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Posts Tagged ‘Tom Scutt’

The weather hasn’t been kind to us this year at the Open Air Theatre. We managed to get through On the Town with delays and shivers, and this one with a thirty minutes unscheduled break in the first half. Though I’m a regular at OAT musicals, I didn’t book for this last year as I’m not that keen on Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s music (except Evita and his collaboration with Puccini, Phantom of the Opera!) and I’m an unbeliever (though if I was, I might take offence at some scenes). The reviews, awards and friends suggested I’d made a mistake, so we booked for this second run. Though there were things I admired, I think I was right first time.

It tells the story of the last year of Jesus’ life, sung through, more rock opera than musical, a year after The Who started the genre with Tommy. The music seems dated, much more so than other music of the period. The seriousness of the story doesn’t really allow Tim Rice to shine lyrically, with his trademark sharp wit. Timothy Sheader’s production seems more rock concert than musical theatre, returning the show to its first flash Broadway outing rather than following the more restrained London production.

Here we have Tom Scutt’s giant two-story metal structure with a huge fallen cross, something like 300 spotlights and smoke, flares and fire. I found myself admiring the spectacle, but not at all engaged with the story. The singing honours belong to Tyrone Huntly as Judas, who is as sensational, as had been suggested, and as he was in Dreamgirls, and there’s a terrific band under Tom Deering. Drew McConie’s choreography is bold and is the freshest aspect of the show.

Great spectacle, but I went to a musical not a rock concert, so not enough for me I’m afraid.

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When the prodigiously talented Georg Buchner died aged 23, leaving behind this unfinished play, little did he know that in the following 180 years it would get more than thirty stage adaptations as well as three musicals, two operas, and a ballet. I find the attraction a bit of a puzzle. This latest one by another prodigious talent, Jack Thorne, is set in Berlin towards the end of the cold war and Woyzeck is a young British squaddie. The story is reasonably faithful to the original, and it’s given a stunning production by Joe Murphy.

Woyzeck was an orphan who spent much of his early life in foster care. Things start going wrong before the play begins when he joins the army and is posted to Northern Ireland, where amongst other things he goes AWOL, but he falls in love there with catholic girl Marie who, with their child, joins him in the next posting in Germany. Here he teams up with rather cocky fellow soldier Andrews and is befriended by Captain Thompson, whose interest in him may not be as innocent as it seems. Woyzeck, Marie and their child have to live in town in a seedy flat as they are unmarried. They are broke and amongst their money making schemes, they allow Andrews to use the flat for his assignations with the Captain’s wife and Woyzeck participates in dubious drug trials. With everything life has thrown at him, Woyzeck is on an irreversible downwards mental health spiral which inevitably ends in tragedy.

Tom Scutt’s design features twenty-five thick Berlin wall like panels which fly or slide onto the stage, creating different configurations, stunningly lit by Neil Austin, with an atmospheric soundtrack by Isobel Waller-Bridge and Gareth Fry. It’s a uniformly superb cast. I’m used to seeing Nancy Carroll in much safer roles; here she’s brilliantly racy and sexy. I was hugely impressed by Ben Batt as Andrews, Sarah Greene is terrific as Marie and Steffan Rhodri is excellent as the Captain, but its John Boyega’s show and he rises to the challenge, and more.

It’s not an easy ride, but it is an impressive achievement. 

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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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Apart from his big hit Constellations, I’ve been less enamoured than most with playwright Nick Payne’s work, and I’ve seen a handful of his plays now. They often seem like snacks rather than a full meal, leaving me feeling hungry on the journey home, as this did. It’s a slight, somewhat insubstantial seventy minutes.

He seems to have a bit of an obsession with the brain. This, like Incognito two years ago, takes it as its theme. This time it’s about Lorna and her brain surgery. Starting and ending after the operation, it explores the impact of her surgery on memory. She’s lost all of the memories of her life with wife Carrie, who is of course devastated by this. The surgeon Miriam warns of the consequences in advance, trying, but not entirely succeeding, to explain the science. That’s about it really.

There’s nothing wrong with Josie Rourke’s staging. Tom Scutt’s setting is elegant and atmospheric. The three fine actresses – Zoe Wanamaker, Barbara Flynn and Nina Sosyana – are all excellent. Sadly, that wasn’t enough for an evening of theatre. I had to eat again when I got home.

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Why on earth has it taken 30 years for us to see Christopher Hampton’s masterpiece in London again? I’d almost forgotten how good it is. This thrilling revival is a brilliant reminder.

Based on Lacos’ late eighteenth century novel, racy by 20th century standards, let alone 18th (well, in a no doubt pruder Britain, at least), it’s a steamy tale of sexual intrigue and manipulation. The novel was written as a series of letters, but Hampton’s adaptation takes a more traditional dramatic form, beautifully structured with sparkling dialogue. It centres around the Machiavellian games played by friends and former lovers Le Vicomte de Valmont and La Marquise de Merteuil on young Cecile Volanges, Le Chevalier Danceny, who is in love with her, and Madame de Tourvel, a seemingly inaccessible married guest of Le Vicomte’s aunt. The stakes are much higher than either of the cynical game-players imagine and its conclusion is tragic.

