Review – The Man in the White Suit, Wyndham’s Theatre, 4th December 2019

78805364_413366169569965_2790514872973000704_nA few months ago I saw that this show was coming to Wyndham’s and I thought it might make a decent matinee treat for the Squire of Sidcup and me, as he’s a big fan of Stephen Mangan and I just like seeing plays. Then came the news that the show was closing early due to poor sales – and I realised that our timing was lucky, and that we just managed to squish ourselves in to see it, before it closes on Saturday.

Kara Tointon and Stephen ManganThe Man in the White Suit is based on the film of the same name, a 1951 Ealing Comedy starring Alec Guinness. According to Wikipedia, so it must be true, the British Film Institute named it the 58th greatest British film of all time. Naturally, I haven’t seen it. But I can absolutely imagine how this comic scifi tale, about an inventor who creates a fabric that neither stains nor wears out, could really have brought a sense of ludicrous hilarity to the post-war gloom. Of course, the final twist is that the fabric does deteriorate after all, and pretty rapidly too. This whole construct was not new; I remember seeing Leonard Rossiter in Feydeau’s The Purging, as part of The Frontiers of Farce at the Old Vic in 1976, where he played the manufacturer of unbreakable chamber pots. They broke – to hilarious consequences.

in the pubThe Man in the White Suit film appealed to the working-class/trade union themes of 1950s comedy, the I’m All Right Jack generation that poked fun at both the Trotskyite union leaders and the toff company owners alike. Today, we have a different range of political strife to contend with; but there’s still a great divide between the haves and the have nots. There’ll always be a difference between the Brendas of this world, all hard-working labour and protecting workers’ rights, and the Birnleys, who pompously proclaim their exploitative achievements by dint of inheritance.  And in the middle, there’s the little man whose talent pulls him out of the great working masses but never brings him to the height of management; exposing him in limbo with nowhere to go. Whilst I can see the relevance of TMITWS’s story to today, its attempts to accentuate the modern relevance feel rather clunky. Some of those knowing but oblique modern references might have been better left out, and let this tale stand simply as the period piece it is.

Stephen Mangan and Richard DurdenNevertheless, there’s a lot of fun to be had, and the cast take on their task with brightness and enthusiasm, concentrating on the horseplay and plentiful slapstick moments. Director Sean Foley, who has a knack of creating amazingly successful work and amazingly disastrous work with equal measure, once more brings his eye for physical comedy, humorous effects and general lovability to his own adaptation of the original script. Michael Taylor’s set is incredibly versatile, not only cunningly creating a pub or restaurant scene together with the research laboratories, factory and the Birnleys’ stately residence, it also reveals pop out extra spaces, folding out of walls; for example, the superb 1950s sports car scene, and Daphne’s bedroom are surprising and delightful as they unfold.

Stephen Mangan as a waiterCentral to all this ludicrous mayhem is Stephen Mangan, who cuts a lovably foolish figure as Sidney Stratton, the inventor who nearly always mucks things up. Whether it’s his explosive laboratory experiments, or spilling drinks down his (or anyone else’s) lap, he always stands up for decency in the face of exploitation, and also wants the quality of everyone’s lives to be improved by scientific development and progress. He’s hard-working on stage, bumbling from one physical disaster to another, striving to talk his way out of a series of mess-ups; and it’s a very funny performance.

Kara TointonKara Tointon plays Daphne Birnley with the plummiest of accents, most vividly reminding me of the cut glass tones of the young Mrs Thatcher, deliberately pinpointing both the posh and the patronising. Daphne’s a young woman who knows her own mind, and whilst Ms Tointon is feeding us a stereotype, she’s quite believable all the same. There’s also a fabulously funny performance from Richard Cordery as Birnley, all northern pomp and circumstance, blundering his way through the proceedings; the archetypal fat cat with an interest only in himself (and protecting the virtue of his daughter).

