Tag Archives: wyndhams theatre

Red (Wyndham’s Theatre)

A revival of John Logan’s play about the artist Mark Rothko (1903-1970), this play brings back its star, Alfred Molina, and director Michael Grandage, for its West End debut, following a 2009 run at the Donmar Warehouse, and later on Broadway.

Alongside Molina’s bald, brash and bullish Rothko, Alfred Enoch plays Ken – a young artist who assists Rothko in the creation of his sequence of abstract canvases of reds, blacks, and browns, destined for the walls of a high-class restaurant for the nouveau riche.

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We first meet both men in the claustrophobic studio, lit by low lighting and dominated by the huge and bloated canvasses, cavernous blood reds (or variants on red, enumerated in one amusing back and forth exchange) and harsh blocked shapes.  Rothko is self-absorbed, uncompromising, creative, with each painting a child with its umbilical cord ripped from the heart.

As this short piece – just 90 minutes – progresses we see the men achieve an unspoken understanding about art, which culminates with Ken, enthusing about the pop art revolution of Warhol and Lichtenstein, just as Rothko and his contemporaries shook up the establishment in their day, emerging from the chrysalis as a fully formed butterfly, ready to go it alone with his own work (which we never see).

There are moments of pathos in this play, which reminded me at times of the closing moments of Yasmina Reza’s clever three-hander, Art.  Molina displays both the passion of the veteran painter – in the vibrant and almost balletic sequence where he and Enoch prime an entire canvas in maroon tones, leaving them exhausted, paint-speckled, and fully engaged with the joy of creation – and the tragedy of a painter finding himself almost out of time, reduced to ‘selling out’ for the masses.

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This play is a treat, which made me start to read around about the abstract painters and their descendants.  Both leading roles are judged perfectly, and a nod needs to be made to Christopher Oram’s richly dressed sets, Neil Austin’s lighting design, and Adam Cork’s sound design, which mixes gramophone records of opera, classical and jazz.

Red continues at the Wyndham’s until the 28th July 2018.

 


Long Day’s Journey into Night (Wyndham’s)

Eugene O’Neill’s semi-autobiographical play comes to the West End in another lengthy production, this time starring Jeremy Irons as ageing actor James Tyrone, and Lesley Manville as his morphine-addicted wife, Mary.

A claustrophobic set lined with books and lights moves the plot forward as first, we see Mary Tyrone in recovery, happy and calm, but soon realise she is in her own reality of dope heaven (or hell). In Manville’s hands the role takes on both the fierceness and deceit of an addict, along with the weakness of the wife and mother who ‘once fell in love with James Tyrone, and was so happy’.

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Irons is a theatrical Tyrone, every inch an actor and never a glimpse into the real man. He baits his sons – the shiftless Jamie (Rory Keenan) and the consumptive Edmund (Matthew Beard) – and yet can’t control even the level of whisky in the bottle he keeps on the table. He sees the girl within his wife, but can’t reach her.

The twisting hands, the trailing wedding dress, the lying on the bed with eyes open, the drifting, the drinking, the moments where just for a minute or two Mary Tyrone is happy again. It’s all about her, and the moments where Manville is absent from the stage drag, just a little, in a heart to heart between Irons and Beard where the latter just can’t catch the tragedy of the character.

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Keenan, though, is good, filled with self-loathing and self-destruction, on a spiral of disappointment by seeing addiction and disgust all around him. He has his father’s name and perhaps, his weakness too. There’s nothing but a downward spiral for all of them, in this raw and broken world where everyone lies and no one can face what’s really going on around them.


No Man’s Land (Wyndham’s Theatre)

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One of theatre’s current hot tickets is Sean Mathias’ production of Harold Pinter’s ‘No Man’s Land’, which is running at the Wyndham’s.

It stars Ian McKellen as Spooner and Patrick Stewart as Hirst, in the roles originated forty-one years ago by John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson.  Named after turn of the century cricketers (as are the supporting characters in this play, Briggs – played by Owen Teale – and Foster – played by Damien Molony), these elderly gentlemen are first introduced to us in Hirst’s opulent drinking den, knocking back neat whisky ‘as it is, absolutely as it is’ and sparring with words.

