Tom Hiddleston (Coriolanus), Hadley Fraser (Aufidius). Photo by Johan Persson
The last time I saw Coriolanus on stage was at Gainsborough studios in 2000. I might not remember much about the production, but one thing impossible to forget was the space. The film studios had been turned into a theatrical space just before their demolition, creating a vast stage in front of a vast auditorium. It’s interesting that my second Coriolanus experience is at the Donmar Warehouse, which is the definition of a small space with vast ambitions.
Intimacy has always been the Donmar’s focus: at the first scene of Coriolanus, a child enters the stage and draws a line on the floor. It could be a playground game but this is war and things take a different turn. Soon there is enough hustle and bustle to suggest civil unrest and bloody battles. (The fight between Tom Hiddleston’s Coriolanus and Hadley Fraser’s Aufidius is particularly forceful. In such a small space it certainly makes an impact: nothing like being a yard away from swords macheting in the air). Ultimately though, it all comes back to that first image and to close familial relationships. In a thrilling scene at the senate, the speeches make political points as much as personal ones, and it’s this uneasy combination that gives the play its drive.
I went to Ireland for the first time in October 1999 and although I have gone back a few times since, that first trip was the most personal: crossing the country from Galway to Dublin (which sounds impressive until you realise it’s only a couple of hours by car), hanging in pubs with irish friends, walking down country roads in a drizzle so fine you couldn’t be sure it was real, it all fits perfectly with irish folklore, except it isn’t. I have neither the measure of the place or the talent to make it justice, but Conor McPherson’s The Weir makes sense of those evenings when a story at the pub starts as a lark but quickly hits the bone, changing people’s lives. And Josie Rourke’s production, simple as it is stunning, delicate as it is robust, is a triumph of intimacy and storytelling. Continue reading →
Rae Smith sketch – Juno and the Paycock Donmar 1999
Ron Cook belongs to a group of actors that everyone knows, everyone loves but not everyone can name. He doesn’t often headline projects but invariably gives the stand out memorable performance: his Mr Crabb was the earthy soul in Mr Selfridge, Trelawny of the Wells wouldn’t be half as good without his sparkling talent and his sir Toby Belch is still the best I have seen.
In the last fifteen years, he has regularly worked with the Donmar Warehouse under three different artistic directors (a big achievement in itself), and the company’s digital team have gone through the archives and put up a collection of photographs in their facebook pages.
The digital print (not really a photograph) that caught my attention was Rae Smith’s sketch from the Juno and the Paycock, 1999. The caption simply says: Ron Cook as ‘Joxer’ Daly and Colm Meaney as ‘Captain’ Jack Boyle (1999). Rehearsal sketch by Rae Smith.
The role led to an Olivier Best Supporting Actor nomination for Ron Cook (hard to believe but this is his only nomination so far). Continue reading →
The Trelawny of the Wells company. Photo Johan Persson
Within a few seconds of the performance starting, I knew I was going to love Joe Wright’s production of Trelawny of the Wells. The set, with the simplicity and elegance of a puzzle box, is a pleasure to look at, and the first few moments of the production are so joyously startling that, as a calling card, are hard to beat. If that’s me being uncritical, so be it. Some plays are meant to make you happy and on the evidence of this production, I don’t see why I should resist it.
The story touches on things I love: it’s a play about actors. And eventually a play within a play. In 150 years, few things have changed: actors are still gypsies, a little bit touched, envied, loved, disrespected, outrageous, generous and petty in the same breath and looking for a way out. Rose Trelawny is the brightest most talented star of her company but is giving theatre up for the love of a young man from an aristocratic family. Two worlds are set on a collision course.
(from left) Simona Bitmaté, Finbar Lynch and Leo Bill. Photo by Simon Kane
Within a few minutes of the performance starting, I had decided not to review The Silence of the Sea. I was feeling tired and the woman behind me was talking out loud and being thoroughly annoying. My concentration was not what it should be.
