9 posts categorized "Broadway" Feed

A short review: Michelle Williams and Jeff Daniels in Blackbird, Belasco Theatre, New York

IMG_4550The detritus of several work lunches and an over flowing bin in an anonymous, functional break room. It is the perfect setting for the meeting of two people whose lives are full of emotional debris.

A young woman, Una (Michelle Williams) has come to confront Ray (Jeff Daniels) who raped her when she was a 12-years old. As the story of what happened between them is unravelled, feelings and hurt surface and the long term impact of those events are revealed. There is unfinished business between the two, questions to be answered.

The casting of this play is perfect. Michelle Williams' small frame and almost girlish dress teamed with stilettos works on several levels. A visual symbol, perhaps, of how part of her is frozen in time, part of her is still that 12-year old girl. And, given where the story goes, is it subconsciously calculated, a test of Ray's feelings? Jeff Daniels' bigger build contrasts so that its not that much of a stretch to see Una as a 12-year old girl. It makes the play all the more unnerving.

When Una recounts her version of events Williams' draws you in, takes you back in time. It's like you are reliving every moment and feeling with her. It is an utterly gripping performance and one during which you have to remember to breathe.

David Harrower's play delivers punches to the last. It is an intense and uncomfortable watch, it is daring and unflinching in its approach to this complex subject matter and it will haunt you.

Blackbird is one hour and 30 minutes without an interval and is on at the Belasco Theatre, New York until June 11.


Review: Ben Whishaw and Sophie Okonedo in The Crucible, Walter Kerr Theater, New York

IMG_4548It is a calculated irony that Ivo Van Hove has set his modern dress production of The Crucible in a school classroom. Arthur Miller's play about a Salem witch hunt was written to reflect the hysteria and suspicion surrounding communism in 1950s America. Today you can replace communism with any number of groups on whom a generalised suspicion and distrust falls. Nothing changes. You could chalk it up on the blackboard at the back of the stage but the lesson hasn't been learnt.

Ivo Van Hove's cast, a mixture of American, English and Irish actors mostly speaking with their native accents, plays into this idea of prejudice and suspicion of outsiders. Abigail, the spurned school girl and the first to plant the seed of suspicion that there are witches in Salem, is played by Irish/American actress Saoirse Ronan. She is an orphan taken in by another family and has a different accent to her school friends. There is a distinct sense of fighting to get attention, fighting to fit in and be accepted. 

Rev Samuel Parris (Jason Butler Harner) is also an outsider. He's a university graduate and has had to fight hard to gain the respect of the community to which he ministers. As he starts to gain acceptance he will do anything to protect that.

There is also petty squabbling amongst the farming community which adds further tinder to the fire. Disputes about land boundaries move from one courtroom to another when competition can be eliminated if the finger of witchcraft is pointed in the right direction.

Into this brittle environment steps John Proctor (Ben Whishaw), who lives slightly outside the community and doesn't attend church regularly. He and his wife Elizabeth (Sophie Okenedo) have English accents. It is his relationship with Abigail which seals his fate and sets the community onto the destructive path.

He's a flawed and tragic hero. He has seduced his young maid Abigail while his wife is sick and got caught. Elizabeth dismisses Abigail who is ostracised by the community. When caught dancing in the woods by Parris she explains it away as a witches influence, lighting the touchpaper. It gives Abigail the attention she craves and allows her to get her revenge on the Proctors.

John is contrite for his affair and has been trying to make amends. In casting Ben Whishaw Ivo Van Hove has gone against type. Proctor is normally played by actors of bigger stature and build, a physical, manly man - I saw Richard Armitage play him at the Old Vic a couple of years ago. By removing the overt manliness of Proctor you get a character who is no less passionate but certainly more of a sensitive, caring, thinker. You see it in the way he coaches Mary Warren (Tavi Gevinson) through her court evidence. There is a gentleness and genuine concern in the way he smooths her hair out of her face or holds her protectively or rubs her back when she is afraid. He treats her as a frightened child not just a means of putting an end to the injustice that has enveloped the town. It puts his affair with Abigail's in a different light and I'd love to know what they said about that in the rehearsal room.

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One for the Ben Whishaw fans: The Pride interviews and clips

Haven't come across this one before. It's Alexi Kaye Campbell, Ben Whishaw, Andrea Riseborough, Hugh Dancy and Adam James all talking about The Pride, what it's about and what it's like performing.

It's bringing back very fond memories of seeing the play and my trip to New York. And also making me wonder what Alexi is working on at the moment. (And when Mr W is going to get back onto the stage again, of course.)

 

 


Fab War Horse puppet vid and that ridiculous Oscar talk

  

Watching this just wants to make me want to go and see War Horse for a third time - how truly amazing are the puppeteers?