Sue JohnstonI’d been looking forward to seeing Sue Johnston on stage, as I’m a great admirer of her ability to perform understated comedy (The Royle Family) and intelligent drama (Waking the Dead), but her role as Stratton’s drudge landlady Mrs Watson is very uninspiring and she had precious little decent material to get her teeth into. Similarly, Richard Durden’s Sir John is a pantomime villain who steps in to ensure the mill-owners scoop off the highest amount of cash from any deal. I did enjoy the musical spots from Matthew Durkan as Jimmy Rigton, together with his band as played by Oliver Kaderbhai, Elliott Rennie and Katherine Toy, creating a suitable musical accompaniment to the plot. This doesn’t quite make it a musical as such, but just lends some period character, much as the skiffle group do in One Man Two Guvnors.

singersIt’s a fun show; but it is enormously silly. At the interval, I couldn’t decide whether it was awfully brilliant, or brilliantly awful – somewhere between the two, I guess, lies the truth. I doubt whether this production will see the light of day again, but don’t go away with the feeling that it’s an out and out failure – far from it. Above all, the feeling that you take away is that you’re watching a live action cartoon, featuring broad brush characters with stereotypical characteristics working hard for your laughter. There’s no slipping on a banana skin sequence but if there had been, it would have been wholly in keeping with everything else. I’m glad I saw it.

pub singalongP. S. A theatrical first for me, in that after curtain down the audience was required to participate in a planned evacuation practice. Relatively easy for us, as we were near the end of a row right by some doors leading out into the safety of the open air. Interesting to hear all the emergency alarms though, and to see the ushers and bar staff all manning the doors and directing people to safety. Good that they do it – I’m just surprised that this is the first time in over fifty years of theatregoing that I’ve experienced such a thing!

Production photos by Nobby Clark

Review – Don Juan in Soho, Wyndham’s Theatre, 6th May 2017

Wyndham's TheatreDon Juan gets everywhere, doesn’t he? He’s in the poetry of Byron, the music of Mozart, the drama of Shaw; he fascinated writers as varied as Alexander Pushkin, Albert Camus and Jane Austen. He first appeared in a play by Spanish dramatist Tirso de Molina in the early 1600s. Where would be without Wikipedia? However, it’s the hero (if that’s the right word) of Molière’s 1665 work Don Juan or The Feast with the Statue (catchy title) from whom Patrick Marber has created his modern-day re-working of the legendary libertine. Reading the synopsis of Molière’s original – I have to confess, gentle reader, I’m not entirely au fait with it – for the most part Mr Marber has done a really inventive job of bringing forward the events of 350 years ago into the present day, whilst respecting the original characters and plotline. So, if you, like me, thought all the stuff about a talking statue following them around Soho was nonsensical guff, you can blame Molière!

Don Juan in SohoPerhaps I’ve got a little ahead of myself. Let’s go back to the story. Don Juan (or DJ, as he is here) has just married virgin bride Elvira – up till now she’d devoted her life to nursing in places like Syria – and, having now deflowered her, has dropped her like the proverbial ton of bricks and instantly gone on to pastures new. Elvira’s rather righteous family are horrified – and Elvira is none too best pleased – but DJ looks on marriage as an occupational hazard and has no compunction about seeking out the next totty – indeed lining them up as he goes. He’s followed by his servant Stan. He’s a faithful servant, although he detests almost everything about his master’s lifestyle; yet he’s beguiled by it, and is always sniffing around in case any loose benefits might get thrown in his direction. They rarely do, but hope springs eternal. We observe DJ move from scene to scene, making fully planned assaults from woman to woman, some of whom need less encouragement than others. His total lack of morality never worries him – anyone who suffers as a result of his escapades is mere collateral damage. And does he get away with it? Well, Molière’s Don Juan gets his comeuppance by going to hell – that’s literally straight to hell, on stage, in fire, not passing go, not collecting £200. I can’t see why Marber’s version should get off scot-free.