What changed my mind? Like the best productions, The Silence of the Sea defied place, time and practical considerations to keep me in rapt attention. Adapted from a book by Vercors, in a version by Anthony Weigh and directed by Simon Evans, the story, set in France during world war II German occupation, has the leanness of hard horrific times. Continue reading →
I love rehearsed readings. Perfect little pleasures especially if I am darting across London mid afternoon to catch one while everyone else is toiling away in offices. Last Wednesday (October 31st, Halloween no less), the Donmar Warehouse, in celebration of their current production of Berenice, held a special reading of Bajazet, another Racine play translated by Alan Hollinghurst. As it’s often the case with rehearsed readings, the cast was a theatre producer’s wet dream: Hayley Atwell as Roxanne, Alex Jennings as Acomat, James McAvoy as Bajazet, Ruth Negga as Atalide, Rosie Jones as Zatime, Georgina Rich as Zaire and Kurt Egyiawan as Osmin. Under the direction of Josie Rourke, the afternoon was a very special treat indeed. Continue reading →
Anne-Marie Duff (Berenice) and Stephen Campbell Moore (Titus). Photo Johan Persson
Berenice by Jean Racine, in this new production at the Donmar Warehouse, should have been a triumph: Anne-Marie Duff is an actor of rare emotional truth, director Josie Rourke is responsible for some of the most vibrant productions of the last few years and leading men Stephen Campbell Moore and Dominic Rowan are always a joy to watch. In the end, the production is a more tentative effort, some times uncertain, some times tender, which only finds its real power and focus in the last half hour of the play.
The major problem with the production is the design: breathtaking to look at (a wooden bridge overseeing sand dunes and wooden passages) it plays havoc with the performances: walking on sand is tricky, it’s hardly ever graceful and the actors often play emotional scenes off balance (not in a good way). The long wooden bridge takes time to navigate, choices are restricted and certain scenes lose momentum. Continue reading →
Director Jamie Lloyd launches his own production company in association with the Ambassador Theatre Group. The announcement of this new commercial theatre venture comes not long after Michael Grandage announced his West End season of five plays chock full of big names (Simon Russell Beale, Ben Whishaw, Judi Dench, Daniel Radcliffe). Although my wallet undoubtedly suffers when I have to pay West End prices, it’s healthy to have commercial theatre that feels exciting.
A couple of years ago, the Royal Shakespeare Company produced and toured Ben Power’s play A Tender Thing, a new way of looking at the story of Romeo and Juliet. I was sad to miss it then, but the play returns at the RSC this autumn, this time with two of my favourite actors, Richard McCabe and Kathryn Hunter. Not missing it this time.
Anne Marie Duff at the Donmar was already exciting news, but now the remaining cast for Jean Racine’s Berenice has been announced: Stephen Campbell Moore and Dominic Rowan will join her as husband and lover. In this “perfect tragedy of unfulfilled passion“, it’s a delicious combination.
Paul Reid (Gar in Public) and Rory Keenan (Gar in Private). Photo Johan Persson
First previews are difficult. Some times they are strange (you can even see the fear in the actors’ eyes). As I saw the Donmar production of Brian Friel’s “Philadelphia, Here I Come” on its first preview, these are some scribbled notes rather than a review. On the other hand, first preview or not, the production was coming together very nicely, poignant and funny, so I recommend it without reservations.
– The play effortlessly combines the personal and the social. On the surface, it’s entirely focused on personal decisions and stories (to the extent we see the internal life of one character). At the same time, social realities are all too evident: immigration, lack of opportunities, what it means to move away from loved ones in order to realise one’s potential. Ultimately, it focuses on one very common tragedy: people not knowing how to communicate their love for one another.
– Great performances all around, with a particularly impressive turn by Rory Keenan. He manages to be both an illusive and vital presence, often existing at the background, but at the same time changing the temperature of the scene by his mere presence. Continue reading →