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Posts Tagged ‘Tricycle Theatre’

Mark Thomas broke new ground with his last show, Bravo Figaro, about his relationship with his dad and his dad’s love of opera. He continues to develop a unique form and voice with this second show, Cuckooed, about his arms trade activism and in particular how he was spied upon by a friend. It weaves together a personal story with a political message which is sometimes funny and surprisingly moving.

I first became aware of his work to expose the immoral practices of the arms trade through his Channel 4 show, in which he created a fictitious PR company which coached foreign governments in spin and screened their clumsy cover-up rehearsals. It went on to include the exposure of companies flouting the law by supplying torture items to foreign lands and the book ‘As Used on the Famous Nelson Mandela: Underground Adventures in the Arms and Torture Trade’. Mark’s friend Martin was spying on him, allegedly for BAE Systems, whilst being the most enthusiastic of activists, but Mark has been unable to get him to explain, so his motivation is a mystery and closure has not been obtained. This still clearly hurts, with visible emotions on display.

Like Bravo Figaro this is staged, and on this occasion includes exceptionally well synchronised dialogue with the testimonies of others involved on TV screens that emerge from filing cabinets and on a back screen, other subjects of spying. Towards the end it very effectively broadens the issue to spying in general, touching on police spies who went as far as fully fledged relationships with women and the worst of all, spying on the family of Stephen Lawrence. I thought the combination of the story of personal betrayal and public campaigning against spying was seamless and the humour, disappointment, hurt and anger a powerful cocktail.

In the shorter first half, Thomas is his own warm-up act, mostly telling tales of his brilliant 10 Acts of Dissent initiative, in his more usual (former?) stand-up mode. Together they form a very entertaining but thought-provoking evening that defies categorisation. How lucky we are to still have campainging comedians like Mark Steel, Jeremy Hardy and Mark Thomas to prick consciences and expose unfairness and worse; long may they reign.

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This is a fascinating, multi-layered play from American playwright Marcus Gardley, covering ground I haven’t seen on stage or screen or even in print. It gets a great production by the Tricycle Theatre’s AD Indhu Rubasingham, with a fine cast of British actresses (plus Paul Shelley!).

Gardley’s play is set in New Orleans in 1836, in the period between the Louisiana Purchase, when this chunk of America was sold by the French and soon became one of the United States, and the American Civil War. Under French rule, white men routinely had a second family by a black mistress so a mixed race of ‘free people of colour’ developed. Their lives would soon change when the US became a black or white society and it is during this transition that we meet placee (black concubine) Beatrice and her three daughters mourning the death of their white common law husband / father Lazare (whose body is onstage!).

Beatrice is determined her daughters don’t follow her into placage (concubinage) but Agnes rebels and gets her sister Odette to pose as her mother and sell her into placage. Third daughter Maude tries but fails to prevent this. Somewhat ironically, these women have a house servant who is a slave, but she is a strong woman who has a big influence on them all. Beatrice has two other women in her life – her mentally unstable sister Marie Josephine, who causes a fair bit of havoc, and her friend La Veuve, who she is forever sparring with. We even get Lazare’s ghost for good measure.

Tom Piper opens up the Tricycle stage with a simple but clever white balcony and curved staircase; I’ve never seen it look so big. It’s great to see a cast of Black British women relishing these meaty characters. Tanya Moodie is, as ever, magnificent as the servant Makeda, deeply moving when she is finally free. Martina Laird is strong and defiant as Beatrice and Clare Perkins’ madness as Marie Josephine convinces. Amongst the daughters, Ayesha Antoine is hugely impressive as rebel daughter Agnes, with a combination of cheekiness and determination.

A fascinating piece of social and political history, with a nod to Bernarda Alba and an autobiographical dimension to the characters, and a great piece of family history. The Tricycle’s on a roll.

 

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The first London outing of this Sam Shepard play 33 years ago had a great intimate space (the Cottesloe) and one of those magnificent but rare ‘double-acts’ (Bob Hoskins & Anthony Sher). The 1994 revival had an even better space (the Donmar) and Mark Rylance, as Lee, showing us the sort of physical acting he would later perfect as Rooster Byron in Jerusalem. This third production has a lot to live up to!

