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Posts Tagged ‘Sinead Matthews’

Shortly after I saw the 1984 revival of this play in the West End, Leonard Rossiter, who played Inspector Truscott, died in the wings waiting to go on. All very Ortonesque, but I do hope Christopher Fulford survives this run! It’s around fifty years since it’s premiere and playwright Joe Orton’s death at the hands of his partner Kenneth Halliwell. This excellent revival is a superb opportunity to see it again, or for Loot virgins to see it for the first time.

It’s set in a room in the McLeavy home, where the recently deceased Mrs McLeavy lies in her coffin while her husband and nurse mourn her. Her son Hal and his friend, junior undertaker Dennis, have robbed a bank. What follows is a farcical, manic, absurd and surreal caper revolving around them hiding the money. Originally mounted before censorship was scrapped, the Lord Chamberlain insisted on a number of cuts and changes, including a dummy for the deceased, but here a brilliant Anah Ruddin lies in, and is removed from the coffin, relocated and thrown around.

This is apparently the first time the uncensored script has been staged. I don’t know the play well enough to spot the differences, but there are parts that still shock today. It satirises the police and the catholic church and sends up all sorts of societal norms. Michael Femtiman’s fast-paced production never lets up, and the play sparkles more that it has done before. I loved Gabriella Slade’s glossy black set (though the high level stained glass windows are a bit of a puzzle given we’re in a room in a home the whole time). It’s an outstanding cast, with both Sam Frenchum and Calvin Demba terrific as the sexually ambiguous Hal & Dennis respectively. I sometimes find Sinead Matthews overacts, but she can let go here as the predatory nurse with a past. Christopher Fulford has brilliant timing as Inspector Truscott and Ian Redford a suitable put upon McLeavy.

Well worth catching.

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This takes Kat Banyard’s book Equality Illusion as it’s starting point and it’s title is a swipe at Robin Thicke’s sexist, misogynistic song of the same name. I hadn’t read the book or heard the song, but I’m glad I went to see this.

Eight excellent actresses, including Clare Skinner, Ruth Sheen, Sinead Matthews & Byrony Hannah, perform on an unfeasibly steep and high white staircase. They start by listing stereotypical descriptions of woman that you often hear in the media and move on to show typical scenes of sexism, misogyny and objectification of women in film & TV, advertising, fashion, music…..well, in the modern world really. It’s a smorgasbord of scenes and soundbites which add up to a stimulating, challenging and thought-provoking 75 minutes.

You might have expected it to be preachy or heavy, but it’s entertainingly presented, which makes it all the more powerful. There are some lovely moments which use humour to make a point, and others which have you squirming in disgust. I consider myself a feminist, but even I began to question some of my attitudes. It’s a clever way to present the issues and does so with as much attitude as the attitudes it challenges.

The text is by playwright Nick Payne (a man and a feminist), the design (the scale of which surprises you as soon as you enter The Shed) by Bunny Christie and the inventive staging by Carrie Cracknell. It helps to have such a fine cast (who have also shaped the piece). In adition to the four I’ve already mentioned, there’s Susannah Wise, Lorna Brown, Michaela Coel (who adds her poetry) and Marion Bailey, who’s turn as a male theatre director brings the house down whilst underlining the point brilliantly.

It seems to me this is what The Shed set out to do – present something different and challenging – and it succeeds in doing so.

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To be honest, I found this new Polish play somewhat dated and pretentious. Very 70’s.

The story revolves around Marysia, who becomes pregnant as a teenager after being raped and whose secret abortion is performed by gynecologist and family friend Jan. She ends up working for and sleeping with Jan before visiting his son Piotr studying in London and falling in love with him. It is occasionally absurd and surreal (including Maryisa imagining herself as the Virgin Mary), there’s a lot of alcohol induced falling about and a cake with a baby on top I was forever in fear would be crushed.

It moves back and forth in time over 20+ years from when Marysia is 4 to her 20’s and moves from Warsaw to London, but is mostly set in the small Polish town of Niepokalanow on the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. Church music is playing before we enter the space, which is laid out like a church with a central aisle and a recessed cross at one end in Max Jones clever design.

Abortion is the subject of Anna Wakulik’s play, translated by Catherine Grosvenor. It was legal in Poland under communism, despite its Catholicism, but abortions weren’t very acceptable or open. They are ironically illegal in democratic Poland but are performed (at great expense) by doctors like Jan who sees the gravy train as soon as the law is passed. The trouble is, it’s not clear what she’s trying to say about it except ‘this is all a mess’.

Sinead Matthews, Max Bennett and Owen Teale do their best, but it just isn’t a good enough play to engage or satisfy and Caroline Stienbeis’ dated staging compounds the issue.

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Well, Complicite have staged the unstageable! I still don’t understand it, but it’s a theatrical feast nonetheless, though at 3 hours 15 mins maybe a bit too much food!

Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel isn’t about a school teacher with a penchant for Mexican cocktails, though if that were also woven into the two stories of Satan visiting Moscow and Pontius Pilate’s remorse and regret, it probably would fit perfectly well. It is impossible and indeed pointless to offer much of a description, so I will just say it’s a fantasy and a satire and anyone who tells you they understand it is probably lying, or showing off, or both……

The reason for seeing it is that Complicite have chosen it as their most ambitious work yet and, lack of understanding aside, it is an extraordinary piece of staging. Much of this is due to the giant video projections of Third Company Limited, more used to projects like Elton John’s Las Vegas show, the Batman Arena event and  U2’s 360 tour. These amazing visuals sit comfortably with the more minimalist imaginative staging and performance style we have become used to from Complicite and Simon McBurney.

It’s great to see Paul Rhys again and there are some excellent performances from Richard Katz, Angus Wright, Tim McMullan, Ajay Naidu and Cesar Sarachu (who on Monday got into a pickle trying to get his loincloth on!) but I did find Sinead Matthews a little OTT as she was in A Dolls House at the Young Vic. There’s a puppet cat which looks like it walked out of a cartoon and the closing image of a projection of the cast on stage with chairs forming a giant horse is simply breathtaking.

Go for the stagecraft and inventiveness rather than for a good old yarn and you’ll probably spend a lot of the evening with your mouth open in wonder.

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Mike Leigh’s work is never cosy and comfortable and this is no exception. He has the knack of lulling you into a false sense of security, laughing at his ever so real characters, before shocking, horrifying and shaming you into sympathy with (most of) them. It’s not a fun night out, but one you can’t help admiring.

Ecstasy takes place in Jean’s bedsit in Kilburn around the time the 70’s become the 80’s. Her friend Dawn is encouraging her to go out and have fun. Unbeknown to her, she’s a lonely alcoholic being abused (again?) by a casual sexual partner. After a short first act, the second is a continuous 100 minutes of post-pub revelry with Dawn and her husband Mick and mutual acquaintance Len. Of course, it all ends in tears.

The main reason for seeing this play is a set of outstanding performances. Stepping into the shoes of original cast members like Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent and Stephen Rea must be tough, but they all make the roles their own. Sian Brooke has the most difficult role and her journey from fear and repressed emotion to moving confession is extraordinary. I thought Sinead Matthews over-acted in The Glass Menagerie at the Young Vic last year, but here she gets the loud grotesque Dawn spot on, with some superb physical acting. If one of those slips of paper that fall out of programmes hadn’t, you would never have known Jack Bennett was the understudy for Len – a terrific performance. It is to Daniel Coonan’s credit that you positively detest Roy, Jean’s abuser. Allen Leech is good as Mick, as is Clare Louise-Cordwell in the small part of Val, Roy’s wife.

Alison Chitty’s cramped bedsit looks lost, even on the Duchess’ small stage, but provides a suitably claustrophobic performance space with excellent period detail. Leigh’s direction is of course masterly.

It is a bit overlong, but in a way that’s why it has such impact when it slaps you in the face – life is full of dull moments before the high’s and low’s turn up. We’re also more used to this kind of gritty realism today, so it’s less shocking and ground-breaking than it no doubt was in 1979 (or when I first saw it in the early 90’s in a revival at the New End in Hampstead).

It’s good to see serious stuff like this make it to the West End and do well. As I said, not an easy ride, but one I’m very glad I took.

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Laden with superlative reviews, I suppose it was going to be difficult to live up to them – and so it proved. Perhaps I was a little over-excited. Tennessee Williams is one of my top ten playwrights. Director Joe Hill-Gibbins is new to be but I was bowled over by his Beauty Queen of Leenane earlier in the year in the same theatre. Deborah Findlay is a favourite actress who we don’t get to see anywhere near often enough.

There was a little too much of deconstructionist Katie Mitchell’s influence in the staging, like musicians and ‘backstage’ on view throughout, which I’m not convinced suits an intense drama where it seems to me realism is crucial. As much as I Love Deborah Findlay, I felt she was OTT, turning Amanda into too much of a comic creation. The concept, and Jeremy Herbert’s design, distanced the audience from the play and the characters where I feel you need to be on top of it – maybe I just can’t get the Donmar’s terrific staging out of my head.

The only scene which gripped fully was the ‘courting’ of Laura (a little over-acted by Sinead Matthews) & Jim (an excellent Kyle Soller), where a back curtain brought the scene nearer to the audience and blocked out the backstage distractions. Otherwise, the acting honours mostly belonged to Leo Bill, who brought the sort of light and shade TW needs – passion where the role needs passion, diffidence where necessary etc. The music / soundscape was very atmospheric but I think would have been more so had it not been given such visual prominence.

There was much to enjoy, but it wasn’t the exciting re-invention I was led to expect. I didn’t read the reviews, but caught the stars in passing – maybe I should avoid this in future lest it makes me expect too much (or too little!).

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