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Posts Tagged ‘Tim Hatley’

This is one of those occasions where some knowledge of the subject – corporate executive selection – goes against enjoying it fully, because it seems dated (it was written fifteen years ago, but is set today) and exposed implausibilities that weakened it in my eyes. It’s a reasonably entertaining ninety minutes, but I suspect it would have been more entertaining if I’d come fresh to the subject.

We’re in a New York office with four candidates for a job. There’s no company representative. They receive instructions from a drawer which opens on its own for the purpose. They are given tasks, sometimes individually, sometimes as a group, designed to test them and differentiate between them. Things are not always as it seems and towards the end there are some very clever twists.

Tim Hatley’s design perfectly captures this world, right down to the right refreshments. The performances are all good – Laura Pitt-Pulford, who I’ve only seen in musicals, shows her versatility, Greg McHugh, who I’ve not seen on stage before, proves at home there, John Gordon-Sinclair as seemingly diffident Rick and Jonathan Cake, who clearly relishes his role as the very driven and competitive Frank.

This was my 50th visit to the Menier over the last fourteen years. There have been many better evenings there, but It’s still a decent night out, though with 200 productions in 60 countries in 20 languages since it’s initial four-year runs in Barcelona and Madrid, perhaps Jordi Galceran’s play is somewhat overrated.

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Another show I wasn’t planning to see, this time because I caught it less than three years ago on my travels in Portland, Oregon. Then I read the reviews…..

It’s the story of a black girl group in the 60’s and 70’s, from talent show to backing singers to R&B chart success to their transfer to the mainstream. Along the way, lead singer Effie is replaced by a slimmer, paler model and eventually quits and manager Curtis gets too big for his boots, transforming from manipulator to bully and losing his lead singer / wife. The girls, and stablemate Jimmy Early, succeed in crossing over to the mainstream, but at the expense of their soul roots. Meanwhile, Effie makes a solo comeback and finds herself in a chart competition with her former group with the same song, but it’s not a fair race thanks to Curtis’ dirty tricks. Though the writers deny it (no doubt concerned about the legal consequences), it appears to be based on the story of The Supremes. With R&B stars now the kings and queens of popular music, it’s easy to forget it was once segregated, in more ways than one, with separate charts and white cover versions outselling the originals. We’ve come a long way.

No disrespect to Portland Center Stage, a fine US regional theatre, but this West End production (it’s London premiere, 35 whole years after Broadway!) is in another league altogether, no doubt partly thanks to a mega-budget . The design team of Tim Hatley (sets), Gregg Barnes (costumes) & Hugh Vanstone (lighting) have produced a spectacular look to the show; you get a lot of bling for your ticket price. Casey Nicholaw’s staging and choreography is fresh and exciting; it sparkles like the Swarovski covered curtains and costumes. The cast of 29 and 14-piece band under Nick Finlow rock the foundations of the gorgeous Savoy Theatre, itself a jewel of Art Deco bling.

For the second time this week, I got an alternate and a cover, neither of which you’d spot if you didn’t know it. I refuse to believe Amber Riley is better than her alternate Marisha Wallace, whose powerhouse voice is extraordinary. Candace Furbert was also excellent covering as fellow Dream Lorrell and Denna(!)’s rise from backing singer to lead to ‘Deena and’, wife of Curtis, is extremely well navigated by Liisi LaFontaine . Adam J Bernard is a terrific bundle of energy as Jimmy Early and Joe Aaron Reid a fine voiced baddie as Curtis. I missed the much lauded Tyrone Huntley in the Open Air Theatre’s Jesus Christ Superstar last year and I left the theatre praying he returns this year; he too was terrific as the girls’ first manager and songwriter C. C. White.

The fourth in my five-day musicals binge, it lives up to the hype and more. The world seems ever so drab when you leave the theatre.

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I blow hot and cold with Tom Stoppard. I wasn’t in London for the first outing of this piece, but I was for the first revival, with Anthony Sher in the lead role, and I recollect being dazzled by it. Time is a funny thing, though, and on this occasion I found it hard to engage with it. It had an air of superiority about it and made me feel like I was being patronised.

