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Posts Tagged ‘Ti Green’

Sometimes however good the production and performances, and however much you relate to or empathise with the issues raised, you fail to engage with the play, and so it was with this. I’ve been struggling to understand why ever since it ended – too American? Dated treatment of the subject(s)? The writing itself? The fact it followed a much more successful revival of another, very different, mother-daughter story the evening before?

In Marsha Norman’s 1982 play about isolation, loneliness and depression, the relationship between mother Thelma and daughter Jessie is one of mutual dependence, with Jessie ostensibly looking after Thelma, who is effectively a companion for her troubled daughter. There’s an ordinariness about their lives, until Jessie gives her mother notice that she will shortly be killing herself and spends the rest of their time together ensuring Thelma knows where everything is and how things are done, in a very calm matter-of-fact way.

It doesn’t inform, enlighten or illuminate its themes, so it becomes a relatively emotionless tale of a woman who’s tired of living her problematic life – failed marriage, criminal son, epilepsy, loss of her beloved dad, much misunderstood – and how her mother has been hitherto somewhat oblivious to much of this. I couldn’t relate or empathise with it, and learnt little from it.

Stockard Channing (who I haven’t seen since her London stage debut in Six Degrees of Separation twenty years ago) and Rebecca Night were both excellent and director Roxana Sibert and designer Ti Green did their best with the somewhat static one room, continuous timeline material. I can think of a lot of better examples of Hampstead premieres of American plays to celebrate their 60 years, I’m afraid.

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I clearly remember the moment twelve years ago when I gasped as an army officer raised his gun to shoot a horse. A puppet horse. In the Olivier Theatre. Almost the entire audience gasped with me. In the second half of this play I winced as a man with a broken leg in a makeshift splint crawled across moraine high in the Peruvian Andes, all imaginary. Thats the magic of theatre.

This must be one of the most unlikely stories to make it onto a West End stage, but then again it’s put there by Tom Morris, one of the creators of War Horse, and adapted by one of our finest playwrights, David Greig. You can write about your survival after a near fatal climbing accident, and you can film where it happened and take testimony from those involved in a documentary, but how on earth do you stage it? The answer is imagination, of the survivor as we hear what’s in his head and his dreams, and in the staging where you take the audience on a journey where they suspend disbelief.

Designer Ti Green uses just tables, chairs, pub features and a hanging frame to create both worlds. Movement with lighting, music, and a soundscape add tension and atmosphere. Four hugely talented young actors – Josh Williams as survivor Joe Simpson, Angus Yellowlees as his fellow climber Simon & Fiona Hampton as Joe’s feisty sister Sarah who he talks to in his head, all three in very athletic performances, and Patrick McNamee lightening the tone as backpacker Richard looking after basecamp. Greig’s structure and Tom Morris’ creative staging enables the story to be told like a thriller, even though you know the outcome.

I wasn’t convinced I wanted to see this, it’s not really my genre, but the buzz changed my mind and proved to be true. Great to see the work of three regional theatres working together to create something so good and being rewarded with a West End transfer that broadens the options for theatre-goers. Definitely one to recommend.

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