Tag Archives: Arthur Darvill

“Rare Earth Mettle” at the Royal Court Theatre

Al Smith’s new play takes us to Bolivia, where tech tycoon Henry Finn and a doctor called Anna bid to mine valuable lithium. Know who your sympathies lie with? It turns out that the former’s electric cars could save the planet, while Anna’s public health project is an ethical nightmare. The dilemma is contrived – most of the plot is just to frame arguments – but the play and Smith’s characters are entertaining.

Arthur Darvill plays the parody of Elon Musk. It’s OK – it’s obvious as it’s well done. There’s a base gratification as clichés we expect are ticked off. Smith doesn’t have to be sensitive (could we feel sorry for this neuro-diverse character at some point?) and Darvill is wonderfully overblown. There’s help from a troupe of not-so-yes-men and women (including good performances from Marcello Cruz, Lesley Lemon and Racheal Ofori) just the right side of sycophancy.

Anna the NHS doctor (actually, Strategic Director of the National Institute for Health Research) is even better: a true frosty Brit with gorgeous elocution brought to the stage by Genevieve O’Reilly. With big plans, presented with frightening calm, bribery and blackmail are nothing to her. There’s a fanaticism that is fascinating. In a play that lacks surprises, I was hanging on to O’Reilly’s every word.

Rare Earth Mettle at the Royal Court credit Helen Murray
Arthur Darvill and Jaye Griffiths

Smith is understandably anxious to make sure Bolivians in the play have their say. There’s time in the spotlight for Kimsa, admirably played by Carlo Albán, who lives on the valuable salt flat. And a fictional president, portrayed with conviction as well as cheek by Jaye Griffiths. It turns out both are canny politicians. If crowd-pleasing moments are wish fulfilment, it creates a good atmosphere. And plenty of questions are raised – about history and inequality – that are obviously important.

Issues aren’t scarce in this play. Rare Earth Mettle has an excess of ideas that are far from exhausted. Again, Henry first: his creative notions (credited to his messianic streak) could be challenging if explored more. With the Bolivian characters, there are big questions about the interests of an individual versus their community (local and ultimately global). It’s with our doctor that examining themes of responsibility sit easiest – after all, life and death decisions are literally her job.

The play isn’t short. But nor is it long enough to say a lot, given how much ground it covers. Plot and argument become rushed and too far-fetched. Silly is fine (it’s funny), but predictable is not and too much of the second half can be seen coming at the interval. Hamish Pirie’s direction doesn’t help much – like Moi Tran’s design, it’s inappropriately fussy. I’m not sure what snatches of dancing or a giant pendulum add. But plenty of laughs and strong performances make this an enjoyable play.

Until 18 December 2021

www.royalcourttheatre.com

Photos by Helen Murray

“Treasure Island” from NTLive

This third offering – and third call to support theatres during their current closure – from the National Theatre is an adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s adventure story. It makes sense to show the venue’s admirable variety by providing a show for the whole family, and this effort from director Polly Findlay is entertaining and enjoyable.

The script from Bryony Lavery excels with plot and deals expertly with some convoluted language that she spices up. Snatches of humour work well and “keeping nothing back” means some delightfully gory details! From injuries, and a massive syringe, to nightmarish touches, superstition and the supernatural are effectively included.

Lavery and Findlay aren’t afraid to ham things up – there’s a lot of shouting and plenty of fight scenes. We’re dealing with a “hot headed and exclamatory” crowd, after all, and a world that “crawls with large-eared villains”! A nice twist comes with Jim becoming Jemima Hawkins and in the role Patsy Ferran makes an engaging narrator, with a lot of energy to her exposition, as well as an impressive head for heights.

Arthur Darvill and Patsy Ferran in Treasure Island at the National Theatre photo by Johnan Persson
Arthur Darvill and Patsy Ferran

Jim is joined by the “blabber-mouthed” Squire Trelawney and Dr Livesey (roles Nick Fletcher and Alexandra Maher acquit themselves well with) along with a host of colourful characters. Including, of course, Long John Silver, which Arthur Darvill makes a fantastic part. At first “hardly frightening at all”, Darvill builds his character’s charisma and then menace with firm skill.

Treasure Island does lose pace. Maybe things get too silly, or Jim too gullible and fickle? The moral dilemma Jim is faced with is hard to care about, and poorly set up, which you could view as a serious flaw. Meanwhile, his counterpart as a cabin boy, Ben Gunn, proves a tiresome role for Joshua James. Attempts at serious moments aren’t convincing or sustained.

