Ah, Wilderness! Young Vic – Not a Coming of Age Tragedy by Eugene O’neil

3.5 hearts

As a definite groupie of Eugene O’Neil, I was very much looking forward to the one and only humorous work written by the great American playwright and found that while I did enjoy the evening, I would most definitely not call this a comedy as it was a little short of laughs.

Ah, Wilderness! - Janie Dee

Ah, Wilderness! – Janie Dee

Set in a small town on the Connecticut shore on the 4th of July 1906, the play depicts family life at the turn of the century and before either World Wars. The play revolves around Nat, the owner of the local newspaper, Essie, his wife, their children and close family. Their son, Richard is in love with Muriel but utterly devastated when he learns that she no longer loves him. It’s a play about family, teenage love (with those incredible highs and terrible lows) and ruined family celebrations. The play still has some of O’Neil’s trade mark characters like Lily the spinster, who loves a man more in love with the bottle and Belle, the kind-hearted prostitute, but there is fundamentally little plot. It is more about young love, growing pains and sitting on the beach looking at the moon.

The brilliant Natalie Abrahami directs a great ensemble cast and has thankfully cut some of the play’s length (and characters) and brought it down to two hours with no interval. She has also injected O’Neil himself into the play in an ingenious silent role which confused my theatre companion but which I found charming, perhaps because I knew what O’Neil looked like from photographs.

I know that some will object to my next statement but I will take issue with a black actor playing a brother in a 1906 white Connecticut family. It’s just confusing and does not add to the play.  That said, Ashley Zhangazha is an excellent actor and I cannot fault his performance.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that the set designed by Dick Bird is quite extraordinary. When I walked in, I thought I was in for a Happy Days take two which I wouldn’t have minded at all, as I loved the play, the set and Juliet Stevenson (see my review in this blog) but this set was even more ingenious. That being said, I’m not sure it added that much to the play but it does make for some amusing set changes and a lovely last scene. All in all, this is a play to warm your heart about youth and remind everyone in attendance of what it was like to love so much that you wanted to die if you could not be with that one person. Do you remember?

Little Revolution, Almeida Theatre – Race, Riots, Police and Tea.

4-hearts

When the first actor on stage claims that she is the playwright, I had to check my programme to make sure this wasn’t an actor portraying the writer. But, it wasn’t. In this new play by Alecky Bkythe, Alecky Blythe plays ALecky Blythe. And not only has she written another successful stage play (after her very successful London Road for the National Theatre) but she has brought to life the riots of London 2011.

Little Revolution - Michael Shaeffer and Imogen Stubbs

Little Revolution – Michael Shaeffer and Imogen Stubbs

The Almeida has been transformed as never before and looks more like the Arcola on a good day than the Islington venue normally. Actors mingle in the auditorium before the play begins and you are never sure as the drama unfolds as to who will rise up next and recite a line. As with other verbatim play, the actors speak real people’s words but the art resides in putting it all together into a cohesive whole that will impart meaning and create drama. You cannot but help to like Ms Blythe on stage. With her small frame and petite demeanour, only a fool would not be concerned for her safety as she went about witnessing and recording the riots of 2011.

Ms Blythe has brought together a number of voices from the community in a way that was totally new for me and extremely moving. Of course, she has milked some very funny characters such as the BBC documentary maker (Rufus Wright), Tony and Sarah (Michael Shaeffer and Imogen Stubbs) as the flower power lefty do gooders and the duo Jane and Sadie (Ronni Ancona and Melanie Ash) as the upper middle class Hackney living snobs. But the play is so much more than that and brings to the fore, the issues of race, class, police profiling, community and violence among this melting pot of nationalities, cultures, traditions and general poverty.

The play is fast paced at 1.40 minutes and delivers a powerful punch line from the local barber Colin (Lucian Msamati).  It is modern, lively and above all else timely. Bravo!

 

 

My Night with Reg , Donmar Warehouse – Or Reg’s nights with all his friends

3.5 hearts

It’s been twenty years since My Night with Reg was first produced at the Royal Court Theatre but the drama remains touching and funny in equal measure. The play explores the lives of a group of gay men in the mid-80s as they navigated the early years of the AIDS epidemic. The men meet in Guy’s flat to celebrate his house-warming but subsequent meetings all follow the wake of a friend. Over the course of the evening, it becomes clear that, the never seen Reg, has bedded all his friends save for Guy but that none of them know about the others.

My Night With Reg - Geoffrey Streatfeild (Daniel), Jonathan Broadbent (Guy) and Julian Ovenden (John)

My Night With Reg – Geoffrey Streatfeild (Daniel), Jonathan Broadbent (Guy) and Julian Ovenden (John)

The play is universal in tackling such topics as unrequited love, deception, betrayal or the regrets we hold at paths taken and does this in a very touching way. Kevin Elyot’s text is very funny but ultimately wrenching in addressing how these lives were affected by this terrible disease and the destructive nature of its community, continuing with their promiscuous behaviour even when surrounded by the death of so many of their friends.

