Theatre Review – Richard III starring Ralph Fiennes (Almeida Theatre)

image.jpg

The end of last week saw me make two trips to the Almeida to see the anticipated production of Richard III starring Ralph Fiennes in the title role. As these were previews, the production was still developing and there will have likely been a few more tweaks between my last trip on Friday and tomorrow night’s press night. There had already been some interesting small changes between the two nights I attended, which was very fascinating to see.

Overall I enjoyed this production. The bookend scenes are fantastic in setting the historical aspect of the story in the audience’s mind from the moment you enter the auditorium. We begin at an excavation site, as bones are unearthed while the audience takes their seats; the final bone to emerge – a curved spine. I’d been waiting for a production to reference a Leicester car park and the staging here worked well in giving a nod to the iconic nature of the play’s title character, even in the 21st century.

The bare brick walls of the Almeida are also ideal for staging the various scenes, whether a dark Tower cell, a council meeting room, or the barren battlefield. It gives a timeless feel to the production and I also liked the simple modern dress (mainly black suits and dresses) in helping not to set it in any specific modern period. Some of Richard’s great lines and asides also require a sense of connection and intimacy with the audience and at the Almeida he really does seem to be speaking to each one of you.

As for Fiennes, I enjoyed his portrayal, which was exactly along the lines I had expected. I’ve seen a few Richards now, but none have ever seemed truly evil. They have always possessed a sort of charm, which was then undercut in moments of cruelty (whether Spacey, Rylance, Jonjo O’Neil or even Cumberbatch for the recent BBC series). I’ve always been able to see how someone could be caught out by their charm and at times it’s made Richard seem less of a threat (especially so with Martin Freeman’s portrayal, notwithstanding one terrifying scene with a telephone cord). That’s not the case with Ralph Fiennes and I was pleased about that.

Ralph Fiennes as Richard III by Hugo Glendinning.jpg Cropped

His Richard is utterly horrid, with no real charm at all. Instead he uses threats and dominance (at some points sexual in nature) to bend those around him to his will. When anyone attempts to stand up to him, he finds a way to diminish them, particularly the women, with one such moment in particular leaving me, for the first time watching this play, really looking forward to seeing him meet his end. Although this portrayal meant there was less humour in certain scenes (such as the scene with Richard supposedly at prayer, for which Spacey maintains the comedic crown), Fiennes still delivered some of Richard’s best lines with a dry humour that evoked laughs from the audience.

There are also some very good supporting performances. Aislin McGuckin as Queen Elizabeth and Joanna Vanderham as Anne were both particularly effective at bringing their characters’ heightened emotions to the forefront. They are very strong women, who each do their best to stand their ground when confronted with the actions of the monstrous Richard. Susan Engel also conveyed his mother’s utter horror and dismay at her son’s actions well and her final confrontation with him was very believable. The other stand-out performance for me was Finbar Lynch’s Buckingham, who often seems to be the driving force behind Richard. They are very much a team, moving the chess pieces around the board to finally position Richard on the throne and I thought the two actors had a great relationship on stage.

As for what didn’t work for me, the use of mobile phones by Hastings and Stanley was a distraction that served no purpose (other than to frustrate me)! No one else seemed to have one, meaning Tyrrell proves the deaths of the two princes with Polaroids and a paper calendar is consulted on the eve of battle. It’s a minor niggle, but one that still momentarily took me out of the scene.

I wasn’t hugely sold on Vanessa Redgrave’s portrayal of Margaret either. I liked the fact she wasn’t a shrieking, hysterical figure and I assume her boiler suit-style outfit is a nod to her battle-ready history (although it did echo Miss Trunchball a bit too much for my liking). However, I found that the pace of scenes in which she appeared slowed considerably. For the first this perhaps works; she calmly and coolly makes her curses, seeming rather wise. In fact, other than the creepy doll she carries about, you tend to think the court really should be taking her words more seriously. For later scenes however, the pace felt much too slow and even quite dull, which has not been my experience of Margaret in any other production.

The other gripe for me, which I hope has gone by now (or at the very least can be explained to me by someone) is Fiennes’s use of a totally different accent during the battle! I couldn’t even tell what accent it was meant to be. I may perhaps be missing something hugely obvious, but it simply seemed bizarre and distracting to me.