Shepard’s play has chalk-and-cheese brothers pitted against one another. Lee is a loser, sometime criminal and rather dangerous. Austin is a successful screenwriter who’s house-sitting for their mom on holiday in Alaska. Lee turns up at mom’s unexpectedly and harasses and intimidates his brother, but gets him to write a synopsis of his idea for a movie. When Austin’s producer arrives, Lee strikes up an unlikely relationship with him, playing golf and persuading him to buy his screenplay. The tables are turned in the second half when both brothers get drunk and things get very wild indeed.

It seems less ground-breaking and for some reason less plausible in 2014, and the contrast between the brooding first half and the manic second half seemed too imbalanced this time around, but it’s a great vehicle for two actors and Alex Fearns & Eugene O’Hare certainly rise to the occasion and perform as if their lives depended on it (perhaps more so on the night I went, which was being filmed) . Fearns in particular is manic, terrifying and fearless as Lee, always on the edge.

Philip Breen’s staging on Max Jones’ realistic impressive oppressive one-room set is excellent, though the frequent scene breaks where screens come down mean the tension diffuses and they did get on my nerves a bit after a while. I love the way the soundscape of crickets in the first half and coyotes in the second mirrors the atmosphere and events. There’s good support from Steven Elliott as the producer and a late entry by Barbara Rafferty as mom, but this really is a two-hander.

We see too little Shepard revived these days and its great to see this once more, in another great intimate space with equally fine performances.

 

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I’ve been following Frantic Assembly for a long time now. Their unique brand of physical theatre is captivating and you’d know this was a FA show within minutes. With designer Jon Bausor on board, extraordinary lighting (and darkness) by Andy Purves and a terrific soundscape by Carolyn Downing, this one adds mystery and atmosphere to the stylised movement.

It takes a while to comprehend Byrony Lavery’s narrative; in fact, I’m not sure I did fully comprehend it! There seems to have been a storm and one couple visit another’s home and their daughters get to play together. There’s a bit of a culture clash between the families, one a bit new age and the other more conventional, and there are mysterious events. The conventional couple’s daughter seems to have behavioural problems but the hippy couple’s is grounded.

Some of Bausor’s metal frames are manipulated by the four actors, sometimes with another actor in them. An elevated frame structure houses actors, who appear at odd angles, seemingly completely horizontal at times – I’m not sure how they pulled this off, but I suspect it involves mirrors. The lighting highlights just enough for the purpose. The brooding sound design adds much to the tension.

This isn’t a show to be too literal about. It’s a unique visual and atmospheric experience that intrigues and hypnotises you. I think it is let down by the obtuse story / narrative, but Scott Graham’s production provides 75 minutes of intrigue and tension. Go see for yourself.

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NEW PLAYS

Chimerica – Lucy Kirkwood’s play takes an historical starting point for a very contemporary debate on an epic scale at the Almeida

Jumpers for Goalposts – Tom Wells’ warm-hearted play had me laughing and crying simultaneously for the first time ever – Paines Plough at Watford Palace and the Bush Theatre

Handbagged – with HMQ and just one PM, Moira Buffini’s 2010 playlet expanded to bring more depth and more laughs than The Audience (Tricycle Theatre)

Gutted – Rikki Beale-Blair’s ambitious, brave, sprawling, epic, passionate family saga at the people’s theatre, Stratford East

Di & Viv & Rose – Amelia Bullimore’s delightful exploration of human friendship at Hampstead Theatre

Honourable mentions to the Young Vic’s Season in the Congo and NTS’ Let the Right One In at the Royal Court

SHAKESPEARE

2013 will go down as the year when some of our finest young actors took to the boards and made Shakespeare exciting, seriously cool and the hottest ticket in town. Tom Hiddleston’s Coriolanus at the Donmar and James McAvoy’s Macbeth for Jamie Lloyd Productions were both raw, visceral, physical & thrilling interpretations. The dream team of Adrian Lester and Rory Kinnear provided psychological depth in a very contemporary Othello at the NT. Jude Law and David Tennant as King’s Henry V for Michael Grandage Company and the RSC’s Richard II led more elegant, traditional but lucid interpretations. They all enhanced the theatrical year and I feel privileged to have seen them.

