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Posts Tagged ‘Bill Pullman’

I’m not sure why I initially decided not to see this. Much of the hype revolved around Stranger Things actor David Harbour, and I’ve never seen that show. Bill Pullman had impressed me in All My Sons at the Old Vic, but that didn’t clinch it, neither did the positive reviews. Then I had a change of heart in its penultimate week with free evenings to fill, and I’m lucky I did. Late to the party, but I got there before it ended.

It’s a very dark comedy about madness and death. 70-year-old Daniel has emphysema. His son Michael has been looking after him since his own discharge from an ‘asylum’ after his mother had died of cancer. Struggling to cope, hospice nurse Lillian is appointed. She has to put up with cantankerous Daniel and needy Michael, but does so with skill and empathy. Then successful brother Nedward arrives to try and sort out Daniel’s financial affairs, closely followed by obnoxious sister Pam, determined to get more than her fair share, even if it means shafting Michael. Neither sibling have been near until now, so Michael is very much the put upon brother.

Lots of family history is revealed, and plenty of skeletons come out of cupboards. Michael’s ongoing mental health is questioned. He learns some of what happened whilst he was in hospital. Litigious Pam turns against Lillian as well as Michael. Nedward tries to keep the peace. Daniel stirs things up, for his own entertainment it seems. When Daniel dies, Michael leaves, at last, liberated, leaving what’s left of his dysfunctional family behind.

Theresa Rebeck’s piece is well written and well structured, new facts continuously emerging to illuminate the family history, with excellent characterisation. Bill Pullman is sensationally good as Daniel, with a wicked glint in his eye virtually the whole time. Michael is a real emotional roller-coaster of a role and David Harbour is passionate bringing this larger-than-life character alive. Lillian is the only truly likeable character and Akiya Henry conveys her caring nature, investing her with bucketloads of empathy. Pam is a monster who you hate from the moment she arrives, a tribute to Sinead Matthews. It’s a while since I saw Stephen Wight on stage and it’s good to be reminded of his talent for understated charm. Here, he develops warmth as his sympathy with his brother grows.

The Ambassadors Theatre is a small enough venue to give the play the intimacy it requires. Frankie Bradshaw’s uber-realistic set surprises us by moving outside as the story unfolds. Director Moritz Von Stuelpnagel’s staging brings this all together to deliver the drama and humour in equal measure.

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There’s something astonishing and wonderful about having two Arthur Miller classics revived at the same time at theatres on the same street less than 200 meters apart, at the Old and Young Vic’s. They were first staged two years apart, this being his first big hit 72 years ago. I’ve seen a number of great revivals over the years and this one is up there with the best. Seeing it sixteen hours after I’d left Death os a Salesman made me think how alike they are, though this is entirely naturalistic, without flashbacks and imaginary scenes. As productions, they are very different, Jeremy Herrin taking his lead from this naturalism and opting for a more conventional take and a realistic setting. Both however are absolutely unmissable.

It’s just after the end of the Second World War and only one of Joe & Kate Keller’s two sons have returned. Older son Larry is still missing in action, his mother convinced he’s still alive, whilst most think he’s dead. Younger son Chris has survivors guilt, though Larry’s girlfriend Ann is visiting and he is set on proposing marriage, despite his mother’s conviction. Chris works in his dad’s engineering business, which sold faulty parts to the military, resulting in deaths. His father’s business partner Steve Deever, Ann’s dad, took the rap and went to prison, though many think Joe is really to blame.

It’s a surprise that Broadway could stomach this story just two years after the war ended, but they did, and it ran for almost a year and was made into a film just one year later. It’s timeless, as Miller often is, with corporate ethics as much of an issue today, but it’s a family tragedy, so its as much about the complex relationships within and between the Keller’s and the Deever’s. Max Jones’ uber-realistic design places a suburban home and garden on the Old Vic stage in a way that draws you in, seemingly shrinking this big theatre, well at least from the stalls.

Jeremy Herrin’s production is impeccable, building the tension slowly, taking hold of you. As I was across the road the night before, I was in awe of the acting talent on stage. Bill Pullman’s performance as Joe has a naturalism that makes you forget he’s acting. Sally Field is superb as Kate, holding on to hope her son is alive and belief in her husband’s innocence. Colin Morgan navigates Chris’ complex emotional journey brilliantly. This appears to be Jenna Coleman’s stage debut, and an auspicious one it is too. In an excellent supporting cast, I very much admired Oliver Johnstone as George Deever and Sule Rimi and neighbour Dr Jim Bayliss.

How lucky we are to have two outstanding revivals of these modern classics at the same time. The informal Miller fest becomes a Miller feast on The Cut!

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