Tag Archive | "Ruth Wilson"

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Review: The El Train, Hoxton Hall

Posted on 17 December 2013 by Adam Foster

The El Train

Eugene O’Neill is one of the most celebrated playwrights of the twentieth century and the first American dramatist to win the Nobel Prize for literature. But while this trilogy of early one-act plays offers an almost anthropological insight into O’Neill’s recurring themes of disillusionment, alcoholism and despair, they lack the scope and complexity of his later works. As such, this is an endeavour undermined by that old adage of style over substance.

The former music hall at the heart of this Grade II*-listed building has remained largely untouched since it was built in 1863. The El Train sees Hoxton Hall transformed into a New York tenement block in the pre-prohibition era, with exposed brickwork and iron fire escapes nestled beneath the imposing structure of overhead ‘el’ tracks. Stepping off the streets of East London into this atmospheric old building, it is easy to fall immediately in love with this stylishly realised found space venture. The problem is the plays.

The El Train is comprised of three one-act plays: Before Breakfast, The Web and The Dreamy Kid, all set in 1910s New York and intertwined with originally conceived music from a live jazz band, led by vocalist Nicola Hughes. At the centre of it all though is the imperiously talented Ruth Wilson, who appears in the first two plays and makes her directorial début in the third. Having won an Olivier Award for her turn in O’Neill’s Anna Christie at the Donmar Warehouse last year, you sense that Wilson is rather fond of O’Neill. That fondness may well be justified in the case of his later work but here it feels curiously misplaced.

The first two plays are intensely dramatic to the point of almost intolerable melodrama, rarely seen outside of Albert Square. Before Breakfast is a monologue about a woman stuck in a loveless marriage to a failed poet. While Wilson commands the stage with consummate ease as Mrs Rowland, the play is weighed down by encumbering expositional detail.

The second play of the evening, The Web, sees Wilson play Rose, a troubled young mother desperate to escape the thick Manhattan air but unable to raise the money to take her child away with her. As she argues violently with her pimp (Zubin Varla), a neighbour, Tim (Simon Coombs), decides that enough is enough. It’s a densely plotted piece given its short running time and, despite a mesmerising central performance from Wilson, it ultimately feels overwrought.

Thankfully, there is a little more substance to the final play of the evening, The Dreamy Kid, which largely turns its back on melodrama in favour of something more intriguing. As Mammy Saunders (Nicola Hughes) lies on her death bed, her only wish is to see her grandson Dreamy (Simon Coombs), a young man drawn into gang violence and on the run from the law. O’Neill’s premise is more simple here and it allows the story to build to a desolately bleak conclusion.

Under the ‘el’ train tracks, you can’t help but feel that this is an evening designed as a vehicle for Wilson’s undoubted talent. Indeed she has assembled a strong cast, creative team and a fantastically atmospheric venue to boot. But unless you’re an O’Neill devotee, £45 seems a lot to fork out when the plays lack the sophistication of their surroundings.

The El Train is playing at Hoxton Hall until 30 December. For more information and tickets, see the El Train website.

Photo © Marc Brenner.

Adam Foster

Adam Foster

Adam graduated from the University of Exeter in 2012. He is currently enrolled on Royal Holloway’s MA Playwriting course run by the playwright and academic Dan Rebellato. He has previously trained as an actor at The BRIT School and is represented by Alchemy Active Management.

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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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