Posts Tagged ‘Karen Dunbar’

After the Donmar’s second all-female prison set Shakespeare, Henry IV, I suggested it might not be wise to do a third (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2014/10/09/henry-iv-at-the-donmar-warehouse). Well, here’s the third, this time off-site in a purpose-built pop-up theatre in Kings Cross, in rep with revivals of Henry IV and the first in the trilogy, Julius Caesar (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2012/12/20/julius-caesar).

Our entrance this time is through an ante room where we are penned as prison officers lay out the rules, which I can testify is an authentic prison entrance as I’ve experienced it for real at Wandsworth Prison a few times (attending a show!). In this specially created space we have an even more authentic caged prison gym with seating on four sides. After an introduction from lifer Hannah, we launch into the prisoner’s production of Shakespeare’s play.

It’s uncanny how the dialogue takes on real meaning for incarcerated women. It’s as inventively staged as the first two, with only items you would find in such a place for props and costumes. The performances are extraordinarily committed and passionate. A grey vest, tracksuit bottom and no make-up must be the most unglamorous stage get-up any theatrical Dame has donned and here Harriet Walter as Hannah playing Prospero is the beating heart of the piece. The great Sophie Stanton as Caliban is as at home as she was as a Dagenham Ford machinist or a Thamesmead mum or a series of Spitalfields barmaids. I very much liked Jade Anouka’s Ariel and Leah Harvey’s Miranda and Karen Dunbar was a terrific Trinculo. The last time I saw Sheila Atim, in Les Blancs, she was mute but hugely charismatic, which she is here, but with dialogue as Ferdinand.

I didn’t think the play’s story and themes suit the setting as much as the power, control and revenge of the previous two plays, but it’s a great pioneering achievement which will go down in theatrical history. Oh, and the blue plastic chairs are a lot more comfortable than the grey plastic ones at the Donmar, though not as plush as the Lazarus seats next door!


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At last! A neglected 20th century British play / playwright at the National. Gritty social realism – just up my street.

The opening is terrific. Ten windows on two floors of the facade of a Glasgow tenement open and their female occupants start berating their children in the street. Brilliant.

We then move inside Bunny Christie’s finely detailed building, which manages to create the claustrophobia of the two rooms (and stairwell) where the action takes place and, by showing parts of four other rooms, the on-top-of-each-other community life that tenements created.

We’re with the Morrison family and the play centres around wife / mother Maggie, superbly played by an almost unrecognisable Sharon Small. Husband John (Robert Cavanah, also very good) is jobless and useless. We have eldest son Alec and his demanding and devious wife Isa, back home because their tenement has collapsed! Daughter Jenny has gone off and found herself a sugar daddy and son Bertie is hospitalised with TB, brought on my the desolate conditions. Granny’s staying (a lovely performance from Anne Downie), spinster sister Lily visits to dish out support and criticism in equal measure and there’s a trio of neighbours like those in Love on the Dole and the snug at the Rovers Return in the 60’s – cracking performances from Karen Dunbar, Lindy Whiteford and Isabelle Joss.

Not a barrel off laughs you might think, but there is much irony and humour – a scene on Christmas Eve with the neighbours popping in for tea and cake is an absolute gem. It takes a while to attune to the thick Glaswegian, but when you do there’s a richness to the language which adds much. Ena Lamont Stewart’s play has its weaknesses, with the first half too much ‘slice of life’ and not enough storytelling (and a bit long), but Josie Rourke’s production is wonderfully evocative and completely vindicates the decision to revive it.

More 20th century BRITISH drama at the NT please!

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