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Posts Tagged ‘Zubin Varla’

Great to report that London’s newest theatre opens with a big hit, a song cycle by Dave Malloy, whose Preludes we saw recently at Southwark Playhouse, performed to perfection by a cast of four, which could have been written especially for this space.

It consists of interwoven stories that between them cover a contemporary subway murder, a quirky fairy tale, Scheherazade & jazz musician Thelonius Monk and Edgar Allen Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher! It’s like a jigsaw and I learned early on that trying to follow the narrative and complete the jigsaw got in the way of enjoying the music, so I immersed myself in the very eclectic selection of songs of many styles and shades, as songs

It’s in the round and you encircle a pile of musical instruments, all of which are played by the cast, and lots of props, some of which perform themselves. Bill Buckhurst’s staging carefully creates and changes moods with some lovely touches of audience engagement that included additional percussion and the consumption of whisky, with an inspired ending. Simon Kenny’s design is full of fascinating detail, and David Gregory’s sound is absolutely superb.

The four performers engage with each other and the audience, with moments when they sing or play out songs together, but most alone. They play a vast array of instruments and the vocals are simply gorgeous. It’s hard to imagine a better quartet than Zubin Varla, Carly Bawden, Maimauna Memon & Niccolo Curradi; they are all on fine form.

I loved the intimacy, flexibility and elegance of the space and it seemed to me to be the perfect opening show. Don’t miss it.

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Peter Shaffer’s play was 27 years old when I first saw it; for once I’d seen the film first. I enjoyed my second look in 2007 even more, when it featured a brave Daniel Ratcliffe with his screen uncle, the late Richard Griffiths. Here we are another twelve years on, when mental health is thankfully more talked about, with the premiere of a more radical ETT / Stratford East touring co-production which makes you realise how groundbreaking it must have been in 1973.

Seventeen year old Alan Strang is brought to child psychiatrist Martin Dysart by his magistrate friend when he appears before her for blinding six horses. His sessions with Dysart are interwoven with discussions with his parents (religious mother, atheist father), and flashbacks to events with them, his employer at the stables and Jill, the girl he’s taken a shine to. Dysart finds Strang elusive and challenging, playing games with him, but he eventually reciprocates and begins to reap rewards in his understanding of the case. The crucial moments of his interaction with the horses are played out in hugely dramatic scenes where other actors play the horses, culminating in the shocking event which led to his hospitalisation and treatment by Dysart.

It’s a gripping psychological thriller which needs a kind of electrical charge between the two main protagonists, and it certainly gets that here. I’ve been following Zubin Varla’s career since GSMD and this is one of the best things he’s done (even if he is looking and sounding more lie David Suchet these days!) and Ethan Kai is outstanding as Alan, highly strung, edgy, vulnerable, dangerous. There’s a fine supporting cast, with Ira Mandela Siobhan a particularly impressive horse. Though I liked the incidental chamber music there was maybe a little too much of it, occasionally too loud, competing with the dialogue. Otherwise Ned Bennett’s simple staging with white curtains on three sides, is effective in telling this complex story, and comes thrillingly alive in the memory scenes.

Great to see it again, and particularly good that a new generation can get to see it in these hopefully more enlightened times.

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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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Well, Emma Rice certainly knows how to make her mark. Her inaugural production (and only her second Shakespeare) at The Globe is exuberant, anarchic, irreverent, cheeky and packed full of ideas. It’s populist stuff and the audience loved it.

She starts by making her mark on the venue. There are a dozen opaque green tubes hanging over the groundlings (damaging the sight lines in the middle and upper galleries!) and even more giant white balloons providing an (incomplete) roof. The actors are miked and there’s a fair bit if artificial light. Four round tables occupy the front of the groundling space so that the action can spill off the stage. She also takes a lot of liberties with the play, chief amongst them is that Helena has had a sex change and is now a man called Helenus. The rude mechanicals are members of the Globe Team, including the cleaner and the Health & Safety Officer (the only man). Puck has also changed sex and is now an impish punkess with horns. There’s a lot of music and dance routines, notably a short Bollywood Beyoncé, and a lot of changes to the text (together with a snipe at those who would want it as written). It was a few too many liberties for me, I’m afraid, burying Shakespeare’s play in too much funny business and losing its magical quality.

