Posts Tagged ‘Steve Toussaint’

I think I now understand why we’ve only seen one of American playwright Susan-Lori Parks fifteen plays plays here before (not counting the 8th and 9th part of this series and counting the 365 play-a-day series as one!). I found it absolutely tedious.

Set in the early 1860’s during the American Civil War, the play explores the plight of slaves through lead character Hero, slave to a Confederate Colonel, continually referencing Homer’s The Odyssey (another of the slaves is called Homer). Part One is an overlong debate about whether Hero should accompany his master to the war with the promise of freedom if he does (sale or worse if he doesn’t). Despite the fact there are up to nine people on stage, it’s dramatically inert. There is some humour, and the music is great, but that wasn’t enough to ease the tedium for me.

The second part is better. Though there are only three on stage (plus the musician), the debate is more passionate and animated, but it’s still all words and little action. The Colonel has captured a Union soldier and imprisoned him in a makeshift wooden cage. When he’s absent, Hero is tempted by the soldier to change sides and release him, but it doesn’t work. The acting in this part, by Steve Toussaint as Hero, John Stahl as the Colonel and Tom Bateman’s soldier is outstanding, despite the material.

By now, I had been in my seat for almost 110 minutes and I’m afraid the prospect of a further hour drove me out of the door towards a large glass of merlot. It was doing nothing for me. I’m afraid I found it deadly dull, boring and more than a bit frustrating watching such a waste of acting talent. Somehow, I don’t think I’ll be at Parts 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 or 9.

I needn’t say more.

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Another deeply rewarding late catch-up and the best production of this play I’ve ever seen. Simon Stephen’s new translation of Ibsen’s play removes all the fustiness and even though the lack of restraint might seem uncharacteristic for its Scandinavian setting, it serves the story very well indeed.

Wife and mother of three Nora has a secret and expends much effort in keeping it, even though the secret is effectively covering up a kind act. When it is revealed, her relationship with her husband crumbles irreparably as he is too focused on honour and what others will think than he is on the strength of the relationship and the love that led to the secret.

Hattie Morahan’s performance as Nora is a career highlight. She is child-like, naive, highly strung and fragile. The contrast, until the final scene, with Dominic Rowan’s coolly dominant Torvald makes her plight all the more believable. Rowan’s performance is also fine, as are the smaller but key roles. Steve Toussaint is an excellent Dr Rank, the family friend who becomes obsessed with Nora as his health deteriorates. Kristine is an odd character because her sudden arrival isn’t entirely plausible, but Susannah Wise makes her so. Nick Fletcher does well to make disgraced lawyer (and Nora’s nemesis) Nils both nasty and sympathetic. I’m not sure I approve of the use of a real baby, though!

I’m not familiar with director Carrie Cracknell’s work, but for me her staging here catapults her into the premiere league. Ian McNeil’s has designed an apartment that revolves to reveal drawing-room, dining room, bedroom, study and hall and its movement is brilliantly choreographed to stage a playful lovers chase, children’s games and all the comings and goings.

The long first half is a bit of a challenge on the buttocks and the bladder, but it’s well worth suffering for what must be a definitive production of this classic which really is a classic.

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