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Posts Tagged ‘Mark Thompson’

I studied Sheridan’s The Rivals for something called ‘O level’ English Literature a lifetime ago. It was one of the first plays I ever saw, in a local school production. I’ve had a soft spot for it ever since, and it’s one of only a few 18th Century comedies that is still regularly produced today, so there have been a number of opportunities to reacquaint myself with it, all of which I’ve enjoyed. The best was on the same stage as this, the NT’s Olivier, 39 years ago, where designer John Gunter built Bath’s Royal Crescent, individual houses coming out and revolving to reveal a variety of interiors, and Sir Michael Hordern getting more laughs just eating a boiled egg that many comedies get in a whole act. Then along comes Richard Bean & Oliver Chris to produce an adaptation set in the Second World War, specifically the Battle of Britain. As it is currently customary, it arrives on the NT’s Olivier stage two years later than planned.

Mrs Malaprop’s country estate has been requisitioned as an air base. The rivals in question are vying for the hand of her niece Lydia Languish. Mrs M. is promoting pilot Jack Absolute, whose father Sir Anthony owns a lot of land in Devon, well the whole county actually. Sikh airman Tony Khattri seeks to woo her with his dodgy poetry and Aussie pilot Bob Acres will do anything to win her hand. Lydia is obsessed by Dudley the aircraft mechanic, a bit of northern rough, but Mrs M’s maid Lucy is determined to see her off. The adaptation works brilliantly, bawdier, naughtier and funnier. It’s littered with both verbal and visual gags. I haven’t laughed so much since Bean’s One Man Two Guvnors eleven whole years ago.

There are so many star performances I’m not sure I know where to start. Caroline Quentin relishes every malapropism (the play coined the term) and there are way more than in Sheridan’s original, so many that it’s hard to keep up. Peter Forbes is simply terrific as the bombastic Sir Anthony, who eventually gets his girl too. We know how good Kerry Goddard is at comedy from a string of TV performances, well she’s just as good on stage. Jordan Metcalfe’s weak-at-the-knees turn has the same effect as Michael Hordern’s boiled egg. James Corrigan’s creation of Bob Acres from the outback is an absolute delight. Many of them break the fourth wall regularly to superb comic effect.

You’d be forgiven if you haven’t heard of director Emily Burns, who appears to have been learning her craft at the feet of masters like Nicholas Hytner and Simon Godwin. Her production is brilliant, and propels her into the directors premiere league in one move. Designer Mark Thompson fills the Olivier stage with the English countryside and a country house, with a nod to John Gunter (intentional or accidentally) when the interiors come out of the house. There’s even a thrilling dance scene choreographed by Lizzi Gee which gives former Strictly contestant Quentin and winner Kelvin Fletcher (playing mechanic Dudley) an opportunity to strut their stuff.

This is a joy from start to finish. I can’t wait to go back and see it all over again.

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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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I’m surprised that there’s been little or no mention that this is the second Tina Turner jukebox musical, the first just six years ago, transferring from Hackney Empire to the Savoy Theatre for a short summer run (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2012/09/21/soul-sister). The previous one had much to enjoy, but this is on another level altogether. Director Phyllida Lloyd, who virtually invented the modern day jukebox musical with Mamma Mia, seen in 40 countries, still running in London after 19 years, now almost next door to this, returns with what might be its pinnacle.

Like those other great jukebox musicals – Jersey Boys, Sunny Afternoon & Beautiful – it’s biographical. Tina’s story begins in her childhood church in Tennessee with a brilliant gospel version of Nutbush City Limits. She’s abandoned by her mum, then her dad, and lives with her grandma until her death, after which she goes to live with her mother and sister in St. Louis. Here she meets Ike and so begins the years of success, and abuse. When she finally plucks up the courage to leave him, he continues to exert control over her repertoire and she ends up lost and broke in Las Vegas. Her only hope is new material, and she finds that by following young Aussie Roger Davies to London. The rest, as they say, is history.

Katori Hall has made a great job of telling the story through her excellent book and the production oozes quality in every department, from Anthony van Laast’s choreography, recreating some of Tina’s somewhat quirky moves, Mark Thompson’s designs, Bruno Poet’s lighting and Nevin Steinberg’s sound to Tom Kelly’s terrific band. The show ends with the now customary mini-concert, allowing the audience to indulge in the singing and dancing they’ve been suppressing for 2.5 hours, during which there was a lovely moment when Tina duets with her childhood self.

Adrienne Warren is the embodiment of Tina in a sensational performance; she has the same extraordinary audience contact Tina had. Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, who I last saw as Laertes in Hamlet (!) is a revelation as Ike, though he did veer towards caricature occasionally. In a superb supporting cast, I really liked Ryan O’Donnell as Davies, Madeline Appiah as Tina’s mum and Lorna Gayle as grandma.

