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Posts Tagged ‘Yael Farber’

I leave director Yael Farber’s productions emotionally drained. Her work has a visceral, even mystical quality, and this adaptation of Lorca’s 1933 play about tribal and family feuds and loyalties is no exception.

Marina Carr’s adaptation is set in rural Ireland, though it doesn’t really change the play; family feuds are universal. The groom is about to marry the bride (we don’t know their names) and the play opens with his widowed mother and her widowed father agreeing the match. The bride has a past with Leonardo of the ‘gypsy’ Felix family, arch enemies of the groom’s family, but he has subsequently married and has a child, with another due. Despite this, he returns and there is a clear sexual frisson between him and the bride.

The bride disappears after the ceremony whilst the party is in progress, and it transpires that she has run away with him. When they are eventually tracked down, the two men fight and the play is propelled to its tragic conclusion. The weaver, the moon and two woodcutters provide a commentary rather than participation, much like a Greek chorus, giving the play much of its spiritual, mystical quality.

It’s a gripping account, with Isobel Waller-Bridge’s music and Natasha Chivers’ lighting combining with Susan Hilferty’s design to give the production an earthiness and brooding, sensual quality. It’s staged in-the-round, with one side containing a wall that lowers to provide a dramatic entrance. Imogen Knight’s suspenseful movement incorporates some rather hypnotic low ariel work. It’s a wonderful cast, including Olwen Fouere as the bitter, defiant mother of the bride and a mesmerising performance from Brid Brennan as the Weaver.

Lorca wrote this play in a divided country, shortly before the Spanish Civil War, and it struck me that he might have been writing about the society in which he lived. The play can be a metaphor for divisions of all sorts – tribes, neighbours, societies, factions – which in many ways makes it resonate eighty-five years on in our very divided world.

Another triumph for the Young Vic.

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I was wondering why I couldn’t remember anything (except earth) about David Harrower’s first play, the premiere of which I saw twenty-two years ago, then after I saw this revival at the Donmar, I realised that it was the stage equivalent of an impressionist painting – more about the setting and atmosphere it creates than the story it tells.

We’re in medieval times, though the period and location are no more specific; rural north England, perhaps. A nameless young woman lives with Pony William, the local ploughman, who doesn’t have a lot to say and whose intimacy is confined to perfunctory and speedy sex. When she takes their grain to Gilbert Horn, the miller, for processing, the attraction seems to be more than just sexual. He’s a reader and a writer and she is interested in the world this opens up to her.

I can see why director Yael Farber was attracted to it as it suits her visual style. Designer Soutra Gilmour, with help from Tim Lutkin’s striking lighting and Isobel Waller-Bridge & Christopher Shutt’s brooding music and sound combine to create something earthy and sensuous within which we get a limited amount of narrative but a lot of atmosphere. As much as I loved the visual imagery, I did feel it was light on story. The three performances are excellent – Judith Roddy, torn between Christian Cooke as strong, silent Pony William and Matt Ryan as strong, more cerebral Gilbert Horn.

It holds your attention for an unbroken ninety minutes, its sometimes mesmerising, and it leaves you feeling you’ve travelled back to peek voyeuristically into this medieval world, but I’m not sure its the modern classic some claim.

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In just four years and three productions, director Yael Farber has become a firm favourite. This time though, she’s both playwright and director and I often worry that doubling-up leads to a lack of healthy creative tension, and so it is here, I’m afraid.

She first staged this show in Washington DC three years ago, departing from her intention to stage Oscar Wilde’s play and creating her own very different take on this biblical myth. I don’t have a problem with that – it’s all fiction to me – but the dialogue is weak and the structure poor; it just isn’t a good play. She did have a dramaturg, Drew Lichtenberg, but judging by his sycophantic, barely readable programme essay, he isn’t going to challenge anything. So, as playwright, I’m afraid she fails.

