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Tag Archive | "Paul Wills"

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Review: The Chair Plays

Posted on 26 April 2012 by Annabel Baldwin

Edward Bond is one of the most influential and insightful playwrights of our time. His work presents a distorted but tragic worldview, and while understanding that the relationship between the art and the artist is complex, Bond’s work makes you worry for his sanity, seeing the world in the way that he does. The Chair Plays are a trilogy of plays from Bond that have been written in the early years of the twenty-first century. Have I none and The Under Room, both first performed at mac in Birmingham, present dystopian worlds in 2077, where the characters are controlled by a repressive and aggressive government. These plays are certainly not light entertainment, rather an exploration of society’s downfalls and humanities function and significance in the face of “ecological disaster and economic chaos”.

In Have I none, family life seems to have been obliterated and cast out as a pitfall of society. The play opens with Sara, played by Naomi Frederick, sitting blankly in her chair, face out to the audience, void of character or happiness. Her hands are placed formally on the utilitarian table, she is listening intently for the knock of the door; in a world where human life is so subjugated, this appears to be routine. Jams, her partner, enters in a simple black uniform. There is clearly no room for eccentricity in 2077, reflected in the austere set designed by Paul Wills. Jams, played by Aidan Kelly, has energy in him that Sara seems to have lost. He rambles flippantly and insensitively about his day’s work, where his team followed an old woman who hobbles in the ruins of the streets holding onto a picture; he seems to laugh at the commonality of the crime. Kelly’s cheerful delivery of the lines made paradoxical comedy of the content, where the blood of the old woman caused a red streak in her grey hair. The sense of normality created by Jams was met by the anxiety of Sara and together they presented the tension in society where old meets new, bringing with it fear, a powerful and extremely human emotion. However, the arrival of Grit, played by Timothy O’ Hara, challenged the couple’s altruism. Grit embodied the last remaining drop of human decency. He claims to be Sara’s brother, and recalls moments of their childhood. O’ Hara’s performance was extremely touching; his mannerisms were so genteel that he instantaneously became a victim. Grit wore a trench coat, traveller’s hat and a back pack that he clung to. Similarly, the characters of Sara and Jams seemed emotionally connected to their own chair. The central argument between the two originates from the time Jams outrageously ‘leant’ on Sara’s chair. Bond magically exaggerates the escalating issue of materialism, and society’s dependence on meaningless possessions. Bond’s use of irony highlighted a lack of forgiveness, generosity and a world that was in a drought of love. The play left you feeling just as a Jacobean tragedy does; melancholic but with a small sense of hope. In this case however, downsize the hope that Fortinbras brings at the end of Hamlet, to if it was Russell Brand who had walked through the door. It ended tragically, and even then Jams occupies his thoughts with the effect that the tragedy will bring to his work. Sean Holmes made great work of great writing, and created theatrical tension and poignancy in equal measure.

The Under Room was equally surreal, and presented the audience with Bond’s apparent disgust with society and adoration of humanity. However, it also recognised that society can only be as good as those who run it. In this case, the presence of the army was forcefully felt. An illegal immigrant takes refuge in the cellar of Joan’s flat; a caring and initially level-headed character, played fervently by Tanya Moodie. Instead of having an actor to play the immigrant physically and vocally, the use of a dummy created the physical aspect, and the voice of the dummy was played by Felix Scott. His performance was horrifyingly accurate and for the first time since Blood Brothers, I was moved to tears. He describes how a soldier forced him to stab a parent as if he were listing off the shopping, but it is his petrified screams in the night and the re – enactment as he sleep walks that horrifies the audience and Joan alike. Tanya Moodie, as Joan, was also pitifully realistic. Her derailment as she absorbs every ounce of the immigrant’s life was vividly shown, and she embodied human vulnerability while the experiences of the dummy have made him hard: pain necessitates survival. Aspect of The Under Room clearly echoed the tragedies of the Jacobean Era. Specifically, Moodie’s depiction of Joan’s enraged murder of the dummy resonates with the spectacular and performance-like murders of Vindice in The Revenger’s Tragedy. Joan shrieks and tears at the tissue-filled dummy, ripping the material with a small pen knife. Moodie reminded me of something primitive, a predator in the wild, tearing at the flesh of its prey. The scene was ghastly and yet the fact that it was not guts but tissue paper bordered on the style of farce. The character of Jack, played by Nicholas Gleaves, manipulates and deceives Joan, his suave and laddish exterior combined with his position of power, made him detestable. Bond was overtly showing us the hypocritical stand point of our leads and societies true condition: bleak, violent and empty.

I find it hard not to question Bond’s motives for these plays and having seen Saved, at the Lyric last year, I also admire Bond’s perspective on such a range of issues. Along with members of Saved cast, Edward Bond was also there on the night. While it was a pleasure to be on the same table as possibly the greatest contemporary playwright, my fear that I would fall victim to his diminished worldview restrained me from approaching him. He is the Shakespeare of our time, and the actors and creative team involved with the production of The Chair Plays convinced me of this. I advise you to discover his work, but be warned: you’ll never look at society in the same way again.

