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Posts Tagged ‘Wyndhams Theatre’

It’s good to welcome the First Lady of Broadway to these shores, in a proper show too, albeit a one-woman one. We’ve only seen her before in concert, and only once in recent years. This show seeks to recreate a Billy Holiday concert before a tiny audience in a Philadelphia nightclub shortly before her death and its a virtuoso performance by Audra McDonald. 

Wyndham’s Theatre has had a makeover, with cabaret seating onstage and in the front stalls. Interspersed with the fifteen songs, accompanied by an onstage piano bass & drums jazz trio, an intoxicated Billy tells us things about her life, including her mother’s dalliance with the oldest profession, her dad’s desertion, sexual abuse, the men in her life, prison and her Carnegie Hall triumph. It becomes increasingly uncomfortable as you watch her breaking down before your very eyes, though when she sings it’s heavenly.

Even though its only 100 unbroken minutes, I felt it outstayed its welcome a bit and left me feeling somewhat depressed at the tragic life, but that takes nothing away from an extraordinary performance which had you on the edge of her seat willing Billy, forgetting you were watching a characterisation rather than a real person.

It has to be seen, but I’d like to welcome her back again with something more uplifting.

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When I saw Patrick Stewart in Anthony & Cleopatra some time ago he had a throat infection but went on like a real pro. He was clearly suffering at Thursday’s performance of this play too, but he continued gallantly. It was inspirational to see two theatrical knights with a combined age of 153 still at the top of their game, and in Stewart’s case, determined not to disappoint his fans with an understudy.

I’m slowly reappraising Pinter, one of my problem playwrights, aided by recent revelatory productions by Jamie Lloyd and Matthew Warchus, and Sean Mathias now does for No Man’s Land what Lloyd did for The Hothouse and The Homecoming and Warchus did for The Caretaker. I don’t profess to understand it, but I do find it captivating, fascinating and funny.

Successful writer Hirst brings the less successful and somewhat scruffy Spooner home from the pub and they drink and chat (well, Spooner rather hogs the conversation). Hirst’s staff, Foster and Briggs, archetypal menacing Pinter characters, are introduced. In the second half, the following morning, Hirst does more of the talking as Spooner tries to get himself hired as his secretary. Foster and Briggs continue their intimidation and ambiguity.

It’s back in Wyndhams, the same theatre it transferred to (from the NT at the Old Vic) 41 years ago. Lancastrian McKellen plays Spooner, named after a Lancastrian cricketer, the role originally played by John Gielgud. Yorkshireman Stewart plays Hirst, named after a Yorkshire cricketer, first played by Ralph Richardson. They are both superb. Owen Teale and Damien Molony provide fine support as Briggs and Foster, also named after cricketers.

I thought the personal, first person programme bio’s were a nice touch and gave two of the actors the opportunity to make a point about access to training today by comparing their experience with the more difficult climate today.

It was a privilege to watch such a masterclass in acting, as I continue to warm to Pinter.

 

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In his fifteen year playwriting career Richard Bean has written no less than twenty shows (including two adaptations and the book for a musical) and we’re already getting revivals – his first play Toast at the Park Theatre last year and now his 2002 third play, originally seen at the NT’s first temporary space, The Loft. This one gets a West End run, presumably on the strength of his One Man, Two Guvnors success and the casting of Stephen Merchant in his stage debut.

It’s a two-hander set in a grubby hotel room in north London. Ted has decided to set up a utopian community based on an obscure novel he’s read and he has asked best friend Morrie (Steffan Rhodri) to film a video to help him promote it. By the interval, I was wondering if this really was a Richard Bean play. It was a bit dull. The second half though is packed with revelations, twists and turns. We learn about the nature of their friendship and back stories, we begin to differentiate between realities and fantasies and we learn what the play is really about. For me, though, the imbalance between the acts, holding back so much until the second act, is a fatal flaw.

Stephen Merchant acquits himself well as a stage actor and Steffan Rhodri does very well to play ‘straight man’ (with the attention and focus all on Merchant), but the play isn’t good enough to be a vehicle in itself and I left disappointed. If they’d mounted a lower profile Off West End production as a 90-minute show without the interval I think it would have fared a lot better. In the glare of the West End, with the expectations that (and the ticket prices) generates it sets itself up and fails to deliver.

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This 1975 early David Mamet play, his 4th (of 24!), certainly attracts star actors. I saw Al Pacino at the Duke of Yorks in 1984 and William H Macy (a pupil of Mamet) at the Donmar in 2000, both playing Teach, and now it’s Damian Lewis as Teach with both John Goodman and Tom Sturridge in the other roles! I suspect it’s more fun to play than to watch.

Set in a Chicago junk shop (brilliantly claustrophobic design from Paul Wills) it occupies a very man’s world of gambling and bravado, on the fringes of crime. Proprietor Don thinks he may have undersold a coin (which gives the play its title) and plots to rob it back (with others) with the help of friends Teach and Fletcher (who we don’t meet). It later transpires that his young gofer Bob may already have done so. The relationship between Don and Bob came over much more in this production, Don very fatherly with hints of perhaps more than that, and Teach is more larger than life, more comic. I’m not sure the play is wearing well, though. We see a lot more of this type of work today, so it seems less fresh and original. To be honest, I found it a bit dull this time around.

I thought both John Goodman and Tom Sturridge, in a very physical performance, were outstanding, but I felt Damian Lewis overacted a bit, stealing the centre of attention but not deserving of it. Director Daniel Evans staging is good, emphasising the subtlety and complexity of the relationships.

Good to see work like this, with such good actors, selling out on the West End; without them I couldn’t honestly say it would be a worthwhile revival.

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