As director, her staging is packed full of invention, beauty and captivating imagery. Movement, design, lighting, music and sound all come together cohesively and the virtually continuous singing by two women – Israeli Yasmin Levy and Syrian Lubana Al Quntar – is haunting and extraordinarily beautiful. It lives up to her previous work – Mies Julie, The Crucible and Les Blancs – as a thrilling production, but sadly that isn’t enough.

There is an older Salome (‘nameless’) as narrator and a younger Salome (‘Salome so-called’) who rarely speaks, both beautifully performed by Olwen Fouere and Isabella Nefar respectively. I don’t know what language Ramzi Choukair’s Iokanaan was speaking, and the surtites were so low on the back wall, most were invisible (an easily rectifiable fault, which for some reason hasn’t been rectified!) but I enjoyed the physicality of his performance.

Like Common, sharing the Olivier stage, the play is a bit of a muddle, and it does make one wonder if the QA process at the NT is fit for purpose.

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The Belgian director of Dutch theatre company Toneelgroep Amsterdam, Ivo van Hove, has created a 250 minute drama of leadership from Shakespeare’s Henry V, all three parts of Henry VI & Richard III. Given that together they come in at something like 14 hours, that’s some editing. Seeing it on St Georges Day / Shakespeare’s birthday, on the 400th anniversary of his death, made it a rather special experience.

It opens with photographs of English kings in reverse chronology to the period the play begins, starting three kings into the future! We actually begin at the deathbed of Henry IV, at the end of Part II of that play, as Prince Hal inherits the crown. The editing is specifically designed to contrast and compare the leadership styles of the three monarchs – Henry V’s youthful ambitious adventurer, Henry VI reluctant and troubled reign and the tyranny that was Richard III. It’s performed in Dutch, the surtitles speed reflecting the speedy speech. I’m a slow reader who savours words, so I was struggling to keep up and finding myself missing visual things to read all the dialogue. A third of the way through and I wasn’t convinced I’d see it through – I was exhausted – but during Henry VI it started to take a hold and by Richard III I was gripped. There were so many highly effective scenes – Henry V’s wooing of Katharina was charming and funny, Henry VI’s breakdowns were deeply moving and Richard III’s rampaging evil was menacing and thrillingly staged.

The wide space surrounded by walls has behind it corridors within which the action is relayed live by video onto a big screen stage centre. This apparently includes a flock of sheep, but as we don’t see these live like we do snatches of the other videoed scenes, they may not be there (unlike https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2015/08/17/king-lear-with-sheep !). It’s in modern dress, with the scene changing from office to ops rooms to living spaces. All of the performances are outstanding, particularly Eelco Smits as Henry VI (also good in van Hove’s Songs From Far Away at the Young Vic last year) and a stunning Richard III from Hans Kesting.

I wasn’t keen on van Hove’s Antigone at the same venue, but I did very much like his productions of  A View From The Bridge and Simon Stephens’ Song From Far Away, and based on those and this, he’s entered my directors-whose-work-I will-book-for-regardless list. A fittingly radical and fresh look at Will’s work for Shakespeare400.

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I am astonished that this is the UK premiere of this third Lorraine Hansbury play, unfinished when she died prematurely of cancer at 34, completed by her ex-husband, Robert Nemiroff, soon afterwards. It seems to me a masterpiece of 20th century American drama, but somehow we’ve had to wait forty years to find out – though part of me is pleased it’s waited for Yael Farber to give it such an extraordinary production.

Set in an unnamed African country, it moves between the home and hospital set up by Scandinavian missionaries and the village of the Matoseh family. Tshwmbe Matoseh has been living in Europe and visiting the US, lobbying for his country’s independence. He’s married a European and had a child with her. He returns to visit his sick father but he’s too late, except for the funeral. His brother Abioseh has stayed at home and, influenced by the missionaries, is about to become a priest, ‘one of them’. Their mixed race half-brother Eric is badly damaged by the consequences of his parentage in this society.

The colonial power is represented by Major Rice, who is trying to deal with an uprising which is escalating daily. The missionary minister is away, but his blind aged wife is at home with doctors from the hospital and a visiting American journalist, who observes and comments on events. The whites call the freedom fighters terrorists and are shocked when they learn some are in their own adopted communities.

