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Posts Tagged ‘Tobias Menzies’

It’s rare to be so emotionally engaged with a play whilst at the same time kept on the edge of your seat as the story unfolds. This quietly devastating piece is rich in drama, staged and performed to perfection.

We’re in a small community in rural Denmark. Lucas has been teaching at the primary school for a term, since the secondary school closed. His wife has left him, heading for the city with their teenage son Marcus. Lucas is well integrated in the local community, though, with strong friendships amongst his neighbours and with the men at his hunting lodge, until an accusation of inappropriate behaviour at the school changes everyone’s attitudes and perceptions and his life begins to fall apart. The positives of this idyllic, liberal, tight community turn very negative very quickly.

The suspense gives it the aesthetic of a thriller, the presumption of guilt means you’re rooting for Lucas, and it becomes an emotional roller-coaster. Rupert Goold’s gripping production, on Es Devlin’s very Scandic set, uses music to great effect, including the impressive vocal talents of Adrian der Gregorian. The small revolving house at the centre becomes classroom, lodge, home, with scenes played inside and outside looking in. I haven’t seen the film by Thomas Vinterberg & Tobias Lindholm, but David Farr’s adaptation doesn’t put a foot wrong.

Tobias Menzies’ restrained central performance as Lucas is a career high for this fine actor. Justin Salinger and Poppy Miller are brilliant as his close friends in a troubled relationship. In a superb supporting ensemble, Danny Kirrane as Gunner and Stuart Campbell as Marcus shine. Then there are two extraordinary child actors and dog Max, as restrained as his master.

A very satisfying evening in the theatre that I haven’t stopped thinking about since I left it.

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I wasn’t very excited by Josie Rourke’s opening season at the Donmar, but I may have to eat a few words. Her opener is something the Donmar doesn’t normally do (restoration comedy) and it gets a handsome production with a full set of great performances.

The theatre has had its biggest makeover since the 25th Putman County Spelling Bee. It has been turned into an 18th century playhouse with the stalls back wall removed, the circle railing replaced with a wooden one, wooden floors and (false) wooden ceiling, a painted back screen with candle holders and real lit candles, more real lit candles around the auditorium and three chandeliers, also with real lit candles! Lucy Osbornes’ setting is warm, welcoming and gorgeous, as are the period costumes.

George Farquhar’s comedy takes place in Tewksbury where two army captains are recruiting using all means, fair and foul. Both  have designs on different local girls, Sylvia and Melinda – who also has the attentions of local businessman Worthy. The girls fall out and Sylvia returns disguised as a man, Wilful, who both captains seek to recruit. Captain Plumes’s Sargent Kite plumbs new depths of deception, there’s a lot of confusion but it all ends happily – except for the recruits. It’s a comedy but it does make a serious point about the treatment of recruits and ends with a powerful statement as they head for the war.

In addition to the lovely design, the use of music is terrific. The jigs and reels played brilliantly by five of the actors add much – including a delicious twist on the ‘turn off you mobiles’ advice now common at the start of plays. The performances too are terrific, with Nancy Carroll and Rachel Stirling as Sylvia and Melinda shining and Tobias Menzies commanding the stage with great authority as Captain Plume. Mark Gattis’ excellent comic turn as Captain Brazen suggests we need to see as much of him on stage as we already do his League of Gentlemen colleagues Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton. The other two leads, Nicholas Burns as Worthy and Mackenzie Crook as Sargent Kite, complete an excellent set of leads and the supporting cast of eight are all excellent.

Somehow though it didn’t add up to the sum of the parts; the first half in particular was uneven and didn’t sweep you away anywhere near as much as the second half did. I don’t know whether this is the play or the production. It’s not the complete delight the NT’s She Stoops to Conquer is, but it’s still an impressive start to the Rourke reign. Don’t wear too many clothes though, as for some reason the Donmar is set at sauna level temperatures.

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Another day, another 30’s American drama……and even though it also suffered from a slow first half (is it me? am I getting impatient?) it was a lot better than yesterday’s.

Lillian Hellman’s play concerns two female teachers whose lives are ruined after accusations, based on hearsay and lies, that they are lesbian lovers…but it’s really much more than that. Like Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, it is many-layered in its exploration of the wider moral issues. It struck me how nothing has changed in  75 years – we’re still awash with false accusations which by the time they are proved wrong, it’s just too late and we’re still very quick to judge. It also struck me that this was 20 years before Miller’s play, so it must surely have been an influence.

Apart from the slowness of the first half (the play rather than the production, I think) Ian Rickson’s direction is masterly and it gripped me more than Howard Davies’ NT’s staging c.17 years ago. The pivotal scene soon after the interval when the teachers visit their accuser is simply terrific. Mark Thompson has designed an elegant space which easily transforms from working school to home to mothballed school and has an intimacy and intensity despite the height he seems so fond of (c/f La Bete at the same theatre last year).

I was impressed by the whole ensemble. The six leads – Keira Knightly, Elizabeth Moss, Ellen Burstyn, Carol Kane, Tobias Menzies and Bryony Hannah – were well cast and well matched and it was great to see the West End debut of no less than seven young actresses, of whom Amy Dawson and Lisa Backwell impressed greatly. It was particularly wonderful to see Ellen Burstyn on stage – such presence and such authority; a terrific performance

This is no star casting money grab. Though it has and will clearly do well financially, it’s a quality play and production that holds its own up against the other current must-sees – Flare Path, Clybourne Park and Cause Celebre.

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