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Posts Tagged ‘Vanessa Redgrave’

Even though this isn’t a classic Tennessee Williams work, it’s the third major London revival in thirty years – Peter Hall’s with Vanessa Redgrave in 1988, Nicholas Hytner’s with Helen Mirren nineteen years ago, and now Tamara Harvey directing Hattie Morahan and Seth Numrich in a co-production by the Menier Chocolate Factory and Theatre Clwyd. It’s inspired by the Orpheus myth, but it’s an uneven play, with a dull first half and an action-packed second. It’s also not easy for modern audiences to swallow the racism, however authentic it is of the period. The production, though, is first class.

Lady is a southern belle of Sicilian descent. Her father, a street performer back home, came to the US and became a bootlegger in prohibition times. He was murdered when he crossed a line that was unacceptable to the white locals. After a relationship with David Cutere, who left her, Lady ends up marrying store owner Jabe Torrence. As the play begins, he returns from major surgery at the hospital in Memphis, but the prognosis isn’t good.

In comes drifter Valentine Xavier looking for work, and Lady employs him, the sexual chemistry obvious from the outset. The relationship develops whilst Jabe stays upstairs with his nurse and sisters, the locals gossip and David’s sister Carol, a persona non grata in this community, seeks to lure Val for herself. Other characters, including Jabe’s friends Pee Wee and Dog, Sheriff Talbott and his wife Vee and local gossips Beulah and Dolly, come and go and another, Uncle Pleasant, becomes a sort of narrator, who occasionally gives us TW’s stage directions.

The problem with the play is that the 75 minute first half is virtually all scene-setting, and plays out so slowly that it risks losing the audience. The second half is a complete contrast as Lady discovers more about her father’s murder, makes a confession of her own and Val, who just about every woman in the neighbourhood is now smitten by, is driven out of town by their men, as the play is propelled to its tragic conclusion.

With the audience on three sides and just the back of the shopfront as a backdrop and a few tables and chairs for props, the Menier space seems vast, and is used very well in this staging. The ensemble is uniformly outstanding, led by terrific performances from Hattie Morahan as Lady and Seth Numrich as Val, with great chemistry between them. Jemima Rooper is superb as Carol and Carol Royle makes much of the strange character of god-fearing Vee. The supporting roles are all well cast; I was particularly impressed by Catrin Aaron and Laura Jane Matthewson as gossips Beulah & Dolly.

Despite the play’s problems, the fine production and exceptional performances make it worth seeing again.

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American playwright Martin Sherman rose to fame with the play Bent, about the treatment of homosexuals in the holocaust, which starred Ian McKellen in London and Richard Gere on Broadway, then became a major film. He settled in London, where he had five high profile premieres over fifteen years in the 80’s and 90’s, attracting actors like Vanessa Redgrave and Olympia Dukakis to star in them, but he hasn’t been particularly prolific. It’s taken ten years since Onassis to get this new play, though in all fairness he is now 80!

It’s a reflection on the changes that have impacted the gay community over the years, told through the life of Beau, an American cocktail pianist who’s moved from New Orleans to San Fransisco and Paris, settling in London. In a series of monologues, we learn about the changes in gay life through his life, over forty or fifty years. These are interspersed with contemporary scenes, over another twelve years, from when he meets his much younger partner Rufus to when Rufus has left for a new life with his new younger partner Harry and Beau becomes a father, and grandfather, figure.

It’s a warm, gentle, understated piece, even when its reflecting on tough, challenging times. Rufus is somewhat conservative and loves all things retro, including his lovers it seems, so we get references to films and music from the middle of the 20th century when Beau’s career was in full swing but Rufus wasn’t even born. In particular, we hear about a British singer called Mabel Mercer, apparently a real life character, who’s career took her in the opposite direction to Beau, to cocktail bars in NYC, where Beau played for her.

Jonathan Hyde is excellent as Beau, with fine support from Ben Allen and Harry Lawtey. Sean Mathias’ sympathetic staging brings you slowly into these lives. It perhaps lacks some bite, but it tells its story well and really does make you realise how much things have changed in a relatively short time.

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It’s over three months since my last theatrical immersion and only eight months since one covering similar ground. Matthew Lopez’ play comes in at six hours without feeling anything like it.

