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Posts Tagged ‘Tom Burke’

I’d always known there were autobiographical elements to this Terence Rattigan masterpiece, but seeing it a few weeks after Mike Poulton’s excellent new play Kenny Morgan, about the incidents that inspired it, I now realise it’s a whole lot more than elements. It’s uncanny.

It starts, as does Kenny Morgan, with the rescue if its main character Hester Collyer from her attempted suicide, lying in front of the gas fire with a stomach full of aspirin. She’s tended by landlady Mrs Elton, young neighbours Philip and Ann Welch and Mr Miller, a former doctor. Similar characters appear in the other play. Hester’s estranged husband William, a judge, is called, as Rattigan was in the true story. The subject of Hester’s sadness, her young lover Freddie, returns, but not for long, as the incident spooks him and prompts his permanent departure. She declines to return to her husband and a second suicide attempt is aborted, and this is where the play diverges from the truth – oh, and the sex of the main character!

Tom Scutt has built a two-story house with Hester’s flat’s living area stage front and her bedroom, bathroom and the stairwell behind gauze, so that you can see characters moving there. This is very effective in representing the life of the house as well as focusing on its troubled occupant. There’s a background droning sound which creates a brooding, tense, expectant atmosphere. I thought Carrie Cracknell’s staging was terrific, with a very clever ending that told you Hester’s fate without a word being spoken.

It’s superbly well cast, with Marion Bailey excellent as an empathetic but disapproving Mrs Elton and Nick Fletcher great as the mysterious ‘Doctor’ Miller. Hubert Burton and Yolanda Kettle are lovely as the naïve young couple and Peter Sullivan has great presence as William Collyer. There’s real chemistry and a sexual frisson between Tom Burke’s Freddie and Helen McCrory’s Hester, both of whom so suit their roles and both of whom really inhabit these complex characters. McCrory really is stunning, a nuanced performance, acting with every inch of her body. It’s as fine an acting ensemble as you’re likely to get on any stage.

Probably the best production of this play I’ve ever seen; unmissable Rattigan.

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Well, persisting with playwright Neil LaBute has paid off at last. I’ve seen a handful of his plays before now, but never really found them particularly satisfying; too cynical for my taste. Until now, the worst of them was Mercy Seat and the best The Shape of Things & Fat Pig and this play continues his reflections on our obsession with appearance that the latter two started, but for me it’s on another level altogether….and how refreshing to have a play with ‘blue collar’ characters and a warehouse setting!

The play starts with a brilliantly staged row over something Greg is alleged to have said about his partner Steph, relayed by her friend Carly. Carly is pregnant (a late change to accommodate Billie Piper’s actual pregnancy!) by Greg’s work colleague and friend Kent. The subsequent unfolding of these relationships is absolutely fascinating and completely captivating. There is extraordinary depth to the characterisation, an authenticity to the story and brilliantly realistic dialogue. I haven’t felt so involved in a story for some time.

I’m often in awe of an actor’s talent and here I’m in awe of all four of them. You really feel for Tom Burke’s Greg, caught up in his girlfriend’s insecurities and his friend’s infidelities. Bille Piper is terrific as Carly, starting as the source of Greg & Steph’s conflict and ending as a victim. Kieran Bew has the difficult task of playing the deeply unsympathetic Kent, so the fact you want to get on stage and punch him is a tribute to how well he does. Steph’s emotional rollercoaster is beautifully played by Sian Brooke.

Soutra Gilmour’s settings in and around a container convey the workplace at the heart of the play but allow scenes to move to three other locations speedily, with the scene changes themselves very watchable. Michael Attenborough’s fine attention to detail serves the play very well in a sensitive production without a wasted moment.

So the Almeida ends 2011 as it began it – with a fine new play that will join Becky Shaw in the list of the very best new plays of the year. A veritable sky full of gold stars.

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If I could time-travel, one of the things I might choose would be to attend the first night of this play in 1933 to hear the tut’s and watch the open mouths. It feels completely modern today, so it must have been positively ground-breaking then, even though I’m sure some of it went right over their heads!

It’s a menage a trois between a female interior designer, a male artist and a male playwright that starts in an artist’s attic garret in Paris, moves to the elegant London flat of the playwright and ends up on the 30th floor of an art deco apartment in a New York skyscraper where the designer is living with her unloved husband.  It has a beautifully crafted rounded structure and the dialogue absolutely sparkles. It puts sex and sexuality centre-stage and is so much more than Coward’s trademark social comedies.

The three central performances – Lisa Dillon, Tom Burke and Andrew Scott – are wonderful and the sexual chemistry between them is electric. There is a superb supporting performance from Angus Wright (who has wasted so much time in Katie Mitchell deconstructions of late) as the used man who in the final act explodes a la Basil Fawlty. Amongst the rest of the cast, Maggie McCarthy makes an exquisite contribution as the second act housekeeper. I’ve only seen the play once before, but director Anthony Page makes so much more of it here. It looks gorgeous too, with three brilliant designs from Lez Brotherston, culminating in the NYC apartment that I actually wanted to move into after the show! 

Another wonderful night at the Old Vic.

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