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Archive for the ‘Theatre’ Category
By Jess • September 07, 2017 • 0 Comments

Britain’s BBC says it will broadcast in 2018 the stage production of Hamlet, starring Sherlock alum Andrew Scott as the title character.

Angus Wright plays Claudius, Jessica Brown Findlay plays Ophelia and Juliet Stevenson plays Gertrude.

Directed by Robert Icke and based on the classic work by William Shakespeare, the play transferred to the West End’s Harold Pinter Theatre for a limited season following a sell-out run at the Almeida this year. It will wrap at the Harold Pinter Theatre on Sept. 2.

“Andrew Scott’s Hamlet is utterly thrilling. His performance makes each familiar word of the play feel like it is being newly discovered. The staging in a modern-day Denmark makes for a startlingly resonant and challenging production. I am delighted that it is coming to BBC Two,” Patrick Holland, controller of BBC Two, said in a statement.

“It has been a real joy to work with such a gifted and dedicated company of actors on bringing this most-famous play to audiences in 2017. The production has been on a wonderful journey from the Almeida to the West End, and I am very much looking forward to this next step on BBC Two. To be able to offer our version of Hamlet to as wide and diverse an audience as possible has always been of paramount importance to us, and now we are thrilled to be able to bring it to people across the country,” Icke added.

By Jess • June 18, 2017 • 0 Comments
By Jess • April 12, 2017 • 0 Comments

If there’s any doubt that Jessica Brown Findlay has left Lady Sybil of “Downton Abbey” far behind, consider a recent interview with her by phone from London. Findlay was discussing her role as Charlotte, an 18th-century prostitute in Hulu’s drama series “Harlots,” while commuting by bus to perform that night as Ophelia in “Hamlet.”

If others remain fixated on the popular character she last played five years ago in “Downton” — “I think the British press think I might be that person” — she’s focused firmly on the work at hand.

“Harlots” is a bold showcase for Findlay, whose character is a madam’s daughter who went into the family business, and the rest of its female-dominated cast. But women also are the power behind the screen as writers, producers and in other key positions – a change that Brown found richly rewarding.

“Normally, when I’m reading (a script), I’m like, ‘That character’s brilliant’ – and it’s a guy,” she said with a laugh. But in “Harlots,” the women are fully formed and as intriguing as any man.

“It’s really exciting to allow female characters to be frustrating and imperfect and infuriating and funny,” Findlay said. Her co-stars include Samantha Morton as her mother, Margaret, and Lesley Manville as Lydia, a rival madam with a vicious streak. The history-based story was a revelation to Findlay.

“I was aware it was a time when London was exploding economically, doing incredibly well, and with that came lavish lifestyles,” she said. For the prostitutes and madams and catered to men with disposable income, the reward was the ability to “own property, have rights over their own bodies, make a living and survive.”

The idea of survival by any means was the harsh reality for women who lacked connections or a man, whether husband, father or otherwise, as their protector, said Moira Buffini, who created and produced the series with Alison Newman.

A woman without such a safety net might end up in the sex industry, said Buffini, who says the tally is startlingly large when all connected to it are included “One in five women were working as sex workers or in associated businesses, like cleaners or cooks in the house,” she said. “There were three sex shops in Covent Garden; condom makers; back street abortionists, and the child-minders who looked after the prostitute’s children while they worked.”

London’s Covent Garden, now a popular shopping and tourist area, was the city’s version of a red-light district in the 1700s. It even boasted a guidebook to individual prostitutes, “Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies.”

Newman came across a copy, which opened a window for the creative partners on the “amazing outlaw society of 18th-century harlotry” and led to “Harlots,” Buffini said. But it wasn’t Buffini’s first work on the general subject. “Loveplay,” which received an Olivier Award nomination for best comedy play in 2003, dealt with it as well. The inspiration for that was more direct. Early in her career, she taught drama to female prison inmates and discovered how many had supported themselves as prostitutes.

“It struck me they were defined by what they did and not by who they are. Because I knew who they were, it struck me as odd,” she said. She’d already seen the toll it could exact on one individual, an older woman who had been left in a “bad way” by her past life and who Buffini’s mother helped care for.

“You could see the way her job had played out in her life. You could see the damage, not just on her but on her children’s children,” she said.

“Harlots,” with its lavishly costumed and painted prostitutes, looks at both the hard-earned freedom and the anguish such a life accorded. But given the number of people now working in the sex industry, voluntarily or not, why not tackle the modern reality?
Buffini has a ready answer.

“History gives you a fascinating prism through which to look at the contemporary world and to look at contemporary gender politics. History removes you from the dead weight of documentary, if you like, as a dramatist,” she said. “It frees you from that and it gives you a language and gives you a bright, focused color palette in which to explore quite specific things.”

