Posts Tagged ‘Paul Higgins’

I thought I might be jinxed, never to see the musical theatre adaptation of Bill Forsyth’s charming film homage to Scotland. The run at The Old Vic was cancelled during the pandemic and on an earlier visit to Chichester there was a mix up with dates and I had to return home without seeing it. Fortunately, it was third time lucky.

Set in Ferness, a fictional Scottish coastal town, it takes place at the time of the North Sea oil boom. An American company wants to buy the entire village to build a terminal and refinery and despatches executive Mac MacIntyre to do a deal with the local community. Most want to sell, but beachcomber Ben and Stella, the girlfriend of the pub landlord (and unofficial negotiator) Gordon, are against. Mac grows fond of Ferness, and Stella, helped along by copious quantities of Scotch whisky. His boss, oil company CEO Happer is a keen amateur astronomer and has asked him to investigate the possibility of naming a comet while he’s there; the local skies are renowned for comets it seems. The negotiations progress well, then hit a big snag, but when Happer arrives from Houston things take a very different turn.

It’s difficult to conjure up a Scottish coastal village with its beach, sea and spectacular skies inside a theatre, but they do the best they can with the help of some real sand, excellent projections & lighting for the skies and of course a red phone box. The transformation from the Houston office to the beach is superbly choreographed. I think it would have been better in the larger space of the Festival Theatre, though, which would have opened it out and given it a bigger canvas. Mark Knopfler’s score is serviceable, but not as evocative as I was hoping and expecting. David Greig has done a good job adapting the film for the stage, necessarily focusing on just the Houston office, the beach and the pub, cutting the visit to the Aberdeen office.

I was a little unsure of it at first, but it charmed me and won me over in the end. A lot of this was down to a fine cast, extremely well led by Gabriel Ebert as Mac, a character who is also charmed. Paul Higgins is very good as the canny landlord / accountant, as is Lillie Flynn as Stella. In a fine supporting cast, Hilton McRae as beachcomber Ben, Joshua Manning as ‘Russian capitalist’ Viktor, Jackie Morrison as Mistress Fraser and Liz Ewing as Netta all delight

I’m very glad I got to see it in the end as I’m not sure it will have a life beyond Chichester, except perhaps on tour

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Whenever people think of late 19th / early 20th century Russian drama, only one name usually crops up – Chekov. This means Gorky rarely gets a look in; we get 50 Cherry Orchard productions for every Summerfolk. Whilst Chekov was pumping up the introspective middle classes, Gorky was trying to raise the plight of the poor. Much more up my liberal street.

This play was written whilst Gorky was in prison and produced on the eve of the 1905 revolution. It revolves around scientist Protasov. He is being pursued by widow Melaniya whilst his wife Yelena is being pursued by artist Vageen. Melaniya’s brother Boris, a vet, is in love with Protasov’s emotionally fragile sister Liza. Their attractive young maid, Feema, is being pursued by lots of men! It’s open house at the Protasov’s, presided over by Nanny with Protosov himself eccentric, weak and somewhat otherworldly.

Whilst all this is going on in the house, disease begins to wreak havoc in the village. In the second act, things begin to unravel in their relationships as rumours begin to circulate that it’s Prosotov’s work and not cholera that’s the cause of the disease and the outside begins to threaten the inside, eventually leading to an invasion which ends with an extraordinary coup d’theatre. We spend a bit too long in the interior world of the fortunate before the events outside are introduced, but from then on it’s a great piece – more because of superb characterisation than story.

The unstarry ensemble is brilliant; not a weak link amongst them. Geoffrey Streathfield is every inch the mad professor. Paul Higgins as Boris and Maggie McCarthy as Nanny each turn in another fine NT performance and Lucy Black, someone who is new to me, was hugely impressive as the besotted Melaniya. It’s another of Bunny Christie giant wild sets; she really knows how to make the best of the difficult Lyttleton stage. Director Howard Davies continues to show his affinity with this Russian repertoire with a masterly staging of Andrew Upton’s accessible adaptation.

More of a treat than the press led me to expect & something only the NT could do.

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There was a time when Schiller’s plays were dull and turgid. Then along came Mike Poulton with adaptations which breathed new life into them. His  adaptation of Don Carlos was masterly and now he excels with this cross between Les Liaisons Dangereuses and Romeo & Juliet.

The Chancellor’s son, an army major, is in love with court musician’s daughter Luise, but his father plans to wed him to the Prince’s mistress to provide cover for the Prince and obtain influence for himself.  The Chancellor’s private secretary, appropriately named Wurm, wants Luise himself and with the help of Lady Milford and Hofmarschall ( I wasn’t quite sure what his role is) his machiavellian plans unfold, ending tragically with its R&J moment. It’s a cracking story and the dialogue is sharp and often witty; not a word is wasted.

The Donmar space is simply but beautifully designed and lit by Peter McKintosh and Paule Constable respectively and Michael Grandage’s staging is as ever impeccable. I don’t think even the Donmar has ever assemble an ensemble this good. You totally believe in the love and passion of Felicity Jones and Max Bennett as Luise and Ferdinand. Ben Daniels has never been better than here as the Chancellor, whose craze for power unleashes such tragedy and results in his own deep remorse. John Light and David Dawson provide the intrigue in their deliciously smarmy, oleaginous fashion (and in the case of Dawson, very camp) whilst Alex Kingston is every bit the arch manipulator whose only interest is herself – at any cost . I also really liked Paul Higgins devoted passionate father who does much to illustrate the backdrop of the class divide.

This will I’m sure be one of the highlights of the year, and one of the defining productions of Grandage’s reign at the Donmar. Miss at your peril.

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