I’ve personally never viewed this play as exciting, as some people seem to. I’ve always seen it as a story centred on a lot of talk and political scheming, rather than one of excitement and therefore the fact the overall pace did feel slow at times didn’t bother me too much (it had noticeably picked up during my second visit and so may have been further tightened up this week). The key to my enjoyment of Richard III is that I believe the performances and here I did in the majority of cases. It was great to finally see on stage a truly awful Duke of Gloucester and I’m sure Mr Fiennes will continue to mine the depths of his dark side over the course of the run. I’m looking forward to seeing it again in late July to see just how evil he has become!

Richard III continues its run at the Almeida Theatre until 6th August 2016. Running time: 3 hours 15 mins approx. (including one 20 minute interval). Day seats will be available from 17th via the box office from 11 a.m.. Some tickets costing £20 will also be available via a lottery through the TodayTix app. The possibility of returns or last minute spare production seats means trying your luck at the theatre is also worth considering. For more information visit the website. For those unable to get to the theatre, the production will also be screened in cinemas on 21st July and details of that broadcast and participating cinemas can be found on the Live Almeida website.

Theatre Review – Giving at Hampstead Theatre Downstairs

CisV0MSWkAASrLj.jpg

The current production in the Hampstead Theatre’s Downstairs space (due to end on Saturday) is a fascinating exploration of philanthropy and charitable giving. Why do people give? Is it ever really altruistic or do people give just to be seen as “doing good”, or to highlight their own wealth? Should those facilitating such giving care about the reasons for it and should we even care about those reasons if the outcome is that the recipients of such donations are better off?

Hannah Patterson’s play presents all these questions in a though-provoking and enjoyable production, in which Laura (Sinead Matthews) is tasked by her magazine’s editor (who also happens to be her married former lover) Jonathan (Dominic Rowan), to write a profile on a successful and high profile businesswoman Mary Greene. The focus of the piece is to be Mary’s huge charitable donation, which is the largest single pledge by an individual to date in the UK.

Laura, already skeptical as to the motivations behind such gestures meets both Mary (Sylvestra Le Touzel), a formidable woman and tough interviewee and Mary’s “Charitable Giving Advisor” Michael (Simon Manyonda), who seems to exert a great deal of influence over his client’s decisions, while in the process taking a percentage for his broking-style American firm, calling in to question whether he simply wants to make a profit by any means necessary.

ESC-7256.jpg

Sinead Matthews as Laura

I thoroughly enjoyed Giving. Its theme wasn’t one I’d seen on stage before and it certainly made me think about the role of philanthropy in society today (especially here in the UK where it is less common than in America) and the reasons that drive individuals to make charitable donations. The three main characters of Laura, Mary and Michael were fascinating to watch interact, as their differing viewpoints often led to some uncomfortable exchanges. In particular the interview scenes between Laura and Mary were brilliantly acted and staged, with the veneer of politeness barely masking the friction between them. It was very believable and made me as an audience member feel awkward for them! Le Touzel’s portrayal of Mary was excellent, bringing to life a woman who you wanted to admire, but who you found yourself not liking a great deal. She reminded me of characters I’ve come across in the real world and you believed that Laura would be on dangerous ground were she to cross her!

ASC-8214.jpg

Sylvester Le Touzel (Mary) & Simon Manyonda (Michael)

The other strand of the play is about giving and receiving love and our ability to do so, which is cleverly weaved in to the story through Laura’s relationships. I liked how different Michael was from Jonathan and the writing of the relationship between Laura and Michael (wonderfully played by Matthews and Manyonda) means, as their affection for each other develops, so does the growing conflict Laura faces as her article begins to take shape. I really did find myself rooting for them.

Top marks for maximisation of space also need to go to designer Lucy Sierra, whose use of furniture able to effortlessly disappear in to the walls when not needed was ideal for a play which moves quickly from scene to scene, in the small theatre space.

Sometimes the Hampstead Theatre Downstairs may be overlooked, but Giving yet again proves that the material it produces is just as important as that in the main house and with tickets at a maximum of £12 it is great value for money. If you have a chance to catch Giving before it closes on Saturday, it’s well worth the effort.

Giving continues its run at the Hampstead Theatre Downstairs until Saturday (11th June). Running time is 1 hour 35 minutes (no interval). For more information visit the website: https://www.hampsteadtheatre.com/whats-on/2016/giving/


 

Are You Watching..? – Bloodline (Netflix)

bloodline_ver2

Towards the end of last year, one of my friends recommended Bloodline to me and I’m very pleased he did. One of Netflix’s original dramas in 2015, it was soon a firm favourite of mine, due to its intelligent and engaging writing, multi-layered characters and the fact that it keeps you guessing from beginning to end. One thing is certain though – when you watch Bloodline, you need to be paying attention.

