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Posts Tagged ‘Trevor Laird’

I’m not sure I’ve ever been so out-of-synch with an audience. This drama is set in Jamaica amongst violent gangs and corrupt coppers. The dialogue is local patois with surtitles on two TV screens in the boxes (which were necessary and helpful but still so fast you didn’t catch everything). There were a lot of laughs, but to me nowhere near as many as much of the largely Afro-Caribbean audience found. When it was tragic, sad, cruel, moving, poignant……they laughed. Surreal.

Roy Williams play centres on gang leader Joker, arrested for a murder being investigated by a British policeman of Jamaican origin sent out to help. The local police operates very differently to what he’s used to ‘at home’ with more overt corruption. Joker gets his men to abduct two policemen to trade for his release. The British cop is amazed and horrified when it is clear the local police plan to co-operate to free their men. Further revelations reveal everyone from the most junior officer to the Superintendent is in some way corrupt.

Williams plays have breadth and depth, so in addition to a gripping thriller, we get a cop with a gay son, a culture clash between the Jamaicans and the Brit of Jamaican origin and reflections on colonialism and events post-independence. If you can penetrate the dense patois (and it’s often a real struggle) it’s rich in narrative and characterisation. There’s a lot more going on here than most plays and it’s hard to take it all in.

Ultz has designed an authentic police station with Joker present in his second-tier cell throughout proceedings in the station itself. Clint Dyer’s staging is fast-paced and very physical with a real sense of danger in the air. The performances are uniformly excellent. For a singer, Goldie makes a great actor. Charles Venn and Ashley Chin are terrific as the younger cops obsessed with the movies and on the make. Trevor Laird (who also doubles up as a petty criminal) and Brian Bovell are excellent as the older, wiser policemen. Against all of this, Derek Elroy has to play fish-out-of-water James and he does so very well.

It took a while for me to get into this, and I felt like a bit of a fish out of water myself, like my namesake character James, but it drew me in and provided gripping drama, something original and something you’d probably only ever see at TRSE. Gone now, but certainly not forgotten.

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Well, all the hype and rave reviews are true, then – there hasn’t been so much laughter at the National since Jeremy Sams revival of Noises Off ten yours ago.

I can’t help making comparisons with restoration comedy The School for Scandal currently at the Barbican and French farce A Flea In Her Ear recently at the Old Vic, both of which were seriously unfunny. Perhaps director Nicholas Hytner is lucky that the original is in Italian so that he could commission an adaptation, whereas Deborah Warner and Richard Eyre respectively had to work with the original words on the page. The success owes as much to the adaptation as it does to the first class production and terrific ensemble. The very prolific Richard Bean (three crackers now in the last year alone) has been faithful to the spirit of Commedia dell’Arte whilst moving the action to 1960’s Brighton and produced something with snap, crackle and fizz whilst Sheridan’s restoration comedy has been de-laughed by the production and Feydeau’s farce was so faithfully re-produced and you felt like you were in a museum.

When you enter, there’s superbly played 60’s style pop from a four-piece band in full flow (music – Grant Olding) in front of a gaudy proscenium. The band return to keep us entertained between each scene change and before the second half and during the second half feature a series of brilliant cameo performances from cast members. The design is deliberately period production values with flats that wobble and fabric walls that shimmer. These are brilliant ideas that contribute much to the success of the evening.

Goldini’s plot revolves around a ‘minder’ who ends up with, well, two guvnors which gives us all we need for a cocktail of panto, carry on, slapstick & farce with a nostalgic feel but a contemporary freshness. Bean’s dialogue sparkles with wit and cheekiness with a lot of running jokes, the return of which seem like old friends as the evening progresses. The comic timing of the cast is simply stunning; they squeeze every ounce of laughter from these lines plus lots more that aren’t in the lines at all.

James Corden is excellent in the central role, but it’s far from just his show. There is so much other wonderful comic acting, it’s difficult to single anyone out – but I will! Oliver Chris’ creation of the toff is simply delicious, Daniel Rigby’s actorly actor is a hoot, Claire Lams turns playing dumb into an art form and Tom Edden’s 87-year old waiter is a masterclass in physical comedy. Playing (relatively) straight against these must be tough but I loved Fred Ridgeway’s deadpan Charlie, Trevor Laird’s lovable Lloyd Boateng(!) and Suzie Toase as prophetic feminist Dolly.

There are asides to the audience and even audience participation, but these don’t come over as gimmicks as much of Deborah Warner’s touches did for A School for Scandal; they seem absolutely right for the play and the adaptation. You do miss some of the lines and some of the funny business because of the amount of laughter and the amount going on, which seems like a very good reason to go and see it again! A triumph.

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The Royal Court main house has been turned into a boxing club, complete with ring, which later becomes a  boxing venue. Designer Miriam Buether is no stranger to such transformations (Relocated, My Child & Cock also here at the Royal Court) and this is just as impressive. It completely transports you to this (for me at least) alien world and in this case, back in time 20 – 25 years.

Roy Williams is just about the best playwright working in the UK today because he writes unpretentious plays which tell personal stories that illuminate and help us understand complex aspects of our society. This particular play shows us what it’s like to grow up black in 80’s Britain through the story of two boys whose lives diverge and later re-connect. Setting it in Thatcher’s Britain allows us to revisit a period of war (the Falklands), industrial strife and racism and wonder if anything has really changed. We’re still fighting wars, we seem to be heading for a new period of  strife and the spectre of racism has hardly gone away, just buried.

It was a captivating 90 minutes sitting front row ringside with more testosterone in the room than all the other London theatres added together. Sacha Wares’ staging, including amazingly real fight sequences, makes it all so totally believable that you wince at the racist comments and jump when a punch lands.

There isn’t a fault in the casting. Nigel Lindsay brings out all of the contradictions that inhabit trainer Charlie. Trevor Laird as Leon’s dad and Gary Beadle as Troy’s American give great cameos. Sarah Ridgeway really makes us feel for Becky, caught between her dad and Leon. Above all it’s the three boxing boys – Jason Maza, Anthony Welsh and Daniel Kaluuya – who bring the play alive with extraordinary presence and energy; they are mesmerizing.

Yet another triumph for Roy Williams and the Royal Court.

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