Notwithstanding the above, this is a gay play in that it deals with a part of history, which affected mostly gay men with the consequences and worries of this deadly disease. But is it also a gay play in that this group of men is strictly different in their behaviour to non-homosexual people (Although I suspect that straight men might envy the sexual license granted in gay relationships). The disparity of the group assembled is one such difference. While some of the men have known each other since university others are working class men such as Bennie, a bus drivers, and Eric, a house painter. It seemed that being gay defined them more than other aspects of their lives and that while they were all very friendly to each other, their promiscuous behaviour led directly to cheating or betraying their friends and lovers.

Directed by Robert Hastie, the cast all give excellent performances. Julian Ovenden, as John, is charming and confident in that way handsome people can be but convincingly distraught to lose his secret lover. Jonathan Broadbent is fantastic as the shy and insecure Guy. The constant, comforting friend whom everyone likes but no one loves. Geoffrey Streatfeild, as Daniel, is the suave extrovert who would rather turn a blind eye than face the truth while never-failing to find the gay joke in any dialogue. Richard Cant, as Bernie, is your boring but loveable aunt Mavis. Matt Bardock is Bennie, the bus driver, who is all working class straightforwardness while, Eric, played by Lewis Reeves, the house painter cum barman, is unknowingly wise and innocent.

The 80s set and costumes by Peter McKintosh beautiful recreates Guy’s carefully manicured drawing-room with period turn table, vinyl collection, Bowie music, Marlboro cigarettes and lots of scotch. The rain, which never quite washes off the sins of the past, was a lovely touch.

Although this is a thoughtful and moving play that makes you laugh while reflecting on loneliness and loss, it never achieved the emotional impact such a subject would warrant nor sought to answer the why behind the deception and lies that abounded within this group of loveable men.

Medea, National theatre – Or when revenge is anything but sweet

4-hearts

Medea which combines both filicide and fratricide is not for the faint hearted. In this production of Euripides’ play, Helen McCrory is the spurned wife who will go to extreme lengths to avenge herself.

Medea - Helen McCrory (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)

Medea – Helen McCrory (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)

Ben Power’s adaptation is set in today’s Greece and the dialogue is both precise and extremely moving. The play begins with a warning. The children’s nurse recounts Medea’s tragic situation and her fears of what is to come. For the love of Jason, Medea has killed her brother, helped Jason obtain the Golden Fleece, saved his life and fled her homeland for Corinth. She has married her lover and become a mother. Unfortunately, Jason now wants a new, younger wife, Kreusa, the daughter of Kreon (king of Corinth) and has abandoned Medea and his two sons.

McCrory comes on, unadorned, wearing masculine clothes with eyes smudged and messy hair. Here is a woman who no longer cares how she appears. He anger is all-consuming, it even makes her twitch. She is undone but still proud. This might be a Greek tragedy but it speaks to contemporary audiences as it did to Athenians some 2,500 years ago. Medea is one of the most recognised vengeful woman in literature but surely she speaks for many when she laughs at Jason’s excuses for leaving her for a younger model.

McCrory is spectacular in the role. She is loving to her children, warm to her old friend, Aegeus, desperate at her situation, devious with Kreon but above all angry at having given so much to a man who has left her. Medea articulates her grievances to Jason with such commanding intellect that Jason’s excuses crumble before our very eyes.

Directed by Carrie Cracknell, McCrory’s Medea is all energy and charisma and I wish I could say the same about Danny Sapani. His Jason is truly underwhelming. There doesn’t seem to be any chemistry between the two ex-lovers and he lacks so much emotion that even the death of his children doesn’t bring a single tear to his eyes and that is after his bride has just been killed as well. Michaela Coel, as the nurse, is convincing as the worried nanny who tries to protect the children. Dominic Rowan as Aegeus is the only kind man to Medea and their interaction allows us to see another gentler side to Medea. Unfortunately, Martin Turner, as Creon, lacks some royal panache.

The impressively large chorus of twelve women, however, brings an ethereal mood to the play as they try to warn Medea and protect her from herself. The music, by Will Gregory and Alison Goldfrapp, and the accompanying singing from the chorus was beautiful and eerily haunting. I was much less enchanted with the dancing which left me completely perplexed. Just didn’t get it. Maybe someone out there can explain it to me.

The beautiful set, designed by Tom Scutt, depicts a run-down apartment in Greece, opening onto a beautiful and stormy forest. Above is the wedding reception room where Kreusa and Jason will marry. It has the appearance of a slightly tacky modern hotel reception room from the 60s, banister included.

No matter that some of the actors are not at their best, it is McCrory’s play and she is breath-taking to the last. Hers is a tragic tale of breakup and desperation where Medea’s constant and mesmerising dialogue articulates her alternatives, voices her doubts and in the end shows her frighteningly logical madness. Bravo.