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Posts Tagged ‘Tom Bateman’

I think I now understand why we’ve only seen one of American playwright Susan-Lori Parks fifteen plays plays here before (not counting the 8th and 9th part of this series and counting the 365 play-a-day series as one!). I found it absolutely tedious.

Set in the early 1860’s during the American Civil War, the play explores the plight of slaves through lead character Hero, slave to a Confederate Colonel, continually referencing Homer’s The Odyssey (another of the slaves is called Homer). Part One is an overlong debate about whether Hero should accompany his master to the war with the promise of freedom if he does (sale or worse if he doesn’t). Despite the fact there are up to nine people on stage, it’s dramatically inert. There is some humour, and the music is great, but that wasn’t enough to ease the tedium for me.

The second part is better. Though there are only three on stage (plus the musician), the debate is more passionate and animated, but it’s still all words and little action. The Colonel has captured a Union soldier and imprisoned him in a makeshift wooden cage. When he’s absent, Hero is tempted by the soldier to change sides and release him, but it doesn’t work. The acting in this part, by Steve Toussaint as Hero, John Stahl as the Colonel and Tom Bateman’s soldier is outstanding, despite the material.

By now, I had been in my seat for almost 110 minutes and I’m afraid the prospect of a further hour drove me out of the door towards a large glass of merlot. It was doing nothing for me. I’m afraid I found it deadly dull, boring and more than a bit frustrating watching such a waste of acting talent. Somehow, I don’t think I’ll be at Parts 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 or 9.

I needn’t say more.

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Well, the panto season has started early, and what a stellar cast this one has. Terence Rattigan’s 1948 one-act comedy, usually paired with the more serious and earnest The Browning Version, is a clever curtain raiser for Kenneth Branagh’s Garrick Theatre season and has a curtain raiser of its own with the very odd monologue All On Her Own. Though I enjoyed the evening, it doesn’t really add up to enough to launch this venture, particularly at West End prices, though it does, somewhat appropriately, have a real theatre company feel.

Rattigan’s play features a company rehearsing Romeo & Juliet for a tour for the newly formed CEMA (which evolved into the Arts Council). Archetypal actor-manager Gosport is playing Romeo way over his age against his wife Edna’s Juliet. The rest of his cast are a combination of old pros and newbies keen to make their mark. Whilst in the first venue, Gosport is visited by someone who’s a product of his last visit some twenty years before and this forms the basis of the farce amongst theatre folk.

Rattigan had a small part in a university production of Romeo & Juliet directed by John Gielgud and his character is featured here having the same problems with his one line that Rattigan had. Branagh’s new venture is an actor-manger led company like the play’s so it’s a good show to launch such a venture. Rattigan’s views on arts funding, and in particular taking culture ‘to the people’, still resonate today. Despite these pleasing convergences, it still isn’t quite enough to carry the evening, though it does whet your appetite for the season.

The quirky 20-minute monologue which precedes it was written as a BBC TV commission. It features a widow returning from a party where she has met a woman who talks to her dead husband at the same time he died every evening. She proceeds to do the same as she drinks heavily, imitating or perhaps channeling him. Zoe Wanamaker performs it well, but it’s a slight and odd piece nonetheless.

Branagh has put together a fine company. In Harlequinade, Wanamaker shines as a theatrical Dame. Branagh himself reminds us what a good comic actor he can be. Miranda Raison is great pairing as Edna and Tom Bateman is excellent as company manger Jack Wakefield. There are so many good supporting performances, but it’s worth singling out John Shrapnel’s fine turn as George Chudleigh.

 

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