Posts Tagged ‘Christopher Haydon’

Sometimes, however many rave reviews & however many recommendations, you just can’t motivate yourself to go and see something. My particular bete noire is monologues and this monologue had rave reviews and I was inundated with recommendations, but it was only on its third outing that I relented. Of course, it was wonderful!

The Pilot is in action with the US Air Force when, during home leave, she meets someone and becomes pregnant. When she returns to duty some time later, she is horrified that she is posted to the Nevada desert to operate drones in Iraq. She eventually finds she gets as much of a buzz from long-distance virtual hits as live action.

Lucy Ellison is extraordinary and mesmerising from the first time she makes eye contact with you as you enter the auditorium. Standing in designer Oliver Townsend’s gauze cube lit by 29 small white spotlights from above and coloured underfloor lighting, she tells you her story as she uses the space restriction to advantage, making every move count, conveying her feelings at each point. Partner Eric and co-worker ’19’ really do come alive in the telling.

It might be a monologue, but in Christopher Haydon’s staging of George Brant’s play is tense, dramatic and gripping; if only all monologues were. Terrific.

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Twenty-eight years ago I saw a young(ish) Jeff Fahey give an edgy, riveting performance alongside Albert Finney in Orphans at Hampstead Theatre. I haven’t seen him on stage since, until yesterday giving a passionate & just as riveting performance as Juror 3. Yet he’s only one of a fine ensemble which is a very good reason to see this revival. Another good reason is that it’s a gripping drama which has lost none of its punch.

Reginald Rose’s story has had an unorthodox journey from 1954 live TV play to to 1957 Sidney Lumet film to stage play first seen in the UK in 1964, again in 1996 directed by Harold Pinter and it stormed the Edinburgh fringe ten years ago in a production featuring a bunch of stand-up comedians. The truth is, the stage suits it better than the screen and this revival proves this conclusively.

I’m sure everyone knows the story of an all-male jury which has to decide the fate of a 16-year-old who is alleged to have murdered his father. Juror 8 prevents an instant unanimous guilty verdict, not because he thinks he isn’t guilty, but to ensure there is proper consideration of the facts. As they review the evidence, jurors begin to change their positions.

In addition to Fahey, the ‘names’ Martin Shaw and Robert Wagner don’t disappoint, but there are also fine performances from Nick Moran, Miles Richardson, Owen O’Neill (who was in the Edinburgh fringe production), Robert Blythe and Edward Franklin. Director Christopher Haydon and designer Michael Pavelka have done a fine job staging and setting the piece, with the jury table on such an imperceptibly slow revolve it took me ages to realise it was moving!

It might be an old warhorse, but its definitely worth catching in its last month.

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Whenever I walk into a theatre to be greeted by a retro set, I have to stop myself saying ‘we had one of those’ and try to concentrate on the play. Simon Kenny’s terrific early 70’s design is amongst the most nostalgic I’ve come across, even though it’s mid-West USA not west country UK. All brown and orange, triple ceiling lights and a stereogram – and lime green wallpaper! Fortunately, there was enough time to clock each item before the play started.

Bruce Norris’ Clybourne Park was my Best New Play of 2010, a step change on his earlier The Pain & the Itch, also good and also at the Royal Court. Purple Heart was written eight years earlier and this is its UK premiere at the Gate Theatre, configured in the currently fashionable traverse setting ( is that to facilitate spectating the other half of the audience if the play lags?).

War widow Carla (Vietnam war) and her 12-year old son Thor live with well-meaning but smothering, irritating mother-in-law Grace. Carla has a drink problem and may still be grieving. Thor is precocious (in truth, he seems much more mature than a 12-year old has any right to be), loves practical jokes and shocking grandma.

An army corporal comes to visit, the latest in a long line of sympathisers (most, but not him, bearing a casserole as is customary in small town America) though he doesn’t appear to be a former colleague of deceased Lars. We learn that he met (and became obsessed with) Carla in a hospital where she was being treated for depression.

This is an extraordinarily realistic depiction of the trauma of grief and the personal impact of war on the relationships and lives of those affected. At the same time, it’s a bit of a mystery and played out (particularly in the second half) with great suspense. The silences are themselves extremely tense (and much more effective than Pinter) and there is an unpredictability and danger about it all.

The performances are all superb. Oliver Coopersmith, playing way lower than his true age, is naive and funny but hurtful in the way only children can be. Linda Broughton makes Grace seem like someone you know well, someone who irritates and charms you in equal measure; you can’t help loving her, but you wouldn’t want to live with her. Amelia Lowdell’s Carla is angry & sad, imprisoned by her loss and her mother-in-law. Trevor White is the somewhat mysterious visitor, part benevolent, part creepy; he’d win a Riding the Silence Award in any year.

Christopher Haydon’s staging is impeccable and the effect at close proximity in this small space is intense and voyeuristic. Great to see more Norris, and in such a finely staged and performed production too. More early Bruce Norris please!

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This is the first play at the Wellcome Collection and takes place as a promenade performance in the galleries. It unfolds over three stages – a home, a pub and a church – with Billy Bragg and his band providing a musical commentary from a fourth stage. It’s part of their ‘identity’ project and follows an exhibition which explored its various aspects.

The death of an old soldier exposes the tensions between the post-war values of a welcoming and open Britain and sets these alongside the more recent attitudes of a working class feeling threatened by immigration, ignored by government and recruited by nationalists like the BNP. The successful son, returning from the US for the funeral, is horrified at the racism. His brother, about to stand as a nationalist candidate, is outraged at the righteousness of someone who has escaped what he perceives as threats.

It’s a very personal story, yet it makes its points very successfully with an admirable sense of balance. It seeks to explain rather than preach and I left both repelled by the racism but more understanding of how we got there.

Playwright Mick Gordon and director Christopher Haydon have done an excellent job. Designer Tom Scutt has created a space which allows you to follow the story as if you’re actually peering through the windows of these places. There isn’t a fault in the casting. It seems somehow appropriate that Barking boy Billy Bragg  provides the music with added commentary (and instructions) and his charm means he just about gets away with!

For the second time in a few days, an intelligent and important state-of-the-nation play. GO!

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