OTHER REVIVALS

Mies Julie – Strindberg in South Africa, tense and riveting, brilliantly acted (Riverside)

Edward II – a superb contemporary staging which illuminated this 400-year-old Marlowe play at the NT

Rutherford & Son – Northern Broadsides in an underated 100-year-old northern play visiting Kingston

Amen Corner – The NT director designate’s very musical staging of this 1950’s Black American play

The Pride – speedy revival but justified and timely, and one of many highlights of the Jamie Lloyd season

London Wall & Laburnam Grove – not one, but two early 20th century plays that came alive at the tiny Finborough Theatre

Honorable mentions for To Kill A Mockingbird at the Open Air, Beautiful Thing at the Arts, Fences in the West End, Purple Heart – early Bruce (Clybourne Park) Norris – at the Gate and The EL Train at Hoxton Hall, where the Eugene O’Neill experience included the venue.

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This was one of the first things I ever saw in the West End some 35 years ago, on a day trip from my then home town of Bristol. Mary J. O’Malley’s play (she hasn’t done much since) seemed a bit naughty at the time – a convent school for girls with bullying nuns, sexually repressed pupils and on-stage (but unseen) masturbation! I don’t recall a London revival since and now here it is down the road from its Willesden setting with local references including Kilburn, where the Tricycle Theatre is.

All of the pupils are called Mary, but we only meet three, which itself jarred, even though I fully appreciate fringe economics don’t stretch to a whole class. The three nuns are variations of a monster; nothing new there then. Father Mullarkey is a more benign presence, though still full of threats of what will happen if they don’t follow Jesus. Music teacher Mr Emmanuelli is rebellious but looks like a lech. One Mary has a posh boyfriend, Cuthbert, and another milkman Derek, both encouraging sexual experimentation.

Though it’s more nostalgic than shocking, there are some very funny moments in a well acted production – I particularly liked Molly Logan as Mary Mooney (the one without the boyfriend, but…) and Calum Callaghan’s exploitive mysogynistic Derek – staged by Kathy Burke. The design is a bit odd, with three gaudy receding proscenium arches, presumably meant to be churchy, and there are so many scene changes it loses pace, particularly in the first act.

It’s a solid three stars really – enjoyable enough, I didn’t regret going but I wonder if it’s worth reviving. That said, the rest of the audience seemed to be having more fun than me, though many of them looked as if they may be ex-pupils of such a school!

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Lest you think this play about Margaret Thatcher and The Queen and their ‘audiences’ owes anything to Peter Morgan’s The Audience, perhaps I should begin by telling you that it started life as one of the nine plays in Women Power & Politics more than three years ago here at the Tricycle Theatre (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2010/06/27/women-power-politics). It was one of the highlights of that and now it’s a full length premiere league treat.

It covers Thatcher’s whole period in office and there are two Queen’s and two Thatcher’s – ‘younger’, who are mostly ‘in audience’ and ‘older’, who are mostly looking back, commenting and correcting –  with two men playing all of the male roles (plus Nancy Reagan!), fighting over who plays Neil Kinnock. That’s a lot of events and a lot of audiences. It’s a whistle-stop history of the 80’s told through these weekly meetings and it’s hugely entertaining in Indhu Rubasingham’s excellent fast-paced production. It is, of course, largely speculative, yet it comes to the same conclusions as Morgan did – but by focusing on the Queen’s relationship with this one Prime Minister, it’s able to go into much more depth.

The performances are all superb. Stella Gonet & Fenella Woolgar get the public and private Thatcher to a tee and Marion Bailey & Clare Holman do the same with Elizabeth II. The men – Jeff Rawle & Neet Mohan – play 17 roles between them, from footmen to protesters and Michael Hestletine to Kenneth Kaunda, and are allowed to step out of their characters from time to time, which makes for a lot of fun The existence of an audience is occasionally acknowledged as the fourth wall disappears and we’re addressed directly.

Being in an audience of people old enough to have lived through this period made for a superb atmosphere at the performance I attended. This is an enormous pleasure and if it doesn’t get a West End transfer so that many more people can see it, I will be both surprised and disappointed.

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I’m not normally one for monologues and one-person shows, but this is an exception.

Colman Domingo’s biographical piece tells his story of growing up and coming out as a black man in Philadelphia. Set in the basement if the family home as he sorts out stuff pre-sale, post-bereavement, he flashes back to key points in his life using the soul music as a soundtrack. In addition to playing himself, he effectively plays his parents, siblings and aunt with just a change of voice, posture and expression.

