Tag Archives: Amy Morgan

“A Kind of People” at the Royal Court

Set around a group of former school friends, this stimulating new play has a tender romance at its core. Intelligently written by Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti and confidently directed by Michael Buffong, the piece is a slice-of-life polemic of considerable dramatic power.

A long-devoted couple, Gary and Nicky, are working-class heroes the like of which are still too seldom seen on stage. Their struggles highlight issues around race and class in contemporary urban Britain. The toll taken by prejudice has a profound personal impact on the lovers and the questions raised are important.

Amy Morgan in "A Kind of People" at the Royal Court
Amy Morgan

You might argue that Gary’s objectionable white boss, Victoria, whom Bhatti uses as her starting point for looking at racism, is too much of a straw figure. Not because people don’t hold such views – or that Amy Morgan is at all lacking in the role – it’s just that most people hide their prejudice better. But, following scenes that ignite the audience against Victoria, there’s the suggestion that, when accused of racism, the character uses her sex as a defence: a bold move by Bhatti that makes the atmosphere in the theatre electric. 

Manjinder Virk in "A Kind of People" at the Royal Court
Manjinder Virk

It’s clear how smart – and provocative – this writing is. A second incident of prejudice comes from a Muslim mouth. Focusing on class, taking in the metropolitan obsession about schools, it is Anjum, a likeable Muslim mother, who uses that loaded phrase “people like you” against her white friend Nicky. The moment is made all the more shocking by the fact that this is a character, with a performance expertly crafted by Manjinder Virk, who has made us laugh and whom we admire.

Petra Letang in "A Kind of People" at the Royal Court
Petra Letang

Although each of the wonderfully observed characters we meet provides a take on race or class, Bhatti’s skill makes sure none of them feels like a device from a playwright. There is considerable nuance in A Kind of People, and it reflects complex lives and problems. There are strong performances too from Thomas Coombes, Asif Kahn and especially Petra Letang, whose character Karen injects a fantastic no-nonsense humour. But the play belongs to its central roles, which are developed superbly. Gary has a troubled emotional journey, becoming a man “drowning in anger”, plotted by Richie Campbell with impressive understatement. Claire-Louise Cordwell’s depiction of Nicky follows a different trajectory – she is a rock that crumbles with frightening suddenness in a performance that does justice to the blunt force contained within this sophisticated play.

Until 18 January 2020

www.royalcourttheatre.com

Photos by Manuel Harlan

“Noises Off” at the Lyric Theatre Hammersmith

The delicious irony that lies behind Michael Frayn’s classic is as effective as ever in this new revival. Taking us behind the scenes of a farce, from disastrous rehearsals to the exhaustion of a show that’s been on the road too long, actually demands great technical skill. Every deliberately forgotten line or missed cue, each slapstick move and faulty prop needs executing to perfection. Director Jeremy Herrin and his cast have the know-how and, with that in place, the audience can sit back and laugh.

Without diminishing Herrin’s achievement – as well as the coming-and-going of the farce being performed there are the backstage shenanigans going on – Frayn’s play is so perfectly written you can’t fail to get caught up in it. It’s clear from the midnight rehearsal we start at that all is not well. In Act Two, which takes us literally behind the scenes, tensions within the company come to the fore. And by the end of the show those naughty noises we can hear, from the exasperated performers, are nearly drowned out by audience laughter.

If a trick is missed, maybe Lloyd Owen could make it clearer that his character, the exasperated director of the show, is the company lothario. Likewise, the love interests – on stage the actress Brooke (Amy Morgan) and behind the scenes the stage manager Poppy (Lois Chimimba) – could benefit from more laughs from the play’s love triangle. But all the cast are incredibly hard working. For once in the theatre it pays to show the crowd that you are breaking into a sweat, and results are fantastic.

Leading the laughs are Deborah Gillett and Meera Syal as old hands Belinda and Dotty, who are full of endearing gossip. Syal flips from formidable to vulnerable as her elderly character, who has put money into the tour, has to work increasingly hard for a return. There are fantastic turns, too, from Daniel Rigby and Jonathan Cullen as two nice but dim actors who quibble about bags and boxes or questions of motivation. Every ‘love’ or ‘darling’ gets a giggle and, as affection turns into aggression, the play gets funnier and funnier.

Showing the show deteriorate as tensions mount is beautifully done – remember we’re seeing pretty much the same thing three times here! The perspective alters, of course, quite literally when we are behind the scenes, but it’s the creation of a mood by all the cast that does the work. Each scene may be manic but the characters have different paces as exhaustion and desperation sets in. Command of the piece’s tempo means that Herrin gets the final applause. Listening to his onstage counterpart, the advice is to deliver the show with plenty of “bang”. We have that, but the action never escalates into something incomprehensible. As a final accolade for Herrin and his crew, the sense of tenderness towards the theatre in Frayn’s play is clear. The commitment that the show must go on, even if that’s just for the “small crowd at the front of the back stalls”, is unquestioned. Admiration abounds for all involved with a fantastic play that’s brilliantly delivered.