DJIS1Whilst it’s a very good re-working of the original story, the production seems to have been lured into a stylistic fantasy that sometimes does more to confuse than to enlighten. Scenes start or end with the appearance of masked characters, like some form of Greek chorus; but there’s no chorus in Molière and there’s nothing Greek about Don Juan. Swirling hallucinatory patterns appear on the walls and the ceilings which I suppose might be linked with DJ’s and Stan’s drugtaking habits but they don’t reveal anything extra about the plot or characters. The minor characters join together occasionally to perform a bit of song and dance; and I sat there wondering, why? Just, why? To prove that they can sing and dance? They’re a West End cast, I would expect no less. It all seems part of some stylistic obfuscation that I think weakens the savagery of Don Juan and his wicked ways, and consequently softens the message of the play.

DJIS7I booked to see this show absolutely ages ago because I knew the presence of David Tennant would make it a Real Hot Ticket. And I was right! We’d only tried to see Mr Tennant once before, back in 2008 when he was leading the cast in the RSC’s Hamlet. However, our booking coincided with the time when he was off sick and the role was famously taken over by Laertes – Edward Bennett, who was brilliant. We’ve seen Mr Bennett a few times since then and he’s always a stunning performer – and the current winner of the Chrisparkle Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Play.

DJIS6So, I was very pleased to be able to see David Tennant act in the flesh for the first time, and it’s not hard to see why people love him so much. He doth bestride the stage like a Colossus, and really knows how to milk a moment for all its worth – his under the covers sex scene with Lottie is a case in point. He has an epiphanic moment resulting in his delivering a delightful diatribe when he inveighs against all the current political and societal ills of the world – it’s a fantastic speech and he really makes the most of it, and it’s well deserving its own appreciative round of applause. Lovely comic timing, and, I think, a very good understanding of what makes Don Juan tick.

DJIS5But there’s no question that the show is absolutely stolen by the brilliant performance by Adrian Scarborough as Stan. It helps that this is, in fact, a much more interesting role and it’s no surprise that this is the role originally played by Molière, who was a comic genius. What is the hold that DJ has over Stan? Why is he so enthralled to him? He freely admits he loathes and detests his behaviour. Yet there is that sneaking regard… everyone likes a bad boy, even the bad boy’s mates can’t help but respect what he can get up to, and deep down they’re jealous of his lifestyle. And of course, Stan is clinging on for the money – although you get the feeling that even without that, he’d still be there for him, making excuses and lies, hoping for titbits. Mr Scarborough adopts the perfect laconic character, moaning about him to the audience, looking about as unsexy as it’s possible to be as he stomps around in pinny, boxers and grey socks. He’s pathetic – but he’s exactly as pathetic as most the audience, so we really relate to him. Let’s face it, no one’s going to relate to DJ. It’s a beautifully bitter-sweet performance and the audience loves him.

DJIS4I very much enjoyed the performance of Gawn Grainger as DJ’s dad Louis, forty years since I saw him playing Osric to Albert Finney’s Hamlet – I think we’re all getting old. Splendidly bullying, pompously indignant, but actually with a heart of gold when DJ confesses his sins. Dominique Moore gives a funny and lively performance as the feisty, demanding Lottie who’s not going to put up with crap from anyone, and I thoroughly enjoyed the way she took control of her situation – full of spunk in more ways than one. However, I have to say that both Mrs Chrisparkle and I thought a couple of the roles – no name, no pack drill – were really rather weakly underperformed, lacking vocal authority or stage charisma, which made the scenes featuring those roles drag a little.

DJIS3Nevertheless, it’s an entertaining romp, even if some of it doesn’t quite work and some of it doesn’t quite make sense; you have Messrs Tennant and Scarborough as a highly entertaining double act and I’m sure they’ll continue to please the crowds until the limited season ends on 10th June.