Josie Rourke’s impeccable staging takes place in a fading period stately home designed by Tom Scutt, lit mostly by candlelight. It looks gorgeous. The original cast of Alan Rickman, Lesley Duncan, Juliet Stevenson and a young Lesley Manville is hard to follow, but Dominic West, Janet McTeer, Elaine Cassidy and Morfydd Clark are all superb, and make the roles their own. Edward Holcroft, who made a big impression on TV recently in London Spy, is just as impressive here as Danceny, and there are lovely cameos from Una Stubbs as Valmonte’s aunt Madame de Rosemonde and Theo Barklem-Biggs as his servant Azolan. The musical scene changes are a delight, thanks largely to the singing of Alison Arnopp’s servant Julie. 

A very fine and long overdue revival, surely destined for a transfer, but particularly brilliant in the intimacy of the Donmar.

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This radical resetting of Shakespeare’s play started out in Stratford 3.5 years ago and has now travelled 100 miles south east to get a second showing in its director Rupert Goold’s new home in Islington. It’s a much smaller venue, which makes it less grand and more intimate, but designer Tom Scutt has redesigned it to fit the new space well and I feel very much the same as I did first time round (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2011/07/18/the-merchant-of-venice-rsc-stratford).

The Almeida’s former joint AD, Ian McDiarmid, gives a more assertively defiant, more Jewish and ultimately more tragic Shylock than Patrick Stewart in a great role take-over. I was more positive this time round about Scott Handy’s introspective Antonio, because the intimacy of the space brought out the subtlety of his performance. The new Bassanio (Tom Weston-Jones) and Gratiano (Anthony Welsh) both give equally fine interpretations as their predecessors. Staging the battle for Portia’s hand as reality show Destiny brings the comedy that in turn heightens the tension and Susannah Fielding and Emily Plumtree now both steal the show as Portia and Nerissa, with a simply terrific turn again from Jamie Beamish’s Elvis impersonating Lancelot Gobbo.

I overheard an American audience member saying he thought it was sending up American culture. There’s some truth in that, but more important that the Las Vegas setting provides a modern context and cohesion that gives the play an ongoing relevance and accessibility, particularly good for introducing and enthusing young audiences I’d say. Good to see it again.

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At last, a play for our time at the Royal Court. Jack Thorne has produced a thoughtful and objective piece about ‘the cuts’ which blends the political with the personal.

Mark is the Deputy Leader of a Labour council faced with slashing services following a huge cut in its government grant which, like all councils, represents most of its funding. The Leader Hilary is more resigned to the task, but he’s torn. Despite this they start the process and come face to face with the realities of closing Day Care centres and reduced street lighting in high risk areas. Influenced by his colleague and girlfriend, who herself is influenced by her Old Labour father, Mark eventually turns and leads their refusal to set a budget. Predictably, the government takes over the process and they are faced with implementing what others have decided for them. This is interwoven with Mark’s personal story, with visits from his precocious, highly intelligent son Jake and the development of his relationship with Julie.

At first I found it lacked anger and bite, but as it progressed I realised that wasn’t the point. It presents us with a difficult, indeed impossible situation – cut, or we’ll do it for you. To comply you have to abandon your principles, but to rebel could be worse. Though they seem to have cut 15 mins in preview, I did find the first half too slow and the second half much better paced. I wondered whether a combination of judicious cuts, faster pacing and no interval might not make it a better play. It starts and ends on, and in front of, the town hall stage, which recedes to reveal a huge hall in which all of the scenes are played out. Tom Scutt’s design works less well in the more intimate ones, but does bring a realism to the piece. Director John Tiffany includes some of his trademark quirky movement, which seems a bit incongruous on this occasion.

There’s a terrific performance from Tommy Knight as Jake and the final scene between him and Tom Georgeson’s old Labour George is one of the play’s best. When we hear from a client of the Day Centre facing closure, its heart-breaking. Stella Gonet as Hilary seemed at times as if she was still in Handbagged playing Thatcher; this characterisation of a Labour council leader didn’t feel right to me. It was good to see Sharon Duncan-Brewster again and she handles the combination of public servant, daughter and lover very effectively.

In its present state, its a good play that could be a great one, like Thorne’s earlier piece 2nd May 1997, the birth of the New Labour government, but its good to be leaving the Royal Court happier than I have of late.

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This play was first produced in 1996 (another 18 year revival), the same year Goodness Gracious Me came to our TV screens; both important events for British Asian culture. It’s set 25 years before that, so now we’re looking back 43 years, yet I suspect British families of Pakistani origin are facing the same plus, with the arrival of fundamentalism, even more complex issues; the play still resonates and entertains.

