Monthly Archives: October 2017

Heisenberg (Wyndham’s)

Your enjoyment of this clever drama by Simon Stephens may depend on whether or not you find the idea of a 42 year old woman and a 75 year old man having an intimate relationship acceptable, and whether you find the performances of Anne-Marie Duff and Kenneth Cranham convincing.

The acting is top notch in this tale which utilises a simple set of tables, chairs and bed which rise and disappear from and into the floor as required.  We get to know Georgie and Alex from their first meeting at a train station, where she impulsively kisses him on the neck and then spins tall tales about her life.

This vibrant American woman has troubles and regrets in her life, and yet it feels OK that she feels herself drawn to the lonely, elderly butcher who loves tango dancing and who is haunted by the memories of both his dead sister and his lost love.

This is a moving piece by its close, even if the bedroom scene feels a little uncomfortable at first.  We understand this pair, thrown together by life, she bored by her mundane job, he lifted up by the whole string of musical genres he reels off when asked about his taste.

The plot may stretch credulity a bit, but the companionable chemistry between the leads keeps this short two-hander constantly interesting.

It is currently set to run until January 2018, and there is good availability at most prices.

 


Wings (Young Vic)

Juliet Stevenson plays Emily Stilson, a former wing-walker who has had a stroke and is trapped in a mind which stops her making associations and causes her to speak a babble which makes perfect sense to her but not anyone else around her.

Over a two-year period, this 80 minute play follows Mrs Stilson (we never see her husband, but see her son, briefly) as she starts to make more sense and to make more than transient contact with the world around her.

One moving platform, some see-through curtains, a minimal use of projections, and stellar light work which projects Stevenson’s shadow as she flies, means that the one flashy conceit – our wing-walker spends the vast majority of the play airbourne in a harness doing a staggering range of acrobatic moves that must be as tiring as remembering the complex script – the play has to offer takes most of the attention.

An uplifting play of hope, memory, and language, this is its first revival in the UK for thirty years.  It is a moving and clever play which may not be everyone’s idea of a fun night out, but which I recommend you make time to see.  


Girl From The North Country (Old Vic)

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This play by Conor McPherson, with music and lyrics by Bob Dylan, is emphatically not a musical, nor it is a jukebox selection of greatest hits.  Instead, it is a play set in the era of the Depression, with many storylines intertwining, some succeeding and taking flight, some so ephemeral they disappear into thin air.

Into this play are inserted a number of Dylan songs written between 1963 and 2012, which the characters perform to the audience rather than to each other, giving the production a dream quality and the songs a route into the minds and thoughts of the characters who cannot admit them to themselves or each other.

Nick Laine (Ciarán Hinds) runs a boarding house, which he rents while he fast runs out of money, and he lives there with his wife, Elizabeth (Shirley Henderson), who has dementia and a lack of inhibition, and who told him, shortly before her mind was broken, that she didn’t love him.

He seeks solace with a young widow, Mrs Neilsen (Debbie Kurrup), who waits for a legacy from her marriage that might never come, and shares the confined space of his decaying abode with feckless son Gene (Sam Reid), and adopted black daughter, Marianne (Sheila Atim), who is mysteriously with child and set to be married off to a local elderly and lonely tradesman, Mr Perry (Jim Norton).

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There’s an ‘Our Town’ type narrator, the local doctor (Ron Cook), a bickering couple (Stanley Townsend and Bronagh Gallagher) with a son with learning difficulties (Jack Shalloo), and a couple of drifters: one a Bible bashing blackmailer, Rev Marlowe (Michael Schaeffer), and the other a pugilist with aggression in his soul, Joe Scott (Arinze Kene), who take up residence with the Laines.

Hinds doesn’t sing.  He’s the only cast member who doesn’t even join in the group numbers, and this seems deliberate to emphasise his isolation from the rest of the characters (either that, or he really can’t hold a tune!).  His Nick should draw more sympathy than he does; I found his vocal delivery sometimes veered towards the shouty, and that’s a shame when I have seen him do far more nuanced work in other plays and on television.

Bronagh Gallagher, who I remember playing Minnie in a TV production of Shadow of a Gunman many years ago, is absolutely terrific as the ignored wife and devastated mother.  She’s a dab hand on the drums too.  Shirley Henderson, too, is totally convincing as the lost spirit, and the soaring, shining spark which comes alive in song (notably Like a Rolling Stone and Forever Young).