It links real people who were in Zurich during the First World War – Lenin, James Joyce, Dada founder Tzara and The British Honorary Consul Henry Carr – and weaves in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. Carr was apparently in a production of that play at that time and Joyce was involved. The rest is an exploration of revolution and art. This time I found it glib, clever for the sake of it, and I didn’t think it had much to say. Pointless intellectual fireworks.

It has moments of delicious absurdity and humour, particularly when it unexpectedly bursts into surreal scenes of song and dance, but they were few and far between, especially in the longer first half. Patrick Marber’s direction is very assured and Tim Hatley has designed an excellent set. The whole ensemble, led by Tom Hollander as Carr, give virtuoso performances.

I’m clearly at odds with most of the audience and critics, so I’m prepared to accept it’s a matter of taste. Not for me, I’m afraid.

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Ibsen is the second most performed playwright in the world (no guessing who’s first) but this late play is one of his least performed. In Richard Eyre’s new version, it’s a devastating but brilliant eighty minutes. I left the theatre emotionally drained.

Alfred and Rita’s relationship is very rocky. Rita feels Alfred’s sister Asta and their son Eyolf somehow come between them. Alfred comes back from a spot of self-imposed solitude determined to devote more time and energy to Eyolf, but before he even begins the boy drowns and all three adults, plus Bjarne who is desperately wooing Asta, are plunged into deep grief during which the complex web of their relationships unravels.

It packs so much into eighty minutes and doesn’t feel anything like a 120-year-old play. It has great psychological depth and unfolds like a thriller. The intimacy of the Almeida increases the intensity of the drama whilst Tim Hatley’s elegantly, simple design (with superb projections by Jon Driscoll, beautiful lighting by Peter Mumford and an atmospheric soundscape by John Leonard) provides a window to the world around them.

Though I’ve seen all of the actors before, they blew me away last night, especially Lydia Leonard and Eve Ponsonby as Rita and Asta respectively, who invested so much emotional energy into their performances.

I’ve only seen the play once before but this definitive production was a revelation, placing it up there with Ibsen’s masterpieces. Unmissable. 

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Samuel Foote, an eighteenth century actor, the subject of Ian Kelly’s play, may well be the most fascinating person you’ve never heard of – well, I hadn’t. He was a friend of David Garrick and Peg Woffington, the most famous actors of their day, Samuel Johnson, Benjamin Franklin and King George III. He appears to have invented a new form of theatre – improv! – getting around the stringent restrictions of the day by having no script to be approved and charging for the tea rather than the entertainment. The play is as enthralling as it is entertaining.

We meet Foote as a well-established member of London society. He’s moved on from acting to semi-improvised prologues and epilogues and on again to create comic and satirical one-man ‘entertainments’ and impersonations of infamous brothel madam ‘Mrs Cole’. He runs the second largest theatre company in the land, but after a riding accident he has to have his leg amputated, which of course impacts his career (and may have affected his mental condition). He does get a prosthetic leg, something that was being pioneered by John Hunter, the father of modern surgery, at that time, but he never really recovers. The sympathetic George III grants him a Theatre Royal license for the Haymarket Theatre, but his fortunes begin to decline when he satirises a Duchess who responds with accusations of sodomy which ultimately bring him down. Why have I never heard of this man or his plays!

Richard Eyre’s production is uproariously funny, though it does get darker as it progresses. Tim Hatley seems to have designed an intentionally small set which is both faithful to the period and rather intimate. Simon Russell Beale’s towering performance is amongst his best, showcasing his brilliant comic timing and ability to raise a laugh without speaking a word. He is as extraordinary as a large eighteenth century society lady as he was as a Carmen Miranda impersonator in Privates on Parade. He’s surrounded by a host of other lovely performances, with Joseph Millson as Garrick and Dervla Kirwan as Woffington and the writer himself as Prince / King George. I was hugely impressed by Micah Balfour as his ‘blackamoor’ servant and Jenny Galloway was a delight as his other help, Mrs Garner.

It was another co-incidence that this play about 18th century theatre folk followed the previous day’s play about 17th century theatre folk, and I thoroughly enjoyed both. It is unthinkable that this doesn’t transfer, and it would be particularly wonderful if it were to be to the Theatre Royal Haymarket which he took over 250 years ago next year!

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You might not expect 100 minutes real time set entirely in a church office to be enthralling theatre, but it is. Steve Waters intelligent play about the dilemma facing the Dean of St. Paul’s when the Occupy protesters are driven to his church steps captivates from beginning to end and Simon Russell Beale gives us yet another master-class in acting.