After a shorter wait than those who tuned in twelve months ago, I’ll finally get to see what the next chapter has in store for the Rayburn family when series 2 arrives on Netflix later this week. Therefore, now is the ideal time to catch up on one of the strongest dramas on television at the moment.

23-bloodline-7.w750.h560.2x.jpg

The Rayburn family

Created by Glenn Kesler, Todd A. Kesler and Daniel Zelman, the trio behind one of my all-time favourite series Damages (more on that here – if you didn’t watch it, then add that to your list too!), Bloodline is all about the Rayburn family headed by Robert and Sally, who have run a small hotel on the beach in the Florida Keys for 45 years. We meet them as the whole family is coming together to celebrate this 45th anniversary, including eldest son Danny (Ben Mendelsohn), the clear black sheep of the clan. Over the course of the thirteen episodes, we watch how all of their lives are affected by his return and see how, despite the setting, not everything in their lives is paradise.

One of the aspects I love most about this series is its structure. Following the mould set by its creators’ previous success Damages, glimpses in to the future are used to tease the audience about the path that lies ahead for this family. By the end of the first episode, it’s clear that the not too distant future does not look rosy for the Rayburns. The big questions though remain unanswered – what happens along the way to get them to that point and who in the family knows the truth? It is an incredibly effective way of hooking the audience early. You know more than the characters do and are intrigued by the mysteries that lie ahead.

Bloodline-009.jpg

Kyle Chandler & Ben Mendelsohn

There are also glimpses in to the past along the way, which only add more questions – who is Sarah? What happened to her and how has that impacted on the family? A series that keeps you guessing and reveals its secrets at its own pace is always one that will keep me engaged and enthralled.

One of Bloodline’s other great strengths is the quality of its cast. Mendelsohn is superb as Danny; he is a character you change your view on many times and his performance is always one from which you are never sure what to expect. However the rest of the cast is great too. Kyle Chandler plays his brother Detective John Rayburn brilliantly. He has clearly been forced to take the elder sibling role and you are conscious of the pressure of expectation he feels, whether from a responsibility to his siblings or his parents. Norbert Leo Butz and Linda Cardellini are very good as the remaining siblings, each with their own complicated lives, in to which the reappearance of Danny is something they could do without.

ben-mendelsohn-sissy-spacek-bloodline-netflix.jpg

Ben Mendelsohn & Sissy Spacek

Heading the family is the brilliant pairing of Sam Shepard and Sissy Spacek and you sense each has their own skeletons in the closet. As a unit they are fantastic and because they are all equally capable of holding the screen and the audience’s interest, it allows the writers to weave in strands for each of them, which gradually come to link in to the overarching questions you have by the end of the series opener.

I’d also be surprised if you don’t recognise an aspect of your own family’s dynamic when watching the Rayburns, whether it’s the mother with her favourite can do no wrong child, to the daughter always trying to make her father proud, to the brother who feels he has to be a stable force for the rest of his family on top of his own problems.

I admit, especially early on, there is quite a lot of talk in Bloodline and perhaps some may feel there are too many dialogue-heavy scenes and not enough actually happening. However, the writing wonderfully builds up events, as the jigsaw pieces start to slot in to place. Also, it’s certainly lovely to watch a show set in such a paradise – clear water, sunshine, white sandy beaches; the ideal backdrop for a story containing buried family secrets!

Series 2 of Bloodline arrives on Netflix on Friday 27th May 2016, just in time for the weekend. If you are in need of a new series and enjoy intelligent dramas, that are well written and strongly acted, then I highly recommend you give it a try!

The first series of Bloodline is available to watch now on Netflix. Series 2 is available from 27th May 2016. For a taster, here’s the trailer to the first series.

 

Theatre Reflections – A final farewell to the RSC’s King & Country at BAM (New York)

kingdvd.jpg

It’s taken me a couple of weeks to write this reflection on the final King and Country cycle. Previously I have reviewed all of the individual plays since they began with Richard II in 2013, as well as reflecting on the cycle at the Barbican this January. However, as my recent New York trip was largely scheduled around seeing the last dates of these Histories, it seemed fitting to look back one last time and also comment on the differences, both in my experience and in the performances, when seeing them during the New York run.

bam2.jpg

BAM Harvey Theatre (Photo by: E. Kaufman Harvey)

I find it thrilling that despite so many performances under their belts (the final King and Country tally was 505), the company was still trying new things and for anyone who’s sen them a few times it’s a wonderful added extra. It’s also fascinating to experience the plays with an audience who have much less opportunity to see live Shakespeare than we do here in the UK and to see first hand how this affects their reactions to the material.