The play looks at the situation from all angles as well as drawing parallels with civil rights in the US at the same time, in electrifying scenes between Danny Sapani as Tshembe Matoshe and Elliott Cowan as journalist Charlie Morris, two wonderfully passionate performances. In addition to commenting on colonialism, it looks at the differing attitudes of the indigenous people and the motivation of settlers, missionaries and medical staff – they appear well-meaning but they are not universally welcome, and being in the front line bear the brunt of the revolutionary anger, however benevolent and defenceless.

Yael Farber’s epic staging makes great use of the Olivier stage, often bathed in the beautiful bright light of Africa by Tim Lutkin. Soutra Gilmour’s simple impressionistic mission hospital building revolves on a sand covered stage, moving us to different parts, with the unadorned tribal home laid out stage front. A gentle soundscape by Adam Cork, wonderful music from a quartet of African Matriarchs and a silent semi-naked woman who seems omnipresent, moving slowly across the stage, all combine to create an evocative African atmosphere.

In addition to Sapani and Cowan, there is a superb, dignified performance from Sian Phillips – wonderful to see her continue to do such great work at this stage of her career. Clive Francis’ sends a shiver up your spine with a brilliant characterisation of The Major. I’ve seen Gary Beadle before, but here he’s a revelation, and unrecognisable, as Abioseh. Tunji Kasim beautifully captures the complexity of Eric, whose dead mother was very close to Madame Neilsen and whose father is shockingly revealed to us towards the end. It’s a terrific ensemble.

Like Mies Julie and The Crucible before, Yael Farber has again produced an enthralling, captivating and deeply moving production which burns an impression on you which I suspect will last a long long time. It must be seen!

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If you like your drama raw, visceral and harrowing, this is probably for you. Strindberg’s late 19th century play has been moved to post-apartheid South Africa. Instead of a Swedish noble’s estate, we’re on a Boar farm in the deeply conservative Karoo. The story and characters are the same, except the servant’s are mother & son instead of fiancée’s and its a whole lot more explicit. It’s not an easy ride, but it is riveting, tense and about as dramatic as drama gets.

The housekeeper’s son John has been brought up ‘downstairs’ at the same time as Boar farmer’s daughter Julie ‘upstairs’. His mother, the housekeeper, has been more of a mother to Julie than her own. John has been the offstage farmer’s ‘best boy’; the son he wanted but never had, but with the distinction apartheid brought. When Julie gets drunk and leaves the party to take refuge with the staff, the sexual tension comes to the surface, the baggage is opened and the socio-psychological impact of apartheid is laid bare, with tragic consequences.

It might be almost twenty years since the end of apartheid, but that’s not long enough to change people’s beliefs and values. The resentment’s of both white and black may be under the surface but they’re just as real, and here the relationship of John & Julie gives you profound insight into the implications of such an ingrained racial divide which is, somewhat ironically, deeper with younger South Africans than those who lived with it longer.

The soundscape of Daniel & Matthew Pencer creates a brooding, highly charged atmosphere. On cracked flagstones in the servant’s quarters, John & Julie prowl and stalk like wild animals. You can smell the hormones and feel the erotic charge. It’s electrifying. What you don’t see in Strindberg is in your face here. You have to turn away when it’s at its most brutal or voyeuristic. There are no repressed emotions here – they’re fully on display.

Bongile Mantsai & Hilda Cronje give stunning performances in the central roles – brave, dangerous and raw. Thoko Ntshinga is marvellous as mother Christine, single-handedly representing a whole generation who provided loyalty and service despite their treatment as possessions. These are the sort of committed, passionate performances that stand out in a lifetime of theatre-going. Yael Farber’s adaptaion and staging is extraordinary.

This is truly unmissable theatre that goes beyond entertainment to enlightenment, providing real psychological insight and a richly rewarding theatrical experience.

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