The 100 minutes are those immediately before the church is re-opened for services after a two-week closure. The protesters had been driven there away from the target of their ire. The Corporation of London wants the Dean’s support in driving them away altogether by an injunction. The church hierarchy, through the Bishop of London, has no direct authority over St. Paul’s but still seeks to influence it. Some of the Dean’s senior staff feel strongly, at least one to the point of resignation. His PA has gone sick with stress and her cover is seemingly incompetent. The Dean is in an impossible situation and struggles to find a solution and to show leadership.

So much is covered in this short period of time. We learn of the special status of St. Paul’s and the history that puts it there. We see the differing views within the church, varying from logic to pragmatism to principled to passive. The debate that is played out covers the moral and ethical and the practical and expedient. Surrounded by those giving advice, The Dean is in a very lonely place. The Bishop makes it clear what the Archbishop wants, the City Lawyer uses her legalistic jargon to spell out where the Corporation sits. His staff think they know what Jesus would do and the PA proves to be wiser than it seemed at first.

Though its a fiction it feels very real and I kept wondering how much research Waters had done. Howard Davies direction is impeccable, allowing the writing and performances to shine, and Tim Hatley’s realistic design and the Donmar’s intimacy make you voyeurs peering into the room. Simon Russell Beale is perfect casting as the Dean, a very sympathetically written character, and he gives a beautiful, nuanced portrait of a man under pressure, on an emotional roller-coaster, struggling as his conscience and his brain battle within him.

I loved Malcolm Sinclair’s rather pompous Bishop of London who’d taken advice ‘from his communications people’ and was very much in tune with ‘the modern world’ and I thought Rebecca Humphries was superb as the PA Lizzie, moving from dippy temp to show wisdom and passion as she too tries to influence The Dean. There’s also a terrific cameo from Shereen Martin, who perfectly captures the legal eagle blinded by logic but so lacking in emotional intelligence that she would know a moral dilemma if she fell over one.

I was entranced by this gentle, often funny, thought-provoking play and have been reflecting on it ever since. A candidate for Best New Play I’d say. Off you go…..

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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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We don’t have a free press (all of its owners peddle their particular prejudices) but we do have a free theatre, and I think it’s great that days after the end of the obscenely expensive but useless hacking trial, our National Theatre can stage a comprehensive satirical review of what is after all a real life farce. As it turns out, it’s hugely entertaining, though also sometimes uncomfortable and occasionally chilling.

Paige Britain is the news editor of The Free Press. Her boss, an excellent Robert Glenister, is a loud mouthed crude bullying editor prone to regularly naming one member of staff ‘C**t of the Month’ with the award inscribed in black felt tip pen on their forehead. The proprietor, the equally excellent Dermot Crowley, is an Irish media baron. The Free Press is well and truly in the gutter and sinks deeper as the play progresses and phone hacking becomes their new favourite research method. They collude with the police and, to a lesser extent, politicians (who come off a little lightly). The course of events bear a striking resemblance to actual events. It’s packed full of cracking dialogue and jokes, and Nichlolas Hytner’s production zips along at a formidable pace, but it still leaves you feeling you are complicit by buying these odious rags (well, not me, obviously).

Set in the newsroom, with sliding video screens giving us front pages, TV news, select committees and other recorded scenes, it’s very slickly staged and so packed with detail you struggle to take it all in. Tim Hatley’s design facilitates the extraordinary pace. In only her fourth stage appearance, Billy Piper is sensational as Paige; you completely believe in her as an ambitious manipulative woman without an iota of principles. Richard Bean has bravely written the Met Commissioner as a recent politically correct appointment – an openly gay Asian – and Aaron Neil almost steals the show with his deadpan delivery and impeccable timing. There are too many other good performances to mention in a superb ensemble. No-one is free from ridicule, with snipes at The Guardian & The Independent as well as the tabloids.

It’s thrilling to see something so current, relevant and important on the stage, made more exciting by being announced just days before its opening and days after the trial ended, without previews and no time to create programmes. This is one of the best things on the National stage in recent years. Unmissable.

