Posts Tagged ‘Chloe Lamford’

The preview buzz was a bit negative and the first reviews were too, so I wasn’t expecting to laugh so much. I thought Anthony Neilson’s new play, which he also directs, was rather good. 

Film director Maxim is a prima donna ostensibly in search of the right light for his new film. He did win the Palme d’Or for his last movie, after all. The film’s producer Anastasia just wants to get the film made on time, on budget, as does Lighting Cameraman Carl and leading lady Natasha. Extra funding comes with strings called Eva to keep an eye on things. Then the leading man is replaced with Ivan, nicknamed ‘the brute’. It’s an everyday story of film folk. I thought it was a hoot.

Matt Smith is very good as the film director and Amanda Drew the perfect calming influence as the producer, and Carl’s clandestine lover. I thought Tamara Lawrence, in what appears to be her second stage role, was terrific as the matter-of-fact ‘it’s only a job’ actress and Richard Pyros is excellent as the seen-it-all Lighting Cameraman. I loved Genevieve Barr as the deaf Eva who confounds expectations, then Jonjo O’Neill turns up and steals the show as the most actorly of actors, a performance that instantly propelled itself into my Best of list for 2016. It was so good that the rest of the cast (and him!) struggled not to corpse.

Designer Chloe Lamford appeared to have an easy job – just lighting screens and kit cases – until a coup de theatre at the end. There were too many short scenes that slowed it all down, but I forgave that for the laughs. 

Good to be having so much fun at the Royal Court again! 

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Three stage adaptations of his books running simultaneously in the West End is a real testimony to the timelessness and enduring appeal of Roald Dahl. This is one I haven’t read, so I approach it afresh.

Chloe Lamford has created a brilliant design which is spectacular yet intimate, grotesque yet funny. Mr & Mrs Twit live in a giant circular space and the monkeys they persecute in a cage which rises from underneath at the front. The circle is sometimes replaced by a stage (which looks like it will cover the front of the stalls when it lowers) onto which the caravan of the fairground folk enters and opens. You seem to be peering in to something very close but other worldly.

Jason Watkins and Monica Dolan also create grotesque characters that you have to hate but love just a bit. The monkeys they imprison and torment (Welsh!) are charming, none more so (well, for me anyway) when singing Welsh hymn Calon Lan unaccompanied quite beautifully. Those they have robbed of their fairground (northerners) seem hapless in the face of their trickery and mercilessness. Martin Lowe has added great music, not least punk rhythms to convey The Twits manic menace.

I don’t know whether it’s the book or Enda Walsh’s ‘mischievous adaptation’, but I found the story a bit thin, with a lot less substance that I’m used to with Dahl. In truth, not a lot happens in two hours. I also felt it didn’t have as strong a moral compass as we expect from Dahl. That said, the young people around us were having a grand old time (well, apart from the girl in the second row who paid more attention to her seemingly bottomless packet of crisps) and it was the day after the BAFTA’s so Jason Watkins provided a cheeky ad lib when he was encouraging contributions from the audience – acceptance speech, anyone?

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Though its billed as a comedy and it made me laugh – a lot – there’s more to Sam Holcroft’s play about the family Christmas from hell; it made me think a lot too.

Emma, the daughter of Adam & Sheena, is to undergo CGT (cognitive-behavioural therapy) in an attempt to cure her chronic fatigue. CGT requires you to create rules for living – coping strategies. Until we meet Emma, we spend Christmas morning with her parents, grandmother, uncle and his new girlfriend preparing the lunch. They have their own coping strategies too and these are explained to us on two giant scoreboards. In the second half these ‘rules for living’ are elaborated and explained and points scored whenever the strategies are successfully implemented. Everyone begins to realise mum has been in denial about dad’s illness when he arrives for a visit from hospital, at which point things break down completely as rules are abandoned, truths revealed and things get thrown – big-time! When we do meet Emma, she appears to be the only normal person in the room.

The Dorfman is configured as a large rectangular kitchen / diner with multi-level seating on the long sides and one level high up, above the scoreboards, on the short sides. It felt very voyeuristic from behind a half-wall on the front row. Chloe Lamford’s clever design is matched by the originality of the structure of the play and Marianne Elliott’s audacious production. The characterisations are excellent and they are brilliantly brought to life by the five lead actors. The chalk-and-cheese brothers are very well played by Stephen Manghan, ex-cricketer now legal associate, as Adam and Miles Jupp, sometime actor who’s also settled for the law, as Matthew, both influenced if not bullied by dad. Adam’s wife Sheena, beautifully played by Claudie Blakley, is too fond of a tipple and focused on alternative therapies for Emma, solutions not exactly embraced by Adam. Maggie Service is a loud, clumsy, dippy delight as Matt’s new(ish) girlfriend, actress Carrie. Deborah Findlay is superb as the pill-popping mum who has clearly been put upon for donkey’s years. Lovely performances.

In between the laughs, I found myself thinking about my own (and others) coping strategies and reflecting on my own dysfunctional family! An original and entertaining evening .

