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Posts Tagged ‘Young Vic Theatre’

It’s hard to believe that it’s 17 years since this had its UK premiere at the Donmar. In this terrific production it feels freshly minted, and I can’t help wondering why its taken so long to be revived. We’ve had three other plays by Stephen Adly Guirgis since, most notably 2015’s The Motherf***er With The Hat. which gave the NT’s marketing department an interesting challenge, so its good to look at the first once again.

Set in a New York prison, we meet Lucius, a serial killer waiting for extradition to Florida, where his killing spree started and where the death penalty exists. He has a benevolent guard Charlie in his solitary 23-hour lock up wing. Much younger Angel is awaiting trial for a shooting. He’s moved to the same wing for his own protection after an assault. Charlie leaves and the far from benevolent Valdez is sent to persecute them. The only other character is Angel’s lawyer Mary Jane who visits intermittently to discuss defence strategy and tactics.

The discussions between Lucius and Angel are the heart of the piece as we debate responsibility & accountability and redemption. We learn about the prisoners’ motivations and personal histories in what becomes a psychological sparring match. How much do the actions of the victims justify the crime? How much does a tragic past excuse a crime? It’s played out on a traverse stage with moving glass walls / doors with blinding lighting and deafening drums between scenes to keep up the tension. It shocks, though there are flashes of humour that relieve the tension. and your brain almost hurts as you decide what you think about these people and their actions. I found it riveting.

Oberon K A Adjepong (a very welcome visitor from the US) as Lucius and Ukweli Roach as Angel are mesmerising to watch, with great physicality, spitting out dialogue at frenetic speed. Dervla Kirwan is excellent as the Irish American lawyer Mary Jane who we learn a surprising amount about. Joplin Sibtain is terrific as their nemesis Valdez, prodding and provoking them for fun. Matthew Douglas’ Charlie is such a contrast, and comes back to surprise us towards the end.

Director Kate Hewitt and designed Magda Willi have done an excellent job creating the tension which the play needs. Yet more thrilling stuff at the Young Vic.

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Best New Play – The Lehman Trilogy*, The Inheritance* & Sweat*

I find it impossible to choose between these three extraordinary evenings (well, afternoon and evening in the case of the The Inheritance) but they were in very good company with a dozen other new plays in contention. Also at the NT, Home, I’m Darling* and Nine Night* were great, and also at the Young Vic The Convert* became a late addition in December. At the Bush, both Misty and An Adventure impressed (though I saw the former when it transferred to Trafalgar Studios).The remaining London contenders were The Humans at Hampstead Theatre, Pressure at the Park Theatre, Things I Know To Be True at the Lyric Hammersmith and The Wipers Times at the Arts, though these last two weren’t new to London, just me. The Edinburgh Fringe added two, Class* and Ulster American*, both Irish, both at the Traverse and both heading to London, so look out for them. The eight starred are either still running or coming back in 2019, so be sure to catch them if you haven’t seen them already.

Best New Musical – Hamilton*

It opened right at the end of 2017, but I didn’t see it until January 2018 (and again in December 2018). It certainly lives up to the hype and is unquestionably ground-breaking in the same way West Side Story was sixty years before. It was a good year for new musicals, though 40% of my shortlist were out-of-town, headed by Flowers For Mrs Harris at Chichester, with Pieces of String in Colchester, Miss Littlewood in Stratford and Sting’s The Last Ship mooring briefly in Northampton. Back in London, the Young Vic continued to shine with Fun Home and Twelfth Night and the NT imported Hadestown*. Tina* proved to be in the premiere league of juke-box musicals and SIX* was a breath of fresh air at the Arts. Only four are still running, or coming back.

Best Play Revival – The York Realist and Summer and Smoke*

Another category where I can’t split the top two. The former a gem at the Donmar and the latter shining just as brightly at the Almeida. I didn’t see the Old Vic’s glorious A Christmas Carol* until January, so that was a contender too, along with The Daughter-in-Law* at the Arcola and The Lieutenant of Inishmore in the West End. Then there were four cracking Shakespeare’s – The Bridge Theatre’s promenade Julius Caesar, the RSC’s Hamlet with Paapa Essiedu visiting Hackney Empire, Ian McKellen’s King Lear transfer from Chichester, and the NT’s Anthony & Cleopatra* with Ralph Fiennes and Sophie Okenedo. Another four still running / coming back.

Best Musical Revival – Company*

The leanest category this year, with Marianne Elliott’s revival of Sondheim’s Company exceeding expectations; I shall be back at the last night. Chichester brought yet more joy with Me & My Girl and right at the end of the year, the Mill at Sonning came up trumps for the third year running with a great favourite of mine, Guys & Dolls* Finally, The Rink at Southwark Playhouse, the only contender this year from the usually more prolific fringe. Two to catch if you haven’t already.