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I’ve never seen the film, I’m not that fond of the music of Whitney Houston and I don’t know much about leading lady Beverley Knight. ‘So why did you go, and 14 months into the run too?’ I hear you ask. Well, it’s the ‘January sales’ (36% off best seats & no fees), it’s January (nothing much happens) and the Sharrock-Hatley creative team are favourites of mine. Enough of the excuses; it’s rather good.

Celebrity diva Rachel Marron is being stalked, so ‘her people’ hire a bodyguard but don’t tell her why. When he starts restricting her movements, she rebels, but she soon learns why she’s got a bodyguard and not only accepts this, but falls for him too. Rachel’s sister Nicki fancies him as well, but he’s just another one of the things Rachel gets that she doesn’t. Their brief dalliance is ended by the bodyguard as he realises he can’t be both boyfriend and bodyguard successfully. The stalking continues to its tragic conclusion.

It’s hardly ground-breaking stuff, but it gets a production way beyond the one it deserves. Thea Sharrock is an unlikely choice of director, but she does a terrific job, handling both the romance and the tension equally well. Tim Hatley’s design is superb, moving from LA mansion to back-of-beyond log cabin via clubs, theatres & concert venues ever so slickly. Mark Henderson’s lighting is simply brilliant.

You can tell Beverley Knight is a singer rather than an actor, but given the demands of these songs, that’s just as well; I thought she was excellent. Tristan Gemmill plays the non-singing role of the bodyguard as ice cool professional with great presence. I loved Carole Stennett as sister Nicki, and the boy who plays Rachel’s 10-year old son (one of four, so I know not who) does so with great confidence.

For a show that has been going this long, it’s remarkably fresh (though this cast is fairly new) and it’s way better than other film-to-stage shows like Dirty Dancing. A rather pleasant January surprise.

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I have to confess I don’t know a lot about Indian independence and partition; the subject of this play. My school history studies ended in 1914 and my interest in ‘current affairs’ didn’t start until the 1960’s. Anything I know about everything that happened in between has come from TV, film and written historical reviews.

Howard Benton focuses on the five or six weeks leading up to partition and independence, when the British PM, Clement Attlee, sent a judge out to determine the borders between India & Pakistan. Cyril Radcliffe had never been to Asia let alone India and knew nothing about maps! The representatives which each interested party appointed to advise him were obviously partisan and somewhat immovable. Brenton speculates humourously that the only thing they would agree on is that ‘flushing’ is better than ‘blocking’ as a solution to Radcliffe’s sickness! The Viceroy, as the King’s representative rather than the government’s, could not and would not become involved. The contentious points were Kashmir, Calcutta and The Punjab.

Faced with a seemingly impossible task, Radcliffe’s decisions became a bit random, but he drew the line. Brenton contests that when he delivered his conclusion, Mountbatten (the Viceroy) pressurised him to change the outcome for The Punjab. He suggests that this was to save his marriage, as his wife had in fact put pressure on him – she was apparently having an affair with Nehru, Indian PM designate, who was the source of this pressure. The play ends at the point where the new Indian and Pakistani leaders address their respective independent nations, with a stunning coup d’theatre to suggest the immediate consequences.

Brenton has written some great historical plays in the last fifteen years, including Never So Good (about the Macmillan years), Anne Boleyn and The Arrest of Ai WeiWei and he says in a programme interview that he tries to be concise, to be a storyteller, with the action in the present, and I think he succeeds in that respect. He achieves a lot in under two hours playing time and though unable to go into great depth he does clarify and illuminate. Given the subject matter, it’s surprisingly light and easy to digest.

The tone of the play does however follow the populist, revisionist tendency to blame everything on the colonial power. He doesn’t give any airtime to alternative solutions, or to the possibility that there were no viable alternatives. Subsequent events, here and in other parts of the world, would suggest that this may well be the case. Colonialist-bashing isn’t really objective enough for credible historical review.

Howard Davies’ smooth flowing production serves the play well. Tim Hatley has designed an elegant and evocative set of carved wooden screens. The ensemble is excellent, with fine central performances from Tom Beard as Radcliffe, Andrew Havill as Mountbatten, Lucy Black as his wife and Silas Carson as Nehru.

It’s great to see full houses for theatre like this. The rest of the run is sold out but, like Ai WeiWei before it, it will be live streamed on Saturday 11th January. Watch it if you can.

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