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Posts Tagged ‘Tricycle Theatre’

French Playwright Florian Zeller’s work has become a staple of London’s theatre in the last five years. Six of his play’s have had productions here in that period, all translated by Christopher Hampton. This seventh is the third in his family trilogy, following The Mother & The Father which, both first seen in this theatre, we saw the other way round to the order in which they were written. Though I liked the other three, those two stood out for me, and this is a very welcome companion piece.

The son, Nicolas, a teenager, seems badly affected by his parents separation. His dad Pierre has a new wife and baby son and he asks to live with them after his mother Anne struggles to cope when she discovers he hasn’t been going to school. If anything, it’s even more of a challenge at his father’s and he spirals into depression and despair. What at first seems unhappiness at the split proves to be severe depression.

It’s hard to say more without spoiling it, but it is a harrowing journey that shows the damage that can be done at a vulnerable point in a young person’s life, and the agony of the parents who have to deal with it. It doesn’t take sides, and Zeller doesn’t mess with your head as much as he did in The Father, about dementia, and The Mother, who struggles with empty nesting, but he does have a trick or two up his sleeve.

Michael Longhurst’s sensitive production features a career defining performance by John Light, at first unsympathetic, but whose pain you come to feel intensely as he lets go, and a stunning performance that oozes authenticity by Laurie Kynaston as Nicolas. Though the male leads carry the emotional weight of the play, there are excellent contributions too from Amanda Abbington as Nicolas’ mum Anne, who struggles to cope with it all, and Amaka Okafor as Pierre’s new partner Sofia, torn between supporting her man in his support of his son and focusing on their new life and new child.

It’s not an easy watch, but it’s an insightful piece which rewards you with a sense of understanding and appreciation of mental health, as the other two plays had done, and the impact marital separation can have on children.

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We’ve had lots of verbatim theatre, plus those Tricycle tribunal plays, but never a hybrid of both based on a 415-year-old trial. Well, it could have been a trial for 400 years of deaths from tobacco or obesity through potatoes!

Actor Oliver Chris has gone back to accounts of the original trial, which took place exactly 415 years ago in the very same hall (because there was plague in London) and dramatised it. The Attorney General presided, with two other ‘judges’, but to my surprise there was a jury to make the judgement, here twelve audience members. The complex case for treason was presented by two lawyers representing King James I. Ralegh had no representation. The evidence presented was written; there were no witnesses.

It’s really a duologue between Ralegh and Coke, the King’s counsel, and the case hinges on whose account you believe – Ralegh or chief conspirator Lord Cobham, who has already been found guilty and sentenced to death for the treason of the Bye (a catholic sub-plot) and confessed but not yet sentenced for the treason of the Main (for which Ralegh is now being tried). It turns out to be dry material for drama, I’m afraid, though the politics of it all are fascinating.

They haven’t retained the dress and conventions of the period, with the Attorney General, both prosecutors and clerk to the court all played by women, and everyone in modern dress. The setting is extraordinarily atmospheric and knowing you’re in the very same room adds more than a frisson. Simon Paisley Day as Ralegh and Nathalie Armin as Coke are both excellent. I think I enjoyed what I learnt about Ralegh – favourite of Elizabeth I, explorer, colonist, military man, lawyer, MP, poet and wine merchant – by reading around it than I did the re-enactment of the trial itself. He was a colourful character who had a pretty dull trial so that James could give him his comeuppance.

As event theatre, well worth a day trip to the gorgeous city of Winchester, where there was even more to see. As drama, a bit of a disappointment, I’m afraid. A Shakespeare’s Globe production that’s coming to the candlelit Sam Wanamaker Playhouse next week.

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I haven’t read Zadie Smith’s 2000 debut novel and I didn’t see the 2002 TV adaptation, so I come to this stage version fresh. It’s also my first visit to the reopened and renamed Kiln Theatre, appropriately located where the novel is set.

The story takes us from 1945, when Archie Jones and Samad Iqbal meet as the war ends and become lifelong friends, to the present day. We follow Archie, his mixed race marriage to Clara, daughter Irie and granddaughter Rosie and Samad and his wife Alsana and identical twin sons Magid & Millat. The twins’ lives take very different parts, one academic, the other radicalisation. There’s fleeting romance between Irie and the twins, with more than a fleeting outcome, and it looks like history might repeat itself with Rosie. There are significant stops in 1975 and through the eighties to 1992, with references to the music, TV and events of the time, like the fall of the Berlin Wall.

I don’t know whether it was Zadie Smith or playwright Stephen Sharkey who had the ideas of Kilburn bag lady Mad Mary as a narrator, and framing the story in flashback with Rosie a dentist, in a coma after an incident. They are both good ideas, though the latter needs more clarity in staging. The addition of songs by Paul Englishby and the excellent movement by Polly Bennett add a playfulness which I very much liked and seemed to suit the sweep of the story. Indhu Rubasingham’s staging has great energy, pace and humour; I particularly liked the walks back in time and there’s an hysterical scene in a hairdressers.  It’s extremely well performed by a uniformly excellent cast.

