Monthly Archives: October 2013

HMP MACBETH Intermission, St Saviour’s SW3

MURDER , MURK  AND MISSION 
In a church tucked decorously behind Harrods, three voodoo-punk bitch-witches in ragged prison sweatsuits shriek and cackle in an ecstasy of malice;  cell doors bang in vicious sympathy,  and a sensual, tousled Lady Macbeth calls on spirits to unsex her,  interrupted by shouts from the next cell “I’m trying to sleep, you flipping psychopath!”.  Two languages meld seamlessly:  when her illicit prison-officer lover  Macbeth quails at the thought of bumping off the Governor,  averring that he dares do all that may become a man, he who dares do more is none,   his inmate mistress slaps him robustly round the head with “You pussy!”.    As for her scornful “We fail?” –   a line which echoes down four centuries of Lady Macbeths –  he meets that with a dive back into modernity and the prison setting,   muttering resentfully “Well, there’s a possibility –  given that you didn’t get away with your last crime”.

Thus we’re allowed to laugh from time to time.   For this is another of Intermission’s rousing, but not irreverent,  Shakespeare adaptations.,  written by the extraordinary Darren Raymond and directed by Fabian Spencer.  Both men, many years ago as real prison inmates,  had the luck to encounter Bruce Wall’s London Shakespeare Workout and fall in love with the power of it.   Now Raymond is artistic director of Intermission Youth Theatre,  creating productions with young people deemed – or already – at risk of running off the tracks.   It was founded by actors-cum-missioners (Into-Mission, geddit?)  the Rev Rob Gillion and his wife Janine (she, with an air of Teresa May bout her,  beautifully  plays the assasinated prison governor Ms Duncan).   Without government support,  this incogruous outfit probably does more for disaffected youth than many conventional ones.  It has sent kids on to RADA, the Brit school, university,  teaching and TV.
Leading a number of fine performances,  Kwame Reed as Officer Macbeth makes a thoughtful journey from dutiful ambitious officer promoted after quelling a riot caused by Deputy Governor Cawdor,  to panicking psychopath.   The Three Bitches are tremendous,  and Esther Odejimi (astonishingly, it’s her first ever performance)  is memorable:  a sexy, furious, utterly confident Lady Macbeth right through to her final dissolution, crying “Hell is murky”, to cries of “slut” from behind the cell walls.
A lot of credit goes to Raymond himself, whose years of workshopping and “sampling” Shakespere texts enable the young cast to take confident ownership, shifting from modern vernacular with ease and conviction.  Important soliloquies like “She should have died hereafter” are intact,  high emotion often leading with beautiful logic straight from prison jargon to the old pentameter.  As for the plot, it hangs artfully between dystopian fantasy (a women’s prison as a self-contained kingdom), gritty realism and the original.   I wondered how he would handle the murder of the Macduffs  and the curse of Dunsinane, but he does it elegantly, and even gets round the Birnam Wood problem.

box office   http://www.iyt.org.uk       Thur-Sat till    23 Nov

rating :  four        4 Meece Rating

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The long life and great good fortune of John Clare – a note

 CREATIVITY, DEPRESSION,  REPUTATION

This is a shout-out for a touring production I admire.   I welcome it in with the latest Roger Hardy logo,  the Touring Mouse. See below…
Here’s why.  When Tony Ramsay’s play for Eastern Angles first opened – I saw it in a hall in Beccles –  I reviewed it for the Times (still available, paywall but  http://tinyurl.com/o8q23ne).    Now that its tour is  approaching the Pleasance,  I commend it again.
It is an original, oblique telling of the story of the peasant-poet John Clare:  his harsh agricultural life, and the extreme mental illness which led him to spend his final 27 years in asylums,   belie the beauty of his work.
Edward Bond’s furious play “The Fool” used Clare as an exemplar of working-class persecution by a toff establishment,  but Ramsay’s thoughtful research throws a different light on his times and his condition,  and the respect in which he was held in his troubled lifetime.  It becomes a powerful meditation on creativity and deprssion.
My original review obviously is Times property,  but I can quote the conclusion of its four-star view:
      “It is a finer play than its  regional small-space tour might suggest; in concept, language and performance it honours poetry and pain alike.   When Richard Sandells finally speaks the lines  “I am, yet what I am none cares or knows…”  you catch your breath.”

http://www.easternangles.co.uk
Tour: Peterborough on 2 Nov,  01473 211498;
from 5-9 Nov at Pleasance, London N7  0207 6091800  – tour continues to 16 nov.

