Tag Archives: Arty Froushan

“Leopoldstadt” at Wyndham’s Theatre

Start your play with a Jewish family in turn of the century Vienna and an audience is sure to have expectations. Tom Stoppard knows this, of course, there’s little Tom Stoppard doesn’t know. But the craft behind his new history play is a marvel. And the emotional power of Leopoldstadt every bit as strong as you’d imagine.

Starting in 1899, things are convivial and a little confusing. We’re introduced to Hermann Merz and an extended family that – like the cast – is huge. As we see them grow up, and the family grow, it’s tough to keep track. Thankfully, Aidan Mcardle and Faye Castelow take the lead as Mr and Mrs Merz, with marital troubles and his conversion to Christianity, to focus on.

Faye Castelow in LEOPOLDSTADT photo credit Marc Brenner
Faye Castelow

The discussions are fascinating and highbrow – after all, this is Vienna and they are Jewish! Identity, mostly, but all manner of politics and culture. There’s a sense of excitement and pride about the city that roots the play. Stoppard sets out issues clearly – it’s a great lesson in intellectual history – but also makes debates feel alive as the characters live them.

Admiration for the cast grows as their characters age. Mcardle and Castelow triumph as Stoppard takes us to the end of their characters’ lives. Jenna Augen’s Rosa, an American relation, is also a highlight with a performance that goes from strength to strength. And it is a thrill to see relatively small roles so fully developed. Sam Hoare is just one example as a British journalist who marries into the family. Director Patrick Marber has neglected nothing, like Brigitte Reiffenstuel’s exquisite costumes, the attention to detail is winning. A sense of grandeur and respect appropriate to the subject infuses the show.

If there are slower moments, the dramatic point behind the depth and detail brought to Leopoldstadt becomes clear as history progresses. A family encounter with Nazi’s is difficult to watch. Seeing the characters, we have so deftly been made to respect and admire, cowered and humiliated is painful. What happens feels unbelievable. Shocking. And that’s quite an achievement when we all know the awful history.

Arty Froushan, Jenna Augen and Sebastian Armesto
Arty Froushan, Jenna Augen and Sebastian Armesto

Stoppard gives us the space to think about history. A scene set in 1955 focuses on the encounter between a younger generation: Leo, who escaped to Britain, and Nathon, who has survived a concentration camp. If Sebastian Armesto and Arty Frouhsan play the roles broadly, they match the peculiar underlying tension to the scene which compliments the extremes of their experience. As Leo learns the fates of his family from Augen (who makes Rosa’s suffering palpable) we are made aware of how close we’ve become to them all leading to a conclusion of intense theatrical power.

Until 30 October 2021


Photos by Marc Brenner

“White Pearl” at the Royal Court

Anchuli Felicia King’s play has opened in Sloane Square while two more productions of it – in American and Australia – are being worked on. That the show is a global affair is appropriate to its themes. Set in the melting pot of corporate Singapore, with a multi-ethnic cast, it reflects worldwide concerns about global capitalism and social media through the prism of racism. Surprisingly, it’s a great deal of fun.

The content is serious. When a grossly misjudged advertising campaign for a skin-whitening cosmetic is leaked on to YouTube and, predictably, goes viral it is racism in the office of the manufacturer that is exposed. The ad was supposed to be funny, but the workplace and the online world become split around those who find it so. It’s the startup corporate culture, which sets about “selling whiteness” without a shrug, that really fascinates. Racism comes into conflict with the aims of a “global community” to create a better future for our shrinking world.

The women from different Asian counties – with their degrees of Westernisation to the fore – make a frequently hilarious case study that proves bravely risqué. Insults fly and they don’t all have wit as an ingredient. It’s pretty clear it only gets funnier the more you know about each culture in question. There are gasps and cringes that Nana Dakin’s direction maximises and the show speeds along nicely.

Farzana Dua Elahe

The cast is uniformly strong. The UCL-educated Priya, brilliantly portrayed by Farzana Dua Elahe, who reaches “epic-level heartless”, alongside the California-inspired Built, who Kae Alexander makes so vivid, are pitted against the “homeland” Asians. Minhee Yeo plays the company’s South Korean chemist, Soo-Jin, with shrewd efficiency and Kanako Nakano makes the diffident Japanese office manager appealing. Meanwhile, Momo Yeung ensures her character Xiao Chen’s too-slim subplot about Chinese human rights works well.

Arty Froushan

With a country resting on each role and sharp satire in mind, avoiding stereotypes – King’s stated aim – is intractable. Nonetheless each character is developed to a decent degree, even if the majority lack self-awareness. There’s no holding back with Built’s ex-boyfriend, though – a sponging French lothario that makes a fabulous role for Arty Froushan, who compares his broken heart to a child dying of leukaemia. He is wickedly funny with every line. What the women have in common is privilege. They’re all super smart and educated with money and connections. Having this elite as targets makes any schadenfreude extra delicious – most will see them as fair, if easy, game.

White Pearl does not contain the “twists and reveals” that it boasts. In truth, the story is thin (the plot around a second video and fraud are sloppy). And ironically, as King expresses valid concerns so common around the world, little in the play feels new. Rather, this is a piece full of sharp comedy observation and incredible details. King’s ear for accents is obsessive; Katie Leung’s performance as the only local woman, who slips between “dudebro-speak”, Singlish and Hokkien, is phenomenal – and funny.

The big questions raised are about humour, which is often said to be the hardest thing to translate and frequently a source of cruelty. King highlights this in a brilliantly performed scene with Priya laughing hysterically at Xiao who can’t stop crying. The jokes provide the play’s most challenging and original moments. What’s funny is the take-home question. It’s posed as a threat. But also, perhaps, a possibility. Jokes cause a pause in, or at least question, the globalisation we see in the play. And an interesting idea arises that humour could save us from homogeneity.

Until 15 June 2019


Photos by Helen Murray