Posts Tagged ‘Gethin Anthony’

I’ve seen a handful of Simon Gray plays before and though I admire his writing, I’ve never really taken to his plays. It’s hard to like his characters, difficult to identify with their predicaments and they’re all a bit cold and cynical for my taste. ‘So why go and see four in one day’ I hear you ask! Well, I like substantial theatrical feasts, I’m fond of experiments with form and structure and I suffer a bit with marathonitis, though nowhere as much as I used to.

Michael (Mikey) and Jason (Japes) are brothers, the former a successful writer (well, at first) and the latter, crippled in a diving accident in childhood, a teacher and wannabe writer (also at first). They share the family home now their parents have gone. They also share a woman and daughter, though they both didn’t always know that. In 7.5 stage hours, we see various permutations of their lives and relationships. All sorts of things change, including the parents mode of death, the children’s sex and names and the course of their careers.

The first play, Japes, follows the brothers over something like 30 years from when Mikey starts his first novel and his relationship with future wife Anita (Neets) through the birth, childhood and maturity of their daughter Wendy (Wenders) to a tragic conclusion. The second play in sequence, Michael, fills in Wendy’s teenage years and bolts on the same ending as Japes. The third, Japes Too, is essentially the same as Japes with subtle changes and a fundamentally different and happier ending. The fourth, Missing Dates, starts as Japes, expands the core scene of Michael and changes the end of Japes Too. We get a fifth character for one scene of this play – Wendy’s (Wednesday) husband Dominic (Thursday). Keep up!

It’s a fascinating experiment in form and structure, taking the same characters and changing their story and dialogue and making both subtle and dramatic changes. It must be extraordinarily difficult for the actors but director Tamara Harvey has a fine cast led by the brilliant Jamie Ballard and the superb Gethin Anthony.

It’s impossible to like any of these people and they do get on your tits more as the day progresses. You will gather from the bracketed nicknames that they, as did many other things, irritated me. I found Japes a satisfying start and Missing Dates (the funniest) an enjoyable finish, but Michael was a bit pointless and Japes Too much too repetitive. For entertainment, if I could do it all over again, I’d just do Japes or Japes Too + Missing Dates, though the theatrical intellectual in me appreciated the whole experience.

Eggs curate. Curate’s egg.

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My fourth Rattigan in his centenary year, but my first visit to the lovely Royal Derngate in Northampton.

Like Cause Celebre, this is late Rattigan – you can tell from the early 70’s dialogue alone – not at all what we’re used to seeing revived. It’s a four-hander about a rather boorish writer and his Estonian wife, their son and family friend. The marriage appears loveless (on the husband’s part), the best friend is in love with the wife and the father-son relationship is somewhat strained.

As the play progresses, particularly in the second half, secrets and lies are revealed as is the true theme of the play – that we express love in many different ways, many of them unseen. The trademark Rattigan emotional repression and restraint are there but, like Cause Celebre, it feels more modern. To say much more would be a spoiler, so I won’t.

Naomi Dawson has created an evocative Islington flat with more books than your average second-hand bookshop (which all seemed real from the third row of the stalls). It’s very realistic but gives the play an intimacy you might not expect in a theatre of this size. Richard Beecham’s direction is subtle, restrained and sensitive allowing the story, characters and dialogue to breath freely.

Jay Villiers is excellent as the overbearing husband / father, a larger-than-life character who dominates all around him. Geraldine Alexander avoids the pitfalls that often make a heavily accented character unreal and gives a very moving portrayal of a long-suffering ex-refugee besotted with both her son and her unfaithful husband. Sean Power’s American pulp fiction writer has to play differently against both and does so very well. Gethin Anthony captured the combination of youthful enthusiasm and rebellion in the son (though I have my suspicions he’s wearing a dodgy wig!).

Delicate music and slow curtains setting the scene and ending each half created a thoughtful atmosphere and the closing moments as father and son sat playing chess in silence spoke volumes.

This is a lovely little play given a pitch perfect production. Well worth a trip up top Northampton and a welcome contribution to the centenary.

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This is the third production in these tunnels under Waterloo Station, but the first under the auspices of the Old Vic. It explores similar territory as the second – a dystopian future world – but not as a promenade performance this time; there’s new (old) raked cinema seating in one of the arches. 

Beth Steel’s play takes us to the north of England in a future world where man-made catastrophes have led to the decline of society. An encampment of ‘security’ is hunting ‘illegals’. They receive regular but limited supplies and news of civil unrest which unnerves them, thinking they might too be attacked. Much more is revealed in the second act, which is the play’s downfall as it provides an imbalance and an irritating obtuseness to the first act which prevents you from fully engaging with the story and the characters. 

However, the staging by Richard Twyman and design by takis are stunning, and there are six fine performances from Gethin Anthony, Sam Hazeldine, Matti Houghton, Dearbhla Molloy, Paul Rattray and Danny Webb. The relentless rumble of trains overhead and the dark dampness of the venue seem part of the experience. 

It confirms this an exciting new venue (though I suspect better for promenade performances than a more conventional seating as here) . On this occasion, installations around the performance space create an appropriate atmosphere and there’s now a cool and quirky bar (though we still have the portaloos!). 

It’s much better than the reviews would have you believe and well worth checking out.

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