I think his great achievement is to bring alive this world that you really do enter, with great warmth and charm and self-deprecating humour. He occasionally talks direct to the audience, perhaps asking them if they remember a particular track, and this adds to the feeling of intimacy; you’re there in the basement being told the story of his life.

A lovely, funny, heart-warming show which has gone already but surely must return.

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I was so excited about two of my favourite actors cast as Othello (Adrian Lester) and Iago (Rory Kinnear), heightened by seeing Lester play Ira Aldridge play Othello in Red Velvet at the Tricycle last year, there was a big risk of disappointment. The surprise turns out to be  how much else I loved about Nicholas Hytner’s production and how the exciting casting didn’t overshadow it at all. This is one of the best Othello’s I’ve ever seen, and one of the best modern settings of Shakespeare.

After the initial scenes in Venice, we are propelled to a hyper-realistic army camp in Cyprus, brilliantly designed by Vicki Mortimer. As soon as you get into the rhythm of the verse, this is a contemporary thriller, not a 400-year-old play. It builds brilliantly and draws you in to the story of power, jealousy and revenge. About the only implausibility in a contemporary world is that it all rests on a handkerchief!

The racism Othello is subjected to struck me more than ever. Iago seems much more complex here than I’ve ever felt before. The scene where the authorities decide to send Othello to Cyprus could be a cabinet meeting at the outset of the Iraq war. In the barrack room, the soldiers play drinking games and get drunk, as they would. Ludovico arriving by helicopter rather than ship makes complete sense. This is intelligent rather than gimmicky, though perhaps Roderigo as Prince William is a little tongue in cheek! From the moment that Othello takes Iago’s bait (in the gents!) it unfolds like the best thrillers.

Neither Lester nor Kinnear disappoint and compare favourably with my other Othello’s, from Ben Kingsley (when it was acceptable!) to Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Iago’s, from Ian McKellen to Ewan McGregor. Lyndsey Marshall as a soldier Emilia is the best interpretation of this role I’ve ever seen. In a distinctly unstarry company, there is fine support from William Chubb as Brabantio and Nick Sampson as Ludovico, amongst others.

I think I enjoyed this even more than any of the other Hytner Olivier Shakespeare’s and at the end I was desperately hoping his departure as AD won’t mean its the last.

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I had two reservations about this. Can you really make an interesting play about the arrest of a Chinese dissident, however important the issues are? Is Hampstead, with its somewhat conservative audience, the right theatre?

Well, the answer to the first question is a definite yes. What Howard Brenton has produced, at Ai Weiwei’s request, based on his account in Barnaby Martin’s book, is a multi-layered piece about freedom of expression, the absurd responses of tyrannies to dissidence, the cruelty & indignity of imprisonment & interrogation and a bit of a debate about art. Silence is used to create tension and illustrate boredom and both humour and humanity pop up in the most unlikely places.

We start with Ai Weiwei’s arrest at the airport, about to board a plane for Hong Kong. In the first segment, we see his initial detention and interrogation by the Beijing police with two young guards suffocating him the rest of the time, occasionally playing with their smartphones, dozing and playing games with one another to relieve their boredom. In the second, we have more interrogation but now in military detention with two soldiers now suffocating in a more formal way including watching him pee. In between, we glimpse some debates between politicians divided in how to deal with it all.

The detention, of course, has the effect of increasing the attention and negative publicity they seek to bury. Even the guards, soldiers & interrogators eventually hint at their personal sympathy. The pointlessness, dullness, cruelty and indignity of it all are clearly and cleverly presented in James Macdonald’s production. If an intelligent Chinese politician saw it, they would surely realise how misguided their policy is. He was of course released, so maybe they did.

Much of the success of the play is down to Benedict Wong’s outstanding central performance. He conveys defiance and determination but also frustration and hopelessness. It’s a nice touch to have the same two actors – Andrew Koji & Christopher Goh – play the young police guards and the well-drilled uniformed soldiers. In Ashley Martin Davies’ excellent design, the ‘cells’ cleverly open up from crates manoeuvred by ‘extras’ and giant painted scrolls and ornamental trees appear for the brief exchanges between politicians.

Despite its relatively short running time, and fewer words than most plays, it covers a lot of ground effectively and in depth. With regard to the second question, though, I do think its in the wrong theatre playing to the wrong audience. This is a Tricycle play on the Hampstead stage, but still, it’s on a stage and should be seen. I now have to reconcile my view of it all with two impending visits to China!

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