There’s a limit to how much story you can tell in a couple of hours and adding a significant amount of music reduces it even more, so those who know the book may struggle with the inevitable filleting, and I’m told it has less bite than the novel, but I thought its ambition paid off and it proved to be populist, entertaining fare, a celebration of multi-cultural Kilburn and a welcome part of the reopening season. I’ve been going here for more than 30 years and I very much like the new theatre, though in truth it’s more Islington than Kilburn. I do hope the name change protestors will move on. I wouldn’t have changed it myself, and it could have been handled better, but what matters now is what’s on the stage, and this fits it well, and the future programme is looking very promising indeed.

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This is a cross between London Road, the NT’s ground-breaking verbatim ‘musical’ about the Ipswich prostitute murders, and those terrific ‘tribunal’ plays at the Tricycle, but without the depth of either. Though there is much to admire and enjoy, it seemed ever so slight to me. Though the writers are experienced as director, actor and MD, I wondered if their lack of experience as writers showed.

The full title is The Public Administration & Constitutional Affairs Committee takes oral evidence on Whitehall’s relationship with Kids Company. In Robert Jones uber-realistic design, we are in the public gallery of one of the committee rooms in Portcullis House. The charity’s founder, Camila Batmanghelidjh, and its Chairman, the BBC Creative Director Alan Yentob, are being questioned by MP’s, interspersed with the evidence of others who’d been employed by or involved with the charity which spent nearly £50m of tax-payers money in questionable ways without much management control, it seems.

It doesn’t really come to any conclusions, but it implies that though her heart was in the right place, she was unqualified for her role and many, including Yentob and government ministers, were under her spell. All of the questions and evidence are taken from the transcripts, and some dialogue is sung, including a number of short songs, to piano and string accompaniment. Tom Deering’s music is good, but I’m not sure the musical form adds anything, like it did in London Road.

The trouble is it’s an insubstantial 75 minutes, so it’s unable to do the subject justice. Almost as soon as it got going it was over, which is a shame as the creative and performing contributions are good. The vocal honours belong to Omar Ebrahim as Yentob and Sandra Marvin as Batmanghelidgh and there’s fine acting from another seven performers as the five MP’s, including Bernard Jenkin and Kate Hoey, the committee clerk and assistant.

All I could think of at the end was why on earth there hasn’t been a more thorough public inquiry about this; it was tax-payers money, after all. A missed opportunity, I’d say, and not very good value at 50p per minute!

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Contemporary Music

It was obvious from the second number that Elvis Costello had a problem with his vocal chords, but he didn’t acknowledge it until two-thirds of the way through the main set. It’s a pity because the set for this London Palladium concert was new stuff and less obvious things from the back catalogue (only four or five crowd pleasers) which for me at least was very welcome. He was upstaged I’m afraid by two sisters from Atlanta going by the name of Larkin Poe who’s 30 min set as support was terrific. The evening partially redeemed itself by another 30 min set of Costello with the girls and a couple of crowd-pleasing solo encores, but in truth he should have postponed. There’s nothing sadder than seeing a hero die on stage.

Opera

How can you resist an opera set in a gay club with the toilet attendant played by Lesley Garrett?! As it turned out, Mark Simpson’s 70min 4-hander Pleasure at the Lyric Hammersmith proved rather good, and a hugely impressive operatic debut for this prodigious 28-year-old. The music suited a very dramatic story and the tension built well.

Many years ago I went to a shed in East London to see a bunch of mad Catalans perform a show in which they raced around wheeling supermarket trollies full of dead babies, throwing real liver around. That same company, La Fura Del Baus, are now at Covent Garden staging the UK premiere of Romanian composer Enescu’s only opera Oedipe, one of three 20th century operas based on the Oedipus myth and the most epic, telling the whole story from birth to death. Such is the world of opera in the 21st century. As it turns out, it’s a stunning production of a superb opera which was played and sung brilliantly. Why on earth has it taken 80 years to get here?!

Dance

I loved everything about the Royal Ballet’s Frankenstein. Liam Scarlett’s staging and choreography is excellent, there’s a great dramatic score from Lowell Lieberman and John Macfarlane’s designs and costumes are terrific. Pity the critics were so down on it. Why?

Film

Midnight Special is one of the best SciFi films of recent years. I was gripped throughout. The young actor playing the eight-year-old boy was extraordinary.

Eye in the Sky was another cinematic treat which I almost missed by reading the crits. Its edge of the seat stuff, but very objective in its examination of the ethics around drone attacks. One of Alan Rickman’s last roles, and he was great.

I have fond memories of Peter Quilter’s play Glorious, where Maureen Lipman played Florence Foster Jenkins, now played brilliantly by Meryl Streep in a film that is more poignant though also at times hilarious. A lovely film where even Corrie’s Mavis gets a bit part as a New York socialite!

