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Posts Tagged ‘Josh Finan’

Ten years ago Stephen Beresford’s first play, The Last of the Haussmans, went straight onto the NT’s Lyttleton stage and was a huge success. I loved it, and have been waiting ever since for his next. We’ve had a very good adaptation of Bergman’s Fanny & Alexander, a short monologue streamed as part of the Old Vic’s lockdown season and a terrific screenplay for Pride, but this second original play has taken ten years, including two waiting to get onto the Bridge Theatre stage for the now customary reasons. It’s what I call ‘a proper play’, well worth the wait, and the cast of this premiere production is uniformly excellent.

The Church of England in Devon may not seem the most exciting prospect for a drama, but this even-handed examination of it’s role in 2022 dispels that prejudice quickly. The vicar finds himself at the centre of a storm when he refuses just one of the requests for the funeral of a child. The community, most of whom never attend his church except for christenings, weddings and funerals, turn against him. Even his loyal wife, newly arrived curate, daughter / verger and the church authorities want and expect him to give in to the pressure, but he insists its what they need, irrespective of what they want.

Not only is the debate an objective view of the church in our times, it’s also sharp-witted and often very funny, both an entertaining and enlightening piece which takes place entirely in the vicarage kitchen (designed by Mark Thompson) whilst most events occur offstage. I couldn’t wait to get back after the interval and felt deeply satisfied at the end, as only good live drama can provide.

Alex Jennings is simply superb as Rev David Highland, a flawed but well meaning man who cares for the community as a whole, church-goers or not, despite his past infidelities and issues with alcohol. The uncle of the child, finding himself in conflict with his own family, uses him; this is another fine performance from Josh Finan, who so impressed in Shook and Peggy For You. Hermione Gulliford is superb as doctor’s wife Janet, jumping on the bandwagon, the woman you love to hate. Holly Atkins is a delight as the pregnant copper on a motorbike singlehandedly trying to keep the peace.

This is great writing, excellent staging by Nicholas Hytner and a fine ensemble. The cheers said it all; lots of us have been waiting for a meaty new play that never forgets to entertain whilst it illuminates.

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This revival of Alan Plater’s 1999 play is the final offering in Hampstead Theatre’s look back over 60 years of new plays, a season sadly blighted by closures, at a theatre with a track record of new plays to be proud of. Plater’s play is particularly appropriate, being about plays and playwrights, though its central character is an agent. I saw the original production here, with Maureen Lipman as Peggy, and this is a great revival. Though set in the sixties, and first staged at the turn of the millennium, it feels as fresh as if it was written today.

Its protagonist is legendary theatrical agent Peggy Ramsey, a force of nature, who represented some 400 playwrights, a list that reads like a who’s-who of writers of the second half of the 20th Century, including Alan Ayckbourn, David Hare, Christopher Hampton, Caryl Churchill, J B Priestly, Stephen Poliakoff, Joe Orton (she appears in his biopic played by Vanessa Redgrave) and Plater himself. Here, her writers are represented by fictional archetypes – the new kid on the block, the current golden boy and the mature one who’s now struggling. She clearly loved nurturing new talent, she revelled in the glory of her successful clients, but she appeared to lose interest after that, at least in their eyes.

It all takes place on one day in her office, and that of her secretary Tessa, in Dickensian Godwin’s Court in theatre-land. In the morning she’s teaching, and playing with, 21-year-old Simon, who’s submitted a modern spin on Romeo & Juliet. She lunches with Philip, the toast of both the West End and Broadway with his somewhat superficial fare. In the afternoon, she is confronted by gritty northerner Henry, when it turns more serious, darker and edgier, without losing the sharp witty dialogue we’ve become used to by then. Plater very cleverly takes someone he knows well and sends us home feeling like we know her well too. His affection and admiration for her comes through, but he shows us her flaws as well.

When he wrote it he wondered who it was for, so he sent it to his friend Alan Ayckbourn who felt very much the same. Well, it’s certainly for me, an avid theatre-goer, but I can see how many of the references and in jokes might be lost on someone who isn’t, or someone younger. However, anyone can admire such outstanding writing, great characterisation (fictional or otherwise) and sparkling dialogue. Director Richard Wilson, and his designer James Cotterill (who’s excellent set is littered with play-scripts and posters) bring it alive two decades on, and the performances are terrific.

It must be hard for an actor to play against such a larger-than-life character as Peggy, but these four do it brilliantly. Josh Finan is great as young Simon, who proves wiser than his years and not as naive as he first seems. The great Trevor Cooper plays Henry, the jaded, cynical but empathetic older playwright desperate to be staged again, who provides the moral anchor of the piece. Danusia Samal’s Tessa, the latest in a seemingly long line of long suffering assistants who’s names Peggy often gets wrong, is resigned to being put upon, with a fondness for the clients Peggy cannot display. Jos Vantyler plays Philip, riding the crest of a wave, yet respectful to his colleagues. It’s Tamsin Greig’s evening, though. She commands the stage and inhabits the role with brilliant comic timing, switching to show another more thoughtful side of Peggy in the second half. It’s a stunning performance.

Four more weeks to catch this great revival.

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I’m so glad I caught this brilliant new play in its last week in London, before it heads off on tour. Samuel Bailey has written something very original that tackles a subject rarely covered with both empathy and humour that finds you laughing uproariously one minute and devastated the next.

We’re in a young offenders institute with three teenage boys attending parenting classes with trainer Grace. They are all about to become fathers, one already so, and they are learning things like feeding and changing nappies, though not always entirely willingly – it’s all a bit embarrassing, but its something to do. We learn why each of them are there and that the common thread in their backgrounds is parental issues themselves. Though they banter and spar with each other, you can feel a bond forming, as it questions the rehabilitative value of such incarceration, and examines the reasons why they are there in the first place. The friendship that’s forming seems the only light in a hopeless situation. You really do develop an empathy with these boys.

The writing is hugely impressive, particularly as its Bailey’s debut full production. Jasmine Swan’s set oozes authenticity and George Turvey’s staging is finely tuned and sympathetic to the material. Josh Finan is brilliant as livewire motormouth Scouser Cain, a bundle of energy that erupts continually. Ivan Oyik is superb as Riyad, more mature, intelligent and cool. New arrival JonJo, struggling in this new world for him, is played with great restraint and delicacy by Josef Davies. All three are playing below their age but all three characterisations are totally believable. Andrea Hall brings a calmness and positivity to Grace, with occasional flashes of frustration and hopelessness.

I’ve seen a lot of theatre in prisons, and once in a young offender institute. The programme biographies are often written by the residents describing their past and their hopes for the future and this plays like they read. It was great to see a full house standing and cheering such a good play given such a fine production. I do hope it returns to London so that more people can do so.

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