Friday, May 29, 2015

EARTHQUAKES IN LONDON

EARTHQUAKES IN LONDON
Chelmsford Theatre Workshop at The Old Court
28.05.2015

Mike Bartlett's climate-change drama has big themes and a huge cast. It's an ambitious, thought-provoking piece of theatre which makes significant demands on any company bold enough to put it on stage.
CTW is at the top of its game in this production, directed by Danny Segeth with Vikki Pead. The performance space is remodelled to provide intimacy as well as epic scale, with two levels linked by a central staircase. In harmony with the eco message, everything used is recycled, and the live music [MD Cameron Price] is acoustic, organically integrated into the action.
The play explores the imminent crises of global warming and population explosion, through the eyes and the words of three generations. The time shifts from the sixties to a distant, dystopian future.
A big stretch technically, with so many areas to light, plus the band, and a screen to assist with narrative clarity.
Twelve excellent actors take on dozens of roles. Some, it is true, find their characters more successfully than others, but every one of them gives an impressively confident and truthful performance.
Laura Bradley plays the Liberty's girl as well as the old lady on Hampstead Heath, looking back to the days before Dunkirk as she awaits the gathering storm. Georgie Whittaker has an intriguing dual life as an autistic schoolboy whose role is dramatically redefined in one of several heart-stopping moments. Stefan Stuart is the impassioned protester Tom; Joe Kennedy a hopeless husband in a mid-life crisis.
The scientist who sells out to Robin Winder's polluting dollar is superbly done by James Christie. Naive and idealistic in his younger years, truculent and guilt-ridden in his sixties, it is an impeccably sustained, riveting performance, nicely offset by Helen Quigley as his long-suffering housekeeper. His three very different daughters, abandoned when their mother dies, are Evie Taylor, outstanding as an all too believable politician, Laura Hill as the troubled, and troublesome, wild child and Ruth Westbrook giving a searingly sincere performance in the pivotal role of Freya, the middle sister who's pregnant with the next generation, but feels overwhelmingly inadequate, to the despair of her husband [Ryan Read-Gatterell].
Secure versatility from Kelly McGibney and newcomer Tom Tull as, amongst others, the minister's PA, an aviophobic businessman and a polar bear.
It's a long show, and occasionally words are lost to pace and naturalism, but a seamless succession of short scenes sustains the impetus, and the intimate encounters are contrasted with some superlative physical ensembles.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

THE BEAUX' STRATAGEM








THE BEAUX' STRATAGEM
National Theatre at the Olivier
27.05.2015


Farquhar's carnal comedy comes to the vast Olivier stage, nicely filled by a versatile three-storey house [Lizzie Clachan designed] which morphs before our eyes from Boniface's inn to the Bountiful household, as oil lamps flying out pass chandeliers flying in.
Michael Bruce's music is splendid, too. Folk inspired and lively, especially in the “Trifle” song and dance number, and the French chanson, complete with accordeon. Musicians step out of doorways to accompany; the show begins with a lone fiddler at the top of the house, and ends that way too, when she is joined on stage by the whole band and the acting company for a joyful jig.
Simon Godwin's production eschews overly stylish Restoration mannerism for a more naturalistic feel: Susannah Fielding's resourceful Mrs Sullen has a feminist streak; she's well supported by Pippa Bennett-Warner as her sister-in-law sidekick. The two “brothers in iniquity” are Geoffrey Streatfield and Sam Barnett. Great comedy performances too from Jane Booker as Lady Bountiful, Richard Henders as her sullen, silent sot of a son, and Pearce Quigley as a deliciously deadpan Scrub.

It's a complex piece, but the pace is excellent and the narrative is driven along at a cracking pace, especially in the last act, when bandits, marriage, divorce, and a helpful inheritance come hard on each other's heels.

