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Posts Tagged ‘Sinead Cusack’

Before it even opened at the Manchester International Festival, this show was mired in an authorship dispute, which sadly got more coverage than the work itself; a great shame given the originality and quality of Idris Elba and Kwame Kwei-Armah’s creation. It’s a brilliant cocktail of drama, dance and music which successfully interweaves a personal story with the 20th Century history of the nation of South Africa..

Kaelo is the son of white South African woman Cezanne and black South African man Lundi, a worker on her family’s estate. Given the laws of South Africa at that time, she relocated to London, without Lundi, and brought up Kaelo on her own. As the story begins, we learn that she has recently died and Kaelo is planning to visit South African for the first time to find his father and scatter his mother’s ashes, staying with his grandmother Elzebe, but whilst there he also meets his half-sister Ofentse and learns a lot about the historical events that shaped everyone’s lives.

It’s played on a round stepped platform that revolves, stepped viewing areas replacing seats and a huge drum overhead with projections on the inside. As you arrive, the audience are on the stage dancing to a live DJ set, but leave it as the story begins. There is much dance and movement by the performers in what is a thrilling telling of this family’s story as well as its political and social context and a spiritual dimension which enables Kaelo to observe events he was nowhere near in time or location. In what is a very immersive production, the audience are involved, moving props, dancing and participating like extras, some even getting lines.

The seemingly omnipresent Jon Bausor has created another extraordinary environment incorporating sound and projections. Alfred Enoch as Kaelo performs with great passion and physicality, aided by dancers superbly choreographed by Gregory Maqoma. Joan Iyiola’s Ofentse is a force of nature, filling and commanding the stage. Kurt Egyiawan and Lucy Briggs-Owen bring Kaeola’s deceased parents alive, and Sinead Cusak is totally plausible as Elzebe, the Afrikaner grandmother who feels threatened by all around her.

I thought it was a highly inventive show which paired storytelling with actual history, informative and entertaining in equal measure, accessible to anyone used to or new to theatre, especially a young audience.

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I’ve seen some amazing actors play Lear, seven of them knights of the realm, but this is the first time I’ve seen the same actor play him twice, only ten years apart (though I’ve seen five more Lear’s since the last time, not counting the one from Belarus and the one with sheep!). With Ian McKellen in his eightieth year, he’s the oldest, and the closest to the character’s age. I regret not booking to see this in Chichester. My thinking was that I’d seen McKellen’s Lear. I suspect it would have been better (and cheaper!), but it’s still a must-see in the West End, and I now realise how flawed my thinking had been.

They’ve put a platform through the centre of the stalls, leading to an entrance / exit at the rear, losing a handful of rows and quite a few other seats in the process. They also use the side aisles as entrances / exits. I don’t know the impact of this in the upper tiers, but it made the stalls space more intimate. On stage there’s floor-to-ceiling wood panelling with doors and entrances within it. The floor covering changes with the location, starting as red carpet as the royal family enter for Lear’s announcement that he is to divide the country between his daughters. I thought Paul Wills design was excellent.

Though it’s something like my 14th Lear, there were things about this one that changed my response to the story. I still think there’s more than a touch of implausibility in him falling for the sycophancy of two daughters rather than the sincerity of the third, but here there’s an ageism in Goneril and Regan, in addition to to my normal feelings of spoilt children and inheritance ruins, and Regan in particular becomes completely self-obsessed and self-centred. The Duke of Kent has become the Countess of Kent, and this subtly changes, softens, the character. Edmund seems more machiavellian in contrast to an even more empathetic Edgar. Lear’s madness at first seems eccentricity, before it becomes tragic. I thought Jonathan Munby’s production was very fresh and intelligent.

From the original Chichester cast, Sinead Cusak and Danny Webb are both excellent as Kent and Gloucester respectively, and Kirsty Bushell is simply terrific as Regan. Michael Matus makes much more of the role of Oswald. There are some great performances from new cast members too, not least a superb Edgar from Luke Thompson and an outstanding Edmund in James Corrigan. Lloyd Hutchison is a particularly good Fool. I felt privileged to be seeing Ian McKellen in this role again, a gentler, sadder reading. At the curtain call, memories of more than twenty earlier performances by this fine actor swept over me as I rose to my feet in tribute.

The programme is way better than normal flimsy West End fare and in one of its four essay’s, historian David Starkey suggests that Shakespeare may have been having a dialogue with his patron, King James, even sending him messages about the consequences of dividing a kingdom. Four hundred years later, it’s sending messages still, and I suspect will continue to do so for a long time to come.

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I’m glad I’m not an actor with a part in this Abi Morgan play. I wouldn’t get through a single performance without losing my way, let alone a whole run. It’s structure is clever but must be a nightmare for Sinead Cusack, Genevieve O’Reilly, Michelle Fairley, and Zawe Ashton, so lets start with gold stars for the actors.

