Tag Archives: Alec Newman

“The Dumb Waiter” at the Hampstead Theatre

First praise here goes to whoever prepared this venue for a socially distanced audience. Instead of depressing signs telling you where not to sit, photographs from previous performances are used on empty seats. What a lovely, colourful, touch. A nod to heritage is appropriate, given Hampstead Theatre’s 60th anniversary celebrations, which this Harold Pinter classic is a part of. And I get to say that I sat next to Anna Maxwell Martin in the theatre… kind of.

Of course, any theatre deserves praise for putting on a show at the moment. But getting to see this short piece, between long lockdowns and tier adjustments, is especially welcome as it is directed by the talented Alice Hamilton. It’s a story of hired killers, waiting for… something. Hamilton’s direction is confident and expert, respecting Pinter’s nuance and drama and appreciative of the playwright but not intimidated by him.

Shane Zaza and Alec Newman in The Dumb Waiter at Hampstead Theatre credit Helen Maybanks
Shane Zaza and Alec Newman

Hamilton has secured fine performances from a talented duo: Alec Newman plays “senior partner” Ben, seemingly in charge of Shane Zaza’s Gus. Seemingly, as he knows as little about what is going on as his more anxious colleague. Through their skilled performances, the audience shares their confusion. A vague sense that whatever organisation they work for, and the enigmatic Wilson who is in charge, is being “tightened up” is compounded by bizarre messages the two men receive. What’s going on, and what’s happened previously, is never fully revealed, but glances at the men’s history prove chilling.

The production never overplays the more surreal touches from Pinter. That someone is playing “games” with Ben and Gus becomes more sinister as a result. The sense of menace is aided by James Perkins’ set, the “windowless dump” all action takes place in. We’ve all spent a little too long indoors lately, but under Hamilton’s steely control the claustrophobic tension in The Dumb Waiter builds marvellously – this is a director very much in charge.

Until 20 January 2020


“Hapgood” at the Hampstead Theatre

Receiving a first London revival since a 1988 première, Tom Stoppard’s spy spoof has a reputation for being a difficult play. What’s new? An unashamedly intellectual writer, Stoppard here mixes espionage and particle physics with his usual panache. It’s a satisfyingly challenging piece that’s also hugely entertaining.

Fun is had with the spy genre itself. Stoppard plays with stock scenarios – the opening scene has not one but three suitcases being swapped around – and laughs at the often clichéd language used, including Alec Newman’s charming Russian quintuple agent whose cover has been “blowed”. The Cold War tension is deliberately deflated; the secrets at stake here aren’t worth much in the end.

Alec Newman and Tim McMullan

Newman also carries the weight of explaining a lot of the science (complete with a checklist of big names) that’s the real theme of the play, and does exceptionally well to inject passion into the parallels between plot and physics. Secret agents are just a “trick of the light” and how light behaves is influenced by the very act of observation. Hapgood is thought provoking and original.

It’s the central character of the titular spymaster that pleases most. In a brilliant performance, Lisa Dillon shows her understanding of Stoppard’s layered text. Dealings with the big boss Blair (Tim McMullan in a role he was born for) along with no nonsense about her high achievements are understated comic marvels. There are canny observations on class throughout the play.

Lisa Dillon as Hapgood with her son (Adam Cansfield)

When it comes to carrying the tension, Dillon gets even better. Introducing twins, surely not too much of a giveaway, Stoppard further combines the science and spies. Hapgood’s role as “Mother” provides emotional weight when her son becomes embroiled in the spying game. Common to lots of high-quality genre fiction, the complexity of our hero is used to terrific effect.

The play benefits from director Howard Davies’ experienced hand – the pacing, when it comes to explaining the science, is perfect. And the plot is presented in a visually clear fashion thanks to Ashley Martin-Davis’ stylishly simple set and effective video backdrops from Ian William Galloway. Above all, the script should please any Stoppard fan and Hapgood deserves to be part of his canon.

Until 23 January 2016


Photos by Alastair Muir

“The Motherf**cker In The Hat” at the National Theatre

A play that comes with its own stars, albeit an excessively modest two of them, Stephen Adly Guirgis’ Broadway hit may have a title that fits uncomfortably with the National Theatre’s augustness, but The Motherf**cker In The Hat is a quality play that London should welcome. Detailing the struggles and affairs between a drug addict on probation, his ‘sponsor’ and their girlfriends, the work’s vigorous language belies its old-fashioned enquiry into morality.

Jpeg 1Ricardo Chavira plays Jackie, a troubled convict following a plan to free himself from addiction with a suitably cynical edge, making our hero hugely appealing despite his faults. Flor De Liz Perez (pictured) performs as Jackie’s partner, delivering vicious tirades with verve. Also from the States comes Yul Vázquez as Cousin Julio, delivering a marvellously understated, original performance. Completing this strong cast, directed flawlessly by Indhu Rubasingham, are Nathalie Armin as the unfortunate wife of the rehabilitated Ralph, the philandering sponsor with a PhD in persuasion, depicted brilliantly by Alec Newman as a devil who firmly believes he has all the best lines.

