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Posts Tagged ‘Tim McQuillan-Wright’

I’ve worked in China twice, on both occasions for British companies with operations there, both leadership and team development projects. The first was in 1999 and the second just over three years ago. Between the two, China’s rapid economic growth had changed the business world, bringing with it dubious ethics and poor management practices. By 2013, translation was being declined by executives lest they lost face; being known as someone who spoke English was key to career success. The consequential lack of comprehension brought huge issues. This play is about doing business in China and whilst I was watching scenes of poor translation leading to significant misunderstanding, I couldn’t help wondering how good the quality of translation and understanding of my words was!

Daniel is trying to sell signage for his ailing company in Cleveland, Ohio. He hires local Englishman Peter, teacher turned business consultant, and gets an opportunity to make a proposal to the Culture Minister & Deputy Minister of a large city. They are close to completing their new Arts Centre and will need bi-lingual signage, preferably without the translation gaffs of other projects. Daniel gets caught up in an extraordinary learning curve of misunderstanding, politics and corruption and only makes progress when he fires his consultant, gets lost in translation himself and does the counter-intuitive by exploiting rather than hiding his dubious past. It’s a very clever, and based on my limited experience, very authentic play, hugely entertaining, unpredictable and very funny. By using both English and Mandarin (with subtitles) you see exactly what’s going on, though Daniel doesn’t.

Tim McQuillen-Wright’s ingenious set allows the play to flow effortlessly from restaurant to office to hotel bedroom to home. Getting bi-lingual actor Duncan Harte to play a bi-lingual character is a real casting coup. Lobo Chan is totally believable as the minister, and Candy Ma is terrific as his Deputy, who goes on a very unexpected journey during the course of the play. There are lovely cameo’s from Siu-see Hung as the first incompetent translator and Winston Liong as the well-connected second translator, and Minhee Yeo has a fine turn in scene stealing facial expressions. It all revolves around Daniel, of course, with Gyuri Sarossy is on stage almost the whole time. It’s staged with great pace and attention to detail by Andrew Keates.

I’ve only seen one play by American playwright David Henry Hwang before, the sensational M Butterfly in 1989, long overdue for revival. He hasn’t written that many full length plays (nine in 30 years?) but we haven’t seen that many of them here. Two more weeks to catch this one at Park Theatre. Don’t miss it.

 

 

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The Union Theatre continues its role as London’s principal home of British musicals, this time with the world premiere of a show about the military’s treatment of its own in the First World War, together with attitudes to pacifism, homosexuality and class at that time. The show, the production and the performances combine to provide a very beautiful evening indeed.

Harry enlists, even though he’s three years below the minimum age, and finds himself in the trenches with fellow villager Peter and initially reluctant local squire Adam (he’s the recipient of the white feather of the title), immediately promoted to Captain because of his class. Harry’s sister Georgina looks after Adam’s estate in his absence and has to fire Edward, his secret lover who has feigned a disability to avoid the front. Harry is executed for dereliction of duty, considered to be equal to desertion, which sets Georgina on a course to clear his name. When the war is over, Georgina marries Adam but with the ghost of Harry and his sexuality hanging over him it doesn’t prove to be a long or happy affair. Though set primarily in East Anglia immediately before, during and after the war, we do jump forward to later periods right up to 2006, and to other locations. Given the time-hopping and the location changes it’s a remarkably lucid book.

The score contains many lovely songs, some very short, but all driving the narrative forward. I loved the arrangements for keyboards, cello and violin, played so well by MD Dustin Conrad’s trio that the audience stayed put throughout the play-out, and the unamplified vocals were a joy to hear. Tim McQuillan-Wright has created a simple but evocative set and Natasha Payne’s costumes anchor the piece in its period. Hot on the heels of her star turn in Bye Bye Birdie in Walthamstow, Abigail Matthews gives a very different performance of great dignity as Georgina. Adam Davey conveys Adam’s torment between public and private and duty and feelings very movingly. Harry Pettigrew captures the innocent patriotism of Harry and Zac Hamilton the sadness of Edward, who’s love for Adam can never be fully realised. Katie Brennan appears to have moved into the Union, following an outstanding performance in The Spitfire Grill with another terrific one here as Georgina’s friend Edith.

I was captivated by this lovely show. Andrew Keates had developed and directed it and co-wrote the book and he’s done a great job. Unmissable.

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I can hardly believe that it’s 30 years since the onset of AIDS. This was the first play to cover the events and issues of the time. However anchored in the period it was written or represents, if a play is good enough it will survive the test of time to speak to future audiences and so it is with As Is, which Arion Productions have brought from the Finborough to the West End.