Richard-and-Bolingbrooke

Jasper Britton & David Tennant in Richard II (Photo by: Keith Pattison)

From my time at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s (BAM) Harvey Theatre, I’d safely say that the largely American audiences loved these productions and having the RSC come to them. In fact there was a buzz that I didn’t feel at the Barbican or to some extent even at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. This is perhaps largely due to the RSC in New York being more of an event, seeing as they haven’t been regularly and the audiences were excited to see this famous theatre company bringing Shakespeare overseas. Thinking about it logically, these were the perfect plays to succeed there. The more traditional rather than modern settings and the English history (albeit Shakespeare’s version) seemed, from the people we spoke with, to be exactly what they imagined the Royal Shakespeare Company to be doing.

4_22_Henry-IV_Antony-Sher_Sam-Marks_Alex-Hassell_PC-Richard-Termine-580x387

Antony Sher, Sam Marks & Alex Hassell in Henry IV (Photo by: Richard Termine)

BAM was an ideal theatre for the plays too. Built in 1904 as the Majestic Theatre, the BAM Harvey Theatre’s auditorium is weathered and has a old-age feel; paint flaked walls and ceilings really added to the sense that a little bit of English history had come back to life in a venue of the past. I also really liked the rake of BAM, with a great view from every seat I had (it’s a bit like the Trafalgar Studios rake for those that know it). This again meant a slightly different viewing experience than I’d had in Stratford-Upon-Avon or London.

4_22_Henry-IV_Antony-Byrne_Matthew-Needham_Sean-Chapman_PC-Richard-Termine-580x387

Matthew Needham (centre), Antony Byrne (left), Sean Chapman (right) in Henry IV (Photo by: Richard Termine)

The plays themselves were just a strong as they had been and as far as Henry IV is concerned, this was my favourite time watching it (having seen it once in Stratford in 2014 and then once during each of the two Barbican runs). At a book event earlier in the week, Antony Sher had commented how he felt the US audiences were listening and reacting better to the plays and on experiencing them for myself, I have to agree with him. Lines which I’ve not heard get a reaction before in all four of the plays (but especially Henry IV) found one at BAM. I heard quite a few people there saying how they had read the plays before coming and perhaps we are so used to Shakespeare in the UK that we aren’t as focussed as an audience who has less chance to see them live. In turn, this clearly had an effect on the performances, especially Mr Sher, who seemed happier and more at ease at BAM. Perhaps coming to the end of the run played a part, but you could see that he was enjoying and feeding off the audience reactions.

henry-v_alex-hassell_pc-stephanie-berger.jpg

Alex Hassell in Henry V (Photo by: Stephanie Berger)

I’m sure it’s no surprise to regular readers that I saw Richard II the most since 2013. I’d been at the first preview in October 2013 and I loved the idea of seeing the very last performance, especially as in my view, this is a production which has only gone from strength to strength over time. It was in Richard II where I picked up on little changes, the most obvious being in my favourite scene – Flint Castle. Having seen David Tennant play the scene with both Oliver Rix and now Sam Marks (as well as Oli and Sam together during the understudy performance), it was wonderful that they were still experimenting even at the end of the run. I saw Richard II twice at BAM and both times, instead of dodging the crown when Richard moves to place it on his head, Sam Marks stayed still and Richard II did indeed crown Aumerle. Once Tennant then removed it with a sigh (it’s Richard’s burden, not his cousin’s) and the second time Marks removed it and with sadness gave it back to Richard. It wasn’t a big change, but it was something subtle and lovely to see played in a slightly different way after all this time.

All the company were on fine form in New York and special mention to Evelyn Miller going on in place of Jennifer Kirby for the final Henry IV Part 2 and Henry V. They should all be hugely proud of the King and Country cycle and it was very special to be at the final Henry V to see the 505th and final performance. I’m sure after such a welcome, it won’t be long before the RSC is back in New York and you never know, I may just have to tag along too!

