Posts Tagged ‘Julian Glover’

Revivals of this 1961 Tennessee Williams play don’t come along as often as most of his other classics. I first saw it at the NT in 1992 with Alfred Molina as Shannon, then again in the West End in 2005, where Woody Harrelson took the lead. Now its Clive Owen’s turn, with American Anna Gunn and our own Lia Williams as the women in his life at this moment in time. It has TW’s usual biographical strands, with a predatory man who exploits young women adding a timeliness.

Rae Smith’s extraordinary set creates a mountain lodge with four shacks, palm trees, walkways and a mountain! It conjures up the tropical coastal location in Mexico where Irish American ex-priest, now tour guide, brings a group of ladies from a Baptist college in Texas. The tour isn’t going well; he’s already accused of sex with one of the underage girls and they are refusing to stay at the lodge run by Shannon’s friend and sometime lover Maxine, recently widowed.

It’s late season in 1940 and the only other guests are four German tourists who sing Nazi songs and rejoice in the bombing of London! Then New England lady Hannah, an artist, and her 97-year-old grandfather, ‘America’s oldest living poet’, turn up. Maxine is reluctant to accommodate them, but succumbs under pressure from Shannon, who is clearly attracted to Hannah. Their problems and their demons emerge and unfold on this one night, with sexual tension between Shannon and both Maxine and Hannah, but in very different ways, and an unspoken rivalry between the two women.

Clive Owen seemed to take a short while to get into his character, but was soon commanding the stage. Anna Gunn and Lia Williams are both excellent in their very different roles, Gunn as feisty promiscuous Maxine and Williams as gentle serene Hannah. There’s terrific support from Julian Glover as Hannah’s grandfather and Finty Williams as Mrs Fellowes, the church group leader who takes no prisoners. In addition to Rae Smith’s set, James Macdonald’s fine production boasts some great lighting from Neil Austin and an atmospheric soundscape by Max Pappenheim.

Good to see it again, done so well.

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I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a piece of musical theatre which packs such an emotional punch. I left the Young Vic completely drained, but absolutely exhilarated at having seen a masterpiece, and a masterclass in staging and performance.

I’ve said before that what I like about Kander & Ebb (Cabaret, Chicago…..) is that each show is completely different, and here they use the form of the minstrel show to tell the true story of nine black boys aged 13 to 19 who are wrongly accused and tried for rape in Scottsboro, Alabama in 1931. Historically accurate, it covers the period from the alleged crime through the rest of the 30’s when justice evades them and you realise it isn’t about justice at all – no deep south all-white jury will ever free these boys; it’s all about race. The ongoing American north – south divide has never been shown more vividly. It’s being staged here in 2013, somewhat chillingly the same year the Governor of Alabama finally exonerated these boys.

The minstrel form is also used faithfully, but turns it on its head with black actors playing white performers disrespecting African-Americans. There’s a white Interlocutor (MC), brilliantly played with great presence by Julian Glover who is also the governor and judge. Two comic characters, Mr Bones (a superb Colman Domingo, whose one man show so impressed me just last month at the Tricycle) and Mr Tambo ( an equally superb performance by Forrest McClendon) comment on the action and double up as sheriff’s and prison guards. The minstrels are the boys themselves, two of whom (Christian Dante White & James T Lane) also brilliantly play the alleged victims with just hats and handbags and all of whom perform with the sort of commitment and energy which blows you away. Kyle Scatliffe as the boy’s ‘leader’ makes you share his anger, such is the passion of his performance. There’s another character, ‘the lady’ on stage but silent for the whole show, whose significance only becomes clear at the very end (and even more so if you read the programme notes).

It uses a semi-circle of chairs that was apparently the norm at minstrel shows. These chairs then create trains, prison cells and court rooms in a simple but highly effective staging. Susan Stroman, best known here for The Producers, stages and choreographs this stunningly. It starts like any other musical, all song and dance, but becomes ever more chilling and uncomfortable, using this form to serve the story with respect, both shocking and entertaining. Sadly, Fred Ebb didn’t live to see what must be the artistic (if not commercial) pinnacle of the career of these masters of musical theatre.

You may have gathered from the superlative fest above that I cannot recommend this show enough. Don’t go expecting a typical musical. It won’t be comfortable, but you’ll probably leave the theatre as deeply rewarded as I did. A triumph for all involved.

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