The Chair Plays are playing at the Lyric Hammersmith until 5 May. For more information and tickets, see the Lyric Hammersmith website. Photography by Marc Brenner.

Annabel Baldwin

Annabel Baldwin

I am currently doing an acting degree at Arts Educational, after doing German, English and Drama at A – level. I have a particular interest in physical theatre and have trained with Rambert Youth Dance Contemporary Company since last September. I spend the rest of my time reading philosophy and frequenting the London Theatres as much as possible.

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Review: Anna Christie

Posted on 11 August 2011 by Jack Thomas

Eugene O’Neill’s Anna Christie is the story of a girl with a past. After reconciling with her old sailor father after 15 years, she falls in love with a man who is plucked from a wreck. Played out against the power that is “dat ole devil sea”, what a storm unfolds before you in the intimate space of the Donmar Warehouse.

The design, by Paul Wills, is changed from scene to scene by a small group of shanty-singing sailors. They create a dive of a bar before completely transforming the stage into a boat at sea as the floor tilts up on a huge angle, water cascades from the sky, swirling fog engulfs the theatre and bodies are pulled up. The sense of power and intensity in this beautiful scene alone is a lot to take in as the sound scape puts you dead centre of a ferocious storm, only to be settled upon the realisation that the last remaining body is that of Jude Law.

With a design that creates such an impact, I am pleased to say that the acting continues to grip you, with blinding performances by Law, Ruth Wilson and David Hayman. After seeing Wilson in A Streetcar Named Desire she makes a welcome return in the title role here. Her character presents herself as a strong confident woman, but, as much as she tries to hide her past, her breakdown is hard to watch – particularly when Mat Burke (Law) discovers his devotion to her is tarnished by her past. Credit to Law that, despite a wavering Irish accent, he deals with a character who shows all extremes of a personality in a small space of time. Hayman, as Chris, also goes through a journey of extremes; from being a drunk, a protector and a proud father, to being guilty of leaving his little girl to a life on water.

The trio drive a story that is perhaps a little thin, but keeps you watching as the relationships change rapidly from scene to scene. A good production that is heightened by being in such an intimate venue. Sadly, as I often find with The Donmar, tickets can be very hard to find because it is a smaller venue and an army of faithful investors snap up tickets in minutes. However I would urge all AYT readers to sign up for its Donmar Discovery Scheme for a chance of getting hold of tickets for this production.

Anna Christie is playing at the Donmar Warehouse until 8th October. More information can be found on the Donmar Warehouse website.

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Review: Dr Faustus

Posted on 04 July 2011 by Eleanor Turney

It may be more spectacle than substance, but this production of Doctor Faustus is so jolly that one can’t help but be carried along on the tide of flashes and bangs. While some of the subtleties and delicacy of Marlowe’s language get lost in director Matthew Dunster’s eagerness to rattle along to the next magic trick, these are done with such flair and joie de vivre that it’s easy to forgive this production’s weaker points.

Arthus Darvill is a jauntily-dressed, pointily-bearded Mephistopheles, who reeks malevolence and is clearly enjoying toying with Paul Hilton’s tormented Faustus. However, with both, there is a sense of holding back: Darvill throws away one of  Mephistopheles’ greatest lines (“why, this is hell, nor am I out of it”), almost muttering it to a cowering Faustus, and Hilton doesn’t always cut to the heart of Faustus’s inner turmoil – both could do with more emotional heft.

Although there were many things to enjoy in the production, that’s what’s stuck with me: it was a bit lightweight. For a play that examines the depths of human desires, that ponders intense philosophical questions, that deals with life and death, salvation and damnation, I can’t help but feel that Dunster has sacrificed depth for exuberant colour and clowning. It was much funnier than I was expecting, and while this is fine, it needed some darker moments to contrast.

However, the lighter moments are excellently done. The comedy trio of Robin, Dick and the horse courser are all excellent, playing up to the audience, milking every bawdy joke (and adding some in for good measure) and generally playing for laughs. The threat of hell for those who meddle in magic and necromancy is real enough, and Mephistopheles’s casual cruelty to those foolish enough to try briefly brings a much-needed sense of peril to the proceedings.

The props and puppets (designed by Paul Wills) are gorgeous – especially a rather wonderful pair of dragons. The costumes, too, are sumptuous, and Wills has let his imagination run riot for the devils and angels’ costumes with great effect. The music (composed by Jules Maxwell) is entertaining and mostly spot-on, although again I feel that Dunster relies rather too heavily on thunderous drum-rolls to create tension. He could do with coaxing his cast to produce more of the tension themselves.

