Posts Tagged ‘Kathryn Hunter’

You can always rely on theatre company Complicite to find something obscure and off-the-wall to adapt for the stage, and so it is again here, a Polish novel by Nobel prize-winner Olga Tokarczuk that is both a mystery about the deaths of hunters and an environmental man vs nature polemic.

Janina Duszejko, an eccentric old woman in a small mountain community, is both our protagonist and narrator. Her passions are the environment, animal rights and astrology. She is continually challenging men in power, and continually being put down by them. Though there is a linear narrative about the murders, the overarching theme is cohabitation of the planet between man and nature, and it goes off at tangents and in flashbacks into Janina’s world. It ends brilliantly with the narrator revealing whodunnit, and why.

The storytelling is illustrated by scenes played out on stage by nine performers in Complicite’s stylised combination of movement, mime and physical theatre, with Rae Smith’s predominantly black & white design featuring brilliant projected images and graphics on and behind them, and a highly atmospheric soundscape with original music. Kathryn Hunter is mesmerising as Janina / the narrator, onstage virtually throughout.

I felt it didn’t sustain it’s three hour length, though with better starting and interval timekeeping it would have been tighter, but Simon McBurney’s production was captivating storytelling nonetheless. Good to see Complicite back with a new work after six years or so.

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When my father was in his late 70’s, recently widowed, he announced ‘I didn’t have seven children for nothing’ and spent the remaining two years of his life ‘on tour’ giving away what little money he had in cash as birthday and Christmas presents. I hadn’t considered the parallels with Lear until seeing this. Of course, he received hospitality at every stop, there was no kingdom to divide and no-one died, but it was a similar decision as the one Lear outlines in the opening scene.

Helena Kaut-Howson’s production is refreshingly free of the directorial conceit and gimmicks which often pervade Shakespeare productions these days (The case for the prosecution cites The Globe’s 2017 and 2021 Romeo & Juliet’s!). It serves Shakespeare’s play very well. Though faithful to the verse, it has a great physicality, and uses the Globe space to its advantage. The direct audience engagement is limited and better for it. Claire van Kampen’s music is particularly good. It’s the sort of production I expect and want from the Globe, balancing the seriousness of the play with the playfulness of the venue.

Kathryn Hunter navigates Lear’s complex web of emotions brilliantly. The Globe’s AD Michelle Terry doubles up as Cordelia and Lear’s Fool and proves what a great interpreter of the bard she is. The rest of the cast is first class, with Ann Ogbomo’s Goneril and Marianne Oldham’s contrasting Regan both having great presence, Ryan Donaldson a charismatic Edmund and Kwaku Mills interpreting the role of Edgar very differently and very effectively.

This is what the Globe is for, one of their very best productions in recent years.

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The early 1950’s saw a revolution in theatre, well in Paris at least, with the arrival of Beckett and Ionesco (one Irish and one Romanian), challenging the realism that the art form was locked in. This play, and Becket’s Waiting for Godot, were first produced there in 1952. It reached the UK five years later where it ignited a debate amongst theatre folk, triggered by critic Kenneth Tynan and involving the playwright and theatrical luminaries like Orson Wells. Around the same time our own angry young men heralded a new age of realism with their kitchen sink dramas, led by John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger.

This was an important part of the post-war history of theatre. Surprising then that this appears to be only the second major London revival. I saw the first, a 1997 co-production between the Royal Court and Complicite directed by Simon McBurney with the late Richard Briers and Geraldine McEwan. This proved to be the most unlikely transfer to Broadway, garnering five Tony nominations. Twenty four years on….

The ‘old man’ and ‘old woman’ live on an island. They are preparing to welcome an (invisible) audience to hear the old man’s big speech, though it will be given by the speaker. We learn that London is no more, so we are in some sort of dystopian future. They assemble chairs for the visitors and when they arrive welcome them, making introductions between them. It’s all building up to the big moment, the speech.