A show that lives up to the hype, and more.

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What better way to launch London’s newest theatre than to reunite the creative team behind London’s biggest recent comedy hit, One Man, Two Guvnors, and it’s great to report that both the theatre and the show are a big success.

Richard Bean & Clive Coleman’s play tells the true story of Karl Marx’s period of exile in London, whilst he writes his definitive work, Das Kapital. He’s living in Soho with his wife Jenny, children Qui Qui and Fawksy and their housekeeper Nym (all nicknames). They are spied on by the Prussians and their Communist League is watched over by the British authorities too. Good friend and benefactor Friedrich Engels pays regular visits from Manchester, where he’s a cotton baron, but a secret commie. They are broke, so the police, pawnbrokers and bailiffs all make appearances. Everyone indulges Marx, until he crosses a line which threatens to turn them all away.

Though it’s historically true, it’s often very funny, occasionally farcical and always entertaining. There’s a delicious running joke about the early days of the police and Charles Darwin turns up in a delightful cameo. It’s surprising how the political views still sound fresh; you could hear them being spoken today by left-wing politicians, and increasingly by disaffected ordinary people – like me! Designer Mark Thompson has built a revolving structure which becomes the Marx living room, a pub where the league meets, a pawnbrokers, the British Library Reading Room, the outside of a church and Hampstead Heath! Nicholas Hytner’s production has great pace, but it’s never rushed. It takes an unexpected dark turn, and ends more gently and thoughtfully.

Rory Kinnear’s performance as Marx is very athletic, with great comic timing. At one point, from my front row seat, I feared for his safety. Nancy Carroll is superb as Jenny, loyalty tested at every turn. Oliver Chris continues to impress, this time as Engels, with great chemistry with Kinnear’s Marx. The ever wonderful Laura Elphinstone is excellent as Nym. In the supporting cast, Eben Figueiredo, Miltos Yerolemou and Tony Jayawardena all shine as Konrad Schramm, Emmanuel Barthelemy and ‘Doc’ Schmidt respectively.

A lovely evening to welcome a new theatre and the return of a great contemporary playwright. With this, Ink, Oslo, Labour of Love and Albion, we’re on a real new writing roll in London.

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Jean Anouilh must be one of the world’s most prolific playwrights, writing over 60 plays in a 40 year writing career, but we see few of them (his adaptation of Sophocles Antigone most often). This adaptation of his first big hit, Le Voyageur sans bagage, relocates it from late 30’s France to late 50’s USA, to the Long Island of the American upper middle class in fact (think Philadelphia Story), though the French songs between scenes are a delightful nod to its origin.

A soldier returns to the US 14 years after the end of the second world war with amnesia ,and is placed in a sanatorium. Nouveau riche Marcee Dupont-Dufort moves on from rescuing dogs to finding his family, much to the chagrin of her husband De Wit Dupont-Dufort. With the help of a gossip columnist she selects the most likely family from the 22 possibles and visits them. They take him in but he soon decides he doesn’t much like them or his past self. When the gossip columnist names them, the other 21 turn up, which proves chaotic but also an opportunity.

Blanche McIntyre’s production sparkles in every sense, from Anthony Weight’s crackling adaptation to Mark Thompson’s bright design and her own impeccable staging, but mostly because of the terrific casting. Katherine Kingsley is a joy to behold as Marcee Dupont-Dufort, a trophy wife with a touch of Mrs Malaprop about her. Danny Webb is gloriously unrecognisable, stooped and moustachioed, cigar permanently in mouth, channelling Groucho Marks, as her straight-talking husband. Sian Thomas is a treat as the snobby mother and Fenella Woolgar a delight as her brittle daughter-in-law. Oh, all ten are terrific!

This was such a fun night in the theatre, which made me wonder how many more gems are hidden in Anouilh’s back catalogue. Proper entertainment.

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This ‘version’ of Turgenev’s 1869 play is set over three days in mid-19th century Russia on the estate of Arkady and his wife Natalya and young son Kolya. Arkady’s mother Anna, her companion Lizaveta and Natalya’s ward Vera also live with them, but its a small family unit for the place and time. Turgenev was more of a novelist than a playwright (the only other piece of his I’ve known staged in modern times was actually adapted from a novel) and somehow it shows here; it felt at times like a reading.

The recent arrival of assistant tutor Belyaev seems to have worked wonders on Kolya, but caused havoc amongst the ladies as Vera, Natalya and maid Katya have all fallen for him. This puts a couple of noses out of joint – family friend Rakitin, who has carried a torch for Natalya for some time, and manservant Matvey, who loves Katya. Add in two sub-plots of neighbour Bolshintsov seeking to wed Vera and the doctor, Shpigelsky, proposing to Lizaveta (one of the highlights of the play) and you have a lot of love and relationships to unfold in three stage days (a month in Turgenev’s original), under two hours playing time, and it turns into an eighteenth century soap opera.