Theatre of the Year – The Young Vic

Though five of my thirty-seven contenders were at the NT, The Young Vic shone even more brightly with four, all new works. Only four originated in the West End, which further emphasises how crucial the subsidised sector and the regions are. You can still see half of them, but some close soon, so get booking!

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Danai Gurira’s play is set in what was Rhodesia, the country in which she was brought up as Zimbabwe, but late in the 19th century. It’s look at colonialism is more left field, doing so by examining the impact of missionaries on the local communities, and it has as fine a set of performances as you’ll find anywhere. I was captivated.

Chilford is a convert, given an English name, now going about converting others. When his housekeeper Mai Tamba’s niece seeks refuge from her uncle, who is trying to marry her off following her father’s death, he takes her in, names her Esther and she becomes his next target, and if anything a more passionate convert. When protests break out in the country, the head of their church is killed, and Chilford’s colleague Chancellor takes refuge too, but we soon realise he is much less principled.

The play examines how the community is divided between the converted and those that stick to their heritage and beliefs. Set in Chilford’s home, we hear of events outside, as people come and go, until events inside become as dramatic. The simplicity of the design, in the round with a platform, a few bits of furniture and gauze walls that rise and fall, beautifully lit by Bruno Poet, provides intimacy and ensures you focus on the story. Above all, it’s stunningly performed by a terrific company led by Paapa Essiedu as the earnest Chilford and Letitia Wright as Esther, and both are mesmerising.

Another great night at the Young Vic.

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The perfect start to Kwame Kwei-Armah’s tenure at the Young Vic – a great big populist hit. This 90-minute musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s play, which loses much of the verse but none of the story, is bursting with energy and fun, joyous and uplifting.

It’s a musical comedy, so the spotlight is on the antics of Olivia’s uncle Sir Toby Belch, his friend Sir Andrew Aguecheek and Olivia’s maid Maria and the trick they play on her steward Malvolio (the contemporary take on yellow stockings and crossed garters is delicious!), but the love triangle of Orsino pining for Olivia whilst she’s attracted to Viola as Cesario who is herself infatuated with Orsino is handled brilliantly. When Viola’s supposedly dead brother Sebastian turns up, and Malvolio uncovers the plot against him, the resolution is rather moving, despite the comedy.

Designer Robert Jones has built a whole Notting Hill street (with the Duke of Illyria its pub!) in the Young Vic auditorium; an absolutely brilliant set. The eleven Shakespearean characters are supplemented by a thirty strong community chorus who fill the stage and are so good you’d never know it wasn’t a professional one. Shaina Taub’s score is fairly vanilla pop, as is Lizzi Gee’s choreography, but they both do the job and its well sung, played and danced.

The performances are outstanding, led by Gerard Carey as Malvolio, one of the finest comic performances I’ve seen in a lifetime of devotion to theatre. Gabrielle Brooks is simply brilliant as Viola / Cesario, handling the frisson with Orsino superbly and her reunion with Sebastian movingly, with beautiful vocals. Natalie Drew and Rupert Young are both superb as Olivia and Orsino. The comic duo of Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek are finely played by Martyn Ellis and Silas Wyatt-Barke, and there’s a lovely Feste from Melissa Allan, who sings beautifully.

Oskar Eustis co-directs this captivating piece with Kwei-Armah, who co-conceived it with Taub. A treat.

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Last Monday, I visited the Museum of Musical Theatre, seeing the lavish but dated The King & I at the London Palladium. As if the musical theatre gods were intent on contrast, on Friday I visited this fresh, original new musical at the appropriately named Young Vic, and it swept me away.

Alison Bechel writes graphic novels (illustrated rather than graphic in the explicit sense!). Fun Home, though, was a memoir about her life growing up in Pennsylvania with her parents and two brothers, going to college and coming out and the tragic loss of her dad, who unlike her had lived a lie (with his wife’s full knowledge). She acts as a narrator, with her young self and her college self on stage. We see her childhood, tomboyish, playing with her two brothers, both in fear of and in awe of her dad Bruce, who teaches and runs the family business, a Fun(eral) Home. She spends more time with her dad as her mom Helen is an actress. Her arrival in college, realisation that she’s gay and coming out are interwoven.

It’s a deeply moving portrait of a life, expertly adapted by Lisa Kron with lovely music by Jane Tesori. It’s extraordinary how much you can immerse yourself in someone’s life story in just 100 minutes. It took me a short while to get into the rhythm of the piece, but I soon became captivated. It was funny and moving and ever so real, with stylistic and set changes altering its feel and tone. It’s beautifully staged by Sam Gold, with choreography by Danny Mefford which is particularly good at conveying the young kids playfulness. David Zinn’s design constantly surprises you as it morphs, not just to change location, but also to reflect changes in the story.

