Posts Tagged ‘Joanna Scotcher’

When I saw Noel Coward’s Private Lives at the Donmar last month, I was taken aback at how radical that century old play was. Though I’ve seen this one before, I’d forgotten that it was even more shocking, and without the laughs! Yet it was his first big hit. Unlike plays like Hay Fever, Blithe Spirit and Private Lives, it’s rarely revived now, and I’m not sure it was to the taste of the somewhat conservative Chichester audience.

Within minutes I’d decided I didn’t really like any of these self-obsessed, entitled characters, yet I was drawn in to what is a fascinating piece. It revolves around socialite Florence, obsessed by age. Though she lives with her husband David, her relationship with Tom, a man half her age, is common knowledge; she flaunts it. She shares her time between London and The Country, surrounded by writers, singers and other hangers on. Her musician son is living in Paris, but is shortly to come home. When he does, he has a fiancee Bunty in tow, and a drug habit. His relationship with his mother may be as unhealthy as her obsession with youth. It turns out that Bunty and Tom have history, and more, and this is the catalyst for the next stage of the unfolding drama.

The production is fast moving and very animated, starting in Florence & David’s London home, moving to their country property, both superb period settings designed by Joanna Scotcher. There’s a brooding soundtrack in the background, with the move from one to the other brilliantly but not incongruously accompanied by David Bowie’s Oh You Pretty Things. When Florence discovers Nicky’s addiction, the confrontation that is the play’s conclusion finds just the two of them on an empty stage. Director Daniel Raggett’s production is hugely impressive. He’s a relative newcomer and is really one to watch.

Florence and Nicky are superbly played by mother and son Lia Williams and Joshua James. There’s an excellent supporting cast, with Priyanga Burford standing out as Florence’s best friend Helen, an oasis of sanity in all the madness. Isabella Laughland as Bunty continues to impress.

Paired with 4000 Miles at The Minerva, it made for a very worthwhile trip from London, and a good start to the Chichester 2023 season.

Read Full Post »

I love the Royal Court Mondays, where you can take a punt on some live theatre you wouldn’t otherwise book, for the price of a cinema ticket. Sometimes you’re disappointed, others thrilled, and all points in-between. Danny Lee Wynter’s debut play is a brilliantly staged and excellently performed piece that proves to be a chance well worth taking.

David is approaching forty, living with his sister Syd and her boyfriend, making his living as an actor by participating in her children’s entertainment business. His social life sees him at gay clubs with other black actors, most more successful than him, notably King, an American, star of a black superhero franchise. King is in an open relationship with his husband Steven, a white travel writer. David succumbs to King’s advances and even ends up accompanying him on a press tour to Australia to promote the latest film in the series. Though he appears to tire of the superficiality, promiscuity and obsession with sex in King’s world, he returns to his dark past of drink and drugs. During this time Syd becomes pregnant, he lets her down by going AWOL, and we learn more about their family background.

In another world again, we enter the black hero fantasies of King’s film character Craw in deftly executed scenes that seem to emerge from reality or run in parallel with it. The play moves between the three worlds seamlessly, packed full of great dialogue, very explicit and often extremely funny. There are lots of themes around identity and representation, but I didn’t feel they quite came together to create a cohesive narrative / message. That said, it’s a very audacious and impressive playwriting debut, which gets a brilliant production from Daniel Evans, with designs by Joanna Scotcher (set) Kinettia Isidore (costumes) & Ryan Day (lighting), which most debutants could only dream of. Wynter himself takes the lead role at the head of an exceptional cost in which Rochenda Sandall stands out as sister Syd.

It’s great to welcome a new playwright with such promise, who seems to have learnt his craft as much from being in the audience as performing on the stage.

Read Full Post »

Joanna Scotcher’s extraordinary design starts as you walk through the doors of The George pub in South-West London, the space formerly known as the Minerva Theatre, Chichester. Roy Williams’ 2002 play is just as extraordinary, taking place in real time during the England v Germany world cup qualifying game in 2000. It’s lost none of its relevance or impact twenty years on.