You can purchase the RSC’s King and Country plays on DVD from all the usual stockists. As the DVDs are region free, it’s worth considering buying them from US Amazon where the 4 play set is only $40!

Theatre Review – Travels With My Aunt (Minerva Theatre, Chichester)

CFT16_WebImages_TMA_title_792x447px.jpg

During my weekend trip to Chichester, as well as An Enemy of the People (running until Saturday 21st May) I also had time to see a matinee of Travels With My Aunt. With a book by Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman and music and lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, this is a new musical based on the 1969 novel by Graham Greene.

It’s a simple (and rather ridiculous) story in which Henry Pulling (Steven Pacey) is perfectly happy with his quiet, uneventful retirement. He has his garden and his dahlias and that’s quite enough for him. However, his life soon takes an unexpected and more adventurous turn when, at his mother’s funeral, he meets his Aunt Augusta. Before he knows it, he is fleeing police and on a flight to Paris where his travels with his aunt are only just beginning.

Hodge1.jpg-pwrt3.jpg

Patricia Hodge as Aunt Augusta

This isn’t the greatest, slickest musical by a long way. It was however quite a pleasant way to spend an afternoon in Chichester and certainly seemed to go down very well with its target audience.

There were aspects of the story that didn’t work for me and which I think highlight the era in which the original book was written, dating the piece as a whole. There is a lot of cliché and cheesy stereotypes on display, such as the under-developed character of Wordsworth, Augusta’s black lover from Sierra Leone. Also Henry’s growing closeness to Tooley (Haley Flaherty), a young hippie they meet along the way, didn’t appeal to me at all and unfortunately I never saw this as romantic, but rather just a bit creepy. It’s nicely played by both actors, but I couldn’t take it seriously. Also, although the songs do contain some rather witty lines throughout, none of them are particularly memorable.

3692

Haley Flaherty, Steven Pacey, Hugh Maynard & Patricia Hodge (Photo by: Tristram Kenton)

Having said all of that, I did enjoy this production for what it was – a quaint, old-fashioned story, which tries to make its audience realise that you are never too old to do anything. The set design has been well thought through by Colin Falconer, who manages to pack a lot in to the small space he has in the Minerva. The use of the centre box as bar, waiting room and entry to Augusta’s flat all worked well and minimal props do a great job of transporting us to each new location on the journey.

The strongest aspects of the show are the performances of Steven Pacey as Henry and Patricia Hodge as Augusta. Pacey plays Henry’s strait-laced English gentleman very well and you do quite like him, finding yourself amused by his exasperation at what he sees as his Aunt’s recklessness. Hodge is wonderful as Augusta. In her smart, colourful, stylish outfits she is a lot of fun and I couldn’t help thinking I wouldn’t mind being that free-spirited in my old age! You admire her passion for life, although imagine if you were Henry, she’d drive you crazy too. They two do have a lovely chemistry that really works here and I found that scenes which focus on them were much stronger than some of the others and it is them who keep you engaged.

So, overall, I wouldn’t say you should make a special trip to Chichester just to see this production. It is however perfectly pleasant for anyone in the area looking to escape from the real world for a couple of hours.

Travels With my Aunt continues its run at the Minerva Theatre in Chichester until 4th June 2016. Running-time is 2 hours 30 minutes (including one interval). For more information visit the website.

 

 

Theatre Review – An Enemy of the People (Festival Theatre, Chichester)

CFT16_WebImages_EOP_title_792x447px

It’s been a few years since I last made it to Chichester’s theatre festival and so it was lovely to go for my first visit of the year this weekend. With only one week left to run, you still have time to see An Enemy of the People, currently playing in the larger Festival Theatre. Having never seen the play on stage before, I was interested in adding another Ibsen to my list.

Set in a quiet Nordic spa town, the story revolves around Dr. Stockmann, the Bath’s medical officer and pillar of the community. Taking pride in doing his job properly, when his tests of the water and soil prove his suspicions – that the baths are a health risk, he is pleased to have made such a discovery, particularly as this proves him right and his brother the Mayor wrong with regards to how the Baths were constructed. With the help of the local liberal newspaper, whose editor Hovstad is more than a little happy about the idea of bringing upset to the wealthy owners and investors of the Baths, Stockmann is determined to bring his findings and the risks the Baths pose, to the public’s attention. He sees himself of the hero of the people by doing so.