Some have called it a sequel to Angels in America, exploring the lives of the generation that followed, as it does. That’s partially true, but it’s less edgy and less political, though it covers seven years either side of last year’s US election. It’s a gentler, more emotional and sentimental piece inspired by E M Forster’s Howard’s End. It’s best to forget the parallels with both, as it’s its own thing, though still an epic theatrical feast.

It centres around a group of thirty-something gay friends in New York City at the present time, at the centre of which are Democratic party campaign worker Eric, earnest and loyal, and writer Toby, self-obsessed and flighty. Their group of friends are young professionals like doctors and lawyers in a world living with AIDS rather than dying of it. The link with the previous generation is provided by neighbours Walter and Henry, who’ve been together for thirty-six years. Eric finds a soulmate in Walter and later an unlikely partnership with Henry. Forster is a character too, tutoring them all in writing the story at the outset, then acting as a narrator, commenting on and suggesting changes to the story as we go.

Eric and Toby’s relationship is derailed by the latter’s success adapting his novel for the stage and screen, propelling young Adam to stardom in the process. Adam rejects Toby in favour of the play’s director, and Toby starts seeing a lookalike Leo, who has another connection with the group. Others plan marriages and children, something the previous generation couldn’t contemplate. It’s like binge watching a drama that grabbed you in episode one and won’t let you go. I loved the structural ingenuity and variety, including Forster’s presence, flashbacks, direct to audience narration, and it sends itself up deliciously on occasion. It’s funny and moving in equal measure.

Stephen Daldry’s staging, on and around a platform which rises and falls occasionally, is simple but masterly, with an organic flow about it. Bob Crowley’s understated design allows the story to speak for itself, with just a few moments when the back-screen moves to signpost something significant. Paul Englishby’s music and Jon Clark’s lighting add much atmosphere.

The performances are universally committed and passionate. I’ve long admired Kyle Soler, but this is surely a career defining performance as Eric. Making his UK debut, Andrew Burnap is simply sensational as Toby and Paul Hilton is wonderful as both Morgan (Forster) and Walter. Two other American visitors complete the handful of superb leads – Samuel H Levine as Adam / Leo and John Benjamin Hickey as Henry. Then in the last 45 minutes, on comes Vanessa Redgrave to give the best performance I’ve ever seen her give in a cameo as Margaret, who lost her son to AIDS after which she devotes herself to caring for others.

Another unmissable theatrical feast at the powerhouse in The Cut. I left exhausted but exhilarated, as only live theatre can do.

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Based on the two Rupert Goold Shakespeare productions I’ve seen – the exciting Stalinist Macbeth and the brilliant Las Vegas Merchant of Venice – I was expecting something a lot more radical. This is a relatively conventional take on Richard III, which is no bad thing, but it surprised me by being so.

There’s a superb contemporary preface, which I won’t spoil, references to which recur throughout. This tells you at the outset that this is history not fiction (though no doubt fictionalised history). Though it’s not that radical, it’s in modern dress, virtually the whole think in black, with comparatively low lighting levels. This contributes to its sinister atmosphere, but also made the long 100 minute first half a bit dull. After the interval, though, the production (like the play) ratchets up several notches and it’s a thrilling second half ride, with an excellent coronation scene, an emotional confrontation between Richard & Elizabeth over his proposal to marry her daughter and a well staged final battle scene. I liked the way they marked the deaths, but I thought they went too far with a violent assault in Richard’s scene with Elizabeth.

It’s superbly well cast, particularly the female roles. Joanna Vanderham is a brilliantly passionate and angry Anne, Aislin McGuckin is exceptional as Elizabeth and Susan Engel is outstanding as Richard’s mother. I’m not sure why Vanessa Redgrave is wearing a camouflage boiler suit and carrying a doll, but her performance is less stagey than her norm. Amongst the men, I was particularly impressed by Tom Canton as Richmond. Once you get over the fact he appears to be channelling Rising Damp’s Rigsby, Ralph Fiennes is a very good Richard, though he doesn’t reach the highs of my all-time favourites – Anthony Sher’s spider and Ian McKellen’s 20th century dictator.

Perhaps not a milestone Richard III, but definitely one to catch if you can.

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