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Posts Tagged ‘Vicky Featherstone’

I think I would best describe this intriguing play by Ed Thomas as Samuel Beckett meets Dylan Thomas. It’s dialogue is poetic and it’s story is obscure, something I often turn against, but here I found it rather captivating.

John Daniel and his wife Noni are the last inhabitants of Bear Ridge. They’ve had to close their butchers shop. The post office has stopped delivering mail and their phone line has been cut. Their shop assistant & slaughter-man Ifan William has stayed with them. We don’t exactly know why Bear Ridge is being deserted, though it appears to be the result of a war of some sorts. Fighter planes occasionally fly overhead and an army man, The Captain, pays a visit.

Their conversation ranges from their plight to reminiscences about a happier past and reflections on tragedy, when we learn that John Daniel & Noni’s son, and Ifan William’s best friend, went to university to study philosophy but was killed because he spoke ‘the old language’. The Captain, a clearly tortured soul, has his own tragic story to tell. I’m still trying to piece it all together, with an intriguing note in the play-script suggesting it is ‘semi-autobiographical’.

Rhys Ifans and Rakie Ayola are both terrific as the couple at the centre of the story, with fine support from Sion Daniel Young as Ifan William and Jason Hughes as The Captain. Cai Dyfan’s design is hugely atmospheric, the exit of the walls representing the decline, as is the music and sound design. The Royal Court’s AD Vicky Featherstone co-directs with the playwright.

National Theatre Wales has gone through a difficult time of late, but it’s good to see them back, and in London, with this Royal Court co-production. I suspect I will be processing it for some time yet.

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If you judged this play on the first and last 20 mins, you might think it was rather good. Sadly, the 80 minutes in-between are dire. The Royal Court’s Literary Manager must be away or asleep. This should never have got onto the main stage, at least not in its present form. Not even an actress as good as Maxine Peake can redeem it.

The play opens with Dana and Jarron waking from a night of passion. She thinks this relationship might have legs, he thinks it was a business transaction. He works for the UN, appears to be a demon and certainly leaves his mark, if not his money. Dana is late for her pitch for project funding, preparing in a rush with the help of her sister Jasmin, but it all goes horribly wrong. What follows, it seems, is Dana’s journey, with her pregnant sister, to Alexandria for another pitch. A librarian turns up regularly with appropriate reading suggestions and Jarron is rarely far away. It ends with a bit of a coup d’theatre (thanks to Chloe Lamford’s design) as we seem to be drowning, like illegal immigrants at sea.

The trouble is the whole middle section – a nightmare in both content and experience, an obtuse and deeply frustrating ramble, makes two hours (without an interval – very wise!) feel like a lifetime. I’m sure playwright Zinnie Harris has valid points to make, but they are buried in this incoherent mess. Maxine Peake does her very best with the material, with excellent support from Michael Shaeffer as Jarron, Christine Bottomley as Jasmin and Peter Forbes as the librarian, but it’s not enough. What used to be the home of new writing is yet again the home of shoddy writing that needs to be reigned in and whipped into better shape by a literary manager and / or director Vicky Featherstone.

I’ve spent many years trusting The Court and taking risks, most of which have been rewarded, but on recent form The Twits (surely they can’t mess that up?) may be my last blind punt. It’s very sad to watch a once great institution go down the pan.

 

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This pulls most of its punches before it has even started. The real coup d’theatre happens as you enter through the kids cloakroom into an uber-realistic primary school classroom (designer Chloe Lamford) where the kids are playing. It takes your breath away. Sadly, it’s all downhill from there.

We’re at a school where Sali Rayner’s learning system is being piloted. She’s the writer of the Badger Do Best children’s books and she is seeking to exploit their potential in collusion with the authorities. If it succeeds the school gets a capital injection, so head teacher Ms Evitt colludes. Class 4N’s teacher Ms Newsome conforms until the kids rebel and she goes off with stress. Teaching assistant Mrs Bradley is clearly against and covertly supports the rebellion led by young Louis. In 35 short scenes (average length less than 3 mins) we get progressively bored without really getting anywhere. This play by Molly Davies really is dull. It takes 100 minutes of heavy-handedness to drive home its point – central control of education patronises our children and stifles their individuality. In doing so, it patronised me.

The seven child actors are great. The adult roles are all a bit stereotypical, so not even seeing Julie Hesmondhalgh (Corrie’s now deceased Hayley) and Amanda Abbington (Mrs Martin Freeman) off the telly can lift your spirits. Vicky Featherstone’s production needs a firework up its arse to give it anything like the energy you’d get in a classroom of eight-year-olds.

