Posts Tagged ‘Cush Jumbo’

One of the most thrilling things about this evening is the youthfulness and diversity of the audience, one of the most attentive I’ve sat in too, and the production and performances prove just as thrilling. The Young Vic provided one of my favourite Hamlet’s (ten years ago with Michael Sheen) and now it has produced another, with Cush Jumbo.

Anna Fleische’s design is simple but elegant and does conjure up the battlements of Elsinore with its reflective towers, some of which move to reconfigure the space. Greg Hersov, a director whose work we’ve seen too little of in London (he ran the Royal Exchange in Manchester for 27 years) has made some cuts – notably the removal of the final scene arrival of Fortinbrass to take the crown – but taken no liberties. The verse is particularly well spoken and I found myself more than usually drawn in by Shakespeare’s words.

The attention paid to, and praise of, Cush Jumbo’s Hamlet is fully justified. It’s a youthful, subtle characterisation that displays distain with a simple facial expression and contempt with an casual offhand sign of the crucifix. There are so many other fine performances, though, including Jonathan Livingstone’s loyal Horatio, Jonathan Ajayi’s passionate Laertes and Norah Lopez Holden’s highly charged Ophelia. Taz Skylar & Joana Borja were a great pairing as Rosencrantz & Guildenstern, right from their animated arrival and Leo Wringer made much of the gravedigger in a particularly well staged scene. Joseph Marcell was terrific as Polonius, but I wasn’t sure what Adrian Dunbar was doing with Claudius. I came to the conclusion that it was my fault – I just couldn’t banish the iconic Line of Duty character.

This is an exceptional, very accessible Hamlet, another triumph for this indispensable theatre. Catch it if you can.

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The backdrop to D C Moore’s new play is the enclosures of the late 18th / early 19th centuries, the greatest land-grab in history, when power shifted from the many to the few (to coin a topical phrase!). Then he adds a layer of supernatural, magical, pagan stuff. Then he adds the story of Mary returning from London to her village to reunite with her former lesbian lover and whisk her off to the US. It has it’s moments but turns out to be a bit of a muddle, I’m afraid

Before the enclosure acts, all land was common, regardless of ownership. Anyone could grow, graze or rear to make a living and feed their families. The acts gave landowners exclusive use, and most didn’t even employ the disenfranchised. Mary returns to her former home as it is about to become victim to one such act. Her backstory and future plans are interwoven with the political events and the mysterious goings on. Everyone thought she was dead, Laura’s brother King hates her, the Lord fancies her but his henchman Heron loathes her, young boy Eggy Tom befriends her and she ends up as the Lady of the manor.

It does have a boisterousness and an anarchic quality and there’s a lot to like in Jeremy Herrin’s staging and Richard Hudson’s design. There are fine performances from, amongst others, Cush Gumbo as Laura & Lois Chiminba as both Eggy Tom and Young Hannah and a virtuoso one from Anne-Marie Duff as Mary. It lacks pace at times, and not everyone will like the fruity and somewhat incongruous dialogue. It’s biggest issue, though, is that it lacks narrative cohesion and doesn’t really go anywhere.

They’ve chopped some 30 minutes off the published time, which may indicate a troubled birth. Though I liked things about it, I couldn’t honestly recommend it.

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Little Bulb’s Orpheus at BAC – the most extraordinary cocktail of concert and storytelling

Paper Cinema’s Odyssey at BAC – more storytelling, with music and charming lo-tech projections

Mischief’s The Play That Went Wrong at Trafalgar Studios – more laughs in 60 minutes than any other show – ever

Cush Jumbo’s Josephine & I at the Bush – two biographies intertwined in a virtuoso performance

ONEOFUS’ Beauty & the Beast at the Young Vic – two biographies intertwined with a gothic fairytale

PIT’s The Universal Machine at the New Diorama – a timely play with music about Alan Turing

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I hadn’t read any reviews, so my expectation was a biographical play about Josephine Baker – but this is a much more ambitious, complex, brave and multi-layered piece that truly wears its heart on its sleeve. It also features one of those rare virtuoso performances that stand alone regardless of the material.

What Cush Jumbo does is weave her personal story (some of the ‘current’ story is so personal, it surely can’t be entirely autobiographical?) with that of the extraordinary life of the icon. Cush became obsessed with Baker at an early age and we see her Josephine doll and her scrapbook. She finds parallels between their lives, notably the racism both experienced. She often switches between the character and her real self in mid-flow. At first this is all a bit puzzling, but it does find its rhythm and it’s surprising how much you learn about Baker’s life, albeit occasionally rushed.

Cush is both writer and performer and she’s lucky enough to have world-class director Phyllida Lloyd and world-class designer Anthony Ward to help provide a highly original, inventive and superlative staging. They’ve turned The Bush into a lovely night club with table seating on two levels (and chilli table cloths to die for!) and a bare stage which transforms with curtains and projections. There are props all over the place, which enables her to pick one up and move quickly into the next episode. On the side of the stage, pianist Joseph Atkins plays as both soloist and accompanist.

Whatever you think of the show, it is impossible not to be impressed by Cush’s passionate, energetic full-on performance. She can sing and dance as well as act. She has the ability to transform, to switch characters, to age and above all to connect with the audience whoever she is at that moment. I hardly took my eyes off her for 100 minutes. She has gone from a delightful turn in From She Stoops to Conquer at the NT to a thrilling one in Julius Caesar at the Donmar to this mesmerizing and extraordinary performance in just eighteen months. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that this is a very special actor indeed.

This has to be seen, so if you haven’t or haven’t planned to, you know what you have to do!

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