Posts Tagged ‘Tom Brooke’

As playwright Lucy Prebble proved with Enron, you can learn a lot about a subject of which you know little in a few hours in a theatre, and when it concisely summarises what you may have followed over years, it can be illuminating. This clearly well researched play packs in so much knowledge yet, also like Enron, you are royally entertained.

We were drip-fed information about the Litvinenko poisoning as the facts emerged. Here they are presented to you in less than 2.5 hours playing time in a very concise and lucid account. It starts after his death with his wife Marina discussing the possibilities of an inquest or public enquiry, the government having shamefully washed its hands of the case for political reasons. It then goes back further to the days immediately after the poisoning, and back again to the Litvinenko’s life in Russia and the events which led to him becoming a subject for assassination by the Russian state, moving chronologically forward to where it begins. The defiant Marina acts as a narrator, with Putin a counter-narrator in the second half.

Also like Enron, the story is told with great ingenuity, playfully, employing a variety of clever theatrical devices. The fourth wall is broken continually, with characters talking directly to the audience, and there are some deliciously cheeky swipes at the form and the venue. It took a while to take off, but from halfway through the first half it was gripping like a thriller. It’s already lost c. 20 minutes from the published running time; another 10 minutes from the first half would probably make it even better. It’s a fine ensemble, with almost everyone in multiple roles, led by an outstanding performance by Tom Brooke as Litvinenko. Tom Scutt’s design is clever; I particularly liked the way it moves between London meeting locations leading up to the poisoning, with all of them remaining on stage. John Crowley’s inventive staging even makes use of Peter Polycarpou’s musical theatre talent to great effect.

I suspect it will still tighten before press night, but even at this late preview it proves to be a thrilling ride. What more can you ask for when going to the theatre than leaving it feeling both informed and entertained?

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I never saw Peter Strickland’s 2012 film, on which this is based, so I come to Tom Scutt & Joel Horwood’s stage adaptation fresh. It concerns the Italian horror genre Giallo, cult films that reached their peak in the 70’s.

Santini, the film-maker at the heart of this particular story, likes to add dialogue and other sound after filming. He doesn’t like the voice of some actors, so he uses another for the dialogue. For his latest film, he’s invited sound man Gilderoy from England, Dorking to be precise, who’s more used to wildlife documentaries, a real fish out of water at these studios where he has a pair of retro sound effects men who use everything from curtain rails to fresh fruit.

Soon after he arrives we see the craft of this type of film-making as they add dialogue and effects live while the film is screened for them; this is a brilliant scene where Sylvia & Carla are speaking the lines in their sound booth and Massimo & Massimo are adding all manner of sounds before our eyes in the most animated fashion. From here we see Gilderoy’s struggle to communicate and adapt, and Sylvia’s discomfort with the film’s content; its ending in particular. Studio manager Francesco tries to keep things together and Santini pays a brief visit. We learn of Gilderoy’s life at home with mother.

It’s an impressive directorial debut from Scutt, who’s design, with Anna Yates, is terrific – immersive, authentic and quirky – and the sound work of Ben & Max Ringham is simply stunning. Tom Brooke is superb as Gilderoy, his very expressive face communicating his feelings without need of words. Tom Espiner (a genuine sound expert) and Hemi Yeroham are a brilliant silent double-act as the Massimo’s and Lara Rossi & Beatrice Scirocchi are both excellent as the voice-over pair. Enzo Cilenti’s Francesco seems like an oasis of sanity alongside these. The authenticity is enhanced by much speech in Italian, without translation, but somehow you manage to get the gist.

I’m not sure it really goes anywhere – its more of a scenario than a story – but I was enthralled by the meticulous stagecraft and the performances, which are reasons alone to see it.

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Maybe I’ve seen too many Lear’s (10). Maybe it was because I was tired, having braved the rain, wind & a tube strike. Maybe I was just over-excited about seeing a favourite actor climb this infamous acting mountain. Whatever the reason, I didn’t really engage with this Lear. I found myself in detached observation admiring it rather than being involved or moved by it.

I’ve heard the word ‘epic’ so many times in connection with this Sam Mendes production, but it didn’t seem that epic to me. I’m not sure why Anthony Ward’s design has blue-green abstract painted panels and stage floor, though it is attractive. Screens cut the stage in half for the more intimate scenes and sometimes when they rise the image behind takes your breath away. It works best in the storm scene when clouds and lightning are projected onto the screens as thunder claps, though I don’t know why a strip of stage with Lear & The Fool on it has to rise and move around.