1. Hugh Bonneville (centre) & company in Chichester Festival Theatre's AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE Photo Manuel Harlan.jpg

Hugh Bonneville & cast (Photo: Manuel Harlan)

However, Ibsen’s play highlights how quickly opinions can change and the risk of speaking out. Indeed, a play concerning the suppression of corruption by those with power and influence, the instinct for self-interest and the idea of whistle-blowing are all incredibly current issues in the world we live in.

The play itself involves a great deal of talk and could have been quite dry to watch. However, Christopher Hampton’s translation and the production itself were very engaging, with some strong performances. I was also surprised how much humour was within the show, much more than any other Ibsen I’ve seen (I go to his plays aware that they are never going to be the happiest!). As this is the only production of this play that I’ve seen, whether this was down to the original text or Hampton’s translation I’m not sure, but it was a very welcome element, which was no doubt enhanced by the actors themselves.

Howard Davies’s production is also perfectly suited to the Festival Theatre’s space, particularly for the later public meeting scene. The decision to stage this within the auditorium, with the majority of the cast within the audience and only the speakers on the stage, added to the atmosphere. The shouts and sense of a whole community turning on one man felt far more authentic than had we the audience simply been observers.

EOTP-137.jpg

Adam James (Photo by: Manuel Harlan)

It was also fascinating in that the motivations of Stockmann did not always appear to be clear-cut. He did have a desire to take the moral ground and expose the truths others were trying to suppress. However, when you see the animosity and deep-rooted rivalry between him and his brother, the Mayor and the person leading the opposition to his cause, his motivations could be seen in a different light. Is an element of his motivation to highlight that he was right and his brother wrong? His cause does pose a risk of personal loss to his whole family (his father-in-law’s tannery being a large part of the pollution problem, but also the source of future financial stability for his wife and children), which makes such petty rivalries unlikely to be his sole reason. However it was still an interesting aspect of the production that, for me, added to the complexity of Stockmann’s character.

5. Jonathan Cullen, William Gaminara & Hugh Bonneville Chichester Festival Theatre's AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE Photo Manuel Harlan

Jonathan Cullen, William Gaminara & Hugh Bonneville (Photo by: Manuel Harlan)

Now more famous for playing a wealthy aristocrat, it was satisfying to see Hugh Bonneville in a different role. He is very good as Stockmann (his first stage role since 2004). He is the man you see as the champion of the truth, who begins to lose his credibility (and indeed his good name) in his community when his public pleas become an attack on the rights of the unintelligent majority and the intellectually weak. He decision to make such declarations showed his naivety – surely anyone would see that insulting the public’s intelligence and threatening the source of the whole town’s income (the tourism from the Baths) would not be the root to success?

Surrounding Bonneville’s central performance, Adam James (a favourite actor of mine since 2010’s Blood & Gifts) is on fine form as usual as the side-changing newspaper editor, who is swift to drop his support of Stockmann the moment he realizes what he has to lose. William Gaminara is wonderful as Stockmann’s pompous brother, who as Mayor, is smart enough to know how to appeal to the community’s sense of self-interest in order to keep his failings hidden and Alice Orr-Ewing’s portrayal of Stockmann’s daughter is lovely, whose outspoken and independent spirit shines through, as does her admiration of her father’s cause.

It’s unexpected humour and ability to bring Ibsen’s ideas to a modern audience in such an engaging and relevant way meant that this was an enjoyable evening at the theatre for me, but if you were planning to see it, you only have until Saturday to buy a ticket!

An Enemy of the People continues at the Festival Theatre in Chichester until Saturday 21st May 2016. Running-time is 2 hours 30 minutes (including one interval). For more information visit the website.

Theatre Review – Blackbird (Broadway, New York)

getshowbanner.php.jpeg

Another play I managed to have time to see during my New York theatre holiday was the Broadway premiere of David Harrower’s play. I knew very little beforehand, but was an admirer of the work of both actors.

Set in a break room of a dreary office building, Una (Michelle Williams) has arrived at the workplace of Ray (Jeff Daniels) having not seen him for 15 years. However, this is not an ordinary meeting and it very quickly becomes clear that Ray was a former neighbour and that the two of them had a sexual relationship. What makes this more shocking is that, at the time, Ray was 40 and Una was only 12 years old. After being released from prison, Ray has moved away, changed his name and started again (the offence having been committed before the sex offenders register existed). Tonight however, Una is determined to make him face her and the consequences of his actions.