Hirst is the Yorkshireman made good, the working man who has become an accepted member of the literati, while the Lancastrian Spooner has a cultural background but is reduced to collecting beer mats in a seedy pub.  Hirst has a young, leather-jacketed housekeeper, Foster, and a bruising butler/cook, Briggs, who has a beautiful speech in act two about ‘Bolsover Street’.

McKellen’s reactions are, of course, priceless throughout, and he clearly relishes the comment about ‘consuming the male member’, while Stewart is in command on Pinter’s pauses and inflections throughout: making them a formidable team.  They also imbibe a lot of liquid refreshment in act one (which perhaps makes an interval necessary in an 100 minute play), while McKellen relishes a scrambled egg and bread breakfast in act two.

With Pinter, there are no real answers to what his plays are about.  They pinpoint the human condition, the intrusion of strangers, the faultiness of memories, the pointlessness of life.  Every word is weighted, every move is choreographed, the set is minimalist (chairs, a bar, a window, a light, and video projection which makes the trees at the top of the set appear to move with the sound of birdsong).

This is a superior piece of theatre, highly recommended.  It runs until December this year.


King Charles III (Wyndham’s Theatre)

This highly topical play by Mike Bartlett is set in a not-so-distant future.  Queen Elizabeth II has passed away after reigning for seven decades, and her son Charles ascends to the throne for which he has been in waiting for so many years.  However being a very different type of person to his mother, he quickly makes decisions which shake the very foundations of freedom and democracy.

This has been done before, of course, notably in the second part of the House of Cards trilogy, but never before with the real Royal names and faces implicated.

In a scene where a Charles in full military regalia storms into the House of Commons and dissolves Parliament, there are of course parallels with that earlier autocratic monarch and namesake, Charles I, while William and Catherine are presented very much as the scheming Macbeths, with Kate taking the initiative to topple the very fabric of tradition – even in the opening scenes she is querying the right of monarch to reign in advance of the Coronation.

This is all fantasy, of course, down to Harry finding love with a girl from a council estate and seeking to put aside his Royal title, and to appearances from the ghost of Charles’ first wife Diana.  The play is written, cleverly, in blank verse, which means it steps back to the time of Shakespeare where the Right of Kings perhaps meant more than the ceremonial significance of the role does now.

The Royal Prerogative of refusing Assent to a Bill passed by the Houses of Parliament has not been acted upon since the days of Queen Victoria, and this play playfully surmises what might happen should a King fail to sign a piece of legislation – in this case a Bill affecting the freedom of the press.  In this future universe, Labour is in power but with a PM called Tristan, while the Conservative Leader of the Opposition is a slippery figure, not to be trusted.

As a spectacle, this play is a winner, from the choral opening with candles, through to cast members resembling their real-life counterparts just enough for us to feel on familiar ground, yet with personalities that are very different.  At times the play does verge on the cruel – I can’t imagine Kate bullying her father-in-law into abdication, or Charles to rant at William that he reminds him of the worst of Diana.

There have been casting changes, too, necessitated by Tim Pigott-Smith’s recent car accident, and so his understudy, Miles Richardson, now appears as Charles.  At a distance he has a slight resemblance to impressionist Alistair McGowan, which is a little distracting, but he does well enough, although reviewers who have seen both actors state that Richardson’s interpretation is weaker and less brought down by his pride.  Margot Leicester is Camilla, funny and tough, while Oliver Chris and Lydia Wilson look the part as William and Kate, as does Richard Goulding as Harry.  Adam James is the PM, Nicholas Rowe is the Opposition Leader, and Jess the Republican representing the common people is Tafline Steen.

If we could have a world where there is a tank in the grounds of Buckingham Palace, where a press conference can be hijacked by a Prince in waiting, and where an abdication could be forced within weeks – this play does give food for thought.  I also liked how Harry initially does not speak in blank verse until well into the play, which makes him seem more of an outsider, and the second act opener where a man in a Charles mask is hounded by the mob – just in case we have forgotten who the subject of this play is meant to be.


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