Posts Tagged ‘Phil Daniels’

I can see why the Globe have revived this at Christmas, not long after its February première. It proves to be perfect seasonal fare – a 400-year-old panto!

Before The London Merchant starts, the theatre is ‘invaded’ by the citizen, his wife and their apprentice (surrogate son) Rafe. They insist on a part for Rafe, a new title and changes to the play and spend the rest of the evening in the audience commenting and interfering with demonstrations of unacceptable and intrusive audience behaviour, occasionally invading the stage themselves to get their way. On stage, a preposterous story unfolds and you find yourself trying to keep up with this and the antics of the intruders.

The play interweaves the story of who Luce marries, her father’s choice Master Humphrey, or hers (his apprentice Jasper), with the heroic exploits of Rafe as the Knight of the title in locations from Waltham Forest to Moldavia, encountering Jasper and his mother, the giant Barbaroso and a Moldovan princess. The pace is pretty relentless, with characters turning up in the audience, from above and below, engaging with audience members. There’s a lot of music and a couple of short pauses for refreshment replenishment as well as the interval, and of course it all ends up happy ever after.

The cast are clearly enjoying themselves, which becomes infectious, and the whole thing is huge fun, if a touch over-long at three hours. Director Adele Thomas makes very effective use of the whole of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, which seemed even more intimate than usual, partly because of encounters of the close-up kind with many of the characters. Seeing Hannah Clark’s period costumes close up fills you with admiration for the skills of their makers.

Phil Daniels and Pauline McLynn preside over and control things as the citizen and his wife and Matthew Needham captures the naive charm of Rafe (played by Noel Coward in 1920 and both father and son Spall 33 and 9 years ago respectively). In a fine cast in the play within there are terrific turns from Paul Rider as a Falstaffian Merrythought, Dickon Tyrrell as camp Humphrey (a vision in pink and earrings), Dean Nolan as giant George and Samuel Hargreaves as the (very musical) boy.

Another reason why the SWP is fast becoming a firm favourite venue.


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What an enthralling and entertaining evening in the theatre. Who’d have thought the period 1974-79 in British politics would make such a good play – and much more illuminating than living through it! From possibly the worst seat in the house on the upper level looking down, that’s praise indeed.

Designer Rae Smith has built a replica of the House of Commons in the Cottesloe Theatre. The pit audience sit on the green benches on either side, whilst most of the play takes place in the respective whips offices created from a few tables and chairs on the floor of the house. The Speaker’s chair is at one end, as it should be, and there’s a giant projection of the face of Big Ben high at the same end. They’ve even put the gargoyles of Westminster Hall on the upper level railings.

This was the last period when we had parties with slim or non-existent majorities leading to minority governments reliant on bargaining with ‘the odds and sods’ or more formal arrangements like the Lib-Lab Pact. The premiership moved from Wilson to Heath to Callaghan with Thatcher rising to lead her party and become PM as the play ends.

James Graham’s play focuses on these bargaining processes, together with the party discipline necessary to ensure everyone turned out, the process of ‘pairing’ whereby the absence of one member would be matched with the non-attendance of another in the opposing party and the absurd lengths they had to go to, bringing in the sick and infirm and propping up the drunk.

It’s surprisingly thrilling stuff and often very funny too. Jeremy Herrin’s staging is brilliant (with an occasional nod to Enron’s movement and music). I was gripped for the duration as I laughed, gasped and nodded in recognition. It somehow showed the best and worst of our parliamentary system.

The Labour whips are brilliantly played by Vincent Franklin, Philip Glenister, Richard Ridings and Lauren O’Neill (plus Phil Daniels in the first half) and the Tory whips equally well by Julian Wadham, Charles Edwards and Ed Hughes and there’s a great supporting company of eight who between them play 29 other characters, mostly MP’s, requiring quick change accents as well as costumes (though the Welsh was South East when it should have been South West!). I loved the way the MP’s were referred to by their parliamentary seat rather than their names, as they are in ‘real life’.

The timing of this play, during the next period of minority government (albeit this time a proper coalition), is impeccable and despite the period clothes, dodgy wigs and dated behaviour (Philip Glenister is well-practiced at this after TV’s 70’s Life on Mars and 80’s Ashes to Ashes) it’s relevant and fresh. I adored it.

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