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Review: Nick Paynes' Elegy, Donmar Warehouse

ElegyIf the choice was to slowly succumb to a debilitating and fatal disease such as Alzheimers or have your brain repaired but lose up to 15 years of your memories what would you do? If you were married to the person making that choice and your wife would unlikely remember you afterwards would you encourage them to have the operation?

At the beginning of the play we see the aftermath of that decision. Zoe Wanamaker's character has had the treatment and no longer recognises or remembers her wife (Barbara Flynn) and her doctor (Nina Sosanya) is trying to assist them both. Subsequent scenes, like snatches of memory, reveal what life was like before the operation and the lead up to the decision.

Set in the future Nick Payne imagines a set of new human conditions and dilemmas as the result of medical advances. The doctor represents the science side of the equation. She has problems explaining things without using medical terminology and also has problems with the emotional aspects of the procedure. The human dilemma, a loss of identity, a loss of a loved one mentally but not physically, the debate about whether it is the right answer to the medical condition comes through the story of the married women.

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Review: Welcome Home Captain Fox! at the Donmar Warehouse

19990_show_landscape_large_01-1During the interval of Welcome Home, Captain Fox! PolyG said to me 'I nearly didn't recognise Danny Webb' to which I replied 'Danny Webb is in this?' such is his transformation. Once you know it's him it becomes obvious but it's an interesting parallel to the plot of this updated adaptation Jean Anouilh's play La Voyageur San Bagage by Anthony Weigh.

Jean Anouilh's Le Voyageur Sans Bagage
Jean Anouilh's Le Voyageur Sans Bagage

The Captain Fox of the title refers to Rory Keenan's character Gene, a soldier who, has been languishing in an East Berlin prison for 15 years, since World War II, without any memory of who he is. Gene is the name he is given as one of his captures is a Eugene O'Neill fan.

Danny Webb's character DeWitt is a low grade businessman whose socially ambitious wife (Katherine Kingsley) discovers Gene in a military sanitarium and decides that if she can help reunite him with his long lost - and hopefully rich family - it will improve her social status. Top of the list of potential families are the wealthy Fox's who live in a large house by the sea on Long Island and that is where the couple find themselves with Gene.

Welcome Home, Captain Fox! is one of those plays that is actually a lot more interesting than the synopsis would initially suggest. It is not just a case of whether Gene is the missing, presumed dead son of the Fox's, it is also about whether they want him to be their son Jack. And, as Gene finds out more about Jack, whether he actually wants to be that person. It is a play about identity, self perception and whether you can erase the past and start over. That makes it sounds quite serious but it's actually quite funny and a production that will no doubt get funnier as the actors get slicker (I saw an early preview).

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Rehearsal photos: Donmar Warehouse's Welcome Home, Captain Fox! (with the lovely Rory Keenan)

Looking forward to this one, it's a comedy based on a 1930's French play but in this version the action is moved to cold war era America. A soldier, missing presumed dead, returns home but is he really Captain Fox?  Lots of sitting and leaning going on in the rehearsal pics...but doesn't Rory Keenan look cute? Cast also includes Michelle Asante, Barnaby Kay, Katherine Kingsley, Trevor Laird, Sian Thomas, Danny Webb, Fenella Woolgar and Daniel York.

Welcome Home, Captain Fox! previews at the Donmar from Feb 18 and the first tranche of £10 Barclays Front Row tickets go on sale on Monday at 10am.

Photos are by Manuel Harlan, click on the thumbnails for bigger versions.

 

  • Barnaby Kay (George Fox) in rehearsals for Welcome Home, Captain Fox! at the Donmar Photographer Manuel Harlan
  • Daniel York (Man in a White Coat and Uncle Job) in rehearsal for Welcome Home Captain Fox! at the Donmar Photographer Manuel Harlan
  • Danny Webb (Mr De Wit Dupont-Dufort) in rehearsal for Welcome Home, Captain Fox! at the Donmar Photographer Manuel Harlan
  • Fenella Woolgar (Valerie) in rehearsal for Welcome Home, Captain Fox! at the Donmar Photographer Manuel Harlan
  • Katherine Kingsley (Mrs Marcee Dupont-Dufort) in rehearsal for Welcome Home, Captain Fox! at the Donmar Photographer Manuel Harlan
  • Michelle Asante (Juliette) in rehearsals for Welcome Home, Captain Fox! at the Donmar Photographer Manuel Harlan (2)
  • Rory Keenan (Gene) in rehearsal for Welcome Home, Captain Fox! Photographer Manuel Harlan
  • Sian Thomas (Mrs Fox) in rehearsal for Welcome Home, Captain Fox! at the Donmar Photographer Manuel Harlan (2)
  • Trevor Laird (James) in rehearsal for Welcome Home, Captain Fox! at the Donmar Photographer Manuel Harlan
Trevor Laird (James) in rehearsal for Welcome Home, Captain Fox! at the Donmar Photographer Manuel Harlan

 


That was my year of theatre-going 2015: The StOlivier awards

89050759_9b7a9cb884_mThere are awards and then there are the StOliviers...

