What preoccupies her most, though, is her daughter – her schooling and her sexual awakening. Tilly’s best friend gets pregnant as she starts sleeping with boyfriend Josh and from here we’re on an emotional rollercoaster that brings in Josh’s parents and another boy who Tilly brings home. Even these very liberal middle class professionals are severely challenged by the awesome challenge of parenthood during these teenage years.

Anyone of a certain age (mine!), whether they’ve had kids or not, will find this all totally believable (I suspect playwright April de Angelis has written, at least in part, from experience), but anyone of any age will find much to enjoy here. The characterisations are terrific and the writing sharp and funny, but at times also very moving with a really heart-warming but unsentimental ending. Compared with the other five de Angelis plays I’ve seen, this is on another level altogether. Director Nina Raine has done a terrific job, with simple white settings from Lizzie Clachan which ensure the pace isn’t slowed down by scene changes (and with a very clever transformation to a seaside setting).

Tasmin Grieg has done some wonderful work in recent years – she was a great Beatrice for the RSC and followed this with a trio of excellent performances in modern plays – Gethsemane, God of Carnage and the under-rated The Little Dog Laughed – and here she is simply terrific. She IS Hilary; every expression, shrug and glance conveying what she’s going through. Bel Powley as Tilly and Seline Hizli as her friend Lyndsey are both outstanding, the former perfectly capturing the love / hate conflict that most teenagers go through with their parents. I also liked Richard Lintern and Sarah Woodward as Josh’s parents with different perspectives on their son’s responsibilities, and Doon Mackichan is a hoot as best friend Frances (to say more would constitute a spoiler).

This is a very satisfying evening of theatre – though-provoking & funny, leaving you with a warm glow and a sense of hope. Miss at your peril.

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