Until 3 August 2019

www.lyric.co.uk

Photo by Helen Maybanks

“Travesties” at the Menier Chocolate Factory

Wearing his director’s hat, Patrick Marber has excelled with this revival of Tom Stoppard’s 1974 play. A characteristically dense affair, it uses the flawed reminiscences of an English diplomat in Zurich, one Henry Carr, to bring together Lenin, James Joyce and Tristan Tzara, thus covering politics, literature and art. You need to pace yourself to keep up.

Formally inventive, Stoppard uses speeches, verse and songs, while modifying Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest (if you need a reason, Carr performed the play in his youth). The elderly Henry suggests his memoirs could be a collection of sketches, and Marber embraces this to create some vaudeville scenes worthy of Cabaret Voltaire. Carr’s dementia is a wicked parallel to free association, ironically utilised in this satisfyingly controlled puzzle of postmodern plenitude.

Carr observes that as an artist you have to “pick your time and place” and in choosing such a fertile moment in European history, applying his own frame and distorting it, Stoppard has the audience enthralled. OK, it’s difficult to imagine many erudite enough to get their heads around the whole thing (you’d have to be as clever as, well, Tom Stoppard), but it’s great fun trying to keep up. It’s so crammed with humour that getting just half the jokes makes it worth it.

There’s a lot going on in Henry’s head, and Tom Hollander’s finest moments come when memories overwhelm his irascible character. Playing his younger self, he makes the comedy work hard. Stoppard even provides the review for his lead actor: parts don’t come much more demanding than this and Hollander really is superb. This this is a technically brilliant performance, the aged voice truly remarkable.
The rest of the cast seem spurred on by Hollander’s star turn, making each role memorable. Freddie Fox is superbly cast as the decadent Tzara – his switch to Wildean mode is faultless. Peter McDonald and Forbes Masson manage to make, respectively, Joyce and Lenin men you can laugh with as well as at. Clare Foster and Amy Morgan’s witty singing battle as Cecily and Gwendolen is a highlight in a show that has no shortage of brilliant moments. Stoppard and Marber run from any potential the play might have toward pretention. Just don’t forget to take a breath yourself.

Until 19 November 2016

www.menierchocolatefactory.com

Photos by Johan Persson

“Once A Catholic” at the Tricycle Theatre

A friend of mine used to describe himself as a ‘recovering’ Catholic. Indeed, the impact of the religion on those educated within the faith is well known. A revival of Mary J. O’Malley’s 1976 play, Once A Catholic, set in a convent school close to the Tricycle Theatre – where it opened last night – reminds us what fertile ground for comedy the subject is.

With director Kathy Burke in charge it’s no surprise that it’s all fantastic fun. The simple design has the feel of a sketch show, but Burke holds the drama together and gets the most out of her performers.

Three little maids are the focus. Amy Morgan and Katherine Rose Morley play two Marys, girls having a pretty good time. Their love interests, a Protestant teddy boy and a distinctly noncelibate upper-class toff who wants to be a priest, make great roles for Calum Callaghan and Oliver Coopersmith. Molly Logan playing, you guessed it, another Mary, heads the youngsters. Hopelessly naïve, her innocent questions, such as the nature of the sin of Sodom, disturb the teachers riotously.

The school staff are the best thing. There’s a dotty music teacher, played superbly by Richard Bremmer, and a thoroughly Irish priest, a role taken by Sean Campion. Both live up to every caricature and exploit them to the full. But really stealing the show are the nuns: another trio played by Clare Cathcart, Kate Lock and the scene-stealing Cecilia Noble.

Rich in nostalgia, Once A Catholic is set in 1957 and trades heavily on the innocence of the times to get laughs. The girls’ naivety makes it seem like ancient history and this distance also serves to lighten the casual racism and sexism of the times, sliding over some pretty seedy stuff. Humour is prioritised and Burke excels at this.

There’s little depth to the show, though it’s clear that ignorance is the thing to battle against. It’s a point the play makes well – with its educational setting and poor Mary’s dangerous unworldliness. But with all the fun, there’s little fight in the play; its sacrilegious lines don’t outrage and it lacks a good punch line. There are a lot of laughs to be had though. If it’s comedy you’re after, your prayers will be answered.

Until 18 January 2014

www.tricycle.co.uk

Written 28 November 2013 for The London Magazine