The Hank Williams biopic I Saw the Light was a good rather than great film, but it was well worth catching. Tom Hiddleston is excellent and I understand he does the singing himself, which makes it an even bigger achievement, as the segments when he’s onstage at the Grand Ole Oprey are particularly good.

Our Kind of Traitor is another good rather than great film, different from the normal spy movie, let down by an ending that was a bit too low key.

I went to see Everybody Wants Some!! on the strength of the director’s last film Boyhood and rave reviews for this. I’m afraid I was underwhelmed. It wasn’t exactly Porky’s 8, but it wasn’t far enough away from it.

Though its ending is somewhat implausible, Sing Street is a delightful Irish coming of age story, real feel-good stuff, with terrific performances from its young cast.

Art

Sicily: Culture & Conquests at the British Museum is a lovely presentation of the history of an island almost everyone visited, but most particularly the Greeks and Normans. It made me want to go back to Syracuse post haste.

I didn’t know much about the work of American photographer Paul Strand until the Strange & Familiar exhibition at the Barbican. In his retrospective at the V&A I loved his B&W portraits and films but the abstracts and B&W flora & fauna did nothing for me. Lots to like, though. Across the road at the Science Museum they look at the birth of photography with an exhibition featuring William Fox Talbot, who just about invented it. The thing that grabs you most is how much the art / science moved forward in its first decade; the difference between the 1834 pictures and the 1845 ones is extraordinary.

Other Worlds at the Natural History Museum was a spectacular exhibition of photographs of the planets taken from satellites and spacecraft then touched up in a real meeting of science and art. Across the road at the V&A again there was a hugely clever exhibition called Botticelli Reimagined which showed the influence of this 15th century artist on 20th & 21st century design, then on late 19th / early 20th century artists like the Pre-Raphaelites before leading you into the biggest collection of Botticelli ever seen in the UK. In this last section, I overdosed on Madonna’s and other religious subjects, but it was a highly original exhibition nonetheless.

Other

Trespass is the latest in the series of passionate, funny, campaigning shows from one-man opposition Mark Thomas. This one, visiting the Tricycle Theatre, looks at the erosion of our rights to roam this green and pleasant land. He was his own support, with different material. Great stuff. If only the real opposition could pack such a punch, as entertaining as they are!

 

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French playwright Florian Zeller’s only other play to be produced here, also translated by Christopher Hampton, was called The Father, who had dementia. In this one The Mother is an empty nester whose mental health is deteriorating. It’s just as clever, though stylistically a little too close, and just as insightful.

In eighty minutes, five or six scenes are each repeated twice, with changes. The Mother is missing her son and leads an unfulfilled life without him (she also has a daughter but her relationship with her is clearly nowhere near as strong). Her husband arrives home, she serves breakfast to him & her son (who has returned during the night), she tries to persuade her son to go out with her, his girlfriend arrives, she’s in hospital after an overdose…….but each scene in a pair has a different outcome and you don’t know what is real and what is in her head. Like The Father, it’s disorientating, sometimes uncomfortable, occasionally shocking and at times funny.

It’s set in a rectangular white room with white furniture, which creates a clinical laboratory-like feel. The scenes are short (but don’t seem as short as The Father), sometimes broken by a curtain and sometimes a light fade. Gina McKee is superb as Anna, changing mood continually, and has excellent support from Richard Clothier as her husband, William Postlethwaite as her son and Frances McNamee as his girlfriend.

It’s very much a companion piece for The Father. I liked it, but now I’d very much like to see a different side of Zeller, who is clearly a bit of a find.

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A play about dementia. Depressing? Well, yes – as people get older, it’s often their greatest fear, more so than any physical condition – but its also insightful and not as heavy as you might think.

What’s so clever about Florian Zeller’s play, translated by Christopher Hampton, is that by messing with your head you get to peep inside the head of the demetia sufferer and it helps you understand what it must be like to experience this condition. It starts very straightforwardly, but soon becomes disorientating. Andre’s daughter Anne may or may not have a husband, may or may not be moving to London, may or may not have a sister. Our confusion parallels Andre’s confusion and we begin to understand, and dread, his predicament.

In a series of short, sharp scenes we see the condition deteriorate through the eyes of its victim. Characters and their back stories change and the room in which it is set changes as he moves home. It’s a very original way of conveying the agony of the condition for both the sufferer and their family. The final scene when Andre is in a rest home is devastating. It’s beautifully written / translated, with every moment contributing to the story and it’s extraordinary how much understanding you accumulate in less than 90 minutes. There is humour as well as frustration and sadness to lighten the tone without disrespect.

James McDonald’s direction is very sympathetic to the subject matter, as are the six excellent performances. As Andre, Kenneth Cranham navigates the decline very delicately and movingly. Clare Skinner gives a nuanced performance as Anne, full of love for her father whilst struggling to balance the demands of caring with her need to live her own life.

A subject rarely spoken of is given a thoughtful and illuminating presentation, something sometimes only theatre can so.

 

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