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Posts Tagged ‘Tom Godwin’

The master chronicler of British politics of the late 20th / early 21st centuries turns his attention to the US in 1968, a year that may have heralded the beginning of the polarisation we’ve been living through for the last five years or so, inspired by the documentary by Morgan Neville & Robert Gordon. An extraordinarily eventful year in which the Vietnam War continued to divide the nation and the world, Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King were assassinated, student riots across the globe, civil rights protests the US, the Democratic Convention beleaguered by protest and division and Nixon was elected President, to replace LBJ.

The focus of James Graham’s new play is the adversarial ABC TV debates between William F Buckley Jr and Gore Vidal, which took place prior to and during the 1968 Democratic Convention, but the play is populated with other real life characters from the period, including writer James Baldwin, singers Aretha Franklin, Petula Clark and Harry Belafonte and artist Andy Warhol, with Enoch Powell and Tariq Ali representing the UK! Graham says the debates are verbatim, but everything else is speculation. It’s an extraordinary sweep of events which feels more like a decade than a year, that comes over as historically significant.

Jeremy Herrin marshals his outstanding cast of just ten, some playing up to seven characters, to make this all very real, from TV studios to protests to rallies to more intimate scenes in hotel bedrooms. David Harewood and Charles Edwards are terrific as Buckley and Vidal, sparring on camera and off. John Hodgkinson’s three roles include the contrasting somewhat calm TV interviewer Howard K Smith and the bombastic larger-than-life Mayor Daley of Chicago, both brilliantly done. Tom Godwin manages to characterise people as diverse as Andy Warhol, Bobby Kennedy and Enoch Powell to great success. Similarly, Surus Lowe brings James Baldwin, Harry Belafonte and Martin Luther King to life.

I didn’t engage with the play as much as I have with Graham’s British material, and I did feel it needed tightening up occasionally, but it’s great new writing given a thrilling production and I left the theatre replete, still thinking about these historical events and their contemporary relevance. Another great night at the Young Vic.

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For the second year running, the most original and enjoyable Christmas show in London hails from Bristol. Last year it was Swallows & Amazons from the Old Vic; this play with music (no, it’s not a panto) is from the Tobacco Factory, in a co-production with Travelling Light.

Similar folk tales exist around the world, and this adaptation is a mash-up, with the German (Grimm) and Chinese one’s to the fore. It’s darker and quirkier than what we’re used to. Ella’s mum dies in childbirth and her dad soon after he marries his obnoxious second wife, who has a son & daughter rather than two daughters. Ella first meets the prince – a twitcher – in the forest and a flock of magical birds replace the fairy godmother. The wicked stepmother puts her son in a frock for a second chance of bagging the prince as a son-in-law and the slipper becomes a rather cool jewel-encrusted boot.

It’s a little slow to take off, but when it does it charms you. Two multi-instrumentalists, Brian Hargreaves & Adam Pleth, provide a superb soundscape, music and songs. Katie Sykes design is shabby cool, with trees made from plywood, a lot of large paper lanterns & a mirrorball and everyone wears Doc Martens. The costumes, particularly the ball gowns of the step-mother, sister and son, are great. Sally Cookson’s staging has echoes of early Kneehigh – creative, minimalist, captivating.

The five performers play all roles (and birds) brilliantly. Craig Edwards is as nasty a step-mother as you could wish for, Thomas Eccleshare is a terrific nerdy prince (who handled the audience’s impromptu but inappropriate panto interruptions with wit and aplomb), Lucy Tuck & Tom Godwin take the step-sister and step-brother on a journey from nasty to nice and Lisa Kerr is a sweet tomboyish Ella.

This is far too good for kids; get yourself there pronto.

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When I heard edgy playwright Anthony Neilson was doing a Christmas show for the Royal Court – their first – I thought they may well have lost the plot; but I couldn’t resist taking my 10-year old godson and as much as I like traditional things like panto, this is such a breath of fresh air, and so Royal Court!

Holly wants her real dad (who she’s never met) for Christmas but Santa keeps ignoring her request so she hatches a plot to ensure he takes her seriously and what unfolds is positively surreal. Her step-dad is a dog, her real dad inhabits a Teddy (or is he?), Santa’s son Bumblehole comes in through the skylight whilst Santa uses the traditional chimney. In the second half, Christmas keeps repeating itself until the spell is broken and all is revealed.

Neilson’s trademark absurdity is all over it, but it’s as accessible to youngsters as it is fun for adults. Miriam Buether’s set and costumes establish the tone brilliantly and the performances are all excellent. You can believe Gabriel Quigley’s Mum is daft enough to marry a dog, Amanda Hadingue is a deliciously batty Gran, David Sterne combines grumpy and cool as Santa and it’s impossible not to love Tom Godwin’s hapless Bumblehole. Anchoring it all, though, is a superb Holly from Imogen Doel (her professional debut no less!) who captures the contradictions of teenage years so perfectly (something tells me Neilson may well have teenage kids, so good is this characterisation). Even Nick Powell’s songs sound surreal!

A wonderful alternative to panto that the 58-year old and the 10-year old both loved in equal measure.

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