Tag Archives: Ashley Zhangazha

“Much Ado About Nothing” at the National Theatre

Simon Godwin’s solid production of Shakespeare’s comedy is perfect for the summer. Setting a play about confusion and miscommunication in a hotel add a farcical, holiday vibe. With live music and an intelligent nod to the play’s self-referentiality, it all adds up to a fine show. The casting of John Heffernan and Katherine Parkinson makes the evening well above average.

Heffernan and Parkinson are great as the enemies-to-lovers Benedict and Beatrice. From the start, Benedict’s man-about-town act as a confirmed bachelor is only skin deep – which adds to the humour. Heffernan ensures we can tell Benedict is a sweet cynic. As surely everyone’s favourite Shakespearean heroine, Parkinson is suitably spiky but brings an interesting edge to the role. Together their “merry war of words” is fantastic.

Ioanna Kimbook and Phoebe Horn

It may be ungenerous to point out that the leads’ comic timing is considerably better than the rest of the cast – but it is noticeable. There is firm support for them, especially a good Don Pedro in Ashley Zhangazha, who makes plans for mischief believable. The play’s second love story has a sweet Hero in Ioanna Kimbook and her maid manages ever better – Phoebe Horn makes the most of Margaret’s every moment.

It’s all jolly and it looks great – Anna Fleischle and Evie Gurney’s set and costume designs are a pleasure – but it might be a little slow? A lot of pace is lost with Dogberry, a head of security here, despite David Fynn’s efforts. (And if you want better malapropisms, then head next door for Jack Absolute Flies Again.) The curtain for the interval falls at the moment of the play’s nasty deception, when the marriage of Hero and Claudio is put at risk by the plotting villain Don John. This can be the point where you lose patience with the play (or is that just me?).

Happily, and unusually, the action then takes off. Heffernan is very good at Benedict’s macho moments and Parkinson shows us how deeply Beatrice feels. Kimbook also comes into her own (especially during a scene change).

It’s still not clear why Hero’s lover Claudio, who has treated her so badly, is forgiven (Eben Figueiredo, who takes the role, seems puzzled, too). I guess that’s really Shakespeare’s fault. Godwin deals thoughtfully with the play’s flaws. After the tension, the relief of a party works well. Even Dogberry, recast as a lounge singer, is welcome. The celebration may be brief but as a finale it’s fantastic.

Until 10 September 2022


Photos by Manuel Harlan

“Human Animals” at the Royal Court

Stef Smith’s new play looks at control and civilisation, depicting a particularly English apocalypse under the veneer of an environmental disaster. The dystopia created when pigeons and foxes go mad (my, how playwrights love these disasters) leads to quarantine and mass destruction. It’s predictably grim but nonetheless affecting.
The production is innervated by direction from Hamish Pirie, while Camilla Clarke’s colourful murals, video projections and windows splattered with blood create an impressive set. Efforts are made to inject tension, but the trajectory of the story and political responses of the characters frustrate this.
Human Animals
The cast is top notch. Stella Gonet plays a grieving widow wonderfully (it’s the best part), joined by Natalie Dew as her spirited daughter. Their respective approaches to the crisis – resignation and revolt – are the central dynamic for Smith and could have made a play of its own.
Human AnimalsA young couple, admirably performed by Lisa McGrillis and Ashley Zhangazha, share the dilemma of what to do as the state takes charge. One saves animals secretly and the other works for the company profiting from slaughtering all the wildlife. Their relationship is depicted carefully but the argument is blunt.
Human Animals
For a final pairing, oddity is the theme. Two unlikely drinking partners, with bizarre twists to their conversations, are apathy and action personified. Even performers as magnetic as Ian Gelder and Sargon Yelda can’t save the roles from being a puzzle. Showing their bestial sides, as society breaks down, isn’t enough of a pay off.
With the majority of characters too briefly sketched, and the scenario less than compelling, it’s fortunate Smith writes with a powerful, poetic turn. Vivid imagery and bold scenes, where the cast combines to choral effect, are the highlights that ensure this sketchy play becomes impressively pushy.