I like the idea of a Bollywood version, but it’s a bit half-hearted in that mission, and the differing styles of the lovers (Hoxton cool), the fairies (punk gothic) and rude mechanicals (theatre staff) didn’t combine into a cohesive whole for me. There are some lovely performances, though. Edmund Derrington, Ncuti Gatwa, Anjana Vasan and Ankur Bahl are a fine quartet of lovers. Amongst another fine set of performances as the rude mechanicals, Ewan Wardrop shines as Bottom, and Katy Owen is a delightfully cheeky Puck. Zubin Varla is the best verse speaker as Theseus / Oberon and it was good to see Meow Meow as his (burlesque) queen. Stu Barker’s music covered too many genres for me; I’d rather have a uniform style, perhaps Indian.

You expect a new Artistic Director to bring their past with them, but this felt like they’d moved Kneehigh in, rather than appointed Emma Rice. Notwithstanding my reservations above, it’s a good first show, but she must move on and embrace diverse approaches and talent. I enjoyed it, but it bothered me coming soon after her negativity about Shakespeare plays in the press.

 

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This is one of the most radical and heavily cut productions of a Shakespeare play I’ve ever seen, yet it retains the essence of the piece and doesn’t feel as if it’s missing much – despite running sone 40-50 mins less than any other production.

The opening scene is rather shocking – writhing bodies in a sea of blow-up sex dolls (which stay with us for most of the play, excepting those that deflate!) – but it does make it instantly clear we’re in a debauched Vienna. The Duke leaves town, placing Angelo in charge, returning disguised as a Friar to monitor events ‘in his absence’. Claudio has been arrested and sentenced to death for crimes against morality and his sister Isabella, about to become a nun, is distraught. Power corrupts Angelo and he offers to save Claudio in exchange for Isabella’s virginity, but the disguised Duke hatches a plot.

There’s great use of live video in Joe Hill-Gibbins production, both in the relatively small stage-front playing space and in a much bigger space behind, sometimes in view, sometimes not. He gives Shakespeare’s raciest play great pace and a contemporary sleaze relevance. Miriam Buether is responsible for the clever design, with Nicky Gillibrand the costumes and Chris Kondek the video. The speedy transition to the Viennese court for the final scene is masterly. I surprised myself by enjoying it so much, not really offended by the liberties taken.

The three central performances are terrific – Paul Ready as the righteous Angelo who becomes a sleazeball, Romola Garai as the virginal Isabella and Zubin Varla as a very passionate Duke. They have fine support, particularly from John Mackay, who makes much of Lucio, and Hammed Animashaun as the Provost.

The Young Vic leading the way with fresh, inventive productions again.

 

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Three short plays by favourite playwright Eugene O’Neil with favourite actor Ruth Wilson in the lovely Hoxton (music) Hall. I was seriously over-excited going in, but deeply satisfied coming out.

This is a perfect match of play(s) and venue. Hoxton Hall is tall but narrow, with a wrought iron balcony on three sides. They’ve put in rickety old chairs for this production, and the multi-tier stage recedes some way, making the performance area look surprisingly big. Richard Kent’s design makes full use of the space, with perfect period costumes, superb lighting by Neil Austin and a six-piece jazz band. The atmosphere of apartments in an early 20th century US city is brilliantly created.

The first play is virtually a monologue by Wilson as a woman whose world is in decline after marrying an unfaithful loser. She takes a short while to get into her stride, but becomes mesmerizing as the story unfolds. The plays are linked by terrific songs from Nicola Walker as the stage is reset. In no time, we’re with prostitute and single mother Rose, suffering with TB and abused by her lover / pimp. She’s rescued by neighbour and bank robber Tim, but not for long. The third play takes us to a black family where the mother is dying and son Dreamy is on the run. He has to choose between dying mom’s bedside and escape.

Though best known for his lengthy epics, O’Neil is able to pack a lot of drama into these three short plays which, even with musical interludes, add up to less than 90 minutes. I’ve had my eye on director Sam Yates since a pair of superb productions at the Finborough in 2011-12 (Cornelius & Mixed Marriage) and his staging of the first two of these is outstanding. Ruth Wilson, wonderful in the same two plays, directs the third very well. There are two excellent performances from Simon Coombs, both criminals, both on the run, and Zubin Varla is great as Steve in the second play, and plays a mean sax too.

They’ve taken over the whole ground floor, with a period design bar named after O’Neil’s sometime NYC haunt. I don’t know who Found Productions are, but they are to be congratulated on a magnificent evening of drama and first class theatrical craftsmanship. Brilliant.

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