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Posts Tagged ‘Steffan Rhodri’

When the prodigiously talented Georg Buchner died aged 23, leaving behind this unfinished play, little did he know that in the following 180 years it would get more than thirty stage adaptations as well as three musicals, two operas, and a ballet. I find the attraction a bit of a puzzle. This latest one by another prodigious talent, Jack Thorne, is set in Berlin towards the end of the cold war and Woyzeck is a young British squaddie. The story is reasonably faithful to the original, and it’s given a stunning production by Joe Murphy.

Woyzeck was an orphan who spent much of his early life in foster care. Things start going wrong before the play begins when he joins the army and is posted to Northern Ireland, where amongst other things he goes AWOL, but he falls in love there with catholic girl Marie who, with their child, joins him in the next posting in Germany. Here he teams up with rather cocky fellow soldier Andrews and is befriended by Captain Thompson, whose interest in him may not be as innocent as it seems. Woyzeck, Marie and their child have to live in town in a seedy flat as they are unmarried. They are broke and amongst their money making schemes, they allow Andrews to use the flat for his assignations with the Captain’s wife and Woyzeck participates in dubious drug trials. With everything life has thrown at him, Woyzeck is on an irreversible downwards mental health spiral which inevitably ends in tragedy.

Tom Scutt’s design features twenty-five thick Berlin wall like panels which fly or slide onto the stage, creating different configurations, stunningly lit by Neil Austin, with an atmospheric soundtrack by Isobel Waller-Bridge and Gareth Fry. It’s a uniformly superb cast. I’m used to seeing Nancy Carroll in much safer roles; here she’s brilliantly racy and sexy. I was hugely impressed by Ben Batt as Andrews, Sarah Greene is terrific as Marie and Steffan Rhodri is excellent as the Captain, but its John Boyega’s show and he rises to the challenge, and more.

It’s not an easy ride, but it is an impressive achievement. 

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In his fifteen year playwriting career Richard Bean has written no less than twenty shows (including two adaptations and the book for a musical) and we’re already getting revivals – his first play Toast at the Park Theatre last year and now his 2002 third play, originally seen at the NT’s first temporary space, The Loft. This one gets a West End run, presumably on the strength of his One Man, Two Guvnors success and the casting of Stephen Merchant in his stage debut.

It’s a two-hander set in a grubby hotel room in north London. Ted has decided to set up a utopian community based on an obscure novel he’s read and he has asked best friend Morrie (Steffan Rhodri) to film a video to help him promote it. By the interval, I was wondering if this really was a Richard Bean play. It was a bit dull. The second half though is packed with revelations, twists and turns. We learn about the nature of their friendship and back stories, we begin to differentiate between realities and fantasies and we learn what the play is really about. For me, though, the imbalance between the acts, holding back so much until the second act, is a fatal flaw.

Stephen Merchant acquits himself well as a stage actor and Steffan Rhodri does very well to play ‘straight man’ (with the attention and focus all on Merchant), but the play isn’t good enough to be a vehicle in itself and I left disappointed. If they’d mounted a lower profile Off West End production as a 90-minute show without the interval I think it would have fared a lot better. In the glare of the West End, with the expectations that (and the ticket prices) generates it sets itself up and fails to deliver.

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I was cursing the education system at the interval of this play last night. I studied history for 4 years, for things then called O & A levels, and all we covered was the 125 years between 1814 and 1939. I was also cursing not reading the programme before the start. In my view, this 1976 Caryl Churchill play about mid 17th century English history needs, or at least benefits from, some prior knowledge.

It was clearly a fascinating period, the closest England came to revolution (a century before the French!). Charles I grabbed absolute power, provoking a thirty year period of unrest and civil wars until the establishment of the constitutional monarchy which still survives. Just the names of the groups involved makes you smile – in addition to the Roundheads and Cavaliers, we had the Ranters, Diggers, Levellers and the New Model Army! More recent history plays, like last year’s James plays, present historical events in a much more accessible way than this, though, which is very 70’s and very wordy, in a G B Shaw way. Too much of it is people talking direct to the audience and the endless debates about who’s side god would be on, though historically accurate I’m sure, just muddied it all for me.