Resized_400-_Williams_and_Daniels__LACOMBE

Over the course of 80 minutes, we watch as these two damaged people unleash their pent up emotions and the more they do, the more the lines blur regarding how they each view what happened and how they now feel about one another. It proves to be a thought-provoking experience for the audience.

The two actors are very good indeed. Michelle Williams, dressed in a floaty dress, designed to make her seem more childlike, plays Una’s jumble of emotions wonderfully. She is a complex character, whose childhood has understandably affected her whole life. She is like an unstable chemical element, which you expect to explode at any moment. In certain moments she speaks of how many men she’s slept with and yet in others she regresses to more childlike behavior, suggesting someone still on some emotional level trapped in the past. She wants to be in control of this meeting, stalking Ray around the room and seemingly enjoying just how scared he is of her and her unexpected reappearance in his life.

In a role he played during its original Off-Broadway run in 2007, Jeff Daniels takes his lead from her, as Ray struggles to try and explain the past from his perspective. Although I felt myself focusing on Williams’s performance, Daniels convincingly plays a man haunted by Una, who despite his larger frame at times appears small and weak in her presence. It’s not an easy role and it’s a testament to the actor that you sometimes forget that he is a criminal.

11BLACKBIRD-master675.jpg

I’ve seen some comments as to whether this was love or abuse. I think this is too simplistic a question. For me, it is perhaps more unclear for Ray and Una from their perspectives than from mine as an audience member. There is clearly a connection between the two of them and they are still drawn to each other, which seems to excite and terrify them in equal measure. However I never questioned the inappropriateness of Ray’s actions. Una was a child, not even a teenager, but a pre-pubescent 12 year-old girl.

He spends a lot of time trying to make clear that he isn’t one of those men, that he doesn’t have those urges towards children and that he didn’t set out to have sex with a child. You are never truly sure if he really believes this or if it’s what he’s been telling himself ever since to move on. This uncertainty about Ray is brought home even more by the play’s powerfully unresolved conclusion, which in one moment made me shudder.

To add to the emotional complexity, as the play continues, you realise that Una’s anger stems more from a feeling of abandonment by Ray than from what he actually did. Ultimately the tragedy for these two people is had they met later in life, things could have been very different.

The strongest section of the play is when Una is reliving their last night together and its aftermath for her. The stage lighting changes gradually growing dimmer as she delves further in to those past events. So powerful is Williams here that you feel as if you are reliving it with her. You can see it in your mind’s eye and feel jolted when brought back to the present. It was hugely effective and the most powerful part of the production.

Certain aspects didn’t work for me. I grew to find the stilted, clipped dialogue of the early part of the play frustrating. Also the throwing around of rubbish by these two people at that point in proceedings didn’t, for me, achieve anything. All the verbal and sometimes physical sparring and outpouring of emotions beforehand were much more interesting.

Blackbird is not a comfortable play to watch by any means and although it didn’t impress me as much as other productions I saw in New York, it was certainly a powerful, thought-provoking and at times disturbing experience.

Blackbird continues its run at the Belasco Theatre (111. West 44th St.) until 11th June 2016. Running-time: 80 minutes approx. (no interval). $32 rush tickets are available each morning at the box office. For more information visit the website.

 

Telly Addict

I have been watching

Loitering In the Theatre

My experiences, good and bad, in London theatres.

WestEnd_blog

Reviewing the quality of the stagey experience. What makes a theatre experience? People, show and music.

Mingled Yarns

Anyone who says they have only one life to live must not know how to read a book

Cultural Capital

Theatre, arts and events in London

Vickster51Corner

Theatre, Books, Food & Film/TV reviews

Alyssa Waugh

Writer, Reader, Blogger

746 Books

Confessions of a Book Buying Addict

The Book Review Directory

Over 150 Book Reviewer Bloggers Listed

The Day - a Play

Theatre, Films, TV, Art

Cleopatra Loves Books

One reader's view

Deadline

Hollywood Entertainment Breaking News

The X-Files Truth Podcast

"The following podcast is based on actual X-Files cases." Email: XFilesTruth@live.com

WEST END WANDERER

One man's mission to dissect the latest theatre

Semi-Partisan Politics

A semi-biased commentary on British and American politics, culture and current affairs

mattsmoviethoughts

Movie and TV Reviews

Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth

Life, Faith and Comic Books

Myridian Day

Reviews, Rants, Stories and Fangirling

mookology.

book + movie = mook. this is mookology.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 215 other followers