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If you judged this play on the first and last 20 mins, you might think it was rather good. Sadly, the 80 minutes in-between are dire. The Royal Court’s Literary Manager must be away or asleep. This should never have got onto the main stage, at least not in its present form. Not even an actress as good as Maxine Peake can redeem it.

The play opens with Dana and Jarron waking from a night of passion. She thinks this relationship might have legs, he thinks it was a business transaction. He works for the UN, appears to be a demon and certainly leaves his mark, if not his money. Dana is late for her pitch for project funding, preparing in a rush with the help of her sister Jasmin, but it all goes horribly wrong. What follows, it seems, is Dana’s journey, with her pregnant sister, to Alexandria for another pitch. A librarian turns up regularly with appropriate reading suggestions and Jarron is rarely far away. It ends with a bit of a coup d’theatre (thanks to Chloe Lamford’s design) as we seem to be drowning, like illegal immigrants at sea.

The trouble is the whole middle section – a nightmare in both content and experience, an obtuse and deeply frustrating ramble, makes two hours (without an interval – very wise!) feel like a lifetime. I’m sure playwright Zinnie Harris has valid points to make, but they are buried in this incoherent mess. Maxine Peake does her very best with the material, with excellent support from Michael Shaeffer as Jarron, Christine Bottomley as Jasmin and Peter Forbes as the librarian, but it’s not enough. What used to be the home of new writing is yet again the home of shoddy writing that needs to be reigned in and whipped into better shape by a literary manager and / or director Vicky Featherstone.

I’ve spent many years trusting The Court and taking risks, most of which have been rewarded, but on recent form The Twits (surely they can’t mess that up?) may be my last blind punt. It’s very sad to watch a once great institution go down the pan.


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This pulls most of its punches before it has even started. The real coup d’theatre happens as you enter through the kids cloakroom into an uber-realistic primary school classroom (designer Chloe Lamford) where the kids are playing. It takes your breath away. Sadly, it’s all downhill from there.

We’re at a school where Sali Rayner’s learning system is being piloted. She’s the writer of the Badger Do Best children’s books and she is seeking to exploit their potential in collusion with the authorities. If it succeeds the school gets a capital injection, so head teacher Ms Evitt colludes. Class 4N’s teacher Ms Newsome conforms until the kids rebel and she goes off with stress. Teaching assistant Mrs Bradley is clearly against and covertly supports the rebellion led by young Louis. In 35 short scenes (average length less than 3 mins) we get progressively bored without really getting anywhere. This play by Molly Davies really is dull. It takes 100 minutes of heavy-handedness to drive home its point – central control of education patronises our children and stifles their individuality. In doing so, it patronised me.

The seven child actors are great. The adult roles are all a bit stereotypical, so not even seeing Julie Hesmondhalgh (Corrie’s now deceased Hayley) and Amanda Abbington (Mrs Martin Freeman) off the telly can lift your spirits. Vicky Featherstone’s production needs a firework up its arse to give it anything like the energy you’d get in a classroom of eight-year-olds.

Another disappointment at the Royal Court, I’m afraid. I’m beginning to sound like a broken record…..

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The most striking thing about this stage adaptation of George Orwell’s novel is how freshly minted it feels; it’s very hard to believe it was written 65 years ago. It’s also surprising how few stage adaptations there have been of such a prophetic and dramatic story.

This one is ‘framed’ by some sort of book club in 2050, seemingly taking its lead from Orwell’s epilogue. Winston steps out of the book club and tells his story in flashback. It’s at its best when it’s at its most chilling – there are moments during his torture when you just have to look away – but it does lack pace a bit in the middle. It’s not in the slightest bit dated and almost completely plausible.

Headlong’s staging is as innovative as ever (Robert Icke & Duncan Macmillan, who also adapted it), with big transformations and great use of video in Chloe Lamford’s striking design.  In a fine cast, Mark Arends is a stand-out Winston and Hara Yannas a fine Julia.

They announced its run at the Almeida the day I went to Richmond Theatre, which pissed me off as I’d rather have seen it there, but as much as I admired it, I’m not sure I want to see it again.

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This is effectively a staged song-cycle of 15 Kurt Weill songs from 6 of his American shows, linked together to tell the story of a relationship between a French chanteuse and an American songwriter.

They are well played and sung by seasoned musical performers Frances Ruffelle and Nigel Richards. There are two tango dancers whose authentic routines are interwoven with the story. The 7-piece band, under James Holmes no less, are superb (and they all even get to do a bit of acting). There’s a stylish design from Chloe Lamford……..

………..but it did absolutely nothing for me! I’m not sure I entirely understand why. It’s more of a sketch than a story. The songs are not Weill’s best. Maybe the slickness and style buries any passion. It  only really came alive three-quarters through its 90 minute uninterrupted length, by which time my mind was wandering.

I admired it, but I can’t say I really enjoyed it, or indeed saw the point of doing it. If you want to put on Weill, why not a chamber version of one of the neglected shows or just a concert? A worthy failure, I’m afraid.

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