Director Lyndsey Turner has added 40 or so ‘extras’ to the 18 strong cast (and it is strong, with actors like Leo Bill, Daniel Flynn, Alan Williams, Steffan Rhodri, Joe Caffrey and Amanda Lawrence in relatively small roles) which gives it an epic sweep. Es Devlin’s brilliant design starts as a giant banquet, before becoming a bare wooden stage, the boards then removed to reveal the earth. The audience wasn’t considered enough, though, as the sight lines (well, at the front of the stalls, at least) are dreadful. Soutra Gilmour, more usually a sole design credit, provides excellent costumes.

Notwithstanding my lack of preparation, I think we’ve become used to history presented more clearly and lucidly, so despite a spectacular production, I suspect it’s impact 40 years on has been watered down significantly.

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The phrase ‘kitchen sink drama’ was coined in the late 50’s / early 60’s to describe plays about working class folk full of angst. Well, there’s not just a sink but an entire kitchen here – but not a lot of angst. This play is a heart-warming tale of the plight of working class people trying to make a living today that is funny and charming, but at its heart deeply perceptive. Like buses, this is my second ‘blue collar’ play on consecutive nights, albeit from two continents, after a long famine!

We’re with a family just outside Hull. Dad Martin’s milk round (and milk float) is struggling to survive now that most people do all their shopping at Tescos. Daughter Sophie and her (boy)friend Pete have lost their jobs at Woolies – Sophie is now training in Jujitsu and Pete as a plumber. Son Billy’s heading for art school after his paintings of heroine Dolly Parton are deemed postmodern kitsch. The family is held together my mum Kath, housewife and part-time lollipop lady. You even get to know offstage characters like Pete’s seemingly wild Nan and friend & advisor Danny and Sophie’s Jujitsu teacher and blue belt examiner.

Staged in the round, we’re peering into the kitchen, the centre of family life, where food is prepared, cooked and eaten, experiences shared and events and feelings communicated. In a lovely touch, scenes often end with the dishes being washed. Time and the change of seasons is cleverly marked and the kitchen sink itself performs regularly. The whole thing is enthralling and captivating; I couldn’t wait to return after the interval and really didn’t want it to end.

The performances are beautifully nuanced, particularly Andy Rush as Pete and Ryan Sampson as Billy. The scene where Pete is trying to make a move on Sophie is an absolute gem and whenever Billy is on stage, you’re watching him. Leah Brotherhead has, in many ways, the toughest role given Sophie’s emotional journey, but she pulls it off brilliantly. It doesn’t take you long to bury Gavin & Stacy’s Dave Coaches as Steffan Rhodri inhabits dad Martin, running away from the reality of change, and at the centre of all of this is a superb performance from Lisa Palfrey as mum Kath. Another night of perfect casting.

Tamara Harvey’s attention to detail results in a staging that draws you in and involves you completely in these people’s lives. The in-the-round setting doesn’t always work (there are occasions when you’d like to see the faces of all parties to a conversation) but it does give the play its intimacy. For the first time, a name check for the stage management team – Mary Hely, Amy Jewell and Sarah Barnes – as this must be a difficult play to run, yet it’s was very slickly done.

This is a triumphant first (proper) play in the new Bush and another candidate for the best new play of 2011.  If you miss it, it will be your own fault!

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It took me a while to get into this intriguing and clever play, but by the end I felt deeply satisfied by a very funny yet unsettling drama. In many ways, my reaction was similar to the same venue’s Posh – the reviews led me to expect a more straightforward satirical comedy, but it had so much more depth than that.

There are many layers to this play, the first act of which is set in 1959 as a couple prepare to move home and the second act in the same house 50 years later as another couple are seeking to demolish it and rebuilt on the land. The attention to detail is extraordinary – from Robert Innes-Hopkins brilliant sets to the nuances of the acting. I was captivated throughout and there was a roundedness to the structure which I just loved.

It’s rare you get a set of seven impeccable performances, but here you get that and more as each actor has two very different roles. They’re all terrific – Steffan Rhodri morphs from bereaved dad to straightforward workman, Sophie Thompson from highly strung unfulfilled housewife to icy cold lawyer, Lorna Brown for servile to assertive, Sam Spreull from passive priest to gay lawyer, Lucien Msamati from quiet disbelief to assured confidence , Martin Freeman from 50’s racist neighbour to fashionably liberal and Sarah Goldberg goes from deaf & dependent  to politically correct & defiant. Under Dominic Cooke’s direction, these characters come alive and Bruce Norris’ dialogue sparkles.

The play’s devastating message is that in 50 years everything’s changed but nothing has changed. Clybourne Park is this year’s Jerusalem and I suspect we won’t see a better new play for some time. Go! Go! Go!

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