Touring Mouse wide

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THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS – Young Vic SE1

ANGER  AND  ATROCITY,  PUNCH AND SWING

Dancing  minstrels, catchy tunes, black men becoming mincing Alabama ladies or bow-legged sheriffs; a bluesy vaudeville band , chairs used as prison bars or execution gurneys.   Maybe some atrocities do simply tip over into a zone of absurdity where the obvious proddings of satire are not enough , so only musical-comedy will serve.  Provided, of course, that you have a Sondheim to chronicle Presidential assassinations,  or John Kander and Fred Ebb to mock Nazism in Cabaret  or murderers in Chicago.

That odd thought is inescapable when you consider this Kander/Ebb treatment of 1930’s Alabama racism and nine innocent victims.  Nine black boys, riding the rails to find work, got into a scuffle with white youths at Scottsboro; two white girls (to dodge a prostitution charge)  accused them of rape.   With an all-white jury they had no chance; the sentence was death, even for two thirteen-year-olds.  It was averted when the Supreme Court, after left-wing campaigns in the North, demanded a retrial with a proper defense lawyer.  One of the girls admitted they had lied.  For six years though, each fresh appeal met the same verdict from  resentful Alabama whites:  “Every time they say guilty,  the Commies and the Jews get you boys another trial”.   Four were released after six years,  and conscripted into a vaudeville act in Harlem;   other awkward compromises were made  in the political tug-of-war between North and South, but nine lads’ lives were ruined.  It was only this spring, in the age of Obama, that the Alabama Governor signed an Act  formally exonerating them.

Grim, true, shameful.  How to respond, except with joyfully defiant black energy?  This British premiere, under its American director Susan Stroman,  mixes local talent with Broadway performers like Colman Domingo, Forrest McClendon and the magnificently comedic young James T Lane. It delivers that energy with a breathtaking punch and swing:  shock and pathos, irony and sincerity swirl and mingle restlessly.  The only white performer is Julian Glover,  patriarchal  judge and Governor;  other whites – jailers, women ,  the New York defence lawyer Leibowitz –  are created by the black ensemble in ironic reverse minstrelsy.   The terror of the electric chair (the youngest wrote of living in earshot on Death Row) makes a violent strobing tap number.   Domingo as the prosecutor has a hymn of hate against the “Jew money” funding the defence.   Individuals emerge, notably the defiant Haywood Patterson (Kyle Scatliffe) who refused parole because he wouldn’t plead guilty.

Equally moving is the quiet presence of Dawn Hope as “The Lady”,  drifting and shadowing in the corner of scenes.  A subtle moment at the end shows us who she is and what she did after reading of the Scottsboro case. She’s Rosa Parks: who in 1955  – and in the closing moments of this show –  historically refused to give up her seat in the “white section” of a bus. It was a turning-point for the conscience of America.

box office  www.youngvic.org / 020 7922 2922    to 21 December
Supported by :  Bruno Wang     /    American Airlines

Rating:  five5 Meece Rating

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HOME – Arcola, E 8

SMALL TALK,  GREAT THEMES,   THE LAUGHTER OF DESPAIR

“At times”  says old Jack stoutly, flourishing his silver-topped cane “One’s glad simply to live on an island. Without the sea all around, civilization would never be the same. The ideals of life – liberty, freedom, democracy – well, if we’d been living on the Continent, for example…!”   Harry civilly agrees.  “Yes, no, absolutely”.  They have bluff memories of army and RAF,  nostalgia for imagined wartime values.  They are  ageing men,  sitting out in the chilly sunshine: the Arcola’s underground studio nicely trellised, and scattered with post-gale autumn leaves.

When David Storey’s play premiered,  it was 1970  and the men were John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson at the Royal Court.   Now, with that generation almost gone,  SEArEd and the Arcola revive it to honour the author’s 80th birthday.  Director Amelia Sears, like many of us,  finds it for the first time and recognizes its modern-classic beauty: like PInter with more heart, Beckett with more realism.  Jack Shepherd is Harry,  a dishevelled moulting eagle whose gentlemanly amiability masks an abyss of pain and dislocation.   Paul Copley is the Brylcreemed, bonhomous Jack, all card-tricks and evasions.   As the increasingly disconcerting, tense 105 minutes wear on they are joined solo and severally by others with an equal obliquity of small-talk.  A shrewish, sharpnosed Marjorie is Tessa Peake-Jones,  her giggling vulgarian friend Kathleen Linda Broughton.