THE HARD PROBLEM

THE HARD PROBLEM
National Theatre at the Dorfman
27.05.2015


Hedge funds, a gym-slip baby, neuroscience, the power of coincidence, the politics of academia.
That's a lot to pack into 100 minutes, and we haven't really looked at the Hard Problem: Cartesian dualism, consciousness, the mind/body conundrum.
I'm not sure I could have attributed it to Stoppard if I hadn't known. And what if it had landed anonymously on Nick Hytner's desk …
Of course Stoppard has previous as far as philosophy is concerned. Jumpers, for one, and, my favourite, Professional Foul, the television film where philosophers mingle with footballers. Pure philosophy gets a bit of a bashing in this latest play, and those of us expecting intellectual showmanship of the calibre of those classics will be disappointed.
One difficulty is that not many of the characters are sympathetic, nor do they seem to be drawn from life. Is that the writing, the casting or the direction ? A professor whose idiom includes “one feels” is not likely to say “haitch” for H. The wittiest thing in Hytner's production is the Venetian bed.
The dialogue often seems like a long tick-list. Teleology, Basel rules, altruism, game theory, the brain worm [Dicrocoelium dendriticum ], Godel's proof, the Prisoner's Dilemma … Characters often end up explaining stuff their listeners must already know. There's a Pilates instructor to ask the really basic questions.
Use of Pilates signals a certain laziness, perhaps. Loughborough University, too.
But there is much to enjoy, and a feast of food for thought. Together with all the ideas, there are human stories too, for Vera Chuk's sensitively drawn Bo, and for the central character, Hilary, played by Olivia Vinall.
She is picked from the slush pile to join the prestigious and amply funded Kroll Institute, though hardly seems qualified. In Vinall's performance she is touchingly vulnerable [miracle, coincidence and fireworks in her personal journey], but fails to convince as the academic – she simply sounds like an actor.
The frequent scene changes are covered by solo piano Bach – that most intellectual of musical forms – while above the stage a huge hard-wired neuron installation glows and flashes, the mind/body problem made kinetic.
A witty, clever piece, with enough twists and treats to keep us entertained. But not vintage Stoppard. If you want that, go back to Arcadia. Or for a brilliant account of Philosophy of Mind in a fictional, well-funded department, try David Lodge's “Thinks ...”, now a play as well as a novel.

Monday, May 25, 2015

JULIAN GLOVER'S BEOWULF

BEOWULF
The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre

24.05.2015



Hear! Listen!” The story-teller captures our attention, and keeps it for an hour or more, recounting one of the earliest tales to be written down from the great oral tradition of Norse myth.
Glover makes it all so immediate – the fire flickering in the Great Hall, , the “foam-throated seafarer on the ocean's swell” the dread dragon, the hand of Grendel; they all appear at his bidding in our imagination.
It's surprising funny in parts, and impressively physical. Occasional snatches of the rich original add to the mythic quality, and the candlelit playhouse recalls the convivial hall of Heorot.
It's meant to be told to rapt listeners of course, and for the thirty or more years Glover has been bringing these heroes, monsters and mythical beasts to audiences of all kinds.

But now, at the age of eighty, he's hanging up Beowulf's broad sword, and in a low-key but very moving ceremony, he handed the mantle to his son, Jamie, who will keep the story alive for another generation.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

AS YOU LIKE IT

AS YOU LIKE IT

at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre

23.05.2015


Shakespeare's quirky romantic comedy poses more questions than it answers – hence the title, perhaps.
Blanche McIntyre's production is sumptuously dressed; there is no set – no forest, either – simply discreet banners to suggest a change of focus.
The stage is considerably extended, encouraging the actors to engage with the audience, and enabling Jaques and Touchstone to lob witty observations over the heads of the groundlings. They're both excellent, the philosophers: Daniel Crossley's Touchstone literally laid back with his cool shades, James Garnon mastering the space as the melancholy Jaques, giving a cynical Seven Ages with an apple in his hand. [Though not, like Michael Bryant back in 79 at the NT, munching it throughout.]
Some others seem underpowered – Orlando and the Dukes – but there is excellent comedy from the two shepherdesses [Gwyneth Keyworth's Phebe and Sophia Nomvete's Audrey] and from Patrick Driver as Corin, a very Shepherd's Bush rustic.
Michelle Terry as Rosalind and Ellie Piercy as Celia work together brilliantly as the cousins – Terry, a consummate Shakespearean for the 21st century, is “a busy actor”, with unlimited physical energy, but knows the value of stillness, too - “my father was no traitor”. They are no mere spectators at the wrestling match, either …
The production seems a little long, at over three hours. It starts, like this season's King John, with a funeral, but includes plenty of fun along the way: anachronistic props – the tandem for the “two gypsies on a horse”, Martext's shopping trolley, Ganymede's map of Arden – and a great song and dance number for the Lover and His Lass.
And it ends, of course, with a lively jig, and Rosalind's epilogue, in which she reveals the boy beneath: “If I were a woman ...”