Posts Tagged ‘Giles Terera’

Actor Giles Terera chose the subject for his playwrighting debut well. Something he clearly believes passionately about, something too few people know about, and a significant moment in the abolition movement. He also chose well in partnering with master storyteller Tom Morris as co-director.

The Zong was a ship with 133 slaves on board, purchased in Africa and sailed to the West Indies. They run low on food and water and the crew decide to throw the slaves, including women and children, who went first, overboard as ‘a matter of necessity’, they were insured cargo after all, not people.

We start in the present day in Waterstones where a customer challenges the placing of books about slavery as African history, insisting it’s British history. Then we flash back to the late 18th Century, soon after the tragedy, when Gustavus Vassa / Olaudah Equiano, former slave but now a free man, tries to bring the case of the Zong to the attention of anti-slavery champion Granville Sharp. A number of court cases follow, challenging ‘the necessity’ argument, crucial to the insurance claims, but the establishment fought on, until testimony from a crew member suggested the last group were not ‘of necessity’, supporting the anti-slavery cause.

In a very moving epilogue we learn that compensation payments to slavers (not the enslaved) constituted the greatest taxpayer bailouts until the 2008 crash, and how this case set the scene for most human rights cases that followed, back in Waterstones, placing the books on the appropriate shelves.

Terera plays Vassa / Equiano himself and is surrounded by a fine supporting cast. The use of West African music, played live by Sidiki Dembele, is inspired. The staging is simple but there are some spectacular moments, most notably when the courthouse transforms into the ship.

It’s an important story to bring to our attention, and it’s a fine piece of storytelling, with a surprising amount of humour, yet rousing and moving. Sadly over, for now, after it’s short run at the Barbican. It would be good to see it reach a wider audience.

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I’ve lost count of the number of productions of this play I’ve seen, but few of them unfolded like a thriller, or seemed to fly by so quickly. Clint Dyer’s production is a very fresh take on Shakespeare’s tragedy.

The setting feels like a 1930’s fascist state. There’s a silent chorus, called ‘system’, all dressed in black, who sit on steps on three sides of a rectangular amphitheatre with the fourth side steps down into the auditorium. The edgy soundscape is the final touch in creating a sinister atmosphere. The racism is heightened by this, together with the fact Othello is the only black character on stage, but the misogyny is heightened too, particularly with the abuse of Emilia by Iago clearly visible.

Iago, black-suited with a Hitler moustache, is a very malevolent presence throughout, signalled by every gesture and expression, though his motivation isn’t entirely clear; is it really just racism? Othello’s origin in slavery is suggested by a back covered with scars from whipping. Much of the time he seems so alone, our sympathies are intensified, though we still can’t stomach his treatment of Desdemona. In the final scenes the soundscape is silenced but the tension increased.

Paul Hilton’s Iago has a touch cartoon villain about him, but this didn’t detract from the personification of evil. Tanya Franks was excellent as Emilia, clearly afraid of her husband, eventually struggling to come to terms with his villainy. Desdemona is a bit of an underwritten role, but Rosy McEwen somehow brought her to the fore more than I’ve seen before. I thought Giles Terera had great presence as Othello, and brought passion and physicality to the role. His Othello is one man against the world.

It’s only nine years since the NT last staged it, with Adrian Lester & Rory Kinnear in the Olivier next door, but this proves to be a very welcome and very impressive new look at what I think is one of Shakespeare’s best plays.

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This 1995 play, set in 1930 Harlem, was the 10th by American playwright Pearl Cleage. She went on to write 7 more, but I think this is the only one we’ve seen in the UK. Based on this showing, with a great production by Lynette Linton and a handful of terrific performances, I’m wondering why we haven’t seen more.

Harlem in 1930 was going through what was called a renaissance. Writers and musicians flourished. Clubs. bars and speakeasies managed to navigate prohibition. The place had real style and white people flocked there to experience this edgy and somewhat hedonistic cocktail, but it’s four local characters and an arrival from Alabama that are at the centre of the story, with references to real people like Langston Hughes and Josephine Baker. I was surprised that homosexuality and birth control featured so prominently at this time in this place.