DJIS2P. S. As a completely pointless interruption to Don Juan’s final moments on earth, the whole cast get up and dance to Kiki Dee’s I Got The Music In Me and it’s an absolute blast. I loved it. And as we leave the auditorium, we do so to the serene strains of George Harrison singing My Sweet Lord. I couldn’t help but sing in the stalls. And once we were out on the street. And on our way to a bar. One doesn’t hear that song anywhere near as often as one should. Both pieces of music are 100% irrelevant to the show but are amongst its most enjoyable moments. That probably doesn’t say much for the show as a whole.

Production photos by Helen Maybanks

Review – The Kite Runner, Wyndham’s Theatre, 11th February 2017

The Kite RunnerIt appears that I have been living under a rock for the past fourteen years because I confess, gentle reader, that I had never heard of The Kite Runner. You know, that famous book by Khaled Hosseini, published in 2003, that spent 101 weeks on The New York Times Best Seller list, that was adapted into the film of the same name that was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2007. That’s the one. Never heard of it.

the-kite-runner-3-ben-turner-and-andrei-costin-photo-robert-workmanMatthew Spangler’s dramatic adaptation of the book first saw light of day in 2009 at the San Jose Repertory Theatre, San Jose, California, but didn’t appear in the UK until it was picked up by the Nottingham Playhouse in 2013, and this West End run is basically the same production including many of the original cast members.

-kite-runner-nottinghham-playhouse-2013-image-robert-day_023d0b9211c81080a1a608b6bee371feIt’s the story of Amir, the son of a wealthy Afghan merchant, and his friendship with his father’ servant’s son Hassan, as boys growing up in an exclusive area of Kabul in the 1970s. Kite flying in Afghanistan (subsequently banned by the Taliban) was a popular and respected sport, and the boys would love nothing better than to spend the day in competitive fun; Amir was a great flyer, and Hassan excelled at Kite Running – knowing the precise spot where the kite would land so that he could bring it back to his master. It’s a similar relationship to that between a huntsman and his ghillie. It’s not enough simply to win the tournament, you also have to regain possession of your victorious kite. It’s like catching the boomerang again once it returns.

23306_show_landscape_large_04-kite-runnerAmir longs for recognition and love from Baba, his father, but he is a distant and strict man, who doesn’t have time for Amir’s woolly pursuits, like writing fiction, for Heaven’s sake. Amir knows the only way he will win Baba’s attention and affection will be if he wins the kite flying tournament. Hassan knows this too, and will do anything to secure the kite back for Amir; absolutely anything. But when Hassan’s unquestioning and unconditional loyalty to Amir takes him into physical danger, Amir fails to step in and prevent his friend from being harmed. And he’s going to regret that for many, many years to come. The story is full of surprises and twists and I’ve no wish to deprive you of experiencing the first-hand discovery of what happens next, so if you want to see how Amir and Hassan turn out, you’ll have to go see it for yourself.

the-kite-runner-2-ben-turner-centrephoto-robert-workman1-700x455It’s a play about loyalty and trust, love and devotion; racial and religious intolerance; the plight of refugees and the instinct for survival. It takes us from cosmopolitan Kabul in the 70s, through the 80s invasion by the USSR, the family’s resettlement in California a little later, to Peshawar in Pakistan in the mid 90s, back to war-torn Kabul under the Taliban rule before finally completing its story in California in the 21st century. At times the story takes on epic proportions, at others it’s very intimate and personal; and the unifying thread throughout the play is Amir, permanently onstage as the narrator of his own story, the focus of all the attention from child to adult.