We’re in some sort of European dictatorship which is about to be overthrown by the people. In a large, fancy but tasteless room the president’s wife Micheleine is meeting western photojournalist Kathryn, who has come to photograph her husband. She has an interpreter of dubious competence and motivation, Gilma (who’s also a kleptomaniac!). Her oldest friend Genevieve arrives, summoned by Micheleine.

The same scene is played out multiple times, but each one is different in some respect, more differences as we progress through the 95 minutes of the play. We learn more about the true nature of the relationship between Micheleine and Genevieve, where Gilma stands on the conflict and something, but not a lot, about Kathryn. They break the fourth wall frequently and Kathryn doesn’t always understand what the others are saying, or vice versa.

It’s all very clever, but I felt the focus on structure, though not impacting the characterisations, does rob the play of story; there just isn’t enough of it. In addition to faultless acting, particularly impressive from Sinead Cusack as Micheleine and Zawe Ashton as Gilma, there’s a fine set by Peter McKintosh and impeccable direction by Robert Hastie.

I admired it and it impressed me, but the play left me wanting more.

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I wasn’t planning on seeing this, but it’s got Clare Higgins in it and I have no willpower, so off to the Old Vic in-the-round we go. It’s their second season reconfigured and it really is a much better space, but the play proves a bit static.

Set on Christmas Eve in Palm Springs a few years after 9/11, the Wyeth family – mother, father, son, daughter and sister / sister-in-law / aunt – have assembled for the festive season. Lyman is a retired actor turned republican politician and his wife Polly a friend of Nancy Reagan. Son Trip – a TV producer – and daughter Brooke – a writer – vere to the left. Polly’s sister Silda is out of rehab, again. This game of happy families is upset when Brooke reveals the biographical nature of her next book, which triggers a real life game of truth or lie.

Jon Robin Baitz’s play examines post-9/11 American politics and sensibilities through this one family’s recent history. It’s a perfectly believable scenario and the story and writing is good, but I didn’t really like any of the self-obsessed characters and didn’t warm to the play. I admired Lindsay Posner’s staging, though, and the performances are all good. Dame Clare does her best with an underwritten role, Sinead Cusack is initially unrecognisable as Polly, all big hair and power dressing, and Peter Egan looks ever inch the actor-poitician. Daniel Lapaine and Martha Plimpton feel like real siblings; Plimpton’s role carries the play and she’s very impressive.

Though I’m glad I saw it, I’m not sure it’s worthy of such a high profile West End production. If I’d seen it Off-West End or on the fringe, I think my expectations would have been better met. The Old Vic doesn’t have a good track record with new plays, so I’m looking forward to the next pair of revivals in this great reinvented space.

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When the curtain opens at the Lyttleton (yes, a curtain – that’s a novelty these days) you’re a bit baffled. We’re in what appears to be a squat in an abandoned stately home, yet the play takes place in a Dublin tenement. This is partly explained in a programme essay, but the crux of it is that it robs the play of the intensity of tenement life, even though it is a brilliant design by Bob Crowley.

The problem with the play is its unevenness. The first half is a domestic (black) comedy with not much more than a hint at what’s happening outside (civil war!), played for laughs in Howard Davies’ production, dangerously close to cartoonish. O’Casey leaves much of the story and most of the context to the (shorter) second half which for me is the fundamental flaw. A bit like The Veil, which is currently sharing this theatre (with a design that could be the same stately home before it was abandoned), he could have made so much more of what’s going on outside in a crucial point in Ireland’s history (or at the time he wrote it, current affairs). 

We’re with the Boyle family – father Jack, an old sea dog, is a work shy drunkard; son Johnny is involved with a pre-cursor of the IRA and has lost an arm as a result and daughter Mary has left boyfriend Jerry behind and taken up with Charles (more prospects) Bentham. The family is held together by mother Juno, a feisty matriarch who is both breadwinner and homemaker. Jack’s drinking mate Joxer, who’s cynically taking advantage, is omnipresent – when Juno lets him. They get news of an inheritance and start spending the money before they’ve got it. In the second half, it all unravels. The inheritance never comes through and everything is repossessed, Mary gets pregnant and the IRA come for Johnny who has allegations to answer. 

The real reason for seeing this revival is a set of performances it would be hard to match on any stage. This is the best performance I’ve seen Sinead Cusack give. She beautifully balances the love of her family with the assertiveness needed to keep them together. Ciaran Hinds inhabits Jack, his main concern almost always his next drink, yet naive to Joxer’s exploitation. Risteard Cooper’s Joxer is a brilliant creation, going through life as a chancer and parasite, but with a charm and a swagger. Clare Dunne and Ronan Raftery do well as Mary and Johnny and there’s a fine supporting cast.

It’s an uneven evening, but well worth the visit for the performances alone.

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