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Posts Tagged ‘Susan Engel’

If you changed the title, and maybe the character names, you’d never know this was an adaptation of a 350-year-old French play. You’d think it was a contemporary farce set in North London with a touch of social satire. It’s jolly good fun, but it’s not really Moliere.

Making it contemporary stretches the plausibility of Orgon falling under the spell of imposter Tartuffe rather a lot, so suspending disbelief is mandatory. Here Tartuffe is some sort of guru, with a hint of religiosity and Buddhism, who looks like an ageing hippy and spends a lot of time in his pants. Both Orgon and his mother Pernelle worship him, believing he is the antidote to the decadence of the family – wife Elmire and her brother Cleante, son Damis & daughter Mariane and her boyfriend Valere, plus housekeeper Dorine.

Orgon tries to marry Mariane to Tartuffe, who is trying to bed Elmire. All are concerned about Orgon’s wealth and Orgon has a bit of a secret that looks like its going to come back to haunt him. The family seek to entrap Tartuffe in order to avoid Mariane’s marriage and keep the money in the family. With the exception of a changed ending to accomodate the updating, the story is intact, though John Donnelly’s new version dispenses with the rhyming couplets, but it does go into verse at the denouement.

Robert Jones superb design is tasteless nouveau riche. The performance style in Blanche McIntyre’s production of John Donnelly’s adaptation is uniformly broad and loud, which does suit farce. Denis O’Hare plays Tartuffe very physically, a larger than life figure, which suits the role well. Kevin Doyle is the perfect foil as Orgon. As Elmire, Olivia Williams proves very adept at the comedy, also becoming very physical as the play progresses. I loved Kitty Archer and Enyi Okoronkwo as the spoilt kids. There’s great work from Kathy Kiera Clarke as the all knowing housekeeper, Hari Dhillon as an indignant Cleante and Geoffrey Lumb as lover & poet Valere, and a delightful cameo from Susan Engel as Pernelle, who gets the show off to a terrific start.

Just go for some fun and you’ll enjoy it, just don’t go expecting a faithful revival of a French classic.

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Based on the two Rupert Goold Shakespeare productions I’ve seen – the exciting Stalinist Macbeth and the brilliant Las Vegas Merchant of Venice – I was expecting something a lot more radical. This is a relatively conventional take on Richard III, which is no bad thing, but it surprised me by being so.

There’s a superb contemporary preface, which I won’t spoil, references to which recur throughout. This tells you at the outset that this is history not fiction (though no doubt fictionalised history). Though it’s not that radical, it’s in modern dress, virtually the whole think in black, with comparatively low lighting levels. This contributes to its sinister atmosphere, but also made the long 100 minute first half a bit dull. After the interval, though, the production (like the play) ratchets up several notches and it’s a thrilling second half ride, with an excellent coronation scene, an emotional confrontation between Richard & Elizabeth over his proposal to marry her daughter and a well staged final battle scene. I liked the way they marked the deaths, but I thought they went too far with a violent assault in Richard’s scene with Elizabeth.

It’s superbly well cast, particularly the female roles. Joanna Vanderham is a brilliantly passionate and angry Anne, Aislin McGuckin is exceptional as Elizabeth and Susan Engel is outstanding as Richard’s mother. I’m not sure why Vanessa Redgrave is wearing a camouflage boiler suit and carrying a doll, but her performance is less stagey than her norm. Amongst the men, I was particularly impressed by Tom Canton as Richmond. Once you get over the fact he appears to be channelling Rising Damp’s Rigsby, Ralph Fiennes is a very good Richard, though he doesn’t reach the highs of my all-time favourites – Anthony Sher’s spider and Ian McKellen’s 20th century dictator.

Perhaps not a milestone Richard III, but definitely one to catch if you can.

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This brilliant new play by Tena Stivicic presents us with 66 years of Croatian history through the lives of one family and one house. From the creation of Yugoslavia to the eve of Croatia’s entry into the EU, through the turmoil of the late 90’s, this has a fascinating and enthralling epic sweep.

In 1945, Yugoslavia is being established as a union of Communist nations. Rose is well-connected and is given part of a large home taken from a wealthy family. She lives there with her husband, child and mother. One of the former occupants, Karolina, has lingered and when they find her they ‘adopt’ her.

In 1990 the union is breaking up and war raging between its nations. Rose’s daughter Masha and her husband Vlado are bringing up their daughters Lucia & Alisa in the house, with her parents and Karolina still living there. Two other families occupy other parts of the building and they are particularly close to neighbour Marko. Masha’s sister Dunya lives in Germany but visits to attend her mother Rose’s funeral.

In 2011 Croatia is contemplating joining another union, the European Union, and the debate rages. Alisa now lives on London, but comes home for Lucia’s wedding, as does Dunya and her husband from Germany. Lucia is marrying someone who has become rich in the new Croatia, where there are few rules and corruption is endemic.