kite-runner-panoramic-shot1-1024x397And it’s overwhelmingly emotional. At least, that’s what I felt. By the time it ended it had made me cry not once, not twice, but three times. Honestly, where was my self-respect? It’s quite uncomfortable sitting in the middle of the crowded stalls with your body going through those barely controllable convulsions you get when you really want to burst into hysterical tears but have to keep it hidden inside for the sake of decorum. Much to my surprise, Mrs Chrisparkle managed to avoid having to fight back the tears, leading her to suspect that this is more of a boys’ play than a girls’. She might be right; although the lady to her left was drowning in Kleenex barely 30 minutes in to the first act. It’s certainly a very male-centric play, if that word exists, with few female characters of any substance; but then again, that’s probably an accurate representation of Afghan society.

thekiterunner2017_02But it’s more than just a blubfest, it’s a riveting story, told beautifully, with crystal clarity and simplicity and with some immense performances that will stay with you long after curtain down. Barney George’s design pays maybe almost too much attention to those two large unfurling kites at the back of the stage. They act as a screen backdrop for swirling images and to hide backstage characters before and after they leave the stage – but, to be honest, I found them a little disruptive to the general flow of the story. Apart from that, I loved the use of the staging; the simple formality of Afghan lifestyle later to be overwhelmed by the garishness of the refugees’ arrival in California, which provides a much needed few minutes of hilarity. Hanif Khan makes a tremendous contribution to the show with his tabla playing; providing the equivalent of an overture before the play gets underway (which gets a huge round of applause) to providing constant incidental music throughout the show, never obtrusive but always atmospheric and enhancing the mood. Who knew that you could get such tuneful sounds out of drums?

thekiterunner2017_01At the heart of the play is the central performance of Amir by Ben Turner. I’ve not seen Mr Turner before but what a mesmerising portrayal he gives! The youthful Amir with a strong heart full of optimism; the older boy with his heart tainted by his selfish lack of care for his friend; the young adult tentatively getting to know the (apparently) only female Afghan in California; the wiser man lured back to Asia to see his father’s best friend and desperate for atonement for his sins; the family man trying to make the best of what remains in the post-Taliban era. Mr Turner makes you empathise with Amir both when he’s a kind, good man and when he’s more of an anti-hero. Even though the character makes some appalling errors of judgment, you still care about him. Technically brilliant throughout, with neither a foot out of place nor a vocal inflexion underplayed. Fully deserving of his instant standing ovation.

thekiterunner2017_04Andrei Costin’s Hassan is a study in devotion; like a puppy removed from its mother at too young an age, he simply worships the ground on which Amir treads, or he just wants to play. It’s a wonderful portrayal of someone who is too trusting, too self-effacing, but who almost gains strength and credibility by the extent to which he allows himself to be hurt. When Hassan is presented with those dreadful moments when the only way of supporting Amir is to sacrifice himself, Mr Costin shows us those angst-ridden flashes of pain and dismay as he accepts the inevitable, and your heart breaks for him. You’re in for some very emotional times. This is his West End debut – and boy, is it a good one.

thekiterunner2017_03Emilio Doorgasingh invests Baba with a forceful personality that dominates the young Amir but also lets you see his vulnerable side as his relationship with Ali and Hassan breaks down; Baba’s eventual slowdown once he reaches California is very moving to observe. Nicholas Khan is great as Baba’s friend Rahim Khan, showing Amir a warmer side to the traditional male role model, and again very moving when Amir returns to see him in Peshawar later in the play. I was very impressed with the physicality of Ezra Faroque Khan’s performances as Ali and Farid, the-kite-runner-2creating very believable and recognisable characters even before they have spoken a word, just through his movement. Antony Bunsee gives us a magnificently stern General Taheri; Lisa Zahra plays Soraya with charm and kindness; and Nicholas Karimi makes the best of his villainous opportunities as the cruel Assef, a vindictive, sadistic thug who hides his true nature with his hypocritical behaviour with Baba and Rahim. But it’s an all-round excellent ensemble who work together beautifully and there isn’t a weak link in the chain anywhere.

the-kite-runner-8-lisa-zahra-and-antony-bunsee-photo-robert-workmanMrs C said that some of the so-called surprises didn’t come as a surprise to her. Well, all I can say is that she must be psychic or something. As for me, I was simply hooked from the start to the finish, I took and accepted everything the story told me – I was putty in the production’s hands. It gave me an insight into lives I didn’t know about, and shows that those human emotions we all recognise in ourselves and our loved ones can also be found in those statistics of Islamist war victims. It’s on at Wyndham’s until 11th March and I’d highly recommend it.

