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Posts Tagged ‘Tracy-Ann Oberman’

Playwright Hugh Whitemore, who died this year, was better known as a TV writer, but between 1977 and 1987 he wrote four outstanding plays, all factually based, of which this was the second. The original West End production 35 years ago starred Judi Dench and her husband Michael Williams and ran for almost a year. This first major London revival at the Menier sees their daughter Finty Williams take on her mother’s role.

It’s set in 1960 in the Ruislip home of the Jackson family, a model of suburban ordinariness. Their best friends and neighbours the Krogers are apparently Canadians; the two families are very fond of each another. One day a man called Stewart enters the Jacksons’ lives and persuades them to allow surveillance from their upstairs bedroom. As the surveillance period is lengthened, Stewart feels obliged to feed them information about the reasons for it, until they discover it’s their best friends who are being watched. The highly-strung wife Barbara struggles to reconcile the reality of the warm friendship with the likelihood the Krogers are spies.

The period feel is extraordinary, from Paul Farnsworth’s brilliantly detailed design – the depth of a suburban house the width of the theatre, furniture, fittings and everyday items spot on – to the pitch perfect performances, with behaviour very much of the time. Chris Larkin and Finty Williams play the empathetic Jackson’s, the heart of the play, beautifully and Macy Nyman is terrific as their daughter Julie. Jasper Britton navigates the role of Stewart from gently persuasive to assertively determined extremely well. Tracy-Ann Oberman is excellent as brassy but loving Helen Kroger.

The attention to period detail and suspense does slow the pace, but I felt it just about sustained its length. In many ways its an old-fashioned evening, but Hannah Chissick’s impeccable production brings out all the psychological and emotional impact of this true story and makes it a very worthwhile revival.

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This play by James Phillips sets out to tell the story of fashion designer Alexander (Lee) McQueen, but in 110 minutes it doesn’t really tell us anywhere near enough. By introducing a lot of movement and music to give us a feel of the catwalk, it distracts from the story. It’s more pose than substance.

A girl called Dahlia has appeared in Lee’s workroom whilst he’s looking for inspiration for his next show, demanding a dress. She may be a burglar, a stalker, his alter ego or just a figment of his imagination. Together they visit the tailor where he was apprenticed where they meet his first tutor, on to meet his muse Isabella Blow, to his mother’s house and finally to a rooftop in Stratford, where he was brought up. A bunch of models / dancer occasionally appear to dance or pose. The story of his fascinating life is mere snatches. It doesn’t really go anywhere, feels very perfunctory and we don’t really learn much – except that he’s a genius and a tortured soul and he loves his mum. There’s a lot of stuff on the small stage but not much of it looks attractive, with the exception of a frock and a coat, which isn’t exactly what you might expect in homage to its subject.

The chief reason for seeing this is the performance of Stephen Wight as Lee, who does his best with the flimsy material. There’s a nice cameo from Tracy-Ann Oberman as Blow, making a terrific entrance laying on a chaise longue, but David Shaw-Parker and Laura Rees were wasted. I’m afraid I was unimpressed by Diana Agron as Dahlia, whose performance seemed very one-dimensional, though in fairness she didn’t have a lot to work with. Even the ensemble of eight seemed wasted, and very cramped on a stage made smaller by the design. Given the talent and pedigree of director John Caird and designer David Farley, the weakness of the production is a bit of a puzzle.

A missed opportunity to pay tribute to a design icon.

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