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Posts Tagged ‘Tom Morris’

I clearly remember the moment twelve years ago when I gasped as an army officer raised his gun to shoot a horse. A puppet horse. In the Olivier Theatre. Almost the entire audience gasped with me. In the second half of this play I winced as a man with a broken leg in a makeshift splint crawled across moraine high in the Peruvian Andes, all imaginary. Thats the magic of theatre.

This must be one of the most unlikely stories to make it onto a West End stage, but then again it’s put there by Tom Morris, one of the creators of War Horse, and adapted by one of our finest playwrights, David Greig. You can write about your survival after a near fatal climbing accident, and you can film where it happened and take testimony from those involved in a documentary, but how on earth do you stage it? The answer is imagination, of the survivor as we hear what’s in his head and his dreams, and in the staging where you take the audience on a journey where they suspend disbelief.

Designer Ti Green uses just tables, chairs, pub features and a hanging frame to create both worlds. Movement with lighting, music, and a soundscape add tension and atmosphere. Four hugely talented young actors – Josh Williams as survivor Joe Simpson, Angus Yellowlees as his fellow climber Simon & Fiona Hampton as Joe’s feisty sister Sarah who he talks to in his head, all three in very athletic performances, and Patrick McNamee lightening the tone as backpacker Richard looking after basecamp. Greig’s structure and Tom Morris’ creative staging enables the story to be told like a thriller, even though you know the outcome.

I wasn’t convinced I wanted to see this, it’s not really my genre, but the buzz changed my mind and proved to be true. Great to see the work of three regional theatres working together to create something so good and being rewarded with a West End transfer that broadens the options for theatre-goers. Definitely one to recommend.

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Victor Hugo was fond of outsiders, and the grinning man seems to be the hunchback’s lesser known brother. Written in 1869, it has subsequently been adapted as a film six times and for the stage four times, twice as a musical, like this new one from Bristol Old Vic. He may also be the inspiration for Batman’s nemesis The Joker. Here the tale gets a suitably Gothic telling in a brilliant production by Tom Morris.

Set in 17th century England, young Gwynplaine’s mouth has been mutilated and now has a rather spooky perpetual grin. He rescues an infant girl when her mother is frozen to death and they are taken in by carnival proprietor Ursus, where Gwynplaine uses his misfortune to make his living in freak shows. The infant is named Dea and she’s blind. When she’s in her teens, they fall in love, but Gwynpaine is lured away to the royal court where he is destined to marry into royalty, but instead he returns to the carnival, which proves tragic.

Jon Bausor’s transformation of the problematic Trafalgar Studio I is terrific and his Gothic design and Jean Chan’s costumes combine to make a great look. Finn Caldwell & Toby Olie’s puppetry is highly effective, particularly Ursus’ pet wolf, where an actor seems to be a part of the animal. Tim Phillips & Mark Teitler’s music has a darkness to it and is unlike any other musical theatre score I’ve heard since The Tiger Lillies’ Shockheaded Peter almost 20 years ago. It’s a big book and Carl Grouse has done a fine job creating a much shorter, clear narrative.

Louis Maskell is excellent as Gwynpaine, though we never see his real face, and I loved Sanne Den Besten’s fragile, blind Dea. Their exit at the end took my breathe away. Julian Bleach as Barkilphedro and Sean Kingsley as Ursus are both outstanding and Mark Anderson brings a lighter touch to Dirry-Moir, the royal suitor Gwynpaine deposes.

It’s another breath of fresh air for the West End and I do hope it finds its audience there; on the night I went, they loved it, as did I.

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Though I’ve seen screen, TV and stage adaptations, I have to confess I’ve never read Charlotte Bronte’s clearly autobiographical book. Sally Cookson and her company and creative team here deliver a Kneehighesque Complicite-like staging. It uses every trick in the minimalist book (apart from puppets!) – bare wooden stage, platforms steps & ladders, frames & lightbulbs, fire & smoke, ‘movement’ & music. It proves to be a highly effective, lucid, nicely rounded production.

It’s a touch slow to take off and to settle, but I was shocked when I realised at the end of the first half that 100 minutes has passed; it didn’t feel like it. Mind you, it took us from Jane’s birth through her miserable childhood with her aunt, schooling and teaching at Lowood to Thornfield and her position as governess, and the seeds of her relationship with Mr Rochester. I thought her period as teacher was rushed and the passion between her and Rochester played down, but it was very good storytelling nonetheless. The 70 minute second half covers a much shorter, more intense period as the relationship evolves as an emotional roller-coaster, returning to birth, of Jane’s child. It held me throughout, though it didn’t move me as much as I would have expected (though the lady next to me was in tears, normally my default position).