The pub regulars, a mostly young crowd, have assembled to watch the game together, some coming straight from their team’s latest soccer match. Amongst them is local copper Lee and his wilder older brother Lawrie, accompanied by Phil, Becks and Jess and their black team-mate Barry, whose brother Mark has turned up unexpectedly after discharge from the army. Then there’s Alan, a very politicised nationalist prone to stirring things up and exploiting the more fiery younger men. There’s tension between Mark and Lee, who both have history with landlady Gina, who lives there with her dad Jimmy and teenage son Glen.

It starts with banter, but as the drink flows and the football disappoints, it degenerates into sniping, skirmishes, malevolence and insidious racism as skeletons emerging from cupboards. In an important sub-plot, Glen is trying to befriend two local black boys, Bad ‘T’ and Duane, but they taunt him and play with him. When the lads defend Glen, their mother comes to challenge them. It all ends tragically.

As always with Williams everyone has a voice and the character’s views get aired, even nationalist Alan, intelligent but misguided. Lawrie is a ball of visceral anger and people like Alan can light his fuse at any time and no-one can really calm him down, not even his protective brother. Young Glen is learning from these older men, who excuse their behaviour and comments as routine joshing between friends, at the same time exploiting Barry’s generosity. He in turn wraps himself in the English flag in an attempt to belong in the country where he was born, whilst more world weary Mark wants him to return to ‘his people’.

It’s brilliantly staged by Joanna Bowman, the tension building like a coiled spring. It would be difficult to find a better ensemble anywhere, most of them returning from its 2019 run in the tent outside. Richard Riddell as Lawrie and Makir Ahmed are particularly good at conveying their emotions, to the point where you’re genuinely afraid of what they might do.

It would be great to see this play return ‘home’ to London. An unmissable revival.

Read Full Post »

There are a handful of directors whose work I so admire that I book for anything they do / bring to London, and Yael Farber is one of them. I’ve been lucky enough to see seven productions in the last eight years, from Mies Julie to this – Strindberg, Miller, Lorca, Wilde, David Harrower and the extraordinary Les Blancs by Lorraine Hansberry, but not Shakespeare, until now. Like other visionary directors such as Robert Lepage and the late Yukio Ninagawa, she has illuminated Shakespeare whilst still faithfully serving the bard in a brilliant production with a towering performance by James McCardle as Macbeth.

It’s a relatively simple design by Soutra Gilmour & Joanna Scotcher that seems both timeless and modern, very dark in tones, in keeping with the tragedy. Tim Lutkins’s lighting is superbly atmospheric and there’s an equally atmospheric, haunting, largely musical, soundscape by Peter Rice & Tom Lane with live onstage cello from Aoife Burke. It’s a very visceral production, with extraordinarily realistic fights (Kate Waters) and gory murders, and it has real psychological depth, showing how obsession with power can turn into regret and violence to remorse. Water flooding the stage creates dramatic images and reflections, but also heightens the tension. The ‘wyrd’ sisters are more like a prophetic Greek chorus, here absolutely key to the unravelling of the story. It occasionally cries out for a bigger stage, but its one of the best Macbeth’s I’ve ever seen.

Farber gets such fantastic performances from all of her cast that it seems invidious to single people out. Saoirse Ronan’s UK stage debut, and only her second stage appearance, is very impressive, showing Lady Macbeth to be the force which propels her husband’s determination for power but hugely regretful by the time the Macduff’s are despatched, with pulsating chemistry with McArdle. Like fellow Glaswegian James McAvoy just eight years ago, he seems born to play Macbeth. He throws himself around the stage, every emotion on display, as he descends into power crazed madness. A career defining performance if ever I saw one.

A thrilling evening, a highlight amongst many fine evenings at the Almeida, a triumph for all involved.

Read Full Post »

This play with music about City traders has a cabaret bar setting. The trading firm is big and successful with a client list to die for. Astrid is one of their top traders. She’s forced to take client’s son Harrison but choses to take Priya, a hungry young British girl of Bangladeshi heritage. She pays a (female) prostitute to talk to her, but this becomes much more. 

The boys in the office are merciless with their banter and pranks, but things go too far at a lap dancing club where they consume way too much alcohol and cocaine and they set up Harrison and Priya. Back at work the firm’s top man Arthur has to resolve things. Priya decides to try and use the situation to her advantage, which won’t be good for Astrid, but it’s a boys world so can a girl really win?

