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Posts Tagged ‘Trevor Fox’

This revival of Alan Plater’s 1999 play is the final offering in Hampstead Theatre’s look back over 60 years of new plays, a season sadly blighted by closures, at a theatre with a track record of new plays to be proud of. Plater’s play is particularly appropriate, being about plays and playwrights, though its central character is an agent. I saw the original production here, with Maureen Lipman as Peggy, and this is a great revival. Though set in the sixties, and first staged at the turn of the millennium, it feels as fresh as if it was written today.

Its protagonist is legendary theatrical agent Peggy Ramsey, a force of nature, who represented some 400 playwrights, a list that reads like a who’s-who of writers of the second half of the 20th Century, including Alan Ayckbourn, David Hare, Christopher Hampton, Caryl Churchill, J B Priestly, Stephen Poliakoff, Joe Orton (she appears in his biopic played by Vanessa Redgrave) and Plater himself. Here, her writers are represented by fictional archetypes – the new kid on the block, the current golden boy and the mature one who’s now struggling. She clearly loved nurturing new talent, she revelled in the glory of her successful clients, but she appeared to lose interest after that, at least in their eyes.

It all takes place on one day in her office, and that of her secretary Tessa, in Dickensian Godwin’s Court in theatre-land. In the morning she’s teaching, and playing with, 21-year-old Simon, who’s submitted a modern spin on Romeo & Juliet. She lunches with Philip, the toast of both the West End and Broadway with his somewhat superficial fare. In the afternoon, she is confronted by gritty northerner Henry, when it turns more serious, darker and edgier, without losing the sharp witty dialogue we’ve become used to by then. Plater very cleverly takes someone he knows well and sends us home feeling like we know her well too. His affection and admiration for her comes through, but he shows us her flaws as well.

When he wrote it he wondered who it was for, so he sent it to his friend Alan Ayckbourn who felt very much the same. Well, it’s certainly for me, an avid theatre-goer, but I can see how many of the references and in jokes might be lost on someone who isn’t, or someone younger. However, anyone can admire such outstanding writing, great characterisation (fictional or otherwise) and sparkling dialogue. Director Richard Wilson, and his designer James Cotterill (who’s excellent set is littered with play-scripts and posters) bring it alive two decades on, and the performances are terrific.

It must be hard for an actor to play against such a larger-than-life character as Peggy, but these four do it brilliantly. Josh Finan is great as young Simon, who proves wiser than his years and not as naive as he first seems. The great Trevor Cooper plays Henry, the jaded, cynical but empathetic older playwright desperate to be staged again, who provides the moral anchor of the piece. Danusia Samal’s Tessa, the latest in a seemingly long line of long suffering assistants who’s names Peggy often gets wrong, is resigned to being put upon, with a fondness for the clients Peggy cannot display. Jos Vantyler plays Philip, riding the crest of a wave, yet respectful to his colleagues. It’s Tamsin Greig’s evening, though. She commands the stage and inhabits the role with brilliant comic timing, switching to show another more thoughtful side of Peggy in the second half. It’s a stunning performance.

Four more weeks to catch this great revival.

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This is the last in this mini season of Shakespeare’s late plays and the last but one he wrote. It completes a quartet of successful staging’s of plays intended for an indoor playhouse in an indoor playhouse.

I’ve always thought it was an odd concoction. Prospero, the deposed Duke of Milan, and his daughter Miranda are shipwrecked on a remote island with the spirit Ariel and the subhuman witches son Caliban for company. When the courts of Naples and Milan are later also shipwrecked, Prospero can make mischief and right some wrongs. It has an other-worldly, magical quality, which this production didn’t get over as well as it did the royal shenanigans and the comedy. On this occasion I couldn’t help feeling Prospero was Shakespeare signing off.

Trevor Fox and Dominic Rowan virtually steal the show as royal butler Stephano and court jester Trinculo respectively, though I thought the added lines pushed it a bit too far, and Fisayo Akinade is a fine Caliban. Once he was in his stride, I very much liked Tim McMullen’s Prospero, more elder statesman than larger-than-life presence.

Seeing all four late plays has made me realise that there are fewer design and staging choices that can be made in this space. On this occasion the offstage dialogue and sounds were particularly effective, but the spirit characters less so, particularly Pippa Nixon’s Ariel, who seemed way too ordinary for me. There’s good use of music, despite the off-key singing at Miranda and Ferdinand’s wedding.

I’ve very much enjoyed this season and I suspect and hope we’ll see more Shakespeare in this lovely space.

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This was apparently the first play Shakespeare wrote for an indoor theatre, the Blackfriars, to be performed by candlelight. How fitting then that it should be staged at the Globe’s new(ish) indoor playhouse, by candlelight, and the venue really suits the play.

Like other late plays, Cymbeline is an odd concoction. Though anchored in British history, it’s such ancient history (Roman period) that we know little about these times and they feel, and may even be, mythological. Lots of themes from other plays appear and it has an other-worldly, somewhat fairy-tale quality. The central character is not King Cymbeline but his daughter Innogen, who is banished for marrying Posthumous instead of Cloten, the queen’s son by her former marriage.