By Jess • March 14, 2016 • 0 Comments

Director Robert Icke has become the great hope of British theater. The 29-year-old has a rare talent for tapping into a text’s driving forces. He staged “1984” not as a possible future, but as a warning from history. Last year’s “Oresteia,” compressed and contemporized, felt like a box-set thriller. Now, bringing the same scrutiny to “Uncle Vanya” at the Almeida Theater, he gives us Chekhov in high-definition, its every texture exposed; a study in stasis. His meticulousness might hinder the play’s momentum and, for all its lit-crit insights, it’s more moral than it is moving. Small bother, though: This is rich, wry and wise – level-up stuff.

Like playwright Annie Baker, whose version of “Uncle Vanya” played New York’s Soho Rep in 2012, Icke gives Chekhov a contemporary, colloquial update, slowing stage time to something more like life. The names are anglicized – Vanya is Uncle John (Paul Rhys), sometimes Johnny — although it’s not specifically set in England. “To leave them in Russian,” the director’s note explains, “would be to make strange that which Chekhov intended ordinary.”

This is Icke’s way: He finds pinpoint images that pull the play into the present — earrings on middle-aged men, or a young woman (Sonya, played by “Downton Abbey” alum Jessica Brown Findlay) dressed in shabby mens’ shirts. He stays faithful to the original but stretches it all a bit further, upping its contrast, reactivating its drama. Astrov and Yelena don’t just kiss, they rip one another’s clothes off and roll about on the floor.

You see the play afresh and, moreover, in full. At three and a half hours (three 10 minute intervals keep us alert), Icke’s version gives each interaction its due. Abstract ideas – age, beauty, time, work, love – glide past one another like orbiting planets. It really is profound, heaving with life.

On Hildegard Bechtler’s slow-revolve of a wooden set – always moving, but going nowhere – there’s a sleepy atmosphere. People sit and read newspapers, toy with Rubik’s Cubes, tune guitars. Everything’s unhurried. Nothing’s urgent. Leaving on call, Tobias Menzies’ doctor puts his watch back on, as if time, here, were irrelevant. Ian Dickinson’s soundscape highlights the silence. Wood creaks, rain falls, an airplane whirs overhead.

Out of this emerges a study of inaction: the ways we waste time and the ways time wastes us. John and Sonya bury themselves in work – but, as the eco-friendly doctor says, “God only knows what our real work is.” Icke peppers proceedings with images of disrepair: guitars that detune, roofs that spring leaks. Furniture piles up on Bechtler’s set until, without anyone noticing, there are too many rugs and too many chairs. It’s the exact opposite of Michael’s beloved forests, disappearing bit by bit, year on year.

Rhys plays the title role as a man incapable of imposing himself. He’s too soft for it – the burr of his beard matches that of his voice. Life’s held him back – through grief, labor or simply personality – and he’s held back from life. When John notes, “I could have been a Schopenhauer or Dostoyevsky,” you almost believe him.

Icke’s great on the agonies of middle-age. Rhys shows us the ache of 47 year-old knees, but Hilton McRae (as the professor) suggests the tortures ahead – gout, breathlessness, worse. Even Elena (Vanessa Kirby), at 27, thinks herself “old.” The play’s attuned to the particular darkness of men, and the soothing presence of women. The lonesomeness at the play’s heart becomes unmissable, as three drunken fortysomethings howl Bowie songs at the moon.

The production is exquisitely acted. McRae catches the pomp of a man who’ll use a wooden chair as a lectern in his own sitting room, while Menzies finds the underlying oddity of Astrov, a darkness that surfaces like a long-range submarine. Brown Findlay’s Sonya, so in want of a decent conditioner and a confidence boost, is quite wrenching to watch, so entirely and so hopelessly in love, while Kirby is a superlative Elena: lithe, fickle, hypocritical, shallow and yet always sympathetic. It’s a performance that confirms her as the outstanding stage actress of her generation, capable of the most unexpected choices. Fumbling with Astrov, she gets her head stuck in her jumper – for all her outward ease, she’s as clumsily human as any of them.

However, Icke asks us to analyze these people, not feel for them. Its slowness prevents momentum; its constant significance, credibility. Icke’s knowingness, though amusing, can get in the way.

His sincerity can clear a path though. At the end, Michael holds up a globe and lays a finger on Africa. The heat, he says, must be unbearable: “Now, I mean.” It pulls us back into the present; a direct accusation. Their inaction is all of ours.

By Jess • January 25, 2016 • 0 Comments

Photographs have been released of the cast rehearsing for the upcoming production of Uncle Vanya at the Almeida Theatre. Jessica Brown Findlay plays Sonya alongside Paul Rhys’ Vanya. Vanessa Kirby is Elena and Tobias Menzies plays Astrov.

This is a new version of Chekhov’s play from Robert Icke, who also directs the show, following his radical re-imagining of Oresteia which transferred to Trafalgar Studios.

Uncle Vanya runs at the Almeida Theatre from 5 February to 26 March with a press night on 12 February.