Guy Jacobs is a fashion designer who dreams of creating costumes for Baker. He’s openly homosexual, refusing to hide, something that seems to have been accepted by more people than it offended. He shares his apartment with singer, showgirl and friend Angel, who struggles to find her place in the world. Guy’s best friend Sam is a doctor who spends much of his free time letting his hair down with Guy & Angel, all three consuming large quantities of alcohol.

Neighbour Delia is preoccupied with promoting birth control, important in liberating local women, trying to set up an advice centre. She’s sweet on Sam and he on her, but they are more reserved than Guy and Angel so things take time to evolve. Angel’s latest man is like a fish out of water, religious and conservative, shocked by the open homosexuality and promotion of birth control, but she sees stability with him. His arrival, though, turns all of their world’s upside down.

The lead performances are all terrific. Giles Terera plays Guy as out and proud, loud and defiant. Ronke Adekoluejo’s Delia is shy but finds steely determination in her ambition for birth control and melts when her affection for Sam is reciprocated. Sule Rimi conveys Sam’s commitment to his profession as well as his love of the good life. Playing the unsympathetic character against these is hard, but Osy ikhile pulls it off as Leland. We’ve got used to valuing understudies more in recent years and on the night I went Helena Pipe stood in for the indisposed Samira Wiley and acquitted herself really well, with a word perfect interpretation in the pivotal role of Angel.

It lagged a bit in the first half as there was so much back story and scene setting, but the second half was a real dramatic tour de force. I really enjoyed this and would like see more of both Cleage’s writing and Linton’s directorial work.

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I’m sure that by now no-one is interested in my view, but it’s too much of a theatrical milestone to let it pass by…….

Don’t expect anything else at the refurbished Victoria Palace Theatre for a decade or two. This inspired and audacious musical isn’t going anywhere. For once something lives up to all the hype. It’s as ground-breaking as West Side Story was sixty years ago. It excels in every department – writing, design, staging and performance. There isn’t a moment wasted, and the amount of detail is almost too much to take in on one visit.

Alexander Hamilton, illegitimate, an orphan, Caribbean immigrant, is (was!) the least known founding father of America. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s show, based on Ron Chernow’s book, takes us from his college days in New York City, through his military service as Washington’s right-hand man in the War of Independence, lawyer, Congressman, banker, and Secretary of the Treasury to his assassination by colleague and rival Aaron Burr. It’s virtually sung through, though the score isn’t entirely hip hop as the press has implied; there is rap, but its really an eclectic cocktail of popular music and modern musical theatre styles – and it’s excellent.

Director Thomas Kail and choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler have created a thrilling, extraordinarily detailed and fast-paced staging; you just can’t take your eyes off the stage. David Korins all-purpose set lets it breathe, facilitating both the epic and intimate, and Paul Tazewell period costumes with a twist are gorgeous to look at. I just can’t fault it – the production brings the story and the music to life and the combination of a 200-year-old true story with contemporary music doesn’t seem in the slightest bit incongruous.

We had the alternate Alexander Hamilton on the night we went, but you’d never know; Ash Hunter was superb. Rachelle Ann Go as his wife Eliza and Rachel John as Angelica Schuyler were excellent, in fine voice both. Jason Pennycooke as Lafayette / Jefferson and Giles Terera as Burr are outstanding, the former bringing a delicious humour to Lafayette. King George turns up just three times, on stage alone, but Michael Jibson’s characterisation is simply brilliant, seemingly looking each audience member, his subjects, in the eye, almost stealing the show. They are supported by a fine ensemble that’s a real tribute to British musical theatre talent.

To take the show to the capital city of the former colonial power seems to me to be as audacious as the show itself. The attentive audience was clearly as enthralled and thrilled as I was. I felt I was at a rare milestone in the history of theatre, an evening I will inevitably have to experience again, probably periodically for years to come.

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This August Wilson play, based on a real-life character – the so-called mother of blues – was his first big success in 1984, getting its first London production five years later in the Cottesloe Theatre. It became the first of his 10-play cycle covering the black American experience (each in a different decade of the 20th century) to be staged, though two are set before it. This very welcome revival is in the much bigger Lyttelton next door.