An unrecognisable Kaisa Hammerland plays Alison looking back, newcomer Eleanor Kane college Alison and, on the night I went, Harriett Turnbull young Alison and all three were terrific; you could really believe they were the same person at different stages of their life. In my head, Zubin Varla is still the RSC’s Romeo – where did all those years go! – but here he’s a middle-aged dad, a very complex character which he plays brilliantly. Helen the mother is by contrast a relatively underwritten part, as the real Helen seems to have been in Alison’s life, but she’s played by Jenna Russell, who can make something wonderful from just about anything.

David Lan’s final four years at the Young Vic have been extraordinary, with A Streetcar Named Desire, A View From the Bridge, Yerma, The Jungle, The Inheritance and surely this going on to continue their lives elsewhere, to be seen by more people. Another thrilling evening in The Cut.

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It’s over three months since my last theatrical immersion and only eight months since one covering similar ground. Matthew Lopez’ play comes in at six hours without feeling anything like it.

Some have called it a sequel to Angels in America, exploring the lives of the generation that followed, as it does. That’s partially true, but it’s less edgy and less political, though it covers seven years either side of last year’s US election. It’s a gentler, more emotional and sentimental piece inspired by E M Forster’s Howard’s End. It’s best to forget the parallels with both, as it’s its own thing, though still an epic theatrical feast.

It centres around a group of thirty-something gay friends in New York City at the present time, at the centre of which are Democratic party campaign worker Eric, earnest and loyal, and writer Toby, self-obsessed and flighty. Their group of friends are young professionals like doctors and lawyers in a world living with AIDS rather than dying of it. The link with the previous generation is provided by neighbours Walter and Henry, who’ve been together for thirty-six years. Eric finds a soulmate in Walter and later an unlikely partnership with Henry. Forster is a character too, tutoring them all in writing the story at the outset, then acting as a narrator, commenting on and suggesting changes to the story as we go.

Eric and Toby’s relationship is derailed by the latter’s success adapting his novel for the stage and screen, propelling young Adam to stardom in the process. Adam rejects Toby in favour of the play’s director, and Toby starts seeing a lookalike Leo, who has another connection with the group. Others plan marriages and children, something the previous generation couldn’t contemplate. It’s like binge watching a drama that grabbed you in episode one and won’t let you go. I loved the structural ingenuity and variety, including Forster’s presence, flashbacks, direct to audience narration, and it sends itself up deliciously on occasion. It’s funny and moving in equal measure.

Stephen Daldry’s staging, on and around a platform which rises and falls occasionally, is simple but masterly, with an organic flow about it. Bob Crowley’s understated design allows the story to speak for itself, with just a few moments when the back-screen moves to signpost something significant. Paul Englishby’s music and Jon Clark’s lighting add much atmosphere.

The performances are universally committed and passionate. I’ve long admired Kyle Soler, but this is surely a career defining performance as Eric. Making his UK debut, Andrew Burnap is simply sensational as Toby and Paul Hilton is wonderful as both Morgan (Forster) and Walter. Two other American visitors complete the handful of superb leads – Samuel H Levine as Adam / Leo and John Benjamin Hickey as Henry. Then in the last 45 minutes, on comes Vanessa Redgrave to give the best performance I’ve ever seen her give in a cameo as Margaret, who lost her son to AIDS after which she devotes herself to caring for others.

Another unmissable theatrical feast at the powerhouse in The Cut. I left exhausted but exhilarated, as only live theatre can do.

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This play is the second part of a trilogy but was the first to be produced here ten years ago, with part one, In the Red & Brown Water, a year later. We’ve yet to see the third. Playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney has had a couple of other plays at the Royal Court, Wig Out! and Choir Boy, but is most famous for his 2016 Oscar winning film Moonlight. This is a very early revival by the same creative team, led by director Bijan Sheibani.

The Size brothers are reunited when younger brother Oshoosi leaves prison and stays with elder brother Ogun, working with him in his car repair business. A visit from Oshoosi’s fellow prisoner Elegba, a bad influence, threatens the bond between them and their up-and-down relationship is played out before us over 80 minutes. It’s staged without set or props within a chalk circle marked out at the beginning, with red chalk thrown on the floor within it. The actors often announce entrances and exits and other stage directions direct to the audience and there’s very stylised movement and an atmospheric soundtrack. It’s very compelling, even hypnotic and mesmerising, though the apparent Yoruba mythology went over my head and I struggled a bit with the Louisiana dialect.

The three performances are captivating. Anthony Welsh as Elegba is excellent; he was in the original production. Sope Dirisu, after his Cassius Clay in One Night in Miami and Coriolanus for the RSC, continues to impress as Ogun. Newcomer Jonathan Ajayi is hugely impressive as Oshoosi, transitioning from ex-con to childlike young brother as the story unfolds.

It’s good to see it again, ahead of its time now as it was then. It’s a very short run, so catch it while you can.

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