Production photos by Robert Workman and Robert Day

Review – No Man’s Land, Wyndham’s Theatre, 22nd October 2016

No Man's LandI remember when No Man’s Land first hit the stage back in 1975. It was the first new Pinter to appear after I first started reading him and seeing his plays. We’d read The Caretaker at school. I’d seen The Collection and The Lover as an amateur production in 1973. I was impressed with Pinter’s gifts as a director over the years, enjoying his London productions of the Simon Gray plays Otherwise Engaged, The Rear Column, Close of Play and Quatermaine’s Terms. But it wasn’t until four years ago that I actually first saw a professional production of a Pinter play – Betrayal, at the Sheffield Crucible. There’s a lot of ground to make up.

Original No Man's LandThat’s one of the reasons I leapt at the chance to book to see No Man’s Land when it first came on sale many months ago. I always think of it in terms of Gielgud and Richardson (both of whom I was lucky to see in other productions) and it struck me that the casting of Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Patrick Stewart was about as darn perfect as it could get. So, given the fact that Sir Patrick was off sick (forbidden to take to the stage by his doctor) with a throat infection, I’m surprised how well the whole audience (ourselves included) took the news that the role of Hirst would be played by Mr Andrew Jarvis. No pressure on him, then. But sometimes having an understudy in the role can really spice up the entire performance of the play. It’s not going to go precisely the same way that it normally does, with all four regular members of the cast on board. There will be changes – everyone will have to think on their feet a bit more. There’s a seat-of-pants edge to it.

ian-mckellen-and-patrick-stewartBut first: how does the play stand the test of time forty years or so since it was written? Extremely well, in my opinion. Perhaps more than most Pinter plays, it’s not obvious what’s happening. Usually, I think the best way to take Pinter is at face value. Don’t try to read “a meaning” into what you see and hear – the meaning is no more, or less, than what is acted on the stage. Hirst lives near Hampstead Heath and he appears to have met Spooner whilst out walking. Spooner has come back to his place to join him for some drinks. They’re both arts aficionados, and seem to have a lot in common. Spooner is talkative, Hirst taciturn. patrick-stewartThey both drink vast quantities of whisky. Eventually (drunk? defeated?) Hirst crawls out of the room. Briggs and Foster, two younger men, come in and take part in an elaborate conversation with Spooner, involving hinted relationships and veiled threats. As the first act curtain falls, it looks as though Foster is going to make a move towards Spooner which might be one of physical or sexual violence; or maybe medical intervention.

ian-mckellenThe more I think about the play, the more I feel that Hirst and Spooner are imprisoned in some form of institution. Spooner insists to Hirst that he is a free man, which causes Hirst to reply: “it’s a long time since we had a free man in this house.” Spooner is locked in the room all night – doctor’s orders, says Briggs. Hirst threatens to dismiss Briggs, but he won’t leave, because he doesn’t have the authority. Briggs and Foster insist that Hirst goes on his morning walk. Hirst’s animated second act recollections of old days with Spooner, Emily, Bunty, Stella, Arabella and Rupert, whilst on the surface seem real and affectionate, are clearly the product of an unbalanced brain. To what extent Spooner simply goes along with it, or is equally befuddled, is a moot point. The text defines “no man’s land” as a place “which never moves, which never changes, which never grows older but which remains forever, icy and silent.” That could be a definition of Hirst’s house; it could be a definition of the workings of a failed, unwell mind. In any case, I don’t think the “take it as face value” approach works for this play. I’m sure it has a much greater hidden significance.

