Tag Archives: Jamie Lloyd

Odd Couples

PINTER 7

Harold Pinter Theatre, Saturday 16th February, 2019

 

a slight ache

The double-bill of Pinter dialogues kicks off with this radio play, written in 1958.  Director Jamie Lloyd sets it in a radio studio, with his actors seated at microphones with scripts, while sound effects fashioned by unseen hands help to depict the scene of a couple having tea in the garden and having to deal with a wasp in the marmalade.  As their talk turns to the mysterious figure who stands at their back gate, a match-seller who does no trade, the characters break out of the radio space and move away from their scripts.  Now we are in the home of Edward and Flora.  They invite the match-seller in.  We don’t see him but he is there, conjured by Pinter’s words.

John Heffernan is powerful as Edward, taking sadistic pleasure in the killing of the wasp, before going through an emotional meltdown.  Gemma Whelan’s Flora is the epitome of the 1950s middle-class, with a clipped delivery that enhances both the period feel and the ‘otherness’ of the piece.  Domestic details and everyday events take an eerie and startling turn, building to a surprising climax.  This is Inside No 9 territory half a century beforehand!

Perfect.

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Radio gaga: John Heffernan and Gemma Whelan

 

the dumb waiter

More well-known than the previous piece, this two-hander is set in a basement room of a former café.  Two hitmen lounge on beds, awaiting instructions for their next job.  Suddenly, food orders begin to arrive via the dumb waiter, throwing the men off their stride and increasing their nervous tension as they try to understand what is happening.

Martin Freeman is in superb form as the antsy Gus, nervously and repeatedly asking questions, and the perfect foil for Danny Dyer’s irritable, snappy Ben.   Dyer is the more menacing of the pair, but Pinter’s use of bathos diminishes Ben’s power and status for some highly hilarious moments.  We witness these experienced professional killers lose their nerve as the situation throws them off-kilter.

Freeman and Dyer are hugely enjoyable; the play is a virtuoso piece of timing and tension.  I did not want it to end.  A dazzling display of brilliance from all concerned and a wonderful testament to the genius of Harold Pinter.

Knockout.

dumb waiter

Hit Men: Danny Dyer and Martin Freeman (Photo: Marc Brenner)

 

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Hell is Pants

DOCTOR FAUSTUS

Duke of York’s Theatre, London, Thursday 26th May, 2016

 

While Robb Stark appears as Romeo in Kenneth Branagh’s production just around the corner, here we get Jon Snow in a play by Shakespeare’s contemporary, Christopher Marlowe.

I’m referring of course to Kit Harington in the title role, a big name draw to Jamie Lloyd’s reimagining of the tale of the dissatisfied scholar who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for 24 years of fame and glory.  Harington (as a Game of Thrones fan boy, I am genuinely thrilled to see him!) begins in grey hoodie and spectacles – his Faustus is more of a mature student at the Open University, than a cap-and-gowned Don.   In his grotty flat – think retro motel room – he summons demons.  They don’t have far to come: they watch from all corners of the set, attracted by Faustus’s blasphemous utterances.  The mighty Forbes Masson comes forth as Lucifer, a bald man in grubby vest and pants.  Hell, it emerges, is where you spend eternity in the same underwear.  Menacing and darkly amusing, Masson is as scary as he can be for someone who has forgotten his PE kit.  Compellingly charismatic is Jenna Russell (she who can do no wrong) as Mephistopheles – her karaoke opening to the second act is wickedly funny. She has a deadpan unpredictability that is this production’s real treat.

You’ve gleaned by now Lloyd does not take a traditional approach.  The adaptation by Colin Teevan interpolates new scenes that serve to make Faustus’s glory years more accessible to today’s audience: he becomes a celebrity magician, a kind of Derren Copperfield, of rock-star proportions, entertaining world leaders and getting his face on T-shirts.  Harington is certainly charismatic in this context – his Bill & Ted air guitar riffs only become a little annoying, and the way he declaims his lines suits Faustus’s personality from the off: Faustus is a pompous man whose arrogance brings about his downfall.  The set (by Soutra Gilmour) comes apart, and is revealed to be part of his show.  Canned laughter underscores the dialogue – reminding us that everything is illusion, especially what is promised by the devil…

Off come the hoodie, jeans and singlet.  On go the blood, sweat and tears.  Harington flails around, almost Christ-like, as his time runs out.  His relationship with Wagner (Jade Anouka) makes you hope he can be saved, even though you know he can’t, and makes you hope we can find our own salvation in the love of someone else.

It’s an extremely busy show, teeming with ideas that collide and rebound.  Most of them hit their mark.  There is sheer brilliance when Tom Edden’s Good Angel embodies all seven of the deadly sins in turn.  Evil Angel Craig Stein, in lingerie, struts and pouts in a provocative manner.

The ensemble of demons in their pants create nightmarish tableaux, like Bosch in a bedsit.  There are visual gags, even an actual ball gag, and aural gags, and scenes to make you gag.  But while we wish no harm would come to Harington and his marvellous physique, what is the show getting at?

