Review: Assassins by Stephen Sondheim (with book by John Weidman), at the Menier Chocolate Factory

Andy Nyman as Charles Guiteau, Catherine Tate as Sarah Jane Moore. Photo Nobby Clark

Andy Nyman as Charles Guiteau, Catherine Tate as Sarah Jane Moore. Photo Nobby Clark

Assassins at the Menier Chocolate Factory surprised me. It surprised me in ways and areas I didn’t think it would, and that makes for a fairly big surprise. As it’s Sondheim, the scent of the unexpected is part of the deal: let’s take the people who assassinated – or attempted to assassinate – presidents of the United States, and make a musical about them, and it will have an episodic structure, and the stories will jump forward and backward and blend and come apart, and it will make perfect sense and it will be amazing. So far, so good and so true.

The thing that surprised me the most in the production directed by Jamie Lloyd is how political it was. Did it play like that 12 years ago at the Donmar? (correction: it’s 22 years as the Donmar production was 1992! where does time go?). The story is about misfits, people left behind and isolated, people who try to find their way back and instead find a back alley to hell. If, twelve years ago, this was empathy for people we probably never meet, today it feels closer to home. The betrayals are personal and the context social. Towards the end, Stewart Clarke’s Giuseppe speaks italian, and David Roberts’ Czolgosz is obviously and primarily a poor polish worker looking for a better life. It’s hard not to think of immigration dreams – american or otherwise – imploding.

The structure of the piece works as if time has collapsed and the stories start to link again by free association. But the links are strong and get stronger, and they function like a noose, smaller and tighter. Continue reading

“Such stuff as dreams are made on”: John Heffernan as Hamlet

John Heffernan - with a crown - in Edward II. Photo Johan Persson

John Heffernan – with a crown – in Edward II. Photo Johan Persson

I always had a soft spot for John Heffernan. Besides the obvious (talent to knock your socks off, to be anything at any time, anywhere), he is also someone I caught from the start. In thirty years, when he is revered as a theatre great, I will be discreetly smug, having noticed early on (and having missed nothing ever since). When earlier in the week Jamie Lloyd said he wants to direct John Heffernan in Hamlet, my reaction was one of undignified excitement – while recognising the inevitability of it all. Of course, he will play Hamlet. The only question is when, where and with whom.

To that end, I decided to give Jamie Lloyd a helping hand and cast the rest of the production:

Claudius: I always wanted Claudius to be young, considerably younger than Hamlet’s father and only a few years older than the prince. Uncle and nephew grew up together, playmates, confidants and best friends. But close to adulthood, they took separate paths and Claudius started to be resentful in the knowledge he ‘d never be king, even though he is temperamentally suited to it more than the young prince. My first thought was to cast Tom Hiddleston, but in the end I decided he is too young and Michael Fassbender should get the part.

Gertrude: Despite her position, the queen is unwilling to do what is expected of her and surrender all her desires. Tilda Swinton is the rebel in any role. Not to mention unfathomably sexy. (If we can’t have Tilda Swinton, we should get Cate Blanchett).

The Ghost: Paul Rhys – both tender and a little bit frightening – doesn’t look like he could be John Heffernan’s father, but Hamlet was never his father’s son. There is much love between them, but also distrust as they don’t understand each other. Continue reading

Review: Proof by David Auburn, at the Menier Chocolate Factory

Jamie Parker as Hal and Mariah Gale as Catherine. Photo: Alastair Muir

Jamie Parker as Hal and Mariah Gale as Catherine. Photo: Alastair Muir

Of all the popular beliefs about maths, the most striking  is that world class mathematicians do their best work by the age of 25. Is that true, or even perceived to be true, for any other field? Maths, the most cerebral  of sciences, requires high speeds, recklessness and energy that often cannibalises the mind and the physical world. Science for the adrenaline junkies.

David Auburn’s play Proof captures the ferocious energy and emotional turbulence of its subject matter. Three people, at different stages of their life, obsess with maths and feed off each others’ energy, ideas and emotions. The three ages of the mathematician, none of them complacent, all of them fascinating to watch. Continue reading