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Posts Tagged ‘William Dudley’

Quite a few years ago GSMD introduced me to a Noel Coward play called Peace in Our Time, set in an occupied London at the end of the Second World War; the Nazis had won. Now they are introducing me to another rare Coward, an anti-war play set during and after the First World War. It’s a fascinating piece and it’s given a stunning production.

Coward wrote it in 1930, after being deeply affected by performing in R C Sheriff’s Journey’s End, another First World War play. He published it but decided it was too bitter to stage. It’s first performance took place in a PoW camp in Austria in 1944, where the prisoners included four professional actors. It was first seen here in 1968, on TV, and not until 1992 on stage, when it had its first production at the Kings Head Theatre. That was 25 years ago and its baffling that no-one has staged it since. Coward is known for comedy and songs, so in a blind test you probably wouldn’t guess correctly, though the dialogue does have his voice.

We start in the trenches with five very different officers. Cavan swaps watch with Robbins and is killed. At that moment, he becomes a ghostly presence back home where thirteen years have passed. He visits his mother, his former girlfriend, his newspaper baron father (a thinly disguised snipe at the Daily Mail) and his former army colleagues. The war has made nothing better and some things worse. When his time is up, we return to the trenches as he’s stretchered away. There’s one final moving moment at a war memorial.

William Dudley’s projection tunnel is extraordinary, enabling them to move to seven very different locations in two time periods, which helps Lucy Bailey’s staging flow so beautifully. Tom Glenister is excellent as Cavan, on stage throughout, and there’s a particularly fine performance from Nicholas Armfield as tortured Lomas, who writes a book after the war which Cavan’s dad’s newspaper riles against. In fact, the whole ensemble of twenty-five is outstanding.

Well worth reviving, in a matchless production. Only three more days.

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This is such a perfect pairing of play and venue. Much of the action of Agatha Christie’s 1953 play takes place in an Old Bailey courtroom and the County Hall chamber is a superb stand-in for the real thing. This is not the sort of play I’m usually drawn to, though I went to The Mousetrap (as it was the only theatre I hadn’t been in) and enjoyed it, and I thoroughly enjoyed this. It may not run as long as the other one, but it has HIT written all over it.

It’s the case of the alleged murder of a rich old woman by a charming young man. The prosecution and defence QC’s are arch enemies who love winning their cases. The key witness is a foreigner (not so politically correct today, but it has post-Brexit resonance)! I hadn’t seen the play or film before, so the expertly written twists were genuinely surprising. What more can I say without spoiling it?

Designer William Dudley has a venue which virtually designs itself, but his extra touches are excellent. Chris Davey’s lighting and especially Mic Pool’s ‘soundscape’ add much to create the unique atmosphere. It’s hard to imagine better casting than the triumvirate of Patrick Godfrey as Judge and David Yelland & Philip Franks as the QC’s, all excellent, and Jack McMullen and Catherine Steadman are terrific as the defendant Leonard Vole and his wife Romaine.

It’s a somewhat old-fashioned evening, but Lucy Bailey’s production oozes quality from every pore and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Oh, and the seats must be the comfiest in theatre-land.

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This is a masque written by poet John Milton in 1634 to mark the appointment of the Earl of Bridgewater as ‘Lord President’ (something like today’s Lord Lieutenant) of Wales. In Lucy Bailey’s production it’s more of a masque-within-a-masque, with the final rehearsal as a prologue and a bit of a feminist epilogue.

The masque appears to be designed to whitewash the Bridgewater family name after a scandal involving a wicked uncle, so its theme is chastity. The players include the Earl’s three children and members of his staff. In Bailey’s production, it almost doesn’t go ahead as the Earl’s daughter throws a strop during the final rehearsal. 

Comus is an enchanter with a bunch of ‘monstrous followers’. He seeks to bed The Lady, who has lost the two brothers accompanying her. They eventually find her bound to a chair (like something out of a 17th century brothel) under a spell, in immediate danger of losing her virginity. A nymph of the River Severn turns up to break the spell and set her free.

