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Posts Tagged ‘Simon Paisley Day’

We’ve had lots of verbatim theatre, plus those Tricycle tribunal plays, but never a hybrid of both based on a 415-year-old trial. Well, it could have been a trial for 400 years of deaths from tobacco or obesity through potatoes!

Actor Oliver Chris has gone back to accounts of the original trial, which took place exactly 415 years ago in the very same hall (because there was plague in London) and dramatised it. The Attorney General presided, with two other ‘judges’, but to my surprise there was a jury to make the judgement, here twelve audience members. The complex case for treason was presented by two lawyers representing King James I. Ralegh had no representation. The evidence presented was written; there were no witnesses.

It’s really a duologue between Ralegh and Coke, the King’s counsel, and the case hinges on whose account you believe – Ralegh or chief conspirator Lord Cobham, who has already been found guilty and sentenced to death for the treason of the Bye (a catholic sub-plot) and confessed but not yet sentenced for the treason of the Main (for which Ralegh is now being tried). It turns out to be dry material for drama, I’m afraid, though the politics of it all are fascinating.

They haven’t retained the dress and conventions of the period, with the Attorney General, both prosecutors and clerk to the court all played by women, and everyone in modern dress. The setting is extraordinarily atmospheric and knowing you’re in the very same room adds more than a frisson. Simon Paisley Day as Ralegh and Nathalie Armin as Coke are both excellent. I think I enjoyed what I learnt about Ralegh – favourite of Elizabeth I, explorer, colonist, military man, lawyer, MP, poet and wine merchant – by reading around it than I did the re-enactment of the trial itself. He was a colourful character who had a pretty dull trial so that James could give him his comeuppance.

As event theatre, well worth a day trip to the gorgeous city of Winchester, where there was even more to see. As drama, a bit of a disappointment, I’m afraid. A Shakespeare’s Globe production that’s coming to the candlelit Sam Wanamaker Playhouse next week.

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I was completely underwhelmed by this show when I saw it on Broadway. It was a Sunday afternoon, a while into the run, and it seemed ever so tired. So I had no plans to see it over here until I was tipped off about the superior casting and freshness of the production, and they were right.

There’s a drought and big corporate (Urine Good Company – geddit?!) and corrupt public officials ban private facilities and charge for public ones. Breaches of the rules are dealt with viciously and when Bobby Strong’s dad gets it, Bobby becomes the leader of the rebels intent on making peeing free once more.

Soutra Gilmour’s two-tier set is huge in this relatively small space; in truth the show could do with a bigger theatre – but it’s perfectly grimy. Jamie Lloyd’s production is fast-paced, high-energy and he does have a great cast. Richard Fleeshman impresses here as he did in Ghost, the perfect romantic lead, but this time showing us his comic side too. Jonathan Slinger, taking a break from leading virtually every RSC show, is a terrific bad cop / narrator (a fun commentary on the fact its a musical), with Simon Paisley Day matching him for pure comic evil. Jenna Russell proves she too can do comic gothic, with a great turn as Penelope Pennywise (don’t go for subtlety!). The four-piece band under Alan Williams make a great sound and the chorus numbers are rousing, often bringing the house down.

I think the production & performances are better than the show and for once I do think it needs a bigger space, but its a lot of fun and I’m glad I didn’t stick with my Broadway memory. Well worth catching while you can.

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Imagine if you hoovered up the contents of playwright Bruce Norris’ brain just after a brain-storming session on how to present the financial crisis as theatre, pointed your vacuum pipe at the stage floor and switched from suck to blow. Well, that’s what The Low Road seemed to me. A download.

This is my fourth Norris play and up to now I’ve either liked or loved them all. This seemed to me the perfect subject for him. His ‘big idea’ of an allegory, setting the play in the late 1700’s in the US, is inspired. The trouble is it gets totally out of control, swamps what he’s trying to say and ends up as an overlong, occasionally funny, often clever but ultimately dull mess.

It’s narrated by Bill Patterson as Scottish philosopher-economist of the period, Adam Smith. We start with the illegitimate son of Washington left in a basket on the doorstep of Mrs Trumpett’s brothel and end with his illegitimate grandson, the product of a rape, orphaned and left with his mother’s retarded brother ‘poor Tim’. In between we see young Jim grow up to be brilliant but morally bankrupt. He uses his genius to make a fortune for his benefactor which he then steals. There’s a brief flash forward to a Q&A at a present day economic conference where his descendent, a banker (obviously), is a panel member and proceedings are interrupted by protesters, we debate slavery (at length) and there’s an epilogue involving aliens!

With some judicious editing and a firmer directorial hand, this could have been another Enron – a biting, illuminating and entertaining satire on real events. Instead it’s a patchy, overlong jumble which leaves you frustrated and dissatisfied. There’s a big hard-working cast of 18 playing c.50 parts between them. Johnny Flynn as Jim has done nothing better. Elizabeth Berrington successfully morphs from brothel madam to contemporary conference host back to 18th century society hostess. Simon Paisley Day’s transformation from British army captain to ‘poor Tim’ to modern American banker is extraordinary. If only someone had taken control and turned the download into a play.

Dominic Cooke started at the Royal Court on a low with some absurdist revivals. It was uphill from there and it has been a truly great period for them. Sadly, with this and Narrative upstairs, he ends on a low – but with anarchy rather than absurdity.

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