“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

“I could have been a contender”: the year’s theatrical achievements the Oliviers overlooked

Hattie Morahan and Pip Carter in The Dark Earth and the Light Sky. Photo Alastair Muir

Hattie Morahan and Pip Carter in The Dark Earth and the Light Sky. Photo Alastair Muir

Awards, especially the announcement of the nominees, follow a familiar pattern: anticipation and excitement followed by incredulity. It’s a well known fact that, despite being irresistible and so much fun, awards always get it wrong. Having said that, this year’s Olivier nominations got almost everything right: there is little I would object to, at least not with any conviction. Tomorrow’s award ceremony would be unique in that respect, I can route for almost everybody.

But inevitably, with the quality of London theatre, many productions missed out. Following the rule of the Kermodes (no one nominated for an Olivier is eligible), here are my awards for the past theatrical year. With an additional category or two. Because they are my awards and I can do what I like.

Best Actor: Pip Carter is an actor of minimalistic explosiveness, often doing very little and usually stealing every scene he is in. Taking the lead in Nick Dear’s The Dark Earth and The Light Sky, he brought poet Ed Thomas to life in a performance of reticent vivid pulsating desperation. He made it look easy, too easy in fact, hence the absence of award recognition. Runner Up: I had to think long and hard about this one and John Heffernan missed by a whisker: three plays (She Stoops to Conquer, Love and Information and The Physicists), an impressive range and a light touch that brings depth and humanity to all his roles mark him out as an exceptional talent. Edward II at the National next. After that, the sky is the limit. Continue reading

Review: The Dark Earth and the Light Sky, by Nick Dear, at the Almeida

Pip Carter as Edward Thomas. Photo Nobby Clark

In the end it was the smell that did it. I admit it, it’s an unusual thing to praise a stage production for but it’s the first thing you notice entering the Almeida auditorium: the smell of damp earth. And for someone like me, who worries that poetic might be just another word for vague and anaemic, it was the perfect calling card. The Dark Earth and the Light Sky, written by Nick Dear and directed with extreme assurance by Richard Eyre, might be about words and art and poetry but it’s the smells and sounds that take centre stage.

The second thing that makes an impression is the space: the whole of the Almeida stage is open and uncluttered save for some balls of hay and the dark damp earth. All scenes, in people’s living rooms or the streets of London, take place upon dark soil. A few weeks back, I complained that the sand on the Donmar stage made Berenice look uncertain. Here the effect is exactly the opposite: everything is grounded, even Edward Thomas’ ghosts or flights of fancy.

The production is blessed with cracking performances: Continue reading