I'm only human award: This goes to Ben Whishaw who, during the Iliad live reading, mispronounced a name did a delightful giggle at his mistake before slipping straight back into character and carrying on. You can see the reading here (roughly 26 mins in for the giggle).

Best food fight: Cast of Rules for Living, National Theatre, who not only managed to mess up the stage but trod and smeared mashed potato into the carpet and on the drapes at all the exits from the Dorfman stage.

Scariest prop: For Carman Disruption at the Almeida I was sat on the front row not far from the life-sized, prone but visibly breathing bull. It was so realistic it freaked me a little bit. If it had moved its head or a leg you wouldn't have have seen me for dust.

Most accident prone production: Ah Wilderness! Young Vic. Props went flying and actors fell over, I wrote a post about it.

I didn't know you had that in you surprise performance award: Lots of surprises this year Tom Sturridge in American Buffalo, David Dawson in The Dazzled but the award goes Johnny Flynn in Hangmen for a performance that meant the first two words I said to Poly after the curtain call were 'Johnny Flynn' to which she replied 'I know'.

The bloody play of the year: The single stream of blood slowly rolling down the stage towards the audience at the end of  Macbeth, Young Vic, was great but the bloody highlight goes to the Almeida's Oresteia. Agamemnon is murdered and his spilled blood slowly seeps out in a growing pool from beneath his corpse.

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Review: Janet McTeer and Dominic West, the Machiavellian seductors in Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Donmar Warehouse

LesLiaisons_backgroundUPDATED

The many candles flickering in the chandeliers above the Donmar stage don't hide the faded grandeur of the set. The aristocracy in 18th century France, beautifully and opulently turned out and yet the walls of the salon in which they congregate are peeling and the art is packed away. Given the amoral nature of the protagonists, the Marquise de Merteuil (Janet McTeer) and Vicomte de Valmont (Dominic West), it feels like a physical embodiment of moral decline.

Christopher Hampton's play is based on Pierre Choderlos de Laclos' novel written in the years before the French Revolution and is set in the world of ex-lovers Merteuil and Valmont who use seduction as a weapon to humiliate and degrade others. They do it for revenge, they do it to challenge and amuse each other. They have no remorse.

Merteuil wants Vicomte to seduce young virgin Cecile (Morfydd Clark) in order to spoil her for her future husband who is an ex-lover of Merteuil's on whom she wants to take revenge.  Vicomte thinks the task to easy for his skills and instead sets his sights on married Madame de Tourvel (Elaine Cassidy) who is staying with his aunt and has a peerlessly virtuous reputation. Merteuil request written proof of his success with de Tourvel and in return she agrees to sleep with him again. When he realises that de Tourvel has been warned about his own, less than virtuous, reputation by Cecile's mother it is game on.

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Rehearsal photos: Dominic West, Janet McTeer, Elaine Cassidy and company in Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Donmar Warehouse

Is Les Liaisons Dangereuses going to be the highlight of the Donmar's most recent season? Not long to wait to find out.

Una Stubbs (Madame de Rosemonde), Dominic West (Le Vicomte de Valmont) and Edward Holcroft  (Le Chevalier Danceny) in rehearsals for Les Liaisons Dangereuses Photographer Johan Persson
Una Stubbs (Madame de Rosemonde), Dominic West (Le Vicomte de Valmont) and Edward Holcroft (Le Chevalier Danceny) Les Liaisons Dangereuses Photographer Johan Persson

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Review: Teddy Ferrara, Donmar Warehouse

Teddy-FerraraChristopher Shinn's American university campus play, Teddy Ferrara, is based on real events but that is a hook for a far more meatier and complex play.

Gabe (Luke Newberry) is in his final year and is chair of the LGBT student group, his best friend Tim (Nathan Wiley) is straight but his new boyfriend Drew (Oliver Johnston) doesn't believe it. And then there is Teddy (Ryan McParland), the softly spoken, strange, loner who spends rather a lot of time in online gay chat rooms.