The personal story of writer Rich provides the core of the play. He’s a New York City gay man, a writer, who’s partner Saul is a Jewish photographer. He cheats on him with his best friend Lily’s younger brother Chet and soon after is diagnosed with HIV. Saul remains loyal to Rich and cares for him throughout his decline in health. The play is so much more than this personal story though.

All of the issues the disease raised are interwoven in a series of masterly ensemble scenes. The first covers the attitudes, mostly uninformed and ignorant, to the ‘gay plague’ as it was labelled at the time and it shocks you. The gay scene and its rampant promiscuity is represented, we visit a group therapy session and there is a positively hysterical scene involving two men running a helpline. The scenes in the hospices are particularly moving. The play packs a lot into 80 minutes. Given the subject matter, you might be surprised to learn that it’s entertaining and often very funny.

The key to this revival’s success is a faultless cast led by Steven Webb as Rich and David Poynor as Saul. The other six actors (Natalie Burt, Bevan Celestine, Giles Cooper, Dino Fetscher, Jane Lowe and Russell Morton) play multiple roles, more than thirty in total. You’d be hard pressed to find a finer ensemble. Tim McQuillen-Wright’s design, with spot-on period costumes by Philippa Batt, excellent lighting by Neill Brinkworth and atmospheric music by Matthew Strachan, allows speedy movement from scene to scene. Andrew Keates direction in this intimate space has great pace and engages the audience throughout, helped by using the whole space and a small amount of highly effective direct audience contact.

Please don’t think a play on this subject must be earnest and dull because its far from it – it’s as much entertainment as it is storytelling. This West End run includes a whole host of ‘extras’ – post-show talks and Q&A’s, free HIV testing and people can write in remembrance on the theatre walls themselves. In a West End theatre. Brilliant! Though unplanned, I was lucky enough to be there on the evening playwright Martin Sherman no less joined the director and a couple of cast members after the show; a real bonus.

I can’t compare this revival with the original London production I saw all those years ago – my memory isn’t that good! – but it’s a must-see revival of an important play. Above all though, you should go because it’s bloody good theatre!

 

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When I left the first outing of this show, in Stratford 27 years ago, I had two questions – ‘What on earth were they thinking of, turning this into a musical?’ and ‘Why did the RSC get involved?’ I think my companions’ question was ‘Why the hell did he bring is to this?’

Some hot-shot American producer had persuaded the RSC to première a musical of Stephen King’s first novel (horror, obviously) with a book by the man for whom the screenplay for the film of the book was his debut and music and lyrics by people who’d never done a stage musical before (though they had written for Alan Parker’s film Fame). It was directed by Terry Hands, whose only previous musical was Pete Nichols brilliant satirical panto Poppy. They’d even persuaded Barbara Cook to come over (though she tried to exit after almost being decapitated on opening night with a close encounter with a piece of the set). Despite the poor critical reception, they still showered it with millions of dollars and took it to Broadway, where it closed three days later and went down in history as one of the greatest flops of all time. I never expected to see it again.

I don’t know whether it’s the passage of time, the subsequent cult success of the teen horror genre, re-working of the show or just a bloody good production and cast, but it’s a whole lot better in this Southwark Theatre revival. It’s still a bit incongruous, the music is fairly formulaic pop-rock and the production may be papering over the cracks in the story, but I think its well worth catching. It starts in the school showers as naive Carrie is shocked by the onset of her first period, leading to humiliation by her fellow students and ongoing bullying. Her bible-bashing mother knows she’s an ‘odd’ / ‘special’ girl and tries to prevent her socialising, but fellow student Sue, full of remorse for the humiliation, decides to make amends by loaning her boyfriend as her partner for the school prom, an offer she can’t refuse. Sadly, some of the other girls are determined to continue the humiliation at the prom, which unleashes Carrie’s considerable powers for revenge. Cue blood and carnage.

This is all very well staged by Gary Lloyd, with a very good design from Tim McQuillen-Wright and excellent special effects by Jeremy Chernick. The musical standards are high, with a great six-piece band under MD Mark Crossland. The young cast is outstanding, with fine leading performances from Evelyn Hoskins as Carrie, Greg Miller-Burns as Tommy and Sarah McNicholas as Sue and Gabriella Wiliams and Dex Lee as the baddies. Kim Criswell and Jodie Jacobs are both excellent in the adult roles of mother and teacher respectively.

It’s not a great show, but it is a fine production and producer Paul Taylor-Mills should be congratulated for giving it another chance, as he did recently with that other flop Batboy. Two more weeks to catch it, and you should. Oh, and the writer Lawrence D Cohen is writing a book about his Carrie experience and it’s going to be called ‘ What Were They Thinking?’!

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