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Posts Tagged ‘Tom Goodman-Hill’

As I get older I find myself seeing plays anchored in modern history that I’ve lived through, though with unreliable memories. This is another timely one, about the creation of the SDP as a reaction to a Labour lurch to the left on a tide of member activism with a policy of EU withdrawal and an unelectable leader. Who said history doesn’t repeat itself! To add an extra frisson, I saw it on the day Article 50 was invoked, something there will no doubt one day be a play about, but probably not in my lifetime.

It takes place the day after the Labour conference which cemented the lurch, in David Owen’s fashionable East End home (uber realistic design by Alex Eales). The gang of four, as they were known, are convened by Owen. His attempts to pick the others off one by one are rumbled and seen as manipulative and divisive. His American wife Debbie is key to toning down his excesses, which are clearly winding the others up. They struggle to make decisions under time pressures of their, well Owen’s, making, but they make it in the end, after the debate on alternative options leads them back to there being only one real option. Though the initiative failed in the end, it may in some way have paved the way for New Labour’s later successful bid for power from the same middle ground and the Lib Dems eventual entry into coalition. It lags a bit in the middle, with circular debates that go nowhere (which may be true, but don’t make good drama) and it doesn’t have the pace, energy or incisiveness of something like James Graham’s This House, but it’s a fascinating piece of history and way more timely that you could ever imagine.

Roger Allam is the only actor who doesn’t have the responsibility of playing a living figure. His Roy Jenkins, then President of the EU Commission, is uncanny. He’s very old school, a touch bumbling, with a penchant for expensive French wine. David Owen comes over as a somewhat unsympathetic character and Tom Goodman-Hill captures his ambition, passion and manoeuvring well. I loved Debra Gillett’s characterisation of Shirley Williams, the one everyone loves, and the less well-known Bill Rodgers is played by Paul Chahidi as a passive follower, very much in awe of Jenkins. If the play is to be believed, Debbie Owen had a considerable influence, both on her husband and the others, and Nathalie Armin conveys this very well.

I love seeing plays anchored in real events with real people and, like his previous play Temple about Occupy’ s effect on St. Pauls, Steve Waters particularly timely piece is very welcome indeed.

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This David Lindsay-Abaire play pre-dates Good People, his 2014 hit here in the UK, which also started in Hampstead before transferring to the West End. Though it has some similarities, it’s a fundamentally different play, more gentle and sensitive. I liked it.

Howie and Becca are trying to come to terms with their personal tragedy, the loss of a four-year-old son, each in very different ways. Howie joins a support group whilst Becca copes alone. He likes reminders but she wants them removed. Lindsay-Abaire introduces his class theme again, with Becca’s sister Izzy and mom Nat coming from a very different part of suburban New York. The family has suffered unexpected loss before, though Nat and Becca see that very differently too. Izzy announces her pregnancy, adding another car to the emotional roller-coaster.

The play explores the differing responses to grief, starting after eight months, moving forward a few more. It’s a very delicate play, not without humour, but much gentler humour than the acerbic kind in Good People. With the audience wrapped around an unelevated stage, Hampstead Theatre seems more intimate, very much in keeping with the piece. Ashley Martin-Davies set manages to contain four rooms without seeming in any way cramped, with plenty of space in the main playing area. Edward Hall’s staging is empathetic, as sensitive as the material and indeed the performances. 

Tom Goodman-Hill and Clare Skinner beautifully convey the strain events place on their relationship. Georgina Rich brings Izzy a down-to-earth plain-speaking warmth and Penny Downie gives a nuanced performance as mother Nat, who has complex relationships with her daughters as well as the ghost of her dead son. Sean Delaney has an impact much bigger than the role of Jason, the young man involved in son Danny’s death, himself trying to come to terms with it all.

The play wasn’t at all what I was expecting after Good People, which is good as it proves Lindsay-Abaire has both breadth and depth. This one is very much its own play, well structured and well written and, like the other, every moment matters. A very thoughtful and thought-provoking evening.

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I vividly remember the tension in the theatre and the gasps from the audience when this was first produced at the Royal Court Theatre 20 years ago. I’m not entirely sure why this is so different, but there was about as much tension last night as an average episode of Heartbeat.

It’s not as if the play has become any less relevant. If anything, Ariel Dorfman’s study of torture and the tortured is even more relevant given formerly civilised countries seem to have adopted it post 9/11. Paulina is a victim finding it difficult to return to normality. Her husband has just been appointed to a tribunal set up to hear cases of death and torture (but not torture without death). She becomes convinced her husband’s good samaritan (he brought him home after his car broke down and pays an unexpected visit later that night) was her torturer and seeks revenge. The late night visit now seems completely implausible, but the rest of the story is believable.

Thandie Newton is one reason for the lack of tension. I never really believed in her as a victim. She didn’t convey the emotional complexity Juliet Stevenson did 20 years ago (I understand the commercial imperative of star casting, but giving such a complex role to someone with no stage experience?). She wasn’t angry enough and her determination for revenge just didn’t seem real. Tom Goodman-Hill and Anthony Calf fare better, but the play revolves around Paulina, so if you can’t believe in her plight, you can’t believe in the story. Then again, maybe Jeremy Herrin’s somewhat clinical production is partly to blame? Or maybe we’re all blase about such issues after 10 years of real war, real torture and real tension?

Given the poor Friday evening house, I don’t think you’ve got long to find out for yourself.

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