Ayub Khan Din writes about a mixed marriage in Salford. George came from Pakistan in 1936, leaving behind another family he still supports. He has seven children with Ella, six boys and a girl, now all teenagers or young men. George’s attempts to impose Pakistani customs have already driven his eldest away; his kids feel more British than Asian, don’t speak Urdu and have little or no respect for customs like appropriate dress and arranged marriage. It’s played against a backdrop of the then war between East & West Pakistan, which led to the creation of Bangla Desh. The family runs a chippie where they all work at some time. In the first half, we glimpse their normal daily lives, then in the second we get a visit from the parents of two girls destined to marry two of the boys, which becomes a turning point for the family and the play.

It’s a well structured and well written piece with particularly fine characterisations. The culture clash and sibling relationships seem ever so real and it covers a lot of issues in a surprising amount of depth whilst always entertaining. There are both shocking and moving moments so soon after laughter that they are heightened. Even though your sympathies are with Ella and her kids, George proves to be a not entirely unsympathetic character, more a product of his upbringing than inherently bad. Designer Tom Scutt has built a row of terraced houses on the relatively small Trafalgar Studios stage with the home and chippie created by props in the centre of the it; this anchors the play very effectively in both the community and the period. It’s great to see director Sam Yates graduate from terrific work on the fringe (Cornelius and (another) Mixed Marriage at the Finborough and The EI Train at Hoxton Hall) to the West End, and his staging is very assured.

It’s also great to see the playwright in the role he created now that he’s old enough to play it! Linda Bassett (the original Ella) is a hard act to follow, but Jane Horrocks (also great to see her back on stage) makes it her own, a more feisty but still loving wife and mother. The actors playing the six ‘children’ are all excellent; I was particularly impressed by Taj Atwal as Menah, the only daughter and even more feisty than her mum. Sally Banks is terrific as Auntie Annie, never far from Ella, both of them chain-smoking and forever tea-drinking.

A very welcome revival.

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The first Medea I saw was 29 years ago in Japanese in an Edinburgh University courtyard in the open air in the pouring rain with the title role played by a man! Medea’s exit was in one of those hydraulic arms they use to reach the higher floors of buildings. It was an evening I will never forget. This production came to the Olivier stage, where this new modern adaptation is now staged, two years later.

Ben Power’s modern adaptation takes fewer liberties than Mike Bartlett’s 2012 touring version (which I liked, and which featured Rachael Sterling, whose mother Diana Rigg I had seen in the same part twenty years earlier!) and it’s the most credible and chilling version of this 2500 year-old play that I’ve seen. You really do believe this woman could kill four people, including her two sons.

Carrie Cracknell, one of our best new directors, and designer Tom Scutt, set it in a shabby building with French windows leading out to a wood and an upper level where Jason’s wedding to Kreusa takes place behind glass. There’s a large chorus of thirteen women looking spooky in matching frocks, a brilliant soundscape by Goldfrapp and Michaela Coel delivers the prologue and epilogue superbly in complete silence. For once, my front row seat added to the intensity and engagement with the piece.

I’ve always thought Helen McCrory would make a brilliant Lady Macbeth or Medea and she certainly does with the latter. She invests her interpretation with bucket-loads of emotionality, often visibly shaking, eyes welled up, nose running, tears flowing. It’s a stunning performance. Danny Sapani is a commanding Jason, more restrained but able to make the switch from anger to forgiveness completely believable. There’s luxury casting in support, with Dominic Rowan and Martin Turner as the two kings. Clemmie Sveaas’ Kreusa’s demise in a poisoned costume is an extraordinary dance of death.

This is a riveting 90 minutes, perfect for the Olivier stage and an opportunity to see a fine actress give a career defining performance. Unmissable indeed.

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Time to make my own mind up about this marmite show. So where do I stand? Well, in neither camp really. Clever and original, but long drawn out and more than a bit dull.

In a post-apocalyptic America, a handful of survivors sit around a fire clinging to the past, and in particular popular culture, here represented by an episode of The Simpsons. They reminisce and re-live it. In Act II, 7 years on, they’re re-enacting episodes, complete with set, costumes and adverts. Other groups have set up in competition and there’s a trade in script lines. In the third act, 75 years later, they’re performing a full blown pompous gothic pop opera of the episode.

The messages, that we cling to memories, however accurate, and popular culture unites in adversity is fine, but laboured in three 40 minute acts, each of which outstay their welcome. To be honest, I was rather bored by it all. There’s nothing wrong with playwright Anne Washburn’s idea or the execution of it by director Robin Icke and designer Tom Scutt and a good cast, it’s just not substantial enough to be a rewarding evening in the theatre for me.

A lot has been said about the need to understand The Simpsons to appreciate the piece. Though this would clearly help you pick up on detail and get the broader ‘in joke’, I’m not sure its entirely necessary – but then again The Simpsons has by and large passed me by.

Not a rave. Not a whinge. Just a bucket-load of indifference. I can’t even be arsed to write a longer review!

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