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Posts Tagged ‘Scott Ambler’

Well, what a good play this is. Tim Morton-Smith has written a really meaty piece about the team that invented the bomb, and in particular it’s leader Robert Oppenheimer. It covers so much factual and ethical ground with great objectivity in an epic sweep and holds you in its grip for three hours. It makes most new plays seem flimsy and superficial.

It starts in academia where the scientists who are soon to assemble in Los Alamos, New Mexico, are surprisingly left wing, some members of the communist party. They are fundraising for Spain’s fight against fascism just before they commence a project with the objective of ending fascism in dramatic fashion. We follow the project and its key players and their relationships, so its as much a personal story as it is an historical one. During the project, the secret service is everywhere, concerned about leaks to allies as well as enemies. The pressure they are under is intense. As they reach their goal, an ethical debate is introduced – will this bomb end all wars, as it is meant to do, or will it be yet another, infinitely more lethal armament of war. It continues after its first use, exploring the consequences of this, and the affect on the scientists and the public’s attitude to them.

Angus Jackson’s staging zips along, making full use of the Swan space and a 20-strong cast; strong being the appropriate word. There’s a real period feel, with terrific costumes by Robert Innes Hopkins and brilliant music from Grant Olding, some danced to Scott Ambler’s dreamy 40’s style choreography. The cast doesn’t have a fault in it and it’s led by a towering performance by John Heffernan who’s shoulders seem to sink as the responsibility weighs upon him. I’ve seen him do great things, but nothing greater. This, together with his recent performance as Edward II at the NT, place him at the forefront of actors of his generation.

Well worth the trip to Stratford, but surely it will visit London, badly in need of great new plays like this?

 

 

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I wasn’t convinced I wanted to see this film adapted for the stage, despite the fact a favourite playwright of mine, Mike Bartlett, adapted it, so I was late booking and ended up at the last performance before its transfer to the West End. Ten minutes in, I thought I’d been right all along – there was so much going on it felt like a bit of a mess. It takes a while to get into the pace and rhythm of this piece, but when you do there’s much to enjoy.

Miriam Buether gives us another of her extraordinary design transformations. Hampstead Theatre becomes a stadium with a race track around the lower level, behind the audience – rather like the original production of Starlight Express but without the budget (or the roller skates). Scott Ambler’s choreography is brilliant and Edward Hall’s staging manages to make both the epic and intimate moments work; the personal stories of Abrahams and Liddell both come through well and the race scenes take your breath away. The music is an effective combination of Vangelis’ iconic soundtrack and Gilbert & Sullivan with a tear-jerking finale of Jerusalem. It’s patriotic & sentimental, but hey who cares, it’s the London Olympics in a minute, this is great timing and we’re entitled!

The young cast of athletic actors, excellently led by James McArdle as Abrahams and Jack Lowden as Liddell, is outstanding, and there are lovely cameos from oldies Nicholas Woodeson as Abrahams’ coach, Nickolas Grace as the Master of Trinity & the Duke of Sutherland, Simon Williams the Master of Caius & Lord Birkenhead and Simon Slater in four roles (and as MD!). Tam Williams also stands out as Andrew, Lord Lindsay.

I’m glad I saw it at Hampstead pre-transfer and I’m glad I sat in the second level; I’m not sure how its going to work in the much bigger space of the Gielgud.

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The space is superbly theatrical. A large rectangular room with picture windows at both ends, restaurant booth seating on three sides & a bar on the fourth and a long elevated corridor on one side overlooking the main space, which contains an oval platform surrounded by tables and chairs. We’re in Windows on the World, a restaurant at the top the World Trade Centre, another one of Miriam Buether’s extraordinary designs and the most comfortable place I’ve ever seen ‘site-specific’ theatre!

A large number of ‘playlets’ take place (sequentially not concurrently!) on the platform, on tables, in booths, in the elevated corridor and on the floor. There’s a fair bit of ‘dance / movement’ between scenes (and sometimes part of them) with fine choreography from Scott Ambler.  There’s a superb cast of 13 who play many more roles than that. In conception and execution, it’s all wonderfully theatrical. The trouble is the material…..

