Posts Tagged ‘Sharon Small’

C. P. Taylor wrote 80 plays, including work for TV and radio, in less than twenty years as an active playwright, but this seems to be the only play produced since his death in 1981. It was premiered by the RSC at the Donmar, one of their then two London bases, a few months before he died. The Donmar revived it eighteen years later, and nine years after that it was adapted for the big screen. It’s an unlikely piece to go straight to the West End, no doubt driven by the casting of David Tennant, who is excellent, with ‘Sold Out’ signs outside the Harold Pinter Theatre.

John Halder is a German academic who is recruited by the Nazi’s as a consultant, probably because he has written a pro-euthanasia novel. His best friend Maurice is Jewish (a fine, very moving performance from Elliot Levy). Halder considers the anti-Jewish wave likely to be short-term, and justifies this involvement as an opportunity to influence. This gets deeper, he joins the party, moves from consultancy to staff and ultimately becomes an SS Officer. He becomes involved in book burning, kristallnacht and ‘ the final solution’. In his personal life, this hitherto quiet and gentle man becomes intolerant to his aged sick mother, abandons his wife for a young woman and hides his relationship with Maurice, whose requests for help remain unanswered, all with a cold detachment. Taylor’s point seems to be how easy it is to get drawn into such horrors.

Three actors play all roles, with quick switches between them (particularly from Sharon SmalI, who excels). I struggled with the staccato style of Dominic Cook’s production as you have to focus on character changes, sometimes working out who’s who, as well as follow the unfolding story at the same time. Set in a small grey space, it also feels very static, though the drama is heightened as Halder dons his SS uniform, and later his long leather jacket, and there is a chilling coup d’theatre at the end.

Despite the quality of the performances, I did find this heavy going and, in the second half, somewhat harrowing, though Taylor’s point was not lost on me, and it does feel timely.

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When I booked to see this months ago, I didn’t know I would spend the preceding few days raging against the pollution of water companies facilitated by 265 MP’s voting to allow raw sewage into our rivers and sea. Dawn King’s play was preaching to the converted.

The trials in question take place in the future, after pollution has got even more out of control and become unsustainable. Having tried governments and corporations, the younger generation now form juries to try individuals who have exceeded their personal carbon limit. We hear the testimonies of three of them, and the jurors deliberations and decisions. The testimonies are impassioned, desperate, the deliberations more emotional than objective, reflecting the immaturity of the jurors or the determination for revenge in some cases.

In focusing on personal responsibility, mentioning the culpability of governments and corporation only in passing, it lets them off the hook, as it does younger generations, which are hardly blameless given their rampant consumerism, said the ‘dinosaur’! Nevertheless, it presents crucial issues and Natalie Abrahami’s production grips throughout. The three on trial are played by Nigel Lindsay, Lucy Cohu & Sharon Small, all excellent. The twelve young actors who the Donmar call ‘the next generation of talent’ are all outstanding.

Well deserving of its place on the Donmar stage, worthy of a longer run.

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I try not to read reviews of shows I’ve booked before I see them, but it’s difficult to avoid star ratings coming within your line of vision and impacting your expectations. In this case they lowered them, but the play in performance exceeded them, by quite a lot.

Set in the US, Rebecca Gilman’s play revolves around Caroline, a social worker specialising in child care and custody, and the monumental decisions she has to make. Luna Gale is a child who’s young parents’ drug taking is out of control, resulting in Caroline’s intervention to find both short-term and long-term solutions. The child’s grandmother wants custody, initially temporarily but soon permanently, with her strong religious beliefs driving her. The parents are given the only counselling and rehab that’s available, but its second rate. Caroline is overloaded and her boss is an administrator with little experience, driven by a combination of rules and expediency based on financial considerations, though his objectivity comes into question too. We see Caroline’s propensity to get personally involved through a sub-plot involving a ‘success story’ and we discover she has personal baggage which brings into question her own objectivity. She may be trying to do the right thing, but she may be crossing ethical lines in doing so.

Even though this is set in the US, it could easily be here. What I liked about it is that it covers a lot of important issues effectively, without taking sides (well, except perhaps with the helpless Luna herself), in less than two hours playing time. The plot twists and devices may seem a bit contrived – the audience gasps on a few occasions – but they do facilitate a fascinating discussion on an important subject. My one gripe would be that the slow scene changes (and there are a lot of them) rob it of pace which in turn robs it of some tension. That notwithstanding, it held my attention throughout.

Lucy Osborne has designed a giant backdrop of files in front of which offices, waiting rooms, homes etc are introduced; realistic locations though too slowly created. The performances are outstanding, with Sharon Small cleverly and carefully navigating her complex journey through events and emotions. I was hugely impressed by relative newcomer Alexander Arnold as Peter and his transition from incoherent mess to responsible dad. Rachel Redford follows her impressive performance in the Donmar’s Closer with an equally impressive but more difficult performance as the complex character of Karlie. It’s good to see director Michael Attenborough back at his eighties home directing a new play (though I’m not sure I’ve forgiven him for the Almeida’s Knot of the Heart yet!).

I chose to see this because of my previous experience of seeing five other Gilman plays and I thought it was much better than the critics might have you believe. The lesson seems to be to trust your instincts rather than the critics; taste is a very personal thing. You have two more weeks to make up your own mind.

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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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