Posts Tagged ‘Genevieve O’Reilly’

I’m glad I’m not an actor with a part in this Abi Morgan play. I wouldn’t get through a single performance without losing my way, let alone a whole run. It’s structure is clever but must be a nightmare for Sinead Cusack, Genevieve O’Reilly, Michelle Fairley, and Zawe Ashton, so lets start with gold stars for the actors.

We’re in some sort of European dictatorship which is about to be overthrown by the people. In a large, fancy but tasteless room the president’s wife Micheleine is meeting western photojournalist Kathryn, who has come to photograph her husband. She has an interpreter of dubious competence and motivation, Gilma (who’s also a kleptomaniac!). Her oldest friend Genevieve arrives, summoned by Micheleine.

The same scene is played out multiple times, but each one is different in some respect, more differences as we progress through the 95 minutes of the play. We learn more about the true nature of the relationship between Micheleine and Genevieve, where Gilma stands on the conflict and something, but not a lot, about Kathryn. They break the fourth wall frequently and Kathryn doesn’t always understand what the others are saying, or vice versa.

It’s all very clever, but I felt the focus on structure, though not impacting the characterisations, does rob the play of story; there just isn’t enough of it. In addition to faultless acting, particularly impressive from Sinead Cusack as Micheleine and Zawe Ashton as Gilma, there’s a fine set by Peter McKintosh and impeccable direction by Robert Hastie.

I admired it and it impressed me, but the play left me wanting more.

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This is a bit like going to two linked plays, such is the difference between the two halves.

The First Half

Tom Scutt’s extraordinary giant moving cube dominates the Olivier stage after a smaller cube has disappeared into the flys. A series of interlocking scenes are played out in and around this as it changes shape. There are protests and riots; an ‘osbornesque’ defence solicitor; an advisor to the American president, his wife and daughter and an atheist academic. We have a woman again as (Conservative) PM, her dead son’s friend has returned from his travels as some sort of Messiah (Welsh, obviously) and everyone appears to be having the same dream. Oh, and we’re about to declare war on Iran.

There’s no doubting the inventiveness and stagecraft of this first half – but it comes at the expense of clarity, coherence and obvious purpose. You’re left thinking ‘ well, that was clever, but what are you really getting at here?’.

The Second Half

That question is answered soon in the second half, which is a debate between the PM, the academic and the new messiah, who now seemingly controls a crowd of 500,000 in Trafalgar Square. New politics (the public rising up with the help of social media and the charismatic messiah John, who has now become an almost supernatural being) meets old politics in the form of a liberal Tory about to do what she thinks is right, encouraged by the islamophobic academic who is dying of cancer. We end with the cast stage front each with a monologue; the last of whom is a soldier in recently invaded Iran.

Simply staged, the second half allows the narrative to breath and the debate is rather compelling….but it does feel like another play involving some of the same characters, pulling in some of the narrative threads of the first. I’m not sure whether this is intentional or not, but for me it led to an ultimately unsatisfying experience and left me thinking it was more work in progress than finsihed article. There’s a great play there waiting to be let loose, hampered by a sometimes thrillingly theatrical but relentless & confusing first half and a more intimate second half that’s a bit lost in this giant space.

The three central performances – Geraldine James as a very believable PM, Danny Webb as the angry academic and Trystan Gravelle as a charismatic John are all excellent, and there’s fine support from a cast of 19, including Nick Sidi & Genevieve O’Reilly as the American diplomat and his wife and Adam James as the solicitor.

Playwright Mike Bartlett seems to be struggling as his work scales up from minimalist gems like Cock to epics like this. If director Thea Sharrock had created a cohesive whole from this material it could have been very special indeed, but it frustratingly falls short. Worth the ride, though.

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