You have to keep your wits about you as it hops from period to period, but you are deeply rewarded by a superb interweaving of political and personal history. The scene changes are themselves captivating, as screens slide and rooms and periods transform whilst projections cover them with period footage. Howard Davies direction and Tim Hatley’s design are masterly.

I’ve seen more of Siobhan Finneran’s TV work than her stage work and now I want to see more of the latter; she’s excellent as Masha. Adrian Rawlings plays her husband Vlado, a complex character, beautifully and Jodie McNee and Sophie Rundle spar brilliantly as the very different daughters who take a very different path, the latter getting a round of applause for a defiant speech towards the end of the play. Lucy Black and Daniel Flynn are well matched as Dunya and Karl, with a violent scene in their bedroom truly shocking. There’s luxury casting in the smaller roles, including Susan Engel and James Laurenson in fine form.

I’ve been interested in this part of the world for a while, have visited all seven former Yugoslav nations in the last nine years, and have been lucky enough to work in Croatia twice (the second time including the day of the EU referendum), but you don’t need to know much to enjoy this terrific play and terrific production (though getting there early enough to read the brief history in the programme would probably help). Only the National could stage this play and they’ve made a great job of it. Go!

 

 

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Walking into the Donmar for this is another one of those WOW moments. Rob Howell’s extraordinary set of ‘distressed’ planks draws you in like never before into this already intimate space. It really is like peering into these people’s homes.

Though it’s the same play, it’s a very different experience to the Michael Rudman production I saw at the National 27 years ago. Then, a young Ralph Fiennes was Arkady and Robert Glenister was Bazarov, with Lesley Sharp as Fenichka. In addition to the smaller space, the success of this revival is due to masterly direction from Lyndsey Turner and one of the finest casts ever to grace this stage well used to fine casts.

Arkady returns from university in St. Petersburg a nihilist, with his friend and fellow nihilist Bazarov of whom he is in awe. Bazarov has great charisma and people can’t fail to be affected by him – Uncle Pavel and family retainer Prokofyich detest him, Dad Nikolai takes to him and maid Dunyasha swoons over him. When they move on to Bazarov’s home, his parents idolise him. Sadly, he’s unable to reciprocate any of these emotional responses. When he does let his guard down and profess his love for Anna, he is rebuffed and withdraws even further into himself. Though Arkady shares his philosophical beliefs, he’s nowhere near as cold and hard-hearted and the tragic conclusion leaves him devastated.

Playwright Brian Friel tells this story of familial love and friendship with a light touch and it’s lovely. It has great pace and there are no wasted moments. The ensemble is simply superb. I missed American Seth Numrich’s London debut last year, but I was hugely impressed by his performance here, with the earnestness, presence and passion required for Bazarov. It must be hard to play against this, but Joshua James does so with great emotionality and vulnerability. Anthony Calf is revelatory as the bumbling, hapless Nikolai and Tim McMullan is suitably pompous as Pavel. It’s hard to single out others, but it was great to see Karl Johnson and Susan Engel give such fine interpretations of Vassily and Princess Olga.

This is a brilliant and long overdue revival and another great night at the Donmar.

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When I heard that the Open Air Theatre were going to break with tradition and stage this intense drama, I thought they were very misguided. How wrong was I?!

Arthur Miller’s timeless piece about the late 17th century Salem witch trials with parallels to the 1952 McCarthy witch hunt is a cracking drama, particularly in the second half when the trials are taking place. It’s simply staged on an elevated platform which represents the wall of a house on its side, characters entering upwards through it’s doors & windows. Surrounded by trees which last night were moving eerily in the chill June wind and much of the time by a silent ‘chorus’ of girls who become the hysterical force which convicts many innocents.

They’ve assembled a very impressive cast for this short run. You want to give Christopher Fulford’s Reverend Parris a slap across the face for being so foolish. Oliver Ford Davies has real authority and gravitas as the Deputy-Governor. Emily Taffe is a very creepy Abigail with revealing changes of expression you think only you can see. Susan Engel’s Rebecca starts as a respected matriarch and ends dignified despite her erroneous conviction. You want to cheer Patrick Godfrey’s defiant Giles as he beats the system, even in death. Philip Cumbus’ Hale makes a very believable transition from honest broker to angry champion of justice. Emma Cuniffe and Patrick O’Kane both have shaky starts but come into their own in the second half’s tragedy.

As the sun sets and the air becomes more chilly, the drama becomes much more intense and by the end you’re not sure if you’re shivering because of the weather or the drama or both. This is a triumph for Timothy Sheader and the Open Air Theatre, best known for comedy and musicals, and opens up all sorts of possibilities for the future. I’m thinking Greek Tragedy. Medea please!

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