Posts Tagged ‘Joseph Mydell’

Though it’s still set in the 50’s, but relocated to the US, the moral message of Tony Kushner’s adaptation of Swiss playwright Friedrich Durrenmatt’s play seem very now. Though it’s a long evening, I really enjoyed it.

The North Eastern US town of Slurry is down on its luck. Factories have closed, jobs are hard to get and no-one has money to spend, but the world’s richest woman, Claire Zachanassian, is about to return home, and expectations are high. She has a track record of philanthropy, traveling the world scattering money as she goes. She also seems to collects husbands along the way. Trains no longer stop at Slurry, but she makes sure hers does.

It isn’t long before she offers an extraordinary sum – one billion dollars – to the town and its people, but there are conditions. People start spending, running up credit with willing retailers, and the town makes expensive plans. There’s a sense of anticipation, even though the price would be very high indeed, particularly for her old flame Alfred. Finally a meeting is called where the residents will vote on whether to accept the money, and therefore accept and implement her demands. Claire looks on, in control, vengeance on her mind.

Director Jeremy Herrin has resources only the NT could provide – a cast of twenty-eight, five musicians, a choir, children and supernumeraries. Designer Vicki Mortimer conjures up a railway station, town hall, shops, homes and a forest, with excellent period costumes by Moritz Junge and superb lighting from Paule Constable. Paul Englishby’s jazz infused score adds much to the period feel and atmosphere.

Hugo Weaving is superb as Alfred, with a huge physical presence and a pitch perfect vocal tone and accent. Lesley Manville plays Claire brilliantly, ice cool, determined, vindictive and unforgiving. They are surrounded by a terrific ensemble that includes luxury casting like Nicholas Woodeson as the Mayor, Sara Kestelman as the school principal and Joseph Mydell as the church minister.

They seem to have cut it considerably during previews, but it’s still too long at 3.5 hours, albeit with two intervals. That said, it’s a wonderful production which in my view has to be seen. The story of a town that sells its soul to the devil in a Faustian pact with the richest woman in the world proves timeless. As it is, was and forever will be, there’s nothing people won’t do for money.

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If you take out the two operas, the three foreign language productions, the deconstruction and the filleted three-hander, I think this is my 12th Hamlet. Simon Godwin’s bold and brilliant staging, with a mesmerising performance by Paapa Essiedu, may well be the best of them. I regretted not going to Stratford to see it, but now I don’t, because it’s particularly thrilling to see it at the Hackney Empire amongst an enraptured young and diverse audience.

It’s an African Denmark, colourful and throbbing with music and life, which works brilliantly. It serves the play well, adding some magic, but no gimmicks. So many scenes are superbly staged it’s hard to know where to begin. It gets off to a great start at Hamlet’s graduation ceremony, emphasising his youth and the likely effect of this on his grief at losing his dad and anger at his mother’s swift re-marriage. His confrontations with a cool Claudius are particularly spikey and the resentment of his mother palpable. As the play progresses, we get a superb play-within-the-play, Polonius’ death deftly handled, Ophelia’s grief heartbreaking, a wonderful grave digging scene and a thrilling fight between Hamlet and Laertes using double sticks. Godwin hardly puts a foot wrong and I felt I was hearing the verse afresh with new emphasis and intonation.

Paapa Essiedu really is extraordinary. His verse speaking is enthralling, he totally engages with the audience and every one of those many soliloquies, where he’s alone on that vast stage, are captivating. The rest of the cast is excellent too. I thought Clarence Smith was a particularly fine Claudius and Buom Tihngang made Laertes his own. Mimi Ndiweni is very moving as Ophelia and Lorna Brown navigates Gertrude’s emotional journey very well. Joseph Mydell is luxury casting indeed as Polonius. Paul Wills set, in red-rust colours, and colourful costumes evoke an African kingdom, with Sola Akingbola’s music adding that final touch.

It’s somewhat ironic that within 48 hours our two big national companies have given me one of the worst and one of the best Shakespeare productions I’ve ever seen. I can’t emphasise enough how much seeing it in Hackney Empire, surrounded by young people spellbound by the Bard, added to my experience.


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Walking through the doors into the Young Vic auditorium has become one of life’s exciting little adventures; you never know what you’re going to see. This occasion was particularly exciting, confronted by Lizzie (Shunt) Clachan’s giant two-tier set that takes up half the space, with a disused empty swimming pool filled with tables & chairs for the audience!

I have to confess that this is a slice of history which has passed me by, probably because I was too young to engage with it as ‘current affairs’ and it somehow hasn’t become modern history yet. We’re in the Congo as the 50’s become the 60’s. It’s still a Belgian colony when charismatic beer salesman Patrice Lumumba sets up a political party. Within 5 years he’s Prime Minister. Within 7 months he’s dead.

Though Aime Cesaire’s 1966 play focuses on little more than a year in one African country, it could be the story of the African continent – predatory European colonists (Belgium, Britain, France, Portugal) and their greedy unprincipled corporations followed by imperialist superpowers (The US, USSR and now China), an ineffectual UN and local bullies all after the same thing, none giving a shit about the African people. We get Lumumba’s tragic personal story, but we also get the big geopolitical picture. It’s fascinating.

Erstwhile film director Joe Wright’s staging is, as one might expect, on a spectacular scale. There’s an atmospheric soundtrack and lots of wonderful Congolese music, some played live by Kaspy N’Dia. The US, USSR and greedy businessmen are represented by puppets. With the help of choreographer-of-the-moment Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, there’s great dancing and stylised movement. Kabongo Yshisensa, when not playing beautiful Likembe, acts as a sort of spirit-of-Africa narrator, speaking in Congolese and translated by other actors. Women play men and black actors play white roles with elasticated noses or blonde wigs!

Joseph Mydell is excellent as the president who turns and Daniel Kaluuya is terrific as Mobuto, the army colonel who goes on to rule for 32 years – what a long way Kaluuya as come since Sucker Punch & Oxford Street at the Royal Court. Towering above them all is Chiwetel Ejiofor as Lumumba, whose trajectory from humble salesman to Mandela-like hero and ultimately martyr is played with great subtlety; a stunning performance.

Another triumph for the Young Vic; not to be missed!

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