The set closes in, returning to its original configuration and we are back where we started, except a girl lies raped and murdered, and Faustus revolves on the spot, as though dancing with an invisible demon, forever in a K-hole.  Perhaps the whole thing, the whole 24 years of fame and glory have been nothing but an illusion, and Faustus in a drug-fuelled session has let his rock-star excesses get out of control, bringing about his own damnation.  His longing to feel something, to experience rather than study something, is what leads him astray… That Faustus is inspired to conjure demons by something he reads on the internet may be significant…

There’s never a dull moment.  Lloyd pricks and titillates our imagination.  Shocks are quick and fleeting – there’s always another one along in a minute.  This Doctor Faustus is an enjoyable if at times baffling experience, intense and also frivolous, with plenty of dark and nasty fun, played out by an excellent ensemble. Ultimately, though, it’s like listening to someone tell you about their dreams: you wonder what it’s got to do with you.

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Faustus in Kit form (Photo: Marc Brenner)


Home Discomforts

THE HOMECOMING

Trafalgar Studios, London, Thursday 7th January, 2016

 

This production marks fifty years since Pinter’s play was first staged but the script seems fresh as a daisy. Soutra Gilmour’s design suggests an old-fashioned box set with a red frame delineating the limits of the room in which the action takes place, while the sparse furnishings clearly belong to the era in which it is set. We’re back in the 60s but it’s a highly stylised version. Director Jamie Lloyd intersperses Pinter’s more naturalistic aspects with scene transitions of heightened emotion, where Richard Howell’s expressionistic lighting shows us the characters’ internal lives – moments we can only intuit from Pinter’s dialogue. The lighting is accompanied by George Dennis’s loud and dissonant sound design. It’s unsettling, disturbing – almost an aural representation of Munch’s The Scream.   It works to emphasise the horror and agony of existence for these people, complementing the air of menace Pinter concocts through words and silence.

Max (the formidable Ron Cook) rules the roost as patriarch to three grown-up sons, two of whom still live at home, along with their Uncle Sam (not that one!). It’s a little world of men without women, angry domesticity and bitter recriminations. Into this dark place, eldest son Teddy (Gary Kemp) brings his elegant wife Ruth (Gemma Chan). What begins as an ‘into the lions’ den’ scenario, deftly develops into a ‘cat among the pigeons’ situation, as Ruth joins the ongoing power struggles and plays the men at their own game. Chan is perfectly cast; cool and aloof, reserved but readable. Kemp is good too, as weak-willed, middle-class prat Teddy, contrasting neatly with his brothers: John Macmillan is aspiring boxer Joey, his speech and thoughts slowed by too many blows to the head, and John Simm is charismatic as slimy Lenny, a dodgy geezer and no mistake. Simm is perhaps a little too likeable; his Lenny doesn’t seem quite dangerous or unpredictable enough. Strong as this lot are, for me it’s Keith Allen that shines the brightest as Uncle Sam, subtly effeminate and arguably the only ‘decent’ character in the piece.

Above all, Pinter’s script reigns supreme. Dark and funny and darkly funny, it utilises naturalistic speech patterns and idioms to hint at and tease out character and back story, leading us to clutch at meaning and significance. The sudden outburst of violence still surprises as much as the use of language delights. The play is well-served by this stylish production, although I would have liked Max’s collapse and capitulation to be more visceral and complete – Ruth usurps his throne, before our very eyes; we should be left with the idea that there is no going back. You can’t go home again.

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Gary Kemp, Ron Cook and Gemma Chan (Photo: Marc Brenner)


Taking the Piss

URINETOWN

St James Theatre, London, Thursday 6th March, 2014

 

At long last, Urinetown comes to the UK and, let me tell you, it is well worth the wait.   I could write the shortest review ever and just say: PERFECTION.  Or I could go on and on and write a book about how great this show truly is.  I’ll try to land somewhere between the two.

It is set in a dystopian future where a water shortage means bodily functions are strictly regulated.  Everyone has to pay to use public toilets – going elsewhere is strictly prohibited.  Offenders are caught and exiled to the mysterious Urinetown of the title.  Of course, there’s a greedy corporation manipulating and exploiting the situation with politicians and law enforcers in its pay.  Not unlike coalition Britain, ha ha – but the satire of the show is sharper than mine.

When he meets and falls for the corporation boss’s daughter, Bobby Strong embarks on a revolutionary path to restore dignity and socialism to the world.  But the show is about more than a clash of political ideas.  It’s also about musicals, while being a demonstration in how to write and perform a musical.  There’s a lot of frame-breaking fun going on, poking fun at its own form.  Director Jamie Lloyd capitalises on every such moment but the production never becomes too ‘knowing’ or ‘nudge-wink’.  It’s all carried off with camp charm.

Officer Lockstock is our narrator.  Together with Little Sally, who speaks for the audience, he guides us through the show, like a man trapped in the fourth wall.  RSC stalwart Jonathan Slinger is the bully-boy cop and I don’t think he’s ever been better.  Karis Jack’s Little Sally draws our attention to the absurdity and distastefulness of the subject matter, while conveying the character’s blinking innocence.

