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Posts Tagged ‘Tam Williams’

Within minutes of it starting, I knew travelling to Stratford (upon Avon) to see this was a good idea. I’m a big fan of Joan Littlewood, even though I never saw any of her work. When my Tardis arrives, one of my first journeys will be back to the late 50’s / early 60’s to visit her Theatre Workshop at the Theatre Royal in Stratford (East London). She revolutionised British theatre as much as people like Peter’s Brook and Hall, but isn’t recognised as much, though she does now have a statue outside Stratford East.

Writer Sam Kenyon uses seven Joan’s to tell her story, with the wonderful Clare Burt as Joan the narrator, encouraging and instructing the others to pass the baton, her trademark cap, to the next as she ages. It briefly covers her arrival in the world, school, an early trip to Paris and RADA, before political theatre in the North West, where she meets and marries future folk royalty Ewan MacColl (then Jimmie Miller). The whole of the second half covers the Theatre Workshop period in Stratford East, using the development of productions like A Taste of Honey, Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’Be and Oh What A Lovely War to propel the story forward.

It’s warts and all, so though it’s a homage, it shows the negative too. Along the way we meet Victor Spinetti, Barbara Windsor, Shelagh Delaney, Lionel Bart, Hal Prince (that collaboration was new to me!), Murray Melvin (whose insight Kenyon benefited from, and who was in the audience at this performance) and John Gielgud playing Macbeth! All of these are played by the ensemble regardless of age, sex or race. Her reciprocal love of Gerry Raffles shines through.

Designer Tom Piper has put a gold proscenium arch and red velvet curtains at the back of the apron stage, much like Stratford East, above which there’s a strip of screen on which projections signpost places and productions, with the band in the gallery above that. There’s an anarchic, playful quality to Erica Whyman’s production which seems entirely in keeping with the story. It feels like it’s being created as we watch, in the same way Joan’s shows were developed. It isn’t perfect, but for the first production of someone’s second musical, it’s impressive.

In addition to Clare Burt as Joan and Solomon Israel as Gerry Raffles, an ensemble of ten play the other five Joan’s and more than thirty other roles. Sophie Nomvete and Emily Johnstone give great turns as Avis Bunnage and Barbara Windsor respectively. They also play two of the Joan’s, receiving / passing the baton (cap) from / to Aretha Ayeh, Sandy Foster, Amanda Hadingue and Dawn Hope, all excellent. I felt for Tam Williams, playing Murray Melvin with the man himself just feet away; he also gets give us Gielgud’s Macbeth!

Well worth the trip to Stratford, hopefully to have a life beyond The Swan.

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I wasn’t convinced I wanted to see this film adapted for the stage, despite the fact a favourite playwright of mine, Mike Bartlett, adapted it, so I was late booking and ended up at the last performance before its transfer to the West End. Ten minutes in, I thought I’d been right all along – there was so much going on it felt like a bit of a mess. It takes a while to get into the pace and rhythm of this piece, but when you do there’s much to enjoy.

Miriam Buether gives us another of her extraordinary design transformations. Hampstead Theatre becomes a stadium with a race track around the lower level, behind the audience – rather like the original production of Starlight Express but without the budget (or the roller skates). Scott Ambler’s choreography is brilliant and Edward Hall’s staging manages to make both the epic and intimate moments work; the personal stories of Abrahams and Liddell both come through well and the race scenes take your breath away. The music is an effective combination of Vangelis’ iconic soundtrack and Gilbert & Sullivan with a tear-jerking finale of Jerusalem. It’s patriotic & sentimental, but hey who cares, it’s the London Olympics in a minute, this is great timing and we’re entitled!

The young cast of athletic actors, excellently led by James McArdle as Abrahams and Jack Lowden as Liddell, is outstanding, and there are lovely cameos from oldies Nicholas Woodeson as Abrahams’ coach, Nickolas Grace as the Master of Trinity & the Duke of Sutherland, Simon Williams the Master of Caius & Lord Birkenhead and Simon Slater in four roles (and as MD!). Tam Williams also stands out as Andrew, Lord Lindsay.

I’m glad I saw it at Hampstead pre-transfer and I’m glad I sat in the second level; I’m not sure how its going to work in the much bigger space of the Gielgud.

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