It’s a bit of a romp, good fun, but a touch overcooked I thought. The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse has had a bit of a makeover by designer William Dudley with an elevated walkway around the back of the pit and a pit within the pit that extends under the stage to represent the River Severn. The gothic masks and ivy which adorn the theatre create a great setting and the costumes are terrific. Above all, there’s lovely music combining original songs by Henry Lawes with music by his contemporaries like Dowland and Gibbons and modern additions by folk band Blowzabella and composer Paul James. It’s a fine ensemble, with Philip Cumbus giving us a great turn as Henry Lawes.

Perfect for the SWP, fascinating to see a masque that isn’t by Purcell, and jolly good fun.

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This is the second play about Lawrence of Arabia in this centenary year of the Arab Revolt. When I saw Howard Brenton’s Lawrence After Arabia recently at Hampstead, I had no idea Terence Rattigan had written a play about the same man 46 years ago. This rare revival at Chichester was therefore an opportunity not to be missed for a Rattigan fan with a new interest in T E Lawrence. 

Like Brenton’s play, it starts and ends with scenes after his return from the Middle East, but this time during his first spell of attempted anonymity in the RAF rather than his second spell in the army, and we’re there with him rather than on leave at the home of G B Shaw and his wife. The filling in this sandwich is a more substantial period in the Middle East. Rattigan uses his RAF experience once more in writing terrific scenes of camaraderie, funny at the beginning, more moving at the end. There’s real emphasis on his genuine affection for, and friendship with, the Arab rebels he effectively leads. The Turkish forces appear this time and the account of the horrors he experienced when apprehended by them are very graphic. Though I enjoyed Brenton’s play, I found this had more depth, both in narrative and characterisation, but it did lag a bit in the initial Middle East scenes.

The eighteen strong all-male cast won’t win any awards for diversity, but that was unlikely to be on Rattigan’s mind 46 years ago. It’s a uniformly excellent ensemble too, led by Joseph Fiennes as an introspective but passionate Lawrence. Peter Polycarpou and Michael Feast are both very good, and virtually unrecognisable, as Sheik Auda Abu Tayi and the Turkish Military Governor respectively. Paul Freeman is great as General Allenby and Brendan Hooper a delight as Flight Sergeant Thompson. The stage seems much deeper than usual and William Dudley’s superb design features very imposing Egyptian pillars at the back and an open rough sandy stage which can change from British barracks to desert to office with just the minimum of furniture. I thought Adrian Noble’s staging was outstanding.

Well worth suffering Southern Rail’s chaos on a trip down to Chichester, good to see both Fiennes brothers in the same week, and to see the second of three plays by or about Rattigan in a three week period!

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When I went to see the workshop of this new adaptation of Joan Littlewood / Frank Norman / Lionel Bart’s 1959 show, I enjoyed it very much but never expected it to turn out this good. Elliot Davies has added songs like Do You Mind? and Living Doll from the Lional Bart ‘songbook’ to turn the show from a play-with-music into a fully fledged musical – and it works very well indeed.

We’re in a seedy Soho club in the 50’s with loveable rogues and prostitutes. It centres on club owner Fred and his ex-brass girlfriend Lil and pimp Tosher and his working girls Betty, Brenda & Margaret. Bent copper PC Collins pays regular visits to collect his cut and Paddy becomes a fixture when he wins half the club in a game of cards. Meatface (offstage) presents their greatest threat. Innocent homeless Rosie gets taken in and adopted by the girls, exploited by Tosher and hurt by Meatface. Petty criminal Red Hot takes refuge on release from prison. Outrageously camp Horace is invited in to give them a makeover and posh Percy & even posher Myrtle come to the subsequent re-opening. We love them all (well, apart from Meatface, obviously).