The production overall is snazzy, slapstick and, well, sexy, but doesn’t always hit the mark in the darker scenes. Faustus’s soul-searching never comes to much, and despite Darvill embodying Mephistopheles with a louche swaggering menace, it is hard to believe that Faustus is really in mortal peril until the very end when he is dragged kicking and screaming to hell. For a show that is lacking in depth and has over-invested in spectacle, it is, at least, spectacular to look at.

Dr Faustus is playing at the Globe Theatre until 2nd October. For more information and to book tickets, see the website here.

Eleanor Turney

Eleanor Turney

Eleanor Turney is the Managing Editor of A Younger Theatre, as well as a freelance journalist, writer and editor. She has written for The Guardian, The Stage, The FT and Ideas Tap, and worked for the Poetry Society and the British Council.

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Review: Blasted

Posted on 31 October 2010 by Jake Orr


Having read Sarah Kane’s Blasted when I was a teenager and finding myself gripped by the literal explosion of dialogue and action you could considering it a crime that until this week I had never seen a performance of it. However Kane’s work is no easy beast to tame for the stage, and with few revivals in large theatres and many ameature led versions passing by with little notice, it is great to have the Lyric Hammersmith tackle what is considered the modern classic of our time. Sarah Kane’s Blasted directed by the Lyric’s Artistic Director, Sean Holmes in one of the biggest revivals of Kane’s work in recent years – along with my own anticipation to see the show, a lot was riding on a good outcome. Thankfully I was not disappointed.

I had always imagined that Blasted would be a brutal play to stage, what with masturbation, rape, cannibalism and a bomb explosion that tears the set apart to contend with. Yet Holmes manages to produce a rather subtle, silently shocking and provacative – even funny Blasted – not what I could ever envisaged on my reading of the play. It works. Kane’s text is explored tentatively by Holmes so that the real explosive outbursts and horror that Kane intended creep up on you and leave you somewhat winded afterward.

It’s not often I leave a performance and not give a moments thought to the actors and their acting, yet little can be said for the cast – not because they are in any manner poor, but rather perfectly cast. Lydia Wilson as Cate, the young girl whose apparent innocence in her youth is a delight to watch. Wilson’s hysterical laughter that echos from her tiny frame of a body is pitched just at the right moments that give her an edge of instability as Cate.

Danny Webb as the alcoholic and somewhat perverted Ian dominates the first half of Blasted, yet his crippling pleas of help and need for human contact later in the play touches a tender desperation. You don’t feel sorry or emotionally connected to Ian, nor do you take pleasure in his torment – you observe from afar, distanced and muted. The arrival of Aidan Kelly as the Solider begins the descent of Blasted into the non-linear and explosive reckoning it is known for. Kelly is brutal in his deliverance as the Solider punishing Ian as a character. His war-tales of fucking men and killing innocent civilians cuts through the auditoriums silence. Kelly is a chilling and cold-hearted Solider, but one that Kane would have been proud of.

As a whole, Holmes’ Blasted is delivered with a chilling edge. The silence of the production seems to become a whole new character that puts the most amount of weight and tension upon it’s audience. Even during the brutal rape of Ian by the Solider the silence aside from the creaking of the bed echoed from the stage. There are long pauses that carry a Pintersque feel to them – speaking volumes in the silence. Ultimately Holmes touches on the tender actions and motivations of the characters, but seeing Webb in the closing moments of the show lit by a stark beam of light as he masturbates, shits, eats a baby, and crawls into bowels of the staging is breathtaking. Blasted shows the breakdown of character and power, leaving Ian’s closing ‘Thank You’ desolate and painful to hear.

The team of creatives behind Blasted could not have done a better job to give the explosive tearing open of narrative from luxury hotel room to an abyss of war-torn darkness. Paul Wills design is at once intimate in the hotel setting, to a breathtaking void of the aftermath of an explosion. With steel girders extending the full height of the Lyric’s stage, and resembling religious crosses hanging in the dark, it sets the second half of Blasted in a void punctuated by the action and dialogue that follows. Paule Constable’s lighting adds to the flawless design – with an open pool of stark light somewhere in the heavens of the theatre the action beneath it is chilling.

Blasted could have gone in many different directions for me. I was worried that my associations with Kane’s work and her history – her ‘tragic death – that is too often referred too would cloud the production for me. What I wasn’t expecting was a real subtlety to the text and action that actually brought about a more devastating impact for me. Blasted is a classic, and the Lyric have done well to give it the attention and space it justly deserves.

My advice: Go, see it, witness it, and enter a dark side of the human psyche that you should be grateful you don’t get to explore often.

Blasted is playing at the Lyric Hammersmith theatre until 20th November. Book tickets via the Lyrics website here.

Jake Orr

Jake Orr

Jake is the Artistic Director and Founder of A Younger Theatre. He is a freelance writer and blogger, a theatre marketer and a digital producer. He is also Co-Curator of Dialogue.

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