I don’t have a problem with the modern setting, but I’m not sure the military concept works as well for this as it does for plays like Othello where the characters are military. I always have a problem believing he would divide the country, giving a third to the daughter who marries a Frenchman(!), and then cast out this favourite daughter just because she won’t match her sisters sycophancy, but here Lear doesn’t even look like a king. Simon Russell Beale may have concentrated so much on the madness / dementia that he neglects the other facets of this complex man.

There are some great performances, though. Anna Maxwell-Martin and Kate Fleetwood are excellent as Regan & Goneril, the former becoming vicious and the latter a bit of a vamp. Tom Brooke is a superb Edgar, particularly when disguised as Tom. Stephen Boxer invests Gloucester with great passion and Adrian Scarborough is a highly original and rather cool Fool. SRB completely transforms himself – not just shaving his head and growing a bushy beard, but his whole body seems to take on a new shape.

There is much to admire, but it didn’t wow me like I thought and hoped it would. I may have not done it justice, so I’ve booked to go back at the end of the run as I have to know if it’s me or the production!

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I’ve come late to this love-it-or-hate-it Dennis Kelly play at the Royal Court, having had to cancel a planned visit earlier in the run. I almost left at the interval, but didn’t, and this was one occasion when I’m glad I didn’t. It’s taken me another week to decide what I think about it, during which time I also read it (I knew those programme / playscripts would come in handy one day).

In the first thirty minutes we get the whole life of the title character from birth to the end of his first marriage, told by the ensemble as narrators, in turns, mostly in short one-liners. This went on for an irritatingly long time and the play appeared to be going nowhere. Then we have a scene where nice(ish) Gorge becomes nasty Gorge when he aids a predatory takeover of his employer’s company, knowing full well it isn’t in his boss’ best interests. From here on it’s the rise (and fall) of a man who has lost his moral compass. He builds a business empire, ensnares his second wife by mirroring her abusive past, writes a book about his own and ends up rich but sad, thinking everything can be bought – including his brother and unknown grandson who turn up and turn his life upside down.

The final two acts are a big improvement on the prologue and first act, but it’s still a long and heavy-handed way of showing us how morally corruptible one man can become – presumably presented as a sign of our times. The three acts are interrupted by similar, but shorter, narration as the prologue and that continued to irritate me. It’s an overlong and uneven ride, but it has its moments and I have sympathy with the underlying message. Tom Brooke is remarkable as Gorge (I’m still not sure if and why he’s lost his ‘e’) and there’s excellent support from the rest of the cast.

This isn’t Dennis Kelly at his best, and not a particularly auspicious start for Vicky Featherstone’s tenure at The Royal Court, but it isn’t as bad as some would have you believe and it is timely and original – but not the success we’d have liked to bring in the new.

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Seventeen years is a long time in theatre-going and my reaction to this 1957 Arnold Wesker play is very different today to when I first saw it at the Royal Court in 1994. Somehow it has lost its impact as a play, even if it still impresses as ‘spectacle’ in Bijan Sheibani’s production, which fills the Olivier stage like few productions do.

It’s really a ‘slice of life’ on stage. Many of the characters have their own stories, but there isn’t an overall story as such. It’s a stage picture of life in a busy kitchen in the late 50’s with snatches of social history – but not in enough depth to make it a ‘state of the nation’ play. It’s a very realistic portrait of work and it captures post-war attitudes and habits, but it doesn’t fully satisfy. It takes a while to warm up and the second act is fatally flawed by a dull first half. It would make a better one-acter with 10 minutes cut from the beginning of the first act and 20 from the beginning of the second.

Giles Cadle’s design is one of the best I have seen in the Olivier, though – a completely realistic restaurant kitchen with fine attention to detail. The ensemble is excellent, with Tom Brook standing out as Peter and lovely cameos from Tricia Kelly as Bertha and Ian Burfield as Max. The balletic scenes, where everyone seems to move as one, are stunning too. It’s hard to fault the production, but I’m afraid it doesn’t paper over the cracks in the play. It’s stylish and stylised but it doesn’t grab you and keep you for two hours.

What I thought was a classic appears now to be a play of its time.

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