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Posts Tagged ‘Yolanda Kettle’

This is a hugely ambitious, inventive play about the connection of the human race with oil, spanning more than 150 years from 1889 to 35 years into the future. It also covers the changing place of women in society and the relationship between a mother and her daughter. Ella Hickson’s play has its flaws, but I greatly admired both the writer’s boldness and Carrie Cracknall’s production.

There are five scenes, starting with a Cornish farming family in the late nineteenth century, bickering as they struggle to get by. Our central character May is married to one of three brothers, pregnant with their first child. They are visited by an American, who demonstrates his newly developed kerosene lamp and makes an offer for their farm where he wishes to set up his fledgling business. May wants them to accept, but her husband doesn’t. In the second scene we are in Persia at the beginning of the 20th century where the British are seeking to exploit their oil resources. This May is a waitress. For me, this was the least effective scene. The third section leaps forward to the 1970’s. May is an oil company executive who is visited by a Libyan minister informing her his country is going to sequestrate a share of the company. Her relationship with her 15-year-old environmentally conscious daughter Amy is fraught.

In the second half, we’re taken five years into the future. May, a former MP who voted for the war, is in Iraq trying to persuade her daughter, Amy, doing voluntary work in a hospital, to return home. Their relationship is fraught too. In the final scene we’re thirty-five years in the future, back in the Singer family home in Cornwall. Our energy fears have become a reality as May and Amy struggle to keep warm. They are visited by a Chinese saleswoman (the new colonists) selling a personalised nuclear solution with as dubious environmental credentials as oil.

I struggled a bit with the implausibility’s – why would the American want to locate his business on a Cornish farm? Why would a Libyan minister come to her home? – and the fact that each May and Amy must be different characters given the timescales, but I eventually let go of my literalism and went with the flow. Though the relationship between mother and daughter aids the narrative, I’m not sure the emancipation issues do.

There’s something very compelling about the production that holds your attention. Lucy Carter’s lighting, sometimes very dark, and Luke Halls’ oil-related projections are particularly effective. Both Anne-Marie Duff as May and Yolanda Kettle as her anagram daughter Amy are excellent, creating a very believable mother and daughter relationship, and there’s a fine supporting cast.

The Almeida set an early 7pm start for this production, but it’s only 2.5 hours long. I suspect it has reduced in length since the draft on which they programmed it and it did sometimes feel as if there were missing bits. Despite its flaws though, it’s a very welcome, brave and epic play which I would definitely recommend.

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I’d always known there were autobiographical elements to this Terence Rattigan masterpiece, but seeing it a few weeks after Mike Poulton’s excellent new play Kenny Morgan, about the incidents that inspired it, I now realise it’s a whole lot more than elements. It’s uncanny.

It starts, as does Kenny Morgan, with the rescue if its main character Hester Collyer from her attempted suicide, lying in front of the gas fire with a stomach full of aspirin. She’s tended by landlady Mrs Elton, young neighbours Philip and Ann Welch and Mr Miller, a former doctor. Similar characters appear in the other play. Hester’s estranged husband William, a judge, is called, as Rattigan was in the true story. The subject of Hester’s sadness, her young lover Freddie, returns, but not for long, as the incident spooks him and prompts his permanent departure. She declines to return to her husband and a second suicide attempt is aborted, and this is where the play diverges from the truth – oh, and the sex of the main character!

Tom Scutt has built a two-story house with Hester’s flat’s living area stage front and her bedroom, bathroom and the stairwell behind gauze, so that you can see characters moving there. This is very effective in representing the life of the house as well as focusing on its troubled occupant. There’s a background droning sound which creates a brooding, tense, expectant atmosphere. I thought Carrie Cracknell’s staging was terrific, with a very clever ending that told you Hester’s fate without a word being spoken.

It’s superbly well cast, with Marion Bailey excellent as an empathetic but disapproving Mrs Elton and Nick Fletcher great as the mysterious ‘Doctor’ Miller. Hubert Burton and Yolanda Kettle are lovely as the naïve young couple and Peter Sullivan has great presence as William Collyer. There’s real chemistry and a sexual frisson between Tom Burke’s Freddie and Helen McCrory’s Hester, both of whom so suit their roles and both of whom really inhabit these complex characters. McCrory really is stunning, a nuanced performance, acting with every inch of her body. It’s as fine an acting ensemble as you’re likely to get on any stage.

Probably the best production of this play I’ve ever seen; unmissable Rattigan.

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There are lots of parallels between contemporary playwrights Simon Stephens, who wrote this, and Mike Bartlett. Both are prolific, both have given us adaptations as well as original work and both are eclectic. Stephens has been more hit-or-miss for me, but this one is a hit.

Rock star Paul is filling stadiums worldwide and the play starts in Moscow and moves to Berlin, Paris and finally London. We see him become a premiere league monster, exploiting people close to him as well as new ones he meets on tour. He thinks he can buy anything and tries to do so. In Moscow, he makes a play for a married journalist and adds a member of the hotel staff to his entourage. His treatment of band-mate Johnny is particularly heinous, something which results in sweet revenge. He reaches an all time low when he visits Johnny’s deceased girlfriend’s parents. It’s a portrait of a rock star’s descent and the impressionistic staging represents this by black water rising as the decline progresses.

Andrew Scott is mesmerising as Paul. He does mad and manic ever so well, he turns emotion on and off at lightning speed and he really can move. He has fantastic support from Alex Price as Johnny and, in multiple roles, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Charlotte Randle, Yolanda Kettle and a brilliant Daniel Cerqueira who is totally believable as Paul’s dad and his exploitative manager. Designer Ian MacNeil gives us another of his inventive spaces – a platform with a moving arch structure on top, surrounded by what slowly becomes a pool of water. Carrie Cracknell’s expert staging squeezes every ounce of tension, surprise and shock out of the material.

In truth, I think the staging and performances are better than the writing, but it’s a must-see if only for Andrew Scott on blistering form.

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