It reminds me of some of the silly stories that were circulating after the play did so well at the Tony's earlier this month about the film, which comes out in December, being an early contender to win an Oscar.

What are they judging the play on and what are they judging the film on? Yes it is a wonderful, moving and heart-warming story but it is the puppetry that really brings the magic and awe to the stage production - something they don't have in the film.

I'm not saying the film won't be good, brilliant in fact, after all it does have an amazing cast and is directed by Steven Spielberg but it does seem slightly ridiculous to compare the two mediums of story-telling.

I'll probably be eating my words come February next year when the film has cleaned up with gongs.


Rev Stan's theatre list 2010

Oh this has been tough, it's been a good year and a bumper year, 71 plays in all. Meagre compared to Ought To Be Clowns 291 and Glen Pearce's 141 but I do go to the cinema rather a lot too so I don't feel like a complete lightweight.

Anyway, I'm afraid I've knicked Mark Kermode's idea of having a 'nearly made it' list, the stuff that I loved but didn't quite make it into the top 10, call it highly commended if you like. I've also added some random categories at the end, if you get that far.

The nearly made it list:

Red at the Donmar gets a special mention not least for the priming the canvas scene. Then there was Private Lives with the gorgeous sexy spy no. 1 (Matthew MacFadyen) and the suprising talent that was Kim Cattrall. King Lear at the Donmar engrossed me in the play in a way the RSC's version I saw a couple of years ago failed to do. And a late entry, Bea at the Soho Theatre which was my last play of the year and great way to finish. Al Weaver is a rising star or certainly should be.

But here is the top ten (no particular order):

The Pride, Lucille Lortel Theatre, NY - What? Ben Whishaw, on stage, in New York? And that combo isn't going to earn it a place in my top ten? Play was brilliant too.

London Assurance, National Theatre - Larger than life characters played by stage royalty like Fiona Shaw, Simon Russell Beale & Richard Briers meant London Assurance was hard to beat for pure entertainment value.

The Man, Finborough - Pub theatre at its best, an innovative but simple concept very well executed. Just a shame I didn't get to see it more than once as each performance had a wonderful randomness and a rota of actors taking the lead. I saw the lovely Samuel Barnett.

All My Sons, Apollo Theatre - Fantastic production with breathtaking performances from Zoe Wanamaker and David Suchet. And they had a proper lawn on the stage.

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The best plays of the year so far

This year is turning out to be a bumper year for theatre. Not only have I thrown my net wider, taking in more fringe theatre as well as my usual favs of the NT, Donmar and Royal Court but I've already clocked up more than 40 plays - smashing last years total.

So I thought it would be a good opportunity to look back at what I've seen already and try and pick out what might be in my top five plays of the year. Then using the wonderful www.upthewestend.com I'll add in their aggregated review score, if it exists, to see how general opinion compares. Play links are to my own reviews.

It's been tricky narrowing it down as there has been some fab theatre already this year but these nine will definitely be contender for my top five at the end of the year (in order I saw them):

1. Red, Donmar Warehouse - Two-hander with Alfred Molina proving a real stage presence as artist Mark Rothko and Eddie Redmayne his able assistant. If nothing else this earns it's spot for the famous priming a canvas scene which just took my breath away (and that of the actors because of the effort involved). Painting on stage: love it.

2. The Pride, Lucille Lortel, NY - OK so this is always going to be up there because of a certain Ben Whishaw and it prompted my first trip to New York but it was also a really moving and clever play, interweaving two sets of characters in two time periods but with a common thread.

3. London Assurance, National Theatre - Fiona Shaw, Simon Russell Beale, characters with names like Lady Gay Spanker and posh people behaving stupidly in a 19th century set comedy - how could it fail?

UTWE rating: Hot with and editor rating of 4.1/5

4. Private Lives, Vaudeville Theatre - Kim Cattrall impressed in this Noel Coward comedy with great chemistry between her and fellow lead sexy spy no. 1 Matthew McFadyen. Bonus points for Kim Cattrall accidentally spitting a mouthful of half eaten roll into the lap of someone on the front row.

UTWE rating: Hot, 3.9/5

5. The Man, Finborough Theatre - My first outing to this tiny pub theatre in West London was a true stand out. Virtually a one-hander performed (at this particular show) by History Boy Samuel Barnett, its narrative was unique with every performance as the central character Ben randomly collects receipts from the audience recounting a piece of the story related to the receipt. Simple, superb and unique.

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Catherine Zeta Jones' Tony acceptance

I can't decide whether Catherine Zeta Jones was genuinely surprised and excited to win the Tony for best actress in a musical for A Little Night Music or whether she's just a great hammy actress. And on a separate note, that's the most Welsh I've heard her sound in many years. Perhaps she was putting it on because her parents were there?