ian-mckellen-owen-teale-and-patrick-stewartThis riveting production is directed by Sean Mathias with a strong regard for the play’s sense of claustrophobia. On entering the auditorium you are met with a strangely disturbing, overly artificial, moving projection onto the front curtain of Hampstead Heath trees, flickering and glistening in the wind and the movement of the birds. This sets you up for a heightened expectation of uncomfortable detail, which Pinter’s words and Stephen Brimson Lewis’ set deliver in droves. The harsh light that invades the stage from who knows what outside the door pierces the calm darkness of Hirst’s room like a dagger. The tops of the trees shimmer unattainably above the stage, part aspirational, part mocking. Everything is nearly natural – but not quite.

no-mans-land-castSo what of Saturday’s matinee performance, with Andrew Jarvis in place of Patrick Stewart? We’d seen Mr Jarvis once before when he was Duncan in Sheffield’s Macbeth four years ago. He was excellent in that, but in No Man’s Land he truly shone. In those early conversations where you sense that Hirst is losing his way, he was dignified but uncertain, passionate but hollow, engaging in a fencing match with Spooner where the latter did all the work trying to find a way in and he merely had to occasionally parry riposte. When he’s fully lost, and trapped in the no man’s land of a memory of a photograph album, his emptiness is truly emotional. But when he feels like he’s in charge, he has something of the Act One Scene One Lear about him, bestowing grandiose beneficence; and he carries off that wonderful scene where it appears that he and Spooner are old friends with beautiful lightness and rhythm that was a joy to watch. As Sir Ian said at curtain call, although it was no doubt a disappointment not to see Sir Patrick, there was no need for an apology.

ian-mckellen-and-owen-tealeSir Ian, himself, gives one of his fascinatingly detailed performances where every muscle in his face moves with purpose. You always know precisely what it is that Spooner is thinking or feeling by simply watching the visual signs. He’s a wily character; happy to bludge a free drink, never letting go of his coat in case he has to scarper, always on the lookout to exercise his sense of moral or artistic superiority; reliant on his so-called friendship with the pub landlord in the same way that Blanche Dubois depends on the kindness of strangers. Sir Ian takes us on an epic journey of emotions where he tries to blend in with this apparently generous and extravagant household, in the end beseeching Hirst to let him be his secretary; the outsider desperate to be part of the in-crowd. It’s always a privilege to watch his performances; I love his attention to detail and his fantastic timing. In No Man’s Land you have the delight of seeing him take a champagne breakfast. I’ll say no more.

owen-teale-in-no-mans-landIt feels wrong to refer to Briggs and Foster as supporting roles because they’re completely vital to the plot and structure of the play – as well as dishing out the usual menace that we expect in the Pinter landscape. Owen Teale invests Briggs with all the necessary brute force just hovering at the back of the character somewhere; you always sense he’s just a gesture away from something downright evil. This makes it all the more delightful when his character starts to open up – like when he’s reminiscing, in that Pinteresque manner, of the difficulties in getting to and from Bolsover Street, the subtle implications that there may be more to his relationship with Foster than just colleagues, or when he just slips into the subservient role of breakfast and wine waiter; damian-molony-in-no-mans-landeven though the menace is still lurking just beneath the surface. Damien Molony (stunning in The Body of an American a couple of years ago) plays Foster as a trendy, cocky, self-centred man about town; someone who thinks and behaves like they’re more successful in life than they really are; the kind of character who’s recognisable in many a Pinter play. He delivers the end speech of Act One with a chilling sense of danger, and is always a tangibly disconcerting presence whenever on stage.

nomansland-castI thought this was a tremendous production that breathed superb life into the play forty years on. It was also a fantastic example of how, just because the star performer cannot go on, the show nevertheless must, and the understudy can pull off a superb performance. Yes, it’s true – this play is not for everyone; there were a few seats around us in the second act where people hadn’t returned after the interval. I guess if you don’t “get” Pinter’s vision of life, you could find it just too obscure to enjoy. Stick with it though, the second act is hugely rewarding and feels more accessible and understandable than the first act. This production is on until 17th December – and I think if you like your Pinter, you’re going to love this.