This is all played out in front of a giant painting (design Mark Thompson), the canvas of which appears to continue to cover the stage, ending in rough edging at the front. The wings are exposed and the actors often sit at the back and sides when not performing. There is some furniture, but it feels like a oversized space much of the time, perhaps intentionally, representing the vast estate.

The evening’s chief pleasure is a uniformly excellent cast, though they appear to have been directed to play in a less naturalistic, somewhat old-fashioned way. Amanda Drew is exceptional as Natalya, able to instantly convey passion and emotion. John Simm impresses in the role of Rakitin, unlike any other I’ve seen him in. Mark Gatiss provides much of the comedy as Shpigelsky, particularly in scenes with the superb Debra Gillett as his love interest. Though the role is a bit underwritten, John Light is great as Arkady and Royce Pierreson gives a fine performance in the pivotal role of Belyaev.

When a writer directs his own work, I worry where the creative tension will come from. Patrick Marber has directed three of his own plays here at the NT (though not The Red Lion, currently running next door https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2015/06/15/the-red-lion) but not his other two adaptations, both at the Donmar. I found the seated actors a bit passe, pointless and distracting and the I found the playing style a bit quirky, so I did leave wondering what another director would have made of the material, which was indeed well written. A more conventional period staging may have served it better.

It was a pleasant enough evening, and I enjoyed it more than The Red Lion, but it didn’t wow me and I left feeling that it was a bit unfair giving over two of the three NT stages at the same time to the same playwright for plays which may not be entirely worthy of them.

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Even though the play’s premise is implausible – men can now carry and give birth to a child by cesarian section – it does provide a suitable device to explore issues of childbirth from the perspective of both sexes.

The play takes place in a hospital immediately before, during and after the birth of Ed & Lisa’s child. The roles have been reversed, in part because of Lisa’s bad experience with childbirth and in part to accommodate her career. You don’t have to be a parent to recognise the detail of the role reversal as Ed is humiliated, patronised and humoured by his wife and the hospital staff. He’s a man, so of course everything is more painful and less dignified. Playwright Joe Penhall and Stephen Mangan as Ed deliver a lot of laughs, some somewhat unfairly at the expense of the NHS and a young doctor and an African nurse in particular. It’s amazing how funny requesting raspberry leaf tea can be!

I suspect men and women will see a different play, but I’ve yet to ask any women so I don’t if that’s true and if so how much. I suspect we’ll have a reversal of the ‘women critics like it more than men’ we had with Last of the Haussmans. For a man, there are moments where you turn your head, squirm, sympathise and clench your buttocks! Both Joe Penhall and Stephen Mangan are newish dad’s, so I suspect there’s more than a touch of real experience portrayed on stage – from a man’s perspective.

Though the emotional rollercoaster is occasionally too highly strung and somewhat relentless, Stephen Mangan really does play Ed very well indeed, using every ounce of his exceptional comic talent. It’s hard for anyone to play against that, but Lisa Dillon does well and starts the slow process (in my eyes) of recovering from the career low of Knot of the Heart. There’s fine support from Llewella Gideon and Louise Brealey as nurse and doctor respectively, the targets for much of the anger of both Ed and Lisa.

It was an entertaining and funny 90 minutes, but it was limited in its depth and I suspect I won’t remember it as long as other recent Court hits like Jerusalem, Enron, Clybourne Park and Posh. Mark Thompson’s simple circular set creates a hyper-realistic hospital room that revolves between scenes and opens up for the actual birth to take place at the back and Ed’s prosthetic belly and tits (credited to Paul Hyett) are extraordinarily realistic! Roger Mitchell has staged and paced the show very well.

A good but not great evening. The fact I came out craving fish and chips was purely coincidental……

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I loved everything about this production – a thing of great joy and a triumphant NT debut for director Jamie Lloyd. It’s the equal of the recent London Assurance on the same stage and for a play that’s almost 250 years old, it’s as fresh as they come.

Oliver Goldsmith’s restoration comedy has always seemed less dated and funnier than its contemporaries, but this is unquestionably the best production I’ve seen. Mark Thompson’s design somehow makes the Olivier more intimate. Most of the time, we’re in the Hardcastle’s living room in front of a huge hearth with a welcoming fire. The scene changes are accompanied by delightful jolly choruses and dances and the one from living room to woods and back is a marvel that takes your breath away. The only thing that isn’t in period is modern gestures, but rather than being incongruous they somehow add to the freshness.

City boy Marlow, accompanied by his friend Hastings, is off to the country to meet his intended Kate Hardcastle. Kate’s step-brother Tony Lumpkin convinces them the Hardcastle home is an inn – cue inappropriate behaviour and an outraged Mr Hardcastle. The tongue-tied Marlow has a stumbling meeting with confident Kate where he can’t even look at her, thus enabling Kate to subsequently pose as a barmaid (she stoops to conquer) and see a very different Marlow.