Omar Elerian’s translation / adaptation / direction takes a lot of liberties, either with the permission of Ionesco’s estate (Beckett’s would never let him get away with it) or maybe the protected period has lapsed. There’s a backstage audio prologue, the speaker turns up regularly for bits of business and interaction and the speech is replaced by an elongated epilogue, which was the only variation I felt pushed it too far. Otherwise, an obtuse period piece was brought alive for a new audience.

It’s hard to imagine better interpreters than husband and wife team Marcello Magni & Kathryn Hunter whose extraordinary physical theatre and mime skills, as well as the chemistry between them, are used to great effect. Toby Sedgwick provides excellent support in the expanded role of the speaker. Even Cecile Tremolieres & Naomi Kuyok-Cohen’s clever design gets to perform.

It was great to see the play again after a quarter century of theatre-going. The production may travel a long way from Ionesco’s intentions, but it seemed to me to provide a fresh interpretation for an audience seventy years later. London’s longest running play is The Mousetrap, 70 years now. Paris’ longest runner is Ionesco’s earlier absurdist play The Bald Primadonna, 65 years. That somehow defines the differing theatre cultures of the two cities.

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I first saw this piece by Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski in Jonathan Miller’s production for the Royal Court Theatre 28 years ago, though this appears to be a fresh adaptation by Colin Teevan. It featured Nabil Shaban, but I can’t remember whether he played all of the characters, as Kathryn Hunter does here – well, apart from a few mute or non-English speaking parts given to the onstage musician, whose wonderful music is one of the best things about this lovely production.

The play tells the story of the downfall of Ethiopia’s Emperor Haile Selassie, who ruled from 1930 to 1974, following a 14-year period as Regent. He was idiosyncratic, with a dubious human rights record, but was revered by many, including millions of Rastafarians who saw him as the new Messiah, a direct descendant from the bible’s King Solomon. Kapuscinski interviewed many of his retinue and interweaves their testimony to create an evocative picture of his despotic rule. Those interviewed include his valet, chauffeur & Minister of Information and more bizarre roles like keeper of his private zoo, pillow bearer and wiper of his lapdog’s urine!

Kathryn Hunter is mesmerising as she switches roles by moving to another part of the stage and adding a hat or epaulets or a cigarette. Temesgen Zeleke’s musical accompaniment is gorgeous, totally complimentary to the testimonies. In 65 minutes, you really do begin to understand the man, his power and his downfall.

A little gem you shouldn’t miss.

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The first Peter Brook production I saw was a 9-hour epic retelling of the Indian Mahabharata in an old tram-shed in Glasgow almost 30 years ago. This is a 75-minute piece with three actors, two musicians and a few chairs and tables. Why do directors, like writers (Beckett, Pinter, Churchill…..), have a tendency to minimalism over time? It’s Brook’s second play based on neuroscience, though its more than 20 years since his staging of Oliver Sack’s book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. I found this one much more satisfying.

Brook, and his co-writer /director Marie-Helene Estienne, take their starting point from a 1987 book by a Russian neuropsychologist called Alexander Luria. His case study of man with an extraordinary memory has become a woman journalist today. Sammy Costa’s boss discovers her extraordinary memory on her first day and sends her to some neuroscience researchers. He then sacks her because the job can’t utilise her talent and suggests she goes on stage to make a living. She continues to be a research subject by day whilst she’s on stage in the evening and as we move between both we learn a lot about her synesthesia – the positives and negatives – and gradually become in awe of the human mind.

There’s something very simple and gentle about the storytelling that draws you in and captivates you. There is a lightness of touch to the writing and performances which means you are entertained as you learn (I have to confess I knew little about synesthesia). Kathryn Hunter, Marcello Magni and Jared McNeill give lovely performances in multiple roles. As often in Brook’s work, there are musicians providing a continual soundtrack in the background. The only ‘effect’ is a projected ‘brainwave’. The piece is bookended by the Persian poem Conference of the Birds, but I’m afraid this went right over my head.

The post-show Q&A included a neurologist and two people with synesthesia and this really did add a lot to the experience, particularly hearing the very moving real life experiences. One ended the evening by naming a large number of writers, musicians and scientist synesthetes which was a wonderfully positive conclusion. Educational, thought-provoking, moving and entertaining. What more can you ask for in 75 minutes?

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