Another disappointment at the Royal Court, I’m afraid. I’m beginning to sound like a broken record…..

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Abi Morgan is an accomplished writer across theatre, film & TV and I’ve always enjoyed her work. Though I’d never heard about the real life She and He and their relationship based on the agreement to which the title refers, I can imagine why she would want to dramatise it. Sadly, it comes out as an inert and somewhat dull play.

In five scenes, we follow the relationship over 30 years, from the day they sign the agreement. It all takes place in She’s West US home, which is part of the agreement, an extraordinary tall structure with desert backdrop and giant cacti designed by Merle Hensel. He arrives and they go about their sparring, talking dirty. They have a lot of sex, offstage. They both have ex’s and children; He may also have a current wife. She’s a feminist and he’s certainly not. They record their encounters. They have entered into an unusual arrangement, instigated by Her, that is clearly mutually acceptable and it lasts. In the latter years they are together for half the year. After thirty years they make it public in their memoirs. That’s about it, really.

Despite good performances from Danny Webb & Saskia Reeves, it wasn’t long before I was slipping into a disengaged state of ‘so what?’ I’m afraid I didn’t like and wasn’t interested in either character. The feminist debate was nowhere near as interesting as that in other current plays Blurred Lines or Rapture Blister Burn. When you can’t get into something, ninety minutes can be a very long time and to be honest I just wanted it to end from about half-way through. Another occasion where no interval was wise indeed (well, for the theatre anyway).

I think director Vicky Featherstone could have given it more pace and energy, but I think the core issue is that the story just doesn’t lend itself to dramatisation and should stay on the page.

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I’ve come late to this love-it-or-hate-it Dennis Kelly play at the Royal Court, having had to cancel a planned visit earlier in the run. I almost left at the interval, but didn’t, and this was one occasion when I’m glad I didn’t. It’s taken me another week to decide what I think about it, during which time I also read it (I knew those programme / playscripts would come in handy one day).

In the first thirty minutes we get the whole life of the title character from birth to the end of his first marriage, told by the ensemble as narrators, in turns, mostly in short one-liners. This went on for an irritatingly long time and the play appeared to be going nowhere. Then we have a scene where nice(ish) Gorge becomes nasty Gorge when he aids a predatory takeover of his employer’s company, knowing full well it isn’t in his boss’ best interests. From here on it’s the rise (and fall) of a man who has lost his moral compass. He builds a business empire, ensnares his second wife by mirroring her abusive past, writes a book about his own and ends up rich but sad, thinking everything can be bought – including his brother and unknown grandson who turn up and turn his life upside down.

The final two acts are a big improvement on the prologue and first act, but it’s still a long and heavy-handed way of showing us how morally corruptible one man can become – presumably presented as a sign of our times. The three acts are interrupted by similar, but shorter, narration as the prologue and that continued to irritate me. It’s an overlong and uneven ride, but it has its moments and I have sympathy with the underlying message. Tom Brooke is remarkable as Gorge (I’m still not sure if and why he’s lost his ‘e’) and there’s excellent support from the rest of the cast.

This isn’t Dennis Kelly at his best, and not a particularly auspicious start for Vicky Featherstone’s tenure at The Royal Court, but it isn’t as bad as some would have you believe and it is timely and original – but not the success we’d have liked to bring in the new.

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The ever enterprising National Theatre of Scotland have come south again with a piece that is both verbatim and site specific – a double whammy of theatre fashion.

Enquirer explores the world of journalism and the views of journalists in the period between the Leveson revelations and (hopefully) remedies. They’ve interviewed 43 of them and the piece does successfully immerse you in their world, moving from the daily editorial conferences to the newsroom to voyeuristic moments in the interviews themselves. It isn’t exactly revelatory though so in the end it is just a glimpse into this world.

I’m not sure it really needed to be site specific. It’s a handful of spaces in an office block effectively dressed / littered with a vast quantity of bundles of newspapers. Some of the scenes were far too short and off you were again being herded into another space. It did bring an intimacy to the boardroom scenes and you really did feel like a fly on the wall at some of the interviews, but on the whole the form didn’t add enough to justify it.

Six excellent actors bring their subjects alive very well, in particular Billy Riddoch’s old school tabloid editor and John Bett’s more pompous and patronising broadsheet equivalent. Vicky Featherstone, John Tiffany and Andrew O’Hagan have edited and staged the piece so that it draws you in quickly and doesn’t outstay its welcome.

A partial success, then, and I’m glad went. One thing’s for certain – the nomadic National Theatres of both Scotland and Wales are consistently innovative and they’re welcome here any time.

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