Ten actors and musicians play all of the roles. Madeleine Worrall’s journey from feisty child to defiantly independent woman is very well navigated. Laura Elphinstone manages five characterisations including brilliant performances as school friend Helen and Rochester’s French ward Adele. Felix Hayes has a commanding presence as Rochester and Maggie Tagney doubles up as the evil aunt Mrs Reed and the more empathetic housekeeper Mrs Fairfax and does both very well. Oh, and Craig Edwards is a superb dog (amongst other roles)! There’s a very eclectic selection of music from Benji Bower (including Noel Coward’s Mad About the Boy!) most played live by his on-stage trio and it adds much to the success of the evening. The wonderful Melanie Marshall’s singing is heavenly.

I was worried that this style might be a bit lost on the Lyttleton stage (I kept imagining it in BAC’s Grand Hall, its natural home), but that was less of an issue than I thought, at lease from mid-stalls. I was also worried the NT audience might not take to it, but the ovation proved me well and truly wrong. A very welcome co-production with Bristol Old Vic, whose Artistic Director brought Jerry Springer – The Opera, Coram Boy, A Matter of Life & Death and War Horse to the NT’s stages – what a track record!

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This is no ordinary A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s a collaboration between that master of invention Tom Morris (now in charge at Bristol Old Vic) and South Africa’s Handspring, the puppet people also behind that mega global hit War Horse.

Vicki Mortimer’s design is a rough wooden stage with a structure a bit like a boat hull on one side and a large hanging cloth on the other. Planks figure a lot – held by the ensemble, they effectively create the forest and the rude mechanicals use them well. The lovers carry their puppet miniature selves at the start, but they don’t keep this up (which I found puzzling). Puck is created live by three actors, a blow-torch, a saw, a trowel, a mallet & a basket (I loved this). The actors playing Oberon & Titania carry statue heads (and an arm, in Oberon’s case) and become full figures at the end (I loved this too). We don’t see much of the fairies, and then only four, but they are each different puppet constructions or, in Moth’s case, a man with a pair of fly swatters and a hat (I loved this as well). Oh, and bottom is!

It’s highly inventive but not entirely coherent and consistent. It takes a while to settle and doesn’t really take off until 10 minutes before the interval. The second half is a lot better than the first. When it works, it’s great, such as when Lysander & Demetrius tussle for Helena and then search the forest for her, bottom’s bottom stuff and the rude mechanicals’ play. It’s an excellent ensemble of twelve talented young actors, many new to me.

Go for the originality and inventiveness (and to see the superb restoration of the BOV auditorium). I certainly don’t regret it, though I’ve seen better interpretations of Shakespeare’s play.

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Six days in and we already have the first treat of 2012, back at the Vaudeville where Potted Panto, the last treat of 2011, was. This Bristol Old Vic production by Tom Morris is about as far as you can get from the big show values of Shrek & Matilda and the traditionality that is panto. The Walker children go off on their own by boat to an island in the lake to play. Here they fight the pirates of the Blackett sisters, who they eventually become real chums with. Even the adults, Walker mother and Blackett uncle are caught up in this imaginary world of play.

Arthur Ransom’s early 20th century story is adapted well by Helen Edmundson and given a somewhat appropriate homespun production on a simple stage where the props are assembled from everyday objects (the parrot is a tri-colour feather duster and pliers!) and the sound effects created live on stage. There’s a charming score from Neil Hannon (aka The Divine Comedy) played by on-stage musicians doubling up as actors in what has now become a familiar style. The children are played by adults.

It takes a while for your imagination to engage and your inner child to emerge, but by the end you really wish you could go back to that den in the bushes with your bestest friend and play. For it is imagination that is the essence of this show, and it completely captures what happens (well, used to happen) when children occupy themselves for hours on end in worlds they create in their heads. 32-year old actor Stewart Wright really is youngest brother Roger, those ribbons waving are a lake and the feather duster and pliers that talk really is a parrot. There is a beautiful sequence at the end where the audience join in with the ‘play’ to assist the boats on their journey.

Richard Holt, Katie Moore, Akita Henry and Stewart Walker are terrific as the Walker children, with great chemistry between them. Celia Adams and Sophie Walker are lovely as the Blackett sisters. Seven other actors play all other roles, every instrument, sing and create the sound effects. They look like they’re having as much fun as you are and it’s all very infectious.

It was the quietest family audience I’ve been in for some time, which might have something to do with their ages and backgrounds, but in my opinion has more to do with the fact that they, like me, were lost in this imaginary world, oblivious to all around them. I remember the moment when 1100 people gasped in the Olivier Theatre as a puppet horse was about to be shot, and you get the same feeling here – theatre really is magic.

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