The whole play takes place in a Chicago recording studio in the 1920’s. Ma Rainey’s a bit of a diva who turns up an hour late for the recording session insisting that her stuttering nephew sings the intro to the title song using a different arrangement, that songs are changed, that her car (damaged en route) is repaired and returned to the studio and that coca cola is fetched from the deli before she starts. The band attempt to rehearse while they are waiting, but horn player Levee’s heart isn’t in it; he’s more concerned with his ambition and his new shoes.

The rest of the play moves between the band room and the studio, with Ma’s manager and the record producer regularly leaving the elevated control room, usually to argue with or placate Ma. Her daughter, the delightfully named Dussie Mae, flirts with Levee – well, more than flirts! The band banter and fight, and occasionally relate a real experience of horrific racist abuse and violence which is particularly chilling contained within the lighter tone. You’d expect the play to revolve around its title character, but in fact it’s heart is in the band room scenes, with their stories and relationships, which take a dramatic turn at the end.

It’s more of a ‘slice of life’ than a linear plotted play, but it achieves its purpose of taking us to a 20’s black American world. It’s a touch slow and low-energy in the slightly longer first half, but its still in preview so it may tighten. The Lyttelton is a much less intimate space than the Cottesloe, but Dominic Cooke’s production and Ultz design work well, with the long narrow band room rising stage front and the control room like an elevated container, both linked by a metal spiral staircase. 

At first I thought the band’s actors – an unrecognisable Clint Dyer on trombone, Giles Terera on bass, horn player O-T Fagbenle and Lucian Msamati on piano – were playing live, but I came to the conclusion the music was recorded, which is a great compliment to both their miming and Paul Arditti’s sound design. It’s a great cast, led by the incomparable Sharon D Clarke, who commands the stage and everyone on it when she is. Fagbenle is a very edgy and passionate Levee and Msamati is superb as Toledo, a role unlike any I’ve seen him play before.

I have to confess my memories of the 1989 production are feint, but its great to see it again and the audience reception was very positive indeed.

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I saw this show on Broadway 15 months ago (sorry about the location-dropping!) and was a bit underwhelmed. I enjoyed it, but didn’t think it lived up to the ‘best musical of this century’ hype. It had been running a year at that point. This London clone has been running three months and the first thing that struck me last night was how fresher it seemed – performed with more gusto, energy & enthusiasm.

I’ve never seen South Park or anything else by the show’s creators / writers, so I’m not pre-programmed to their humour. It’s a bit like those Seth Rogan / Judd Apatow films – trying a bit too hard to shock, pushing things a little too far on occasion, hilarious in parts but so relentless that it inevitably lags in others.

I probably don’t need to tell you that it’s about a bunch of newly graduated Mormon missionaries, two of which are sent to Uganda and fail miserably to meet their baptism targets. Most of the humour comes from the clash of cultures and it draws a fine line laughing with /at the Africans. It’s also taking big risks using AIDS (and possible cures) as the butt of a lot of its jokes, one of the things that for me went too far.

It sets up a pace that it’s difficult to sustain, so there are genuinely more laughs than almost any other musical comedy, but that has the effect of making the bits between the laughs seem a lot longer. The music seemed a lot better on second hearing, albeit most of it parodying the genre. It’s particularly good lyrically though. The design is (presumably) a bit of a parody too, but it also makes you smile.

It’s the performances that made this second showing for me. I’d seen and admired Jared Gertner as Elder Cunningham on Broadway, but here he was better matched by Gavin Creel’s excellent Elder Price and surrounded by a better ensemble whose sense of fun was infectious. Stephen Ashfield seemed completely at home as Elder McKinley, Alexia Kadime was an excellent Nabulungi (is the running gag about her name new? I don’t remember it) and there were great turns from Giles Terera as Mafala Hatimbi and Chris Jarman as a positively terrifying General.

It is well worth seeing and it does add a lot to the musical comedy cannon (but not ‘most shocking’; a crown still held by Jerry Springer – The Opera). You’ll have a lot of fun as long as you don’t expect ‘the best musical of this century’.

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