……..I was expecting interesting and objective responses to 9/11 from many perspectives, but what I got were some rather slight sketches, few of which said much on their own, let alone together. Regular visits to the annual meetings of 9/11 widows (backwards in time) provides the only link, but not enough was made of this clever device. Many were monologues whose dramatic inertness was amplified by the theatricality of the space and staging. It didn’t educate or enlighten me, it didn’t illuminate anything and it didn’t really entertain me.

I suspect the multiplicity of writers doesn’t help; six more than there are actors (look what three did for Greenland!), but the key issue for me is that it just isn’t bold enough. It seems to be hinting at and skirting over issues rather than tackling them head on. I admire the ambition, but the rewards are limited.

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The space is superbly theatrical. A large rectangular room with picture windows at both ends, restaurant booth seating on three sides & a bar on the fourth and a long elevated corridor on one side overlooking the main space, which contains an oval platform surrounded by tables and chairs. We’re in Windows on the World, a restaurant at the top the World Trade Centre, another one of Miriam Buether’s extraordinary designs and the most comfortable place I’ve ever seen ‘site-specific’ theatre!

A large number of ‘playlets’ take place (sequentially not concurrently!) on the platform, on tables, in booths, in the elevated corridor and on the floor. There’s a fair bit of ‘dance / movement’ between scenes (and sometimes part of them) with fine choreography from Scott Ambler. There’s a superb cast of 13 who play many more roles than that. In conception and execution, it’s all wonderfully theatrical. The trouble is the material…..

……..I was expecting interesting and objective responses to 9/11 from many perspectives, but what I got were some rather slight sketches, few of which said much on their own, let alone together. Regular visits to the annual meetings of 9/11 widows (backwards in time) provides the only link, but not enough was made of this clever device. Many were monologues whose dramatic inertness was amplified by the theatricality of the space and staging. It didn’t educate or enlighten me, it didn’t illuminate anything and it didn’t really entertain me.

I suspect the multiplicity of writers doesn’t help; six more than there are actors (look what three did for Greenland!), but the key issue for me is that it just isn’t bold enough. It seems to be hinting at and skirting over issues rather than tackling them head on. I admire the ambition, but the rewards are limited.

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This has always been my ‘problem Sondheim’. I don’t find the story at all convincing, so I find it difficult to engage with it. I admire it, but I don’t love it in the way I love most of his shows.

It’s set in 19th century Italy and the story concerns an army officer, his affair with a married woman and the obsession of the sister of a fellow officer with him. The love affair between Giorgio and Clara rings true, but there’s an implausibility about the behaviour of Fosca and the reaction of Giorgio. It’s played for 110 minutes without a break and the music is almost all sung dialogue rather than songs, so it feels like an opera rather than a musical.

On its first London outing 14 years ago, it was a bit lost on a bigger West End stage. A more ‘chamber’ staging here at the Donmar is better suited to the piece and Christopher Oram’s period design is simply superb. Jamie Lloyd’s staging is stunning, elegant and flowing, much helped by Scott Ambler’s brilliant choreography / movement. A perfect combination of period style and elegance.

Elena Roger follows her extraordinary Evita and Piaf with another fine performance as Fosca, but it was David Thaxton who blew me away with a terrific and appropriately passionate performance as Giorgio. Scarlett Strallen (yes, another Strallen – is there a production line?!) also impresses as Clara. In fact, there isn’t a fault in the casting, with every role excellently played and exceptionally sung.  Alan Williams’ small 9-piece string and woodwind dominated band played the gentle lush score beautifully.

Whatever you think of the show, it was and still is original and ground-breaking and here it’s given a definitive production in a theatre it seems to be made for. It won’t be the highlight of Sondheim’s 80th year for me, but I’m very glad I saw it again.

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