I remain unconvinced by some of the plot points, such as why Gene would react in such a racist way to Joe when he has grown up with a black girl as his sister; in fact I felt the story might be taking a much more sinister turn than it eventually did.  Also I did not really feel engaged with his lost love story with Kate Draper (Claudia Jolly), although their duet of I Want You was delicious.

Norton gives yet another superb performance as Mr Perry, who remembers ‘a warm light and a smile’ from his married days, and who seems to have genuine concern and affection for Marianne.  His character is poignant, but he also seems to enjoy singing and dancing in those ensemble numbers.

Cook’s character is more problematic; he is good, but seems superfluous, and I really thought his closing monologue was not needed.  I would have much preferred a fade to black after Elizabeth’s final line.  There’s one standout musical number and performance, but to reveal what and who would spoil a major plot point, so I will leave you to see and enjoy it.

The use of Dylan songs is clever, and it shows that complete artistic control was seded to McPherson and his team: I felt that Slow Train and Hurricane were particular high points.  In a simple set, with instruments of the period, you could summarise this production as being performed by a hard-working cast, but with too many loose threads, with some excellent nuggets here and there (two marriages showing their cracks, people pretending to be what they are not, people being accused of things they didn’t do), and an excellent use of light, shadow and space in the musical numbers.

Girl From The North Country ran at the Old Vic until the 7th October 2017.  A cast recording of the musical numbers has been released on CD and for streaming on Spotify.

The West End transfer of the show, with most original cast members, will run from the 29th December 2017 to the 24th March 2018 at the Noel Coward Theatre.  More information is available at Seatplan.


The Piano, 1993 – ★★★★★ (contains spoilers)

This review may contain spoilers.

My first viewing of this film since about 2010, and it still warms my heart with its sensuality, silence, and sexual intrigue.

Holly Hunter plays the mute Ada, who communicates with her daughter (Anna Paquin) in sign language; they’re shipped out from Scotland to New Zealand as Ada has been all but sold, sight unseen, to Alisdair Stewart (Sam Neill), a man who is straight-laced and repressed.

Ada has one love in her life, a full-sized piano which has travelled with her on the ‘stinking tub’ which has churned her across the ocean. White as porcelain, Ada’s dark expressive eyes and small stature looks swamped and lost in the wilds and the sea.

We first meet George Baines here (Harvey Keitel), an Englishman who has turned native and who displays, early, the empathy that Stewart lacks – the husband sees only a ‘stunted’ woman, but Baines recognises her as ‘tired’ and so he finds a connection to her from the first.

Jane Campion’s direction and Michael Nyman’s beautiful music lift this lush and unusual romance, in which there is barbarity, nudity, and sheer eroticism. It was my introduction to Keitel’s work and it is probably the highest point of his career, giving a complex (and on the surface, unsavoury) character a heart and fire that, slowly, surely, opens up Ada’s reserve and breathes life back into her broken soul.

Paquin, aged just ten years old, was fantastic as Flora, her mother’s voice and a constant watcher and interpreter of life around her. Quite rightly, she took the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, while Hunter won the Best Actress Award, the film won Best Picture, and Campion won Best Screenplay (but sadly not Director, no woman would win that for a further sixteen years).

There’s a lovely and hot scene in the film where Baines and Ada make love while Stewart watches through a gap in the wall; as he has no intimacy with his wife (and indeed, recoils from it when she instigates, with curiosity, a sensual touch) he is jealous and angry, but it was the piano which led Ada to Baines, through a business arrangement which turned to love rather than making her ‘a whore’ and him ‘wretched’.

The ending, for me, still feels wrong, and I would have been happy with Campion’s original idea of letting Ada go to the bottom of the ocean with her beloved piano, rather than starting a new life with Baines. But either version works just as well.

A masterpiece of eroticism, this remains Campion’s best feature, and it is beautifully detailed; there is a core tension which is heightened by the silence, by the music which is Ada’s song into the world (if we believe Flora, she had been an opera singer before trauma and widowhood), and ultimately there is a joy in the way Stewart’s misunderstanding and meddling gives his wife her chance of happiness.

Vía Letterboxd – loureviews


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