The talk ranges around: anecdotes about  relatives, truisms of business and current affairs, what’s for dinner , the weather, mutual half-acquaintances : they could be anybody you meet and make foregettable small-talk with or (in the women’s case) smile wincingly as they utter sudden coarsenesses.  The play is interpreted as a commentary on a declining, stiff, post-imperial Britain but that now feels dated, a historic commentary.   It is the picture of a more timeless dislocation that hurts:  we learn gradually that they are all inmates in a large mental asylum:  one of those which, had Storey but known it,  would shortly be closed down and the inmates scattered into “care in the community”,  erratic drug regimes and, often, prison.  It is hard not to reflect on that  as the pathos and revelation build and glimpses of their back-stories emerge – suicidality, violence, collapse, “following little girls”.    Only one,  the monosyllabic Alfred (Joseph Arkley) fits the popular image of a madman,  appearing intermittently with an abrupt helpless violence which jerks the action onto another level.

Mostly, though, it is a fugue of small-talk revealing big themes:  clichés woven into an immensity of human helplessness, pathos, despair. The laughs are real, but ever more sad (Peake-Jones’ veiled malevolence provokes several).  Despite one heartbreaking handclasp it expresses the near-impossibility of mutual help,  as each of us,  forever alone, gabbles to distract ourselves from the yawning abyss of private reality.   Storey’s brilliance has not faded away.  The only glimmer of hope is that this particular kind of Englishness is on the wane…

box office  020 7503 1646      http://www.arcolatheatre.com      to 23 Nov

rating:  three    3 Meece Rating

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Coming up this week – reviews on TheatreCat.com

Storm winds and logistics permitting…  each should turn up late night:

Monday 28th –  David Storey’s HOME at Arcola – anniversary production

Tues  29th  –   The Scottsboro boys,  Young Vic : Kander/Ebb musical about historic injustice

Weds  30th  The Potsdam Quartet   at Jermyn St   Politics, history &  hindsight…

Thurs 31st   HMP Macbeth – ex-offenders’ storming prison take on it

Friday 1 Nov    Mrs Lowry and Son  –  the artist’s tricky home life reimagined     Trafalgar  2

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RAVING – Hampstead Theatre NW3

A WILD AND WICKED SWIPE AT MIDDLE-CLASS MORES

Goodness, this is funny!  Uncontrollably so in the first scenes,  before the tightly coiled spring of middle-class angst is released into anarchy and minor injuries.    I suspect that after the first-night hysterics,  director Ed Hall will be instructing his cast to leave more space for the laughs lest some of Simon Paisley Day’s lines are lost.  Especially the snarled ones.

We are in a Welsh weekend cottage, booked by the briskly well-organized Ross and Rosy (Robert Webb a self-satisfied PR,  Sarah Hadland of Miranda fame as his bossy pocket-dynamo of a wife).   They are late because of an au-pair issue which will explode later.  Their leftish friends Keith and Briony are there first,  Barnaby Kay hapless, bearded and frustrated,  Tamzin Outhwaite delivering a bravura monologue of stressed-out social paranoia.   They left their son with Granny:  Briony is still suckling him (another unexploded bomb in the plot), struggling with her breast pump and “not ready” to resume sex.  The child, we learn, is three!  She seethes with resentment at her hostess’ brisk batch-baking competence, and has forgotten her antidepressants.

As if this wasn’t enough, the hosts have invited a couple even less to Briony’s taste,  the cheerfully posh Charles and Serena:  he an ex-army dimbo  (Nicholas Rowe)  whose shotgun – yet another clue to the coming mayhem  –    drives Briony into hysterical disapproval.  Not that Serena is inconsiderate:  Issy van Randwyck, blithely authoritative,  sees her horror and barks “Chas! Shooter! Car!” as if to a disobedient pointer.   Van Randwyck indeed, a bright-eyed breezy touslehead,   is one of the constant joys of the play,  capturing exactly the  competent and sexually cheerful upper-class matronliness which made Britain both great,  and potentially very annoying.  Cunningly, Paisley Day reveals that she is no airhead but a GP.  “A hobby, reallah!”.   Into the cottage erupt in turn a religiously devout Welsh farmer and Serena’s wild-child niece Tabby (Bel Powley, last seen in Jumpy, is making a nice corner in mouthy Jafaican teens with a subtle edge of pathos).