Production photographs by Johan Persson

Review – Clybourne Park, Wyndham’s Theatre, London, April 30th 2011

Clybourne Park1959 – the trials of selling a house; 2009 – the trials of buying the same house; and the social repercussions of both. Bruce Norris’ smartly clever play is a delight and I’m guessing it’s challenging fun for the cast. Each cast member has two roles, one set in 1959, one in 2009 and it’s as pacey as it can be with characters required to talk over each other, no shying away from difficult subjects, lots of laugh-out-loud moments and some uncomfortable buttock shifting.

“Clybourne Park” is a new relative to Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 play “A Raisin in the Sun” with which I regret I am not familiar, so I can’t comment. The two plays share a character (structural similarities with “Hamlet” and “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” are noted in the programme), that of Karl, who wants to keep the neighbourhood white in Hansberry’s Play, and who in Clybourne Park is friends to Bev and Russ who are selling up and moving out, and has similar concerns.

You may well have heard that Clybourne Park is a play about racism, and it certainly is! But while taking nothing away from the impact that definitely has, its multi-layered characters additionally pose other interesting and difficult questions of how people from different backgrounds behave with each other. Yes there is neighbourhood-based racism courtesy of Karl who is aghast to discover the identities of the people moving into Clybourne Park. But other levels of insensitivity include a deaf character who is the unwitting subject of prejudicial language; and there is even the crass condescension of Bev to her daily help Francine, hectoring her to take possession of a useless kitchen implement that she doesn’t want, is far too difficult to pack, and is too good to throw away. Then we move to 2009, and people are much more enlightened. Aren’t they?

The play is at times hysterically funny – that kind of humour which catches in your mouth as you guffaw as you realise the awfulness of what you’re laughing at. Sometimes you sense a general unease in the audience at the non-politically-correct nature of some of the lines, where the laughter slowly gathers momentum like a Mexican Wave as you realise it’s acceptable to vocalise your amusement. But you’re embarrassed too.

Stephen Campbell Moore It’s a very clever play because it’s easy to make assumptions as to who is being racist or insensitive about whom and why, but life is rarely that straightforward, which makes the humour even more cringey. There’s a key segment in the second act when Steve, played by Stephen Campbell Moore blunders his way into an ill-advised joke-telling session where there’s no turning back. It’s all beautifully performed, and the social balance at the beginning of the conversation is shattered by the end of it. It’s very easy to see oneself somewhere in that situation, whether as the joke teller, the audience, the offended or the horrified onlooker. But it’s much more than a series of racially-challenged comments; it’s a very well constructed play which will challenge everyone, comparing attitudes fifty years apart, and with a hark-back to 1959 at the end, tying up the loose ends and satisfying in its completeness.

Sophie Thompson There are no obviously starry roles in the play and the whole cast turn in great performances, but especially memorable is Sophie Thompson’s 1959 Bev, the height of middle-class respectability and charitable to a point; I felt that, 20 years on, transplanted to London and a few gins later, she could turn into Mike Leigh’s Beverly from Abigail’s Party. Lorna Brown Lorna Brown’s sophisticated 2009 Lena subtly manipulates the whole of the second act from her central position and it’s a stunning performance, particularly in contrast with the uncomfortable Francine of the first act. Lucian Msamati I also really liked the willing but rather hapless 1959 Albert played by Lucian Msamati, doing his best to do the right thing under trying circumstances.

I’m very pleased we got to see this play before it closes but I find it impossible to think that Clybourne Park is going to go away so soon. It was a pretty much full house and is surely ripe for a tour. It’s got a lot to say and it does it extremely well!