It can’t be denied that the play is reminiscent of a soap opera (or should that be a telenovela?), but the sordid plot twists, while predictable, are expertly handled and feel believable. Likewise, the bad language and lurid insults play their part, not just in making the script very funny, but in creating characters you really fall for. For all the shouting on stage, this is a work that quietly ensures we take seriously the questions it’s asking – about how to be good.

The play is calmer, less surreal, than Adly Guirgis’ other works seen in London. It’s tempting to say it feels more grown up, as that’s clearly one of the themes here; the talk of prayers and pharmaceuticals both play a part in questioning responsibility and relationships. Jackie and Ralph are just young men, with more than enough faults and few excuses. But Jackie has a heart and the potential for goodness that feels realistic and makes this play an unusually sharp comedy.

Until 20 August 2015


Photo by Mark Douet

“These Shining Lives” at the Park Theatre

London’s newest venue, the Park Theatre in Finsbury Park, opened its first show last night. Overseen by artistic director Jez Bond, this former disused office space (converted by David Hughes Architects and partly funded by the sale of residential apartments above the theatre) is an exciting addition to London’s burgeoning theatre scene. Two intimate spaces with pleasant foyers are just a stone’s throw from the Tube station – itself only 20 minutes from Knightsbridge. Bond’s inaugural season, combining new writing and classics produced in-house, and providing a venue for other talented companies, should guarantee it many visits.

The first production doesn’t quite match the ambition of the theatre itself, but These Shining Lives by American playwright Melanie Marnich is a competent piece. The story of women workers who apply the illuminating radium on to watch faces, slowly poisoned by what they thought was their dream job, is finely directed by Loveday Ingram and well acted. On the downside, the writing is a little laboured, speculation about the passage of time heavy handed and the politics a touch naive. Based on a true story, the focus on the friendship between the workers doesn’t have enough emotional force, despite a fine performance from Honeysuckle Weeks as a mouthy Mae-West character who embraces the emancipation provided by her wage packet.

The real power in the play comes from main role, performed by Charity Wakefield, whose character Catherine becomes the test case in court against the company. Wakefield has an appealing stage presence and convinces as an ordinary women whose bravery becomes inspirational. Marnich rejects the current Gatsby-fixated view of the 20s in favour of representing the decade for regular people. Her sweet Charity’s relationship with her husband, played brilliantly by Alec Newman, is a moving romance with clever modern touches that show further deftness on Marnich’s part. In the couple’s scenes, These Shining Lives becomes a beautiful love story that illuminates and moves. A promising start for the new Park Theatre.

Until 9 June 2013


Photo by Anabel Vere

Written 16 May 2013 for The London Magazine

“The Fastest Clock in the Universe” at the Hampstead Theatre

Part of Hampstead Theatre’s 50-year celebration series, the revival of Philip Ridley’s The Fastest Clock in the Universe hopes to rekindle the play’s success from its original run in 1992. Given that Ridley is concerned with pretty much all the basic human vices, this disturbing work has retained its power to haunt.

The scenario is distasteful enough. Cougar Glass (Alec Newman) lives off an adoring older man called Captain Took. Easily debilitated by the very mention of his age, each year Cougar celebrates his “19th” birthday by seducing a young schoolboy.

Cougar’s every action is arrogant, his only occupation to preserve his appearance. Fittingly, he spends half of the play in his underwear. Finbar Lynch is terrifying as the clearly unbalanced Took, old before his time and crippled with insecurity about his own appearance. Took dotes on Cougar as mother and housewife, rewarded by a brief hug as long as he agrees to wear rubber gloves.

So far, so strange. Ridley’s master stroke in the telling of this repulsive story is to create a bizarre world that is removed enough from our own to allow us to watch, but which, while exaggerating human nature, makes us recognise characters motivations and faults with great clarity. While references and inspirations from other playwrights are numerous, the spirit is predominately Dickensian. All these strangely named characters inhabit a dilapidated and corrupt East London and display their all too obvious flaws.

A Gothic sense of impending doom comes from the cruel game Cougar plays with his potential victim; he tells the young boy, Foxtrot Darling, that they share a recent bereavement.  As the deception increases and even Captain Took remonstrates with Cougar, we are introduced to our final character – Foxtrot’s unexpected pregnant fiancée Sherbert Gravel has invited herself along to the party as well.

Sherbert, played wonderfully by Jaime Winstone, is the highlight of the play. She brings out the black comedy in the work, alongside the potential for violence that she is finally (and shockingly) a victim to. Yet her barbed asides to Cougar do little to hide her own motivation – her protection of Foxtrot is more about saving herself than the dreary boy whose life she is planning to dominate.

While Winstone’s movement about the stage alone is something to behold – teetering on high heels that might be the death of her or that she might come to use as a weapon – the object of everyone’s affection does little to hold the audience’s attention. Neet Mohan as Darling may have the looks for the part but his vulnerability seems unconvincing. He bounds around the stage and stands on furniture in a manner that doesn’t match Foxtrot’s situation.

And yet the quality of the writing saves the evening.  The dialogue is rich, complex and direct. It is not pleasant but it fascinates. Revelling in his perversity, Cougar describes his guests as fellow cannibals and welcomes us all to the abattoir.

Until 17 October 2009


Photo by Manuel Harlan

Written 27 September 2009 for The London Magazine