Running in parallel we have the story of Mrs Hardcastle’s niece and her love of Hastings but betrothal to Lumpkin (Mrs Hardcastle’s son by her first marriage, who doesn’t really want marriage), complete with a mix up over a box of jewels. It’s a riot of confusion with city meets country and rich meet poor providing ample opportunity for satire. The humour is broad so the playing is broad, but it manages to stay the right side of OTT. Of course, it all ends happily with both couples united and parents content.

Harry Hadden-Paton is proving equally adept at drama and comedy and here he’s terrific as Marlow. This may be a career high for John Heffernan, equally terrific as Hastings. It’s hard for Katherine Kelly and Cush Jumbo to play against these comic master classes but they do so very well. I assume there is some sort of exchange programme that resulted in Ian McKellern in Coronation Street in exchange for Kelly in this?! Well, she’s been the best thing about Corrie for years (yes, I’m a fan!) and though it was sad to see her go it’s great to see her cutting it in restoration comedy one week later – and there’s something delicious about the former barmaid at the Rovers Return stooping to conquer as a barmaid! Steve Pemberton and Sophie Thompson are great as the Hardcastles, with the latter giving us another of her over-the-top-and-higher-still performances. I was also hugely impressed by David Fynn as Lumpkin.  The ensemble is faultlessly cast and impeccably drilled.

A delightful evening from beginning to end. Miss at your peril.

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Another day, another 30’s American drama……and even though it also suffered from a slow first half (is it me? am I getting impatient?) it was a lot better than yesterday’s.

Lillian Hellman’s play concerns two female teachers whose lives are ruined after accusations, based on hearsay and lies, that they are lesbian lovers…but it’s really much more than that. Like Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, it is many-layered in its exploration of the wider moral issues. It struck me how nothing has changed in  75 years – we’re still awash with false accusations which by the time they are proved wrong, it’s just too late and we’re still very quick to judge. It also struck me that this was 20 years before Miller’s play, so it must surely have been an influence.

Apart from the slowness of the first half (the play rather than the production, I think) Ian Rickson’s direction is masterly and it gripped me more than Howard Davies’ NT’s staging c.17 years ago. The pivotal scene soon after the interval when the teachers visit their accuser is simply terrific. Mark Thompson has designed an elegant space which easily transforms from working school to home to mothballed school and has an intimacy and intensity despite the height he seems so fond of (c/f La Bete at the same theatre last year).

I was impressed by the whole ensemble. The six leads – Keira Knightly, Elizabeth Moss, Ellen Burstyn, Carol Kane, Tobias Menzies and Bryony Hannah – were well cast and well matched and it was great to see the West End debut of no less than seven young actresses, of whom Amy Dawson and Lisa Backwell impressed greatly. It was particularly wonderful to see Ellen Burstyn on stage – such presence and such authority; a terrific performance

This is no star casting money grab. Though it has and will clearly do well financially, it’s a quality play and production that holds its own up against the other current must-sees – Flare Path, Clybourne Park and Cause Celebre.

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The first scene hadn’t been playing for long by before I took a profound dislike to four of the five characters. Here was an introspective family of self-possessed ‘Bohemians’ with their inclusive behavioural norms and language (much of it implausibly filthy – I don’t know any 20-somethings who’d speak like that in front of and to their parents!).

I’ve spent time with families like this (well, without the language) and they exclude others even without meaning to. They brought up youngest son Billy to lip-read rather than sign, thinking this was including him. The result was his exclusion from the outer deaf world and without them realising it, from their world too.

Billy, deaf from birth, meets a girl who is going deaf and enters her world and the wider deaf world, learning to sign (to the anger of his family) in order to do so. When he brings her home, the family reaction is a bit curious, a bit bemused, very patronising and somewhat resistant to this invasion from the other world. Eventually Billy asserts himself and withdraws, much to their disbelief.

I was convinced after the first few minutes I wasn’t going to like this play; how can you spend two hours with these horrible people and enjoy it? However, it developed such complexity and depth that I became enthralled; I even woke up this morning thinking about it. It says so much about communication but in a way which plants ideas and expects you to process them yourself.

Roger Mitchell’s sensitive production gets an intimacy from Mark Thompson’s set which seems to reduce the size of the auditorium and draw you towards the stage. The performances are excellent, with Harry Treadaway’s difficult and complex journey particularly impressive. There’s an extent to which Jacob Casselden and Michelle Terry as the deaf couple are given your empathy from the outset, but earn your understanding, respect and compassion.

I missed Nina Raine’s first play Rabbit, but I was hugely impressed by this second one. Jerusalem, Enron, Cock, Posh, Sucker Punch, Clybourne Park, Tribes……The Royal Court really is on a roll.

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