The show’s success lies in the strong staging by Findlay. The Olivier auditorium is used to good effect – if you’re seeing it on film for the first time it surely makes you want to go for real! There’s strong work from Bruno Poet as lighting designer – the constellations in the theatre are magical. Lizzie Clachan’s set well deserves the applause it receives. And, along with the expected shanties, Dan Jones’ fine score provides the final atmospheric touch for a suitably escapist show.

Available until Wednesday 22 April 2020

To support visit nationaltheatre.org.uk

Photos by Johan Persson

"The Antipodes" at the National Theatre

Playwright Annie Baker’s first two outings on the Southbank made me a big fan. While The Flick and John were also concerned with storytelling, this third trip to London makes that topic even more explicit. As with the other plays, the setting is one room; this time a group of writers are trying to come up with ideas. Frustratingly, the scenario is never fully explained but as they brainstorm, telling seemingly random stories for inspiration, the play becomes obtuse and ends up a disappointment.

Led by Conleth Hill’s Sandy, some kind of studio guru who wants to create a “safe space” for ideas, there’s sharp satire on the creative industries, with some great observations on hierarchy in the workplace. And, as usual, Baker’s ear for contemporary voices is faultless. It’s a shame none of the characters we meet is someone we come to care about. Two old hands reveal intimate details just to shock (which leads to great performances from Arthur Darvill and Matt Bardock). Other recruits do less well: Stuart McQuarrie’s character, superbly performed, disappears after his tender personal history doesn’t impress. It all raises questions about creativity, pretty obviously. There are lots of discussions about formulas for stories that naturally interest writers – maybe audiences not so much? But Hollywood (or possibly the videogames business) isn’t really Baker’s aim…there’s more to come and The Antipodes gets increasingly confusing as a result.

The target is myths, the origin of storytelling, which takes us into dark territory. There’s much discussion of monsters and voids, but to what aim? Possibly Baker directing her own work, with the aid of Chloe Lamford, is too close to the project? The journey to explore all these themes is poorly handled, the results unconvincing. Take the forest fires that trap the protagonists at work – a too obvious attempt to create an apocalyptic air. As the writers continue failing in their aim to come up with new ideas – which in itself isn’t very interesting to watch – what’s going on becomes more bizarre. A scene performed by Bill Milner is the focal point here, but defies explication. It’s fine to abandon narrative structure (Milner’s character’s actions aren’t part of any plot) but expanding their thematic fit would be helpful. The tension Baker and Lamford create becomes both uncomfortable and uncanny. Top marks for atmosphere. But what the whole exercise is for becomes a puzzle.

Until 23 November 2019

www.nationaltheatre.org.uk

Photo by Manuel Harlan

“Doctor Faustus” at Shakespeare’s Globe

Thanks to the film Shakespeare in Love we think of Christopher Marlowe as more celebrated in his own day than Shakespeare. Now, of course, his work is performed far less frequently, making any production an event, especially when Shakespeare’s own Globe conjures up its first production of Doctor Faustus.

Director Matthew Dunster does his best to make the story of the man who sells his soul to the devil resonate with a contemporary audience. The emphasis is on magic rather than religion – a sound move in our agnostic times – aided admirably with a soundscape from Jules Maxwell.

But Doctor Faustus poses problems. With roots in morality plays, 16th-century concerns and seemingly impossible stage effects, several scenes are potentially odd to modern eyes. Dunster’s solutions are admirable, using wit, imagination and strong doses of broad humour to engage: Georgina Lamb’s choreography is a capable distraction when the Doctor meets the seven deadly sins, the Pope becomes a comic mafia don, and a castle in the air is a simple inflatable balloon that floats off over the South Bank.

Paul Hilton is a model of clarity in the title role. Fingers stained with ink, this scholar-turned-magus’s pride is painfully convincing and, if he lacks the sensual touch that comes to dominate a man “ravished” by desires, his relationship with Arthur Darvill’s commendably understated Mephistopheles is electric.

Dunster injects a huge amount of movement into what is potentially rather a static play, and his tautly controlled ensemble works hard, peopling the world Faustus plays in. Of particular note are Charlotte Broom and Beatriz Romilly as the angels who fight over Faustus’ soul with samurai swords. With flashy touches such as this, Dunster grapples with Marlowe’s mighty play in a magical fashion and does not sell Doctor Faustus short.

Until 2 October 2011

www.shakespearesglobe.com

Photo by Keith Pattison

Written 24 June 2011 for The London Magazine