There are songs and there’s dancing and playwright Melissa Bubnic doesn’t exactly hold back on the graphic descriptions and language. It wouldn’t win any awards for subtlety, but neither would the world of greed and excess it exposes and satirises. All of the roles, including the men, are played by women. I thought it was a clever idea and Amy Hodge’s production is audacious and they just about pull it off, though two unbroken hours in a stuffy space with uncomfortable seats made it challenging.

The play revolves around Astrid and Kirsty Bushell is outstanding in this role, with a rather good voice and cheeky audience engagement. Ellora Torchia brilliantly conveys the youthful ambition and ruthlessness of Priya, determined to succeed against the cultural and sexual odds. Helen Schlesinger is superb as big boss Arthur, the most masculine of the women in male roles. Chipo Chung and Emily Barber complete an excellent ensemble and Jennifer Whyte accompanies with brio on grand piano. Joanna Scotcher has ingeniously transformed Bush Hall.

Brash, bold and inventive. Much better than some of the reviews would have you believe.

Read Full Post »

Though I knew what this play was about I wasn’t expecting to be so moved or so horrified by it. 

Both Muna and Iqra are fifteen and come from Somalia, but that’s just about where their similarities end. Muna came here when she was three and she’s now like any other fifteen year old in the UK – western clothes, obsessed with her phone and Rhianna. Iqra came here when she was ten, dresses traditionally, not really mixing with other fifteen year olds. They take the same bus to school, but Muna is upstairs and Iqra downstairs. One day Muna befriends Iqra and confides in her. This is at first reciprocated, but things take a turn when Muna pays an unexpected and unwelcome visit to Iqra’s home.

Iqra accepts her traditions but Muba is horrified by them. She was cut herself and now fears for her younger sister, who is approaching the same age when it happened to her. The two worlds collide as their lives become entwined and the extent of Iqra’s acceptance of tradition is revealed. As they get to know each other it’s a gentle and funny play, but when it confronts FGM it grabs you by the throat and punches you in the stomach, with an extraordinarily moving design coup (Joanna Scotcher) towards the end. The performances of both Adelayo Adedayo and Tsion Habte (an auspicious professional debut) are stunning and deeply moving.

In just 70 minutes, Charlene James’ excellent play confronts this barbaric and entirely unnecessary practice and must be seen, both for understanding the issue and the quality of its writing, staging by Gbolahan Obisesan and performances.

Read Full Post »

The first of two Antigone’s in 12 days, and less than three years since the last one. Greek tragedy’s were made to last. I don’t know what Ivo van Hove and Juliette Binoche have in store, but this 2500-year-old play really suits playwright Roy Williams’ contemporary gangland setting. Gangs have military precision, familial loyalty, an obsessive aversion to disrespect and a commitment to revenge. With a little bit more tinkering, you could make it feel like a completely contemporary play.

Creo is the boss, the king of gangland Thebes. At the end of the war he instructs his soldiers to bury one of Tig’s brothers with honour and the leave the other unburied.  Tig is the girlfriend of Creo’s son Eamon. She defies him by covering her brother’s body and his revenge is to command that she be buried alive, but in a Romeo & Juliet twist Tig and Eamon take matters into their own hands. Veteran tramp Tyrese brings messages and warnings from god, but it might be too late for Creo.

Designer Joanna Scotcher has created an urban space under the highway with unfinished concrete pillars and wire gates and Sandy Nuttgens adds a brooding soundscape. Mark Monero has great presence and charisma as Creo (hard to believe he’s now old enough to play the father of an adult, but he is!) and Doreene Blackstock is great as his determined and ultimately defiant wife Eunice. Savannah Gordon-Liburd and Gamba Cole are both excellent as the star-crossed lovers. I didn’t realise Oliver Wilson, playing a soldier, was also Tyrese until I read the programme – a master of disguise indeed!

This is an excellent updating of an age old tale by one of our best playwrights which Stratford’s loyal local audience lapped up, as I did. Comparisons to follow in 12 days time…..

Read Full Post »