Posts Tagged ‘Jason Watkins’

Three stage adaptations of his books running simultaneously in the West End is a real testimony to the timelessness and enduring appeal of Roald Dahl. This is one I haven’t read, so I approach it afresh.

Chloe Lamford has created a brilliant design which is spectacular yet intimate, grotesque yet funny. Mr & Mrs Twit live in a giant circular space and the monkeys they persecute in a cage which rises from underneath at the front. The circle is sometimes replaced by a stage (which looks like it will cover the front of the stalls when it lowers) onto which the caravan of the fairground folk enters and opens. You seem to be peering in to something very close but other worldly.

Jason Watkins and Monica Dolan also create grotesque characters that you have to hate but love just a bit. The monkeys they imprison and torment (Welsh!) are charming, none more so (well, for me anyway) when singing Welsh hymn Calon Lan unaccompanied quite beautifully. Those they have robbed of their fairground (northerners) seem hapless in the face of their trickery and mercilessness. Martin Lowe has added great music, not least punk rhythms to convey The Twits manic menace.

I don’t know whether it’s the book or Enda Walsh’s ‘mischievous adaptation’, but I found the story a bit thin, with a lot less substance that I’m used to with Dahl. In truth, not a lot happens in two hours. I also felt it didn’t have as strong a moral compass as we expect from Dahl. That said, the young people around us were having a grand old time (well, apart from the girl in the second row who paid more attention to her seemingly bottomless packet of crisps) and it was the day after the BAFTA’s so Jason Watkins provided a cheeky ad lib when he was encouraging contributions from the audience – acceptance speech, anyone?

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Soon after this Eugene O’Neill play started, I was thinking how experimental it was; how different to all his other plays. Then I remembered Emperor Jones and The Hairy Ape and realised what an experimental playwright he really was – though this is still very different, largely because of the extensive use of soliloquies, where the actors switch from talking to each other to talking direct to the audience.

Nina loses Gordon, the love of her life, before they’ve got going, when he goes to war and never returns. Family friend Charles is obsessed with her, but she choses doctor Edmund to impregnate her and hapless Sam to marry her & bring up baby Gordon with her, with the on-off affair with Edmund continuing. When Gordon grows up and Sam dies, she’s faced with choosing between Charles and Edmund again.

This must have been radical stuff in 1928, when it ran five hours. It’s pretty radical 85 years later, though more because the soliloquies still make it original. It’s mercifully now just over three hours; the first half is still overlong, but it redeems itself in the second. I couldn’t make my mind up if the production was sending it up a bit, but I gave it the benefit of the doubt. It’s not an entirely satisfying evening, but it is an intriguing one.

In as fine a set of performances as you’d wish for, Anne-Marie Duff shines as complicated new woman Nina, but she’s well matched by a superb turn from Charles Edwards as, well, Charles, and a lovely characterisation of Sam by Jason Watkins. American Darren Pettie’s UK debut is certainly an auspicious one; his performance as Edmund is very compelling. Soutra Gilmour’s terrific design is a Frank Lloyd Wright style home in the first act and transforms cleverly from a NYC 5th Avenue apartment to a boat to a pier-side in the second.

If only they’d been even more radical with the scissors and trimmed another 20/30 minutes from the first half, it would have been a lot sharper. As it is, it’s a flawed but fascinating glimpse at a play that was clearly way ahead of its time and still seems original today.

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