They interact,  discussing among other things childrearing (“like dogs, stick to a training programme”  says Charles, who has “four or five”  while Briony agonizes over her one.)   I did wonder, between giggles of  recognition,  whether it would move beyond sketch-comedy brilliance into a denser play.   It does, though not in the Ayckbournian way I expected:  more Joe Orton, indeed,  in its robust rejection of pathos.  Narrate the bare bones of Tabby’s situation, or the farmer’s, and you could find depths of pain.  Paisley Day, wisely I think, doesn’t do any such thing.

He lets  suspicion, booze,  breast-milk, a druggy rave in the next field and two startlingly inappropriate sexual events culminate only in an armed hostage scene of edgy absurdity.  If you insist on finding a moral in it,  it is that even an enraged gun-wielding God-bothering Welsh farmer can be out-loonied  any day by six middle-class London weekenders.   As one observes,  “We don’t need you.  We can destroy ourselves”.

BOX OFFICE  020 7722 9301   to  23 November
Rating:  four4 Meece Rating

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FROM HERE TO ETERNITY – Shaftesbury Theatre WC2

HURTLING HUNKS AND DEATH BY BLUES

God, I hate star ratings!  Even when, as here, rebelliously expressed as mice.  For nearly three hours the fourth one hovered uncertainly, annoyingly,   over Tim Rice’s bravely enormous new show and Stuart Brayson’s music,  as it veered between grand moments and some pretty standard “song-that-goes-like-this” numbers.  Can’t pretend that a classic was born,  but neither is it dismissable.  Big money and big courage sometimes pay off.

Rice’s admirable aim was to forget the 1953 movie with Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr rolling in the surf ,  and exhume the even bleaker bones of James Jones’ angry novel about the bored brutalities of the US military garrison on Hawaii  just  before the 1941 raid on Pearl Harbour.  He pulls no punches,  restoring Jones’ account – too shocking for Hollywood – of soldiers “rolling the queers” in the gay club to raise money for their own brothel-crawling.    Its title is bitterly drawn from Kipling’s poem about disillusioned NCOs:  “done with hope and honour, lost to love and truth” .

There are two love affairs:  Sgt Warden (Darius Campbell, aka Danesh) falls for Karen, the commander’s wife while the damaged, cynical  Prewitt  (Robert Lonsdale) finds a deep connection with a local whore,  after being mercilessly beasted for refusing  to box for the honour of G company.   His friendship with the irrepressible tragic Latino Angelo (Ryan Sampson, engaging in the extreme) is the third emotional sinew of the story.

But the energy of it comes from the military:  a  tsunami of testosterone, a male ensemble drilled (it is rumoured) by a real sergeant-major until not a twitch of camp can remain in their manner.   Javier de Frutos shapes them into a masterpiece of dramatic choreography which  I have rarely seen equalled.  The stage is full of hurtling hunks:  pushups and star jumps, hula-moves and brawls, larking or lovemaking, the khaki whirlwind dominate the action.  Whether in stand-by-your-beds or beat-up-a-brothel routines they are breathtaking.  So are the girls they whirl and hurl around a restrainedly evocative  set by Soutra Gilmour.  Bruno Poet does the lights, and Brayson’s music gets rich orchestrations under David White. Nothing has been spared.

But it’s a musical,  and must justify itself by songs.  Some are fine (the fourth star-mouse finally landed during the finale, with “slaughter from the sky, fire in the sea” and a hymn to The Boys of ’41).  Campbell’s grainy, savagely virile voice is well used in “More than America” and less well in love duets (though Rebecca Thornhill’s gorgeously sexy Karen more than makes up for that).  Prewitt has one magnificent anthem “Fight the Fight”, and does it full justice; the two men doing the “Ain’t where I wanna be blues” are perfect.     But Tim Rice’s fatal fondness for over-jangly rhymes too often weakens the lyrics:   some are plain banal.  “She’s untouchable, a princess, and a whore / But I just see a beauty at my door” Please!

On the other hand the tarts‘ song “You got the money, we got the ass”  is splendid.  I went home singing it. Got some odd looks on the train.

box office  0207 492 1532    to 26 April
Rating :  four   4 Meece Rating

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