She returns from Rome disguised as a man, encounters some feral chaps who turn out to be her lost (stolen) brothers who have beheaded Cloten, gets pursued by Iachimo seeking to prove her infidelity, then by Posthumous’ servant Pisanio seeking to punish her for it but unable to bring himself to do so and befriended by invading Romans led by Caius Lucius! Of course it all ends happily (well, not for Cloten, obviously). We even get a visit from goddess Jupiter from above, literally.

With no props, the production has a storytelling quality which didn’t settle until the second half for me; the first half seemed a bit rushed and perfunctory, though in all fairness to director Sam Yates, that’s as much to do with the play’s elongated set-ups. The second half is a cracker, though. There’s great incidental music from Alex Baranowski and excellent costumes by Richard Kent. With some doubling up, the whole thing is delivered by a cast of fourteen, including particularly good performances from Trevor Fox as Pisano, Brendan O’Hea as Belarius and Paul Rider as Caius Lucius.

I’m now very much looking forward to the other late plays in the same theatre.

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After a 34-year absence from the London stage, we have two Oresteia’s at the same time. This one follows the Almeida’s, now at the Trafalgar Studios, and has the added interest of being a 2500 year old play staged in a replica of a 400-year old theatre, Shakespeare’s Globe, and the first thing that struck me was that this theatre shares much with the stages of ancient Greece. The arc of the space is like an amphitheatre. The mortals can look up to the open sky to address the gods. By bringing the platform forward, with steps the full width down into the groundling space, it looks very much like a temple, which came into its own in the final play.

My second thought was how extraordinary that two writers can take the same Aeschylus starting point and produce very different adaptations. Here Rory Mullarkey doesn’t add a prequel about Iphigenia’s sacrifice but uses the chorus’ long prologue to set the scene. In fact, in this first play it’s a long while before we meet Clytemnestra, and even longer before Agamemnon returns from the Trojan wars. The chorus are much more than narrators and onlookers, becoming actual citizens, with some playing individual unnamed roles. When Agamemnon does finally arrive, he’s dispatched off-stage before we get the results on-stage! Katy Stephens is terrific as Clytemnestra, a woman possessed, intent on revenge, and Trevor Fox is a brilliant Aegisthus, a real user and a louche.

In the second play, Orestes returns to get his revenge on his mother and her lover, and the character of the chorus changes somewhat, with the use of three-sided masks at one point. The murders are again off-stage and Orestes enters with the bodies (a recycling of Agamemnon’s!). Here, Electra seemed much less of a presence than she was in the Almeida version. I very much liked Joel MacCormack’s passionate Orestes.

In the final play Orestes is tried by Athena with a jury, somewhat appropriately, made up of local citizens. Here we encounter The Furies, brilliantly presented as gothic, highly strung and somewhat childlike creatures. This play seems to have been edited the most, with advocacy by Apollo but little debate before Athena uses her casting vote following a split jury. Again, the role of women in society comes up and today the plays seem sexist, even misogynistic.

The treatment is lighter than the earnest, clinical Almeida version, with many touches of humour (some unintended, I suspect) and the end result feels like a very different trilogy based on the same story. I actually liked both in their own way and I’m glad they turned out so different given they were only three months apart. Not only was this the second Oresteia, but my eighth Greek tragedy this year. Roll on the Almeida’s Medea later in the month.

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It seems to me the chief reason why Michael Attenborough’s King Lear is so successful is that he hasn’t messed with it! No overwhelming concept, no directorial conceit, no gimmicks. A play as good as Lear needs none of these – just good staging, fine performances and excellent verse speaking and this Almeida production has all three.

The theatre has acquired an additional curved back wall, identical except for several entrances. A handful of props and atmospheric lighting do the rest. Simple. This gives the play great pace, unencumbered by scene changes. The tale of two dysfunctional families, ungrateful daughters and feuding sons, grips from the start and never lets you go. The verse is beautifully spoken and you seem to be hearing words and phrases you never heard before.

In a uniformly fine cast, it’s great to see one of my favourite actresses, Jenny Jules, in a classical role as Regan. Clive Wood continues his career renaissance with a superb Gloucester, the newer / younger Kieran Bew delivers another impressive performance as Edmund and my favourite Geordie, Trevor Fox, is great as The Fool. Towering over them all is a magnificent Lear from Jonathan Pryce. I’ve seen some fine Lear’s in my time – Robert Stephens, Anthony Hopkins, Brain Cox, Ian Holm, Ian McKellern, Derek Jacobi, Nigel Hawthorne, Pete Postlethwaite – and this interpretation is as good as any of them. I usually find it hard to believe he turns on Cordelia, but here I didn’t. His madness was more subtle and more authentic. For once, his journey seemed completely plausible.

I think this is Michael Attenborough’s second Shakespeare at the Almeida. The other, Measure for Measure, was also a fine production. This space suits simple interpretations of the bard, so more please!

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