Writer Frank Norman was from this world, so the story, characters and situations ooze authenticity, albeit a little caricatured and romanticised. William Dudley (where has he been recently?) has created a brilliantly authentic club to match, with clever projections onto the skylights. Terry Johnson’s staging and Nathan M Wright’s choreography make it all sparkle. Above all, though, it’s the perfect casting that is probably its greatest success. I’ve only seen East Ender Jessie Wallace in Rent; here’s she’s so much more at home as Lil, with a surprisingly good voice. Mark Arden couldn’t look more the part if he had the best make-up and prosthetics money can buy; he’s the embodiment of Fred. I’ve admired Suzie Chard for a while and it’s great to see her commanding the stage and sometimes stealing the show as Betty. You love to hate but can’t help loving Stefan Booth’s Tosher and Sarah Middelton’s Rosie melts your heart with her gorgeous voice. There’s are terrific cameos from Christopher Ryan as Red Hot (there’s a delicious moment when he’s singing along to Living Doll, famously revived by The Young Ones – of which he was one – with Cliff Richard for Comic Relief) and Ryan Molloy as camp designer Horace who sweeps in and sweeps you away.

Of course, we’re back where it started at the Theatre Royal Stratford East where it fits like a glove, proving a right old East End knees-up. A treat.

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John Gay has a lot to answer for. In satirising 18th century opera, he invented the musical as we know it today (and even jukebox musicals, as his was a compilation of popular songs of the day) and it’s content was so controversial, it resulted in the introduction of theatrical censorship which continued for 240 years until just 43 years ago. He also made more money that a lot of contemporary musicals – the equivalent of £1m!

Lucy Bailey’s production for the Open Air Theatre is much darker and bawdier than any I’ve seen before, and somehow feels much more authentic. It’s another show (after Into the Woods and Lord of the Flies) that’s perfect for the venue too. Bill Dudley has created a superb death & torture location with gallows and stocks, brilliant period costumes and a Hogarthian front cloth to take you to the London of the early eighteenth century.

Macheath is a highwayman and womanizer, target of thief catcher Peachum and jailer Lockit, both of whose daughters he has bedded and proposed to (and in Lucy Lockit’s case impregnated). Along the road to his capture we seem to spend most of our time in bars and brothels with a surfeit of thieving, drinking, fighting and fornication. It’s a bit shocking today, so I dread to think what they thought of it 283 years ago!

It’s a great ensemble, expanded to 26 with the addition of students from E 15 Acting School with stand out performances from Jasper Britton and Janet Fullerlove as the Peachums, Oliver Hoare as their servant Filch and Beverly Rudd as both Lucy Lockit and Dolly Trull. They’ve cast singing actors rather than singers, which I think is right for the piece but doesn’t make for the best vocals. The playing of six piece ensemble The City Waites though is first class.  The choreography and fight direction of Maxine Doyle and Terry King is outstanding; you often went ‘ouch’ as you could virtually feel the punches and falls.

Another great night at the Open Air on another great night. Next stop Gershwin’s Crazy for You in a month’s time.

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My second Arthur Miller revival of the year proves to be much more than the Suchet-Wanamaker show, though they are both at the height of their powers and give terrific performances.

The first star is Bill Dudley’s extraordinary set – a life-size American suburban house and garden surrounded by giant trees have taken over from Jerusalem’s English wood with Airstream caravan! Similar (the same?) as the National ten years ago, from the third row of the stalls you felt like you were peering over the fence into a neighbour’s garden.

The rest of the cast is excellent indeed, including Stephen Campbell Moore’s principled son, Jemima Rooper’s tortured  soul and an angry David Lapaine. Director Howard Davies has indeed assembled a uniformly excellent cast for this revival

The main star, of course, is Millers’ play – a masterpiece of the 20th century which could just as easily be about contemporary families torn apart by profiteering out of the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan. It has so much humanity and so much depth.

It’s great to see ‘House Full’ signs on a Monday for a modern classic, and it proved to be a thrilling evening in the theatre.

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