As Bobby Strong, Richard Fleeshman is certainly swoonworthy, giving us the hero’s blind determination and idealism.  He has a great voice too.  Rosanna Hyland is love interest Hope, fresh-faced and sweet-voiced, she plays the humour of the part to perfection.  Her father, the evil Caldwell B Cladwell is played with relish by Simon Paisley Day.  Marc Elliott is delightfully twitchy and smarmy as Mr McQueen and Adam Pearce is splendid as Lockstock’s partner-in-crime-fighting, Officer Barrel.  Although if Lockstock put his baton to my head to make me pick a favourite, I’d have to opt for Jenna Russell’s hilarious and cartoonish Penelope Pennywise.

It’s an outstanding cast.  An ensemble of energetic minor characters mean there is always plenty going on; some hysterical bits of business make the show consistently funny.  There is also some darkness along the way.  Transgressors are beaten up and bloodied.  We are reminded that there is a serious message to all of this, and it’s not just that capitalism is wrong and that socialism won’t work.  The show reminds us that our way of life is unsustainable.  Without proper management of the world’s resources, we won’t have a world on which to debate ideals, or indeed a pot to piss in.

On the surface it all seems like silliness but Greg Kotis and Mark Hollmann’s show is a remarkable piece of work.  You can see why it won tons of awards on and off Broadway.  The production values of this current incarnation should see some awards winging their way to the St James Theatre or there’s no justice.  Soutra Gilmour’s production design gives us a dank and grimy world of brick walls and tiles, like Victorian toilets and sewers.  Ann Yee’s choreography is quirky and funny, as the score sends up a range of musical styles.  The attention to detail is, like much of the production, breathtaking.

Urinetown is a truly refreshing addition to London’s musical theatre.  Like a long, cool glass of water, it makes you want to go again.

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Pissed off: Richard Fleeshman and Jenna Russell


Gossip gall

THE SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL
Malvern Theatres, Malvern, Tuesday 24th July, 2012

This revival of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s 1777 comedy of manners is an absolute peach. From the elegant panelled set to the sumptuous costumes and wigs, Jamie Lloyd’s production brings a taste of the eighteenth century to life. But this is much more than a period piece. Sheridan’s script crackles with wit and is effulgent with epigrams that seem painfully pertinent to the society of today. It is also interesting to see how much Sheridan is a forerunner of Wilde.

The play exposes to us the idle classes whose main source of amusement is the denigration of their peers through malicious and scandalous gossip. We laugh along with this bitch-fest but we also laugh at the hypocrisy of the main purveyors of this gossip, these assassins of character who show little regard for facts. You see it on Twitter every day, only the targets are not the idle rich but the celebrities who fill the media with their supposed antics. If you’re a stranger to Twitter, think along the lines of Mock The Week, where the same shorthand jokes are repeated on a weekly basis, based on some perceived trait or reported incident.

The opening scenes are like tucking into a box of fondant fancies – delectable, irresistible but you know you shouldn’t be so self-indulgent. Then the main action of the plot begins to unfold: an absentee uncle returns and puts his two nephews to a test of their mettle. An old man comes to an understanding with his WAG young bride. It is an ebullient, effervescent bit of fun, a bottle of champagne, and the acting style – the mannered delivery, the poses and posturing – is perfectly pitched to keep the thing zipping along, and the bubbly flowing.

An excellent ensemble provides an indefatigable source of delight. Maggie Steed is superb as hypocritical monster, Mrs Candour; Grant Gillespie, dressed like Mozart’s wayward little brother, out-camps everyone as preening ninny, Sir Benjamin Backbite; Ian McNeice has an amusing bluster as scheming Uncle Oliver; and the swoonworthy Nick Harman is charming as affable rogue Charles. But for me, the comedy crown goes to Edward Bennett as Joseph Surface who, in the second half, delivers a comic performance of energy and barely-contained frenzy as he tries to keep a lid on the situation that is unravelling before him. He goes from the studied sneering mannerisms of the age to a frantic Basil Fawlty in full flight, skipping and grinning with increasing desperation as he tries to maintain his public persona. I also loved Susannah Fielding as the insensitive and selfish Lady Teazle, for whom fashion and being ‘in’ are all – like a ‘character’ from TOWIE but in infinitely superior clothes; but in truth, the entire cast is responsible for a fast-moving, almost farcical couple of hours of the rarest quality.

Director Jamie Lloyd handles everything with a light-touch. There are some lovely bits of business here, from the campery of the servants to business with picture frames. The classic scene when Lady Teazle is discovered eavesdropping behind a screen was superbly done – the shocked reactions were heightened to just the right amount to make it credible within the onstage world. The play holds up a mirror to today, where gossip thrives in new media and old and warns us against believe, spreading and embellishing false report. It is an affectionate condemnation of a distasteful aspect of human nature rather than a moralising cautionary tale – and I’ll tell you this, and don’t keep it to yourself but a more stylish and lively evening in the theatre you’d be hard pressed to find.