When rumours start circulating that a popular student who committed suicide was closet gay the President of the university (Matthew Marsh) is persuaded he should do something to address prejudice and homophobia on campus.

Weaving threads of the politics of LGBT issues with social and emotional issues there is a lot going on beneath the surface of this play.

The president is out of his comfort zone when forced to confront LGBT issues to protect the reputation of the university. He's looking for a simple, one-size-fits-all solution.  Give him a spade and watch him dig himself into hole at a student-staff meeting, it is funny and cringe-worthy at the same time and a brilliant performance by Matthew Marsh.

Where the play gets really interesting is with the students. There are no simple, easy to understand characters here. Instead Shinn beautiful demonstrates the complexity of human relationships, the individuality, differences, the attitudes and needs.

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Review: Sinead Cusack and Michelle Fairley in Splendour, Donmar Warehouse

Splendour_background
The Donmar's stage has been transformed into an opulent sitting room complete with chandelier and grand windows looking out into the darkness - the no doubt equally opulent gardens beyond left to our imagination.

A circle of ornate flooring is fringed with broken glass and there is only one entrance and exit onto the stage. Splendour can be summarised right there: extravagance, privilege, claustrophobia, danger.

Sinead Cusack is Micheleine, the wife of a dictator in an unnamed country. Together with her best friend Genevieve (Michelle Fairley), a photo journalist Kathryn (Genevieve O'Reilly) and translator Gilma (Zawe Ashton) they are waiting for her husband to return, drinking chilli vodka and eating snacks to pass the time.

All is not well outside the room. Genevieve had to use the back road to get to the presidential palace because of unrest in the streets, the dictator can't be reached by phone and the maid has disappeared. But it is the women inside the room that the camera lense has firmly in its focus. Civil tensions are played out in the room. Gilda has tried to disguise her regional accent and is dating a soldier. Genevieve's artist husband drowned in a swimming pool in dubious circumstances and Micheleine is trying to maintain an air of composure, a sense of normality - is it denial in order to deal with her growing fear?

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Five thoughts I’m having about the Donmar Warehouse new season

  1. Most intrigued about the structure of Abi Morgan’s play Splendour. From reviews of previous productions, I get the distinct impression this isn’t a linear plot and I do like a play which messes about with time and character ciphers.

  2. I think Christopher Shinn's Teddy Ferrara might be the pants play of this year and the boy kissing play of this year (yes I've been perusing photos of past productions) which makes it a fitting birthday evening entertainment for @PolyG. I’m expecting My Night With Reg but perhaps with fewer laughs.

  3. Why have I never come across Christopher Shinn before? The more I read up on him and his work the more I want to see everything he’s written. (This is where TRP Watson comes in with a list of Shinn’s plays he’s seen and the amazing people that have been in them).

  4. Les Liaisons Dangereuse is already my least favourite play to spell and it seems to be the most popular with Donmar Friends scheme members, if the number of seats left was anything to go by* - or maybe everyone else just booked that one first before Splendour and Teddy Ferrara.

  5. If they opt for the full-on period costumes for Les Liaison Dangereuse (big, big dresses) how many of the female characters will they physically be able to get onto the Donmar’s bijou stage at the same time?

Booking is already open to Friends of the Donmar and public booking opens 16 June. Full season details are here.

* I was only looking at preview dates so there may well be plenty of seats left later in the run.


Review: Simon Russell Beale in Temple, Donmar Warehouse

TEMPLE_Donmar_1300X400

Simon Russell Beale is staring out a window. You can see St Paul's Cathedral looming large and hear the rhythmic beat of drums outside punctuated by the occasional roar of a crowd cheering and snatches of song. 

It is Autumn 2011 and Occupy London, having been prevented from protesting outside the stock exchange have instead set up camp outside St Paul's. The cathedral has be closed because of protest and is losing thousands of pounds a day in essential tourist revenue.

In Steve Water's new play at the Donmar he takes a fictional look at what was going on behind the scenes at St Paul's at this unprecedented time in the Cathedral's history - its doors had been kept open during the Blitz, floods and terrorist threats.

SRB is the Dean of the Cathedral and faced with a difficult decision. He is under pressure from the City of London to co-operate with an injunction to get the protestors evicted. He is under pressure from within the chapter of the Cathedral some of whom question what the church's role should be in such situation's: a church of the high finance or a church of the common man. And he is under pressure from the Bishop of London to make the right decision and minimise the damage to the Cathedral and church's reputation.

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