Until 18 June 2016


Photos by Helen Maybanks

“Venice Preserv’d” at Paynes and Borthwick Wharf

Another ‘immersive theatre’ piece, Venice Preserv’d begins at the Cutty Sark. The first part is a promenade where audience members march along the Thames accompanied by musicians and performers past bemused tourists wondering what the hell is going on. Not practised at waving a large flag and generally uncomfortable about being part of the spectacle, I had some trouble entering into the spirit of things. But others had come dressed for the occasion and, on a nice night, it was a jolly stroll. Quite a long walk, actually, into a very residential area, as the final destination is the new development Paynes and Borthwick Wharf, transformed, by our imaginations, from Greenwich into Venice.

Greenwich is often used as a location for films – it’s surprisingly versatile, and using the dramatic backdrop of Canary Wharf to parallel the mercantile Renaissance city is thought provoking. The tone of menace within the play – terrorists are threatening the city – is a tough call, though, and the carnival atmosphere seems at odds with what follows. However, director Charlotte Westenra, working with designer Helen Scarlett O’Neill, uses the still unfinished site well. Credit, of course, to the property developers United House, La Salle and Lane Castle for such an exciting project.

It has to be noted that, for all the inventive touches (getting the audience to wear cloaks, giving them lanterns and having a real go at improvised, individual action with the crowd) the most effective parts of the show don’t really need them. When you settle down into a seat, the sets are good and there is some impressive video. Venice Preserv’d is a late Restoration tragedy, a once popular work, by Thomas Otway, that’s well worth seeing: a strong script full of “power, honour, wealth and love”. The second ingredient is the key. Honour is the obsession that drives the action – which can seem odd, but Westenra’s pace and precision makes the play really entertaining.

Best of all, Westenra has secured some fine acting from her leads. Here the ‘up close and personal’ feel of the production really takes off. Ashley Zhangazha is fantastically compelling as Jaffier, torn by loyalty towards his friend Pierre, performed by Ferdinand Kingsley in an appropriately grandiose manner, and his wife Belvidera, played superbly by Jessie Buckley. Vacillating between despair at his own fortune and the state of Venice, while his wife advocates loyalty to the city, Zhangazha’s chemistry with Buckley is electric. There’s also a strong performance from Ayesha Antoine as a sexy and intelligent courtesan. All four deliver their lines impeccably – no extras are needed – and are a joy to listen to.

Until 8 June 2014

Photo by Johan Persson

Written 7 May 2014 for The London Magazine

“Fences” at the Duchess Theatre

A new production of August Wilson’s play Fences opened at the Duchess Theatre last night following a successful run in Bath that has already earned it strong reviews. A family drama, set in Pittsburgh in 1957, it focuses on the patriarch Troy Maxson, a fascinating creation, depicted by Lenny Henry in a performance that is not to be missed.

Now well established as a serious actor, Henry gives a thoughtful, hard-working performance that plumbs the depths of this unsympathetic character. Troy is almost a tyrant, sometimes despicable, but his determination to turn his life around after time in jail, and awareness of his responsibilities makes you grudgingly respect him. Henry brings out the man’s vulnerability, and deals superbly with Wilson’s wry humour – Troy is charismatic and imminently watchable.

Troy is also an ordinary, working class, man. His struggles and aspirations provide the insight into African-American experience Wilson dedicated his work to. A talented sportsman who feels racism prevented his career, Troy is a disciplinarian driven by disappointment. Relations with his sons (played admirably by Peter Bankolé and Ashley Zhangazha) are on a knife-edge. More complex still is that with his disabled brother, a veteran with religious delusions, an enigmatic part played with conviction by Ako Mitchel.

Wilson’s play feels strangely timeless. It was written in 1983 yet sits well alongside Miller, even O’Neill; all three American greats wrote works that are hefty, lengthy and never afraid of metaphors. Although director Paulette Randall could pick up the pace at times, the production is a quality affair with a serious tone that earns respect.

The heart of the play is strong enough to keep it very much alive, embodied by the role of Troy’s wife, Rose. In this part Tanya Moodie gives a tremendous performance, formidable yet bowed by Troy’s force, Rose’s plight and passion are truly moving. As her husband’s legacy is examined in the final act, it’s Rose you really want to hear from. Wilson leaves you wanting more – a sure sign of success.

Until 14 September 2013


Photo by Nobby Clark

Written 27 June 2013 for The London Magazine