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Posts Tagged ‘Tim Pigott-Smith’

The first of two Mike Bartlett plays in seven days, and the seventh in five years – you can’t say he isn’t prolific. What I like most about his work is that each piece is so very different. You identify them by their quality and imagination rather than their style. This one, ‘a future history play’, is like none of the others, except that’s imaginative and very very good.

Charles has at last succeeded to the throne and within days he’s started interfering in government. He provokes a constitutional crisis, divides the country and his family and in no time unleashes a series of events which have profound personal, constitutional and political impact. Somewhat ironically, it’s a privacy bill that triggers his involvement, just before his family is on the receiving end of things the bill was trying to prevent.

It’s quite a cerebral and weighty play, but staged with a lightness of touch that ensures its always entertaining as well as thought-provoking. Charles does have form, which means it’s in no way implausible and though the debate is often funny, it is underneath rather profound. I found myself drawn in quickly and gripped throughout.

It’s not a typical Rupert Goold production; the staging is much simpler, relying on the writing and the characterisations more than inventive staging, but it is very effective. Tom Scutt’s design is dominated by a large dais, surrounded by parquet flooring throughout the auditorium and a huge semi-circular panel of fading faces suggesting history, heritage and tradition. Actors enter from all sides and through the auditorium, which provides for grand entrances in keeping with grand people and grand occasions.

Tim Pigott-Smith is terrific as Charles, capturing the essence of the man rather than giving us an impersonation. Oliver Chris and Richard Goulding are very good as contrasting princes, with just enough caricature to provoke smiles but not so much that they become joke characters. Camilla and Kate are presented as power behind the throne and Margot Leicester & Lydia Wilson provide excellent characterisations. The PM and leader of the opposition are called Mr Evans (Labour) and Mr Stevens (Conservative) respectively and Adam James & Nicholas Rowe seem to emphasise the similarities we see in our politicians these days.

This may prove to be prophetic, but for now it’s fascinating and entertaining speculative ‘future history’ and certainly a candidate for 2014’s best new play. Catch it if you can.

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When I booked Ecstasy for the night before this, I wasn’t at all conscious of what I was doing. Chalk & cheese.

Like Pinter, Edward Albee has always been a bit of a problem playwright for me. Where Pinter has too much silence, Albee has too many words! His plays usually have smug characters, glib dialogue and a cynical veneer. I find it impossible to empathise with any of them.

By the time I got to the first interval, I was thinking ‘here we go again; I hate these people!’ Is this an American Knot of the Heart? (the Almeida’s last play, which drove me to drink at the interval, after which I couldn’t bring myself to return).

Agnes and Tobias seem to be going through the motions of life in late middle age, with Agnes’ alcoholic spinster sister providing some conflict and confrontation. Over one weekend, their lives are turned upside down when they are invaded by best friends Harry and Edna (who move in because they are afraid of being at home alone!) and daughter Julia, a thirty-something spoilt brat who has given up on her fourth marriage and comes home. These people, particularly Agnes, speak lines with a quick-wittedness and articulacy that is very implausible – could anyone really think and say all of that spontaneously?

Something compelled me to return after that first interval and in the second and third act things did improve as the drama unfolded, but it’s still people you can’t give a shit about spouting implausible bollocks in unbelievable situations….but it does intrigue and hold you and it does makes you think.

It has not one but two national treasures in the cast – Penelope Wilton & Imelda Staunton – and they are both excellent in roles you wouldn’t usually consider them suitable for. Tim Pigott-Smith, Diana Hardcastle and Ian McElhinney also shine as the other oldies, though Lucy Cohu seems a little uncomfortable throwing adult tantrums. Laura Hopkins set is an extraordinary wood-paneled living room that, as a 60’s upper middle class New England home, is the most believable thing about the evening. James Macdonald’s direction is of his usual high standard.

There’s an intellectual pomposity about it which annoyed me, and it didn’t move me one bit, but it did hold and intrigue me for nigh on three hours. Having said that, when compared with last night’s British social realism, I’m afraid there’s no contest – Ecstasy wins hands down because Leigh has humanity where Albee has disdain.

The Almeida’s next-but-one play